The power of 'upside-down management'

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​Timpson's chairman says the best way to get great customer service is to give staff freedom

Providing opportunities for all and trusting employees to make decisions have been key to the success of multinational retail organisation Timpson's, according to its chairman and owner John Timpson.

Speaking at the NHS Employers Workforce Summit, the 74-year-old leader of the shoe repair, key cutting and engraving specialist explained how his management style, known as ‘upside-down management’, has been key to creating a strong employer brand.

Timpson explained how it was important to “keep business simple” and focus on “how can we [Timpson’s] do a great job”.

This ethos around providing great customer service has taken 20 years to develop, reported Timpson, explaining that it centres around “trusting the people who serve the customers to do it the way they want".

This is combined with giving the company’s management teams the power to support rather than control customer-facing colleagues. However, Timpson explained that this can present challenges, such as persuading middle management that this is the right thing to do.

Common-sense rules such as getting the 5,000 employees to dress the part, keep the shops tidy and turn up on time are key, said Timpson. Staff are also encouraged to confidently manage their stores and use their initiative, such as when to offer discounts to customers.

Timpson added that the recruitment focus at his company is on personalities as much as people’s skills, qualifications and experience. He believes that this focus is what has led to 50% of new hires being referred by current employees.

Ex-offenders make up 10% of the organisation. Timpson referred to this as a “great success", highlighting his firm's role in helping this demographic back into the community and giving them purpose.

“This was not without issues, such as housing and the prospect of employees feeling uncomfortable working alongside them, but it’s become a real plus for our organisation,” he said. “Our employees get great job satisfaction helping these people back into work.

“What ['upside-down management'] does for our employees is transform their lives by giving them greater control of how they run their own work affairs,” he concluded.

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