Boosting engagement among part-time staff at Go Outdoors

Go Outdoors deployed a platform to motivate short-term and part-time staff and improve their development – while lifting sales

The company

GO Outdoors is a UK retailer of outdoor equipment, helping everyone from experienced mountain-climbers to relaxed dog-walkers to get the most out of the outside world. It has a predominantly part-time workforce of 2,400 employees across 62 stores. The firm was bought by sportswear retailer JD Sports in May 2017.

The problem

Most of GO Outdoors’ employees are part-time or short-term and, as for the rest of the retail sector, staff turnover is a problem. Jo Skelton, head of human resources and learning and development for the firm, says this is a major concern. “Our turnover [in early 2016] was 41%, with many people leaving at the 18-month mark,” she tells HR magazine. The average in retail, according to research from Hays, is around 67% for part-timers – but Skelton knew the business could do better. “We’d grown really quickly, and had not had the chance to get to grips with investing in our people. We wanted to be a great place to work, but we were competing with so many other national minimum wage employers.”

An employee engagement survey run by the GO Outdoors HR team showed that many employees thought working at the company was not sufficiently rewarding, with the lack of e-learning tools, news channels and little acknowledgement of hard work culminating in an unenthusiastic workforce.

The method

The first challenge was winning the backing of senior leaders. “When we first started this project we had a budget of nothing,” Skelton says, explaining that she could not improve engagement and turnover without outside help. “We started to look at providers, even though we knew they could be expensive. We got an idea of what was available and what we wanted after talking to around eight or so providers, and we knew we wanted something personal that matched our values.”

The HR team built a business case for the budget needed. “This was going to be a big investment with money that could have been spent elsewhere,” Skelton says. “We had to justify what we were doing and put together a really sound case.”

The team was successful in June 2016, and they selected global employee engagement company Reward Gateway to help them create a new engagement platform, where all information, news and tools could be centralised in one hub. It was named ‘GOforit!’

“When we embarked on this project Jo and her team had a number of areas that they were looking to develop, so working as an extension of them and being fully aligned with their goals and objectives was important,” says Ren Patel, UK client success director of Reward Gateway.

“Short-term staff, by nature, might not be as invested in the business as permanent employees. However, it’s still vital to engage these employees, as they are representing your business at incredibly busy times of the year. Challenges common in the retail sector are often even harder to overcome when you think about employees that are part-time because their hours at work are even more limited.”

To spread the message of the new platform the HR team placed posters, flyers and cards in stores and attached leaflets to payslips. Social media helped to tease the launch of the platform, and get the knowledge of it out to all employees, not just permanent, full-time staff.

“Many of our staff are offline,” Skelton says. “They don’t have a company email address, and in many cases there was only one computer at each store. So we had to work with what we had. Everyone receives a payslip, so we attached a leaflet to that. We made sure it was bright and attractive, and fully branded to match the new platform.”

Ambassadors at stores helped to add a human face to the scheme. “Every store has an employee voice forum, so our scheme ambassadors gave presentations and answered questions there,” Skelton explains. “Afterwards we thanked those who helped us with a small monetary reward.”

The hub provides an easy access point for the rewards programme, allowing employees to top up their salaries with various discounts and offers. It is also a platform for employee development, with numerous e-learning modules available, often gamified to encourage participation, allowing employees to steer their own development.

“It was important to us that employees could access learning and development courses from anywhere,” says Skelton. “It wasn’t enough to be providing them on one PC in the store. We needed people to be able to use their own devices to learn in the way they wanted to.”

Further employee engagement came from recognition – employees can send e-cards with personalised messages to colleagues to acknowledge hard work or achievements.

“We know peer-to-peer thanks is even more effective than recognition from a manager,” Skelton says. “We also decided we wanted to start recognising our employees in other ways; for example wishing them a happy birthday or congratulating them on a work anniversary, just to show that little extra bit of recognition and thanks.”

The result

GOforit! was rolled out to the whole company in one day. “We were so nervous!” Skelton laughs. “This was a big investment for the company, and they’d never done anything like it before. But we had to have self-belief, had to be positive and be as enthusiastic as possible.”

Thankfully the launch was a great success, with 56% of employees registering in the first two weeks. A year later the difference in overall engagement is substantial, with participation in the company’s engagement survey hitting 87%, up from 69% before the programme. Staff turnover has been reduced five percentage points to 36%, justifying the investment in the programme.

The e-card recognition programme has been highly successful, with more than 500 being sent in the first three weeks. The new hub has also led to higher levels of employee development, with a 122% increase in the number of e-learning modules completed.

“As well as our learning and development courses, our people now have access to over 500 ebooks,” Skelton says. “They cover anything from Excel spreadsheet skills to leadership skills, so people can choose what areas they would like to develop themselves in.”

The more positive working environment has led to increased levels of customer satisfaction, with customer feedback now frequently citing how helpful staff have been. This is also reflected in customer sales reaching an all-time high. There has been a 3.5% increase in the average transaction value, a 0.65% increase in sales per day, and a 0.8% increase in customer satisfaction based on colleague helpfulness.

“From the very beginning the team and I truly believed in GOforit! and knew it would have a positive impact on the working lives of our colleagues and deliver measurable ROI,” says Skelton. “A year and a half on and we’re in the fantastic position of being able to validate this with tangible business results.

“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved and incredibly excited about the next stage of our journey as we continue to grow our employee value proposition.”