Ignoring 'best practice' in favour of common sense

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Others may still follow best practice but I believe that we have gained a lot by breaking the rules

Many management books describe rules and best practice that claim to be the secrets of success. I used to believe that by following a professional process we would come up with the goods. Conventional companies stick to guidelines regarded as standard practice, but I now believe the reliance on process, governance, risk assessment and the almost obsessive use of outside advice is getting in the way of entrepreneurial spirit.

For 20 years I have been a maverick, ignoring best practice in the cause of common sense. Monitoring a process isn’t proper management. My job is to focus on the end result – satisfying customers and creating cash. The best way to create success is to pick great colleagues, give them the freedom to do their job in the way they know best, and clear obstacles that get in their way.

No-one in Timpson is allowed to issue an order – including me – and everyone is trusted with the freedom to do their job in their own way as long as they give the same freedom to everyone in their team.

We don’t micromanage because in a complicated business with 1,900 shops it is very difficult to dictate the detail from a head office. Our central services simply support the colleagues in the field and our senior team is free to set the strategy and create the culture.

Our simple way of working avoids many of the trappings of ‘best practice’ that take up managers’ time and burden the company with extra layers of management. Our colleagues don’t bid for an annual budget, we don’t do staff appraisals (which are time-consuming and can undermine morale), we don’t have company-wide wage scales (every colleague is reviewed on the anniversary of the day they joined the company), and we hardly ever employ consultants. We don’t do market research or advertise so we don’t need a marketing department and we don’t like too many computer-created reports, management meetings or KPIs. We believe the best way to find out the truth is to spend two days a week visiting shops.

Here’s an example of how our way works so well. Every area of about 40 shops is run by an area manager with three assistants. One assistant makes sure we have the right number of colleagues in each shop every day. With several one-colleague branches open seven days a week covering holidays, short-term sickness, visits to the doctor or dentist, school sports days and birthdays, can be a fiendishly complicated task. If we devised a process it wouldn’t work, so each area team does it in their own way.

Perhaps the proudest example of our maverick approach is our scheme that recruits colleagues from prison. Most other companies have reasons why ex-offenders aren’t suitable employees. We saw it differently. Sixty-one per cent of people leaving prison reoffend within two years, but that drops to 19% for those with a job. We saw that employing prison leavers made a positive contribution, but also discovered that with no other business recruiting from prisons we got the pick of a very talented bunch. Five hundred current colleagues (10% of our payroll) joined us from prison and several are part of the management team.

Others may still follow best practice but I believe that we have gained a lot by breaking the rules.

John Timpson is chairman and owner of Timpson

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