A committed and engaged workforce is essential to deliver a winning offering in a competitive retail environment, says Michael Schneider, MD of Bunnings Warehouse.

Speaking yesterday at an event hosted by Facebook for its Workplace product, Schneider outlined how the home improvement retailer approaches employee engagement.

“What’s been really exciting in the last few years is the ability for the organisation to invest very much in our digital capability, which is less about selling product online, and much more about the way we bring our suppliers into our ecosystem, our customers in our ecosystem, and obviously, our team members as well,” he said.

Bunnings has around 43,000 staff team members with a retention rate close to 90 per cent and a permanency rate of 85 per cent, Schneider said.

“It’s an ever changing world, we’ve got five generations of team members are working our business. So how do we stay relevant to them?”

“We always want to be the best place for our team to be able to work put down roots and grow with the organisation,” Schneider said. That requires giving them new opportunities “to prosper and grow”.

Schneider said the business now offers a diverse range of roles which have emerged as Bunnings, and the retail industry more broadly, have evolved.

“We’ve got roles in our organisation that didn’t exist three, four or five years ago, in our technology space, in our merchandising space, in our learning space, they’re all areas where there are now roles that just didn’t exist.”

Bunnings has also turned to technology to enhance the way it communicates with its workforce, with the goal of being seen as a community.

Introducing Workplace

The retailer began its “enterprise social media” journey five years ago with Yammer, Microsoft’s social networking tool.

“We did that in a very unregulated way,” Schneider said. “We actually deployed that [Yammer] just to sort of get a sense of who wanted to use it, where we were seeing ideas being shared, and how that process worked.”

The company then assessed a number of different options when it decided it wanted a more structured approach to employee communications. Bunnings selected Workplace, Facebook’s social media platform for enterprise, which was deployed almost 12 months ago.

There are now 24,000 about team members, or 60 per cent of the workforce, on the platform, and it is beginning to replace other forms of communication like intranet and email, Schneider said.

The platform provides a channel for  human interaction across a workforce which is distributed in 370 locations across Australia and New Zealand as well as with team members who are on the road or overseas meeting suppliers.

“What having tools like Workplace has really enabled us to do is actually connect in a really personal way with team members that they are very familiar with.”

Schneider said information now moves quickly through the organisation, for example a visual merchandiser can share an innovative way to present a product to all store locations. Or if a product or layout isn’t working as intended, feedback can be quickly passed through the relevant channels.

To assist training, Schneider said they are also looking at ways to bring suppliers into the platform to leverage the content which they develop to support sales of their products.

He also identified some barriers to adoption, including the reluctance of staff to use their mobile data to use the app, meaning the business needs to keep adding wi-fi points to its stores. They also needed to reassure team members “that what you’re doing on Saturday night on Facebook and what you’re doing on Monday morning on Workplace don’t talk to each other.”

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