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Poor communication

HRM is universally relevant within the hotel industry; that, among the hotels with an identifiable strategy (Hoque, 1999), those adopting an ethos of service quality coupled with a high number of HRM practices are performing best like the strategy implemented by Marriot. It would therefore seem that a ‘high-HRM quality-enhancer’ strategy would be the key to competitive success within hotels of the nature under investigation here (Hoque, 1999), with there being little or no scope for a strategy based on cost reduction or price competition to achieve comparable results.

In July 2000, Helena Feltham was appointed HR director at Marks & Spencer’s in place of Clara Freeman, who had been a main board director. Freeman, who currently chairs Opportunity Now, had also been responsible for store operations. Feltham sits on the firm’s UK retail board, along with the directors of the business units (Rana & Crabb, 2002). She inherited a well respected function. M&S is the Ford Motor Company of retail you meet former Marks & Spencer HR people all over the sector, and beyond.

But it was not without its problems, including poor communication between the corporate personnel function at head office and the dedicated HR teams attached to particular parts

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of the business such as retail, finance and international. One of Feltham’s first moves, in the late summer of 2000, was to bring in Lynda Gratton, of London Business School, to run a two-day workshop for senior HR people. Out of this meeting came the change programme that was presented to HR people at an away day at Lords’ cricket ground on 16 October (Rana & Crabb, 2002).

This was a pivotal moment. For the first time in the history of M&S, everyone involved in personnel and training across the company from the stores to head office came together in one place to hear the new vision explained. There was an even more fundamental problem: M&S’s famously paternalistic culture (Rana & Crabb, 2002). This offered cradle-to-grave benefits for employees but rigidly governed the way that managers operated. Every aspect of the company was rule-driven.

The event was organised at short notice less than a month but its significance was clear to everyone involved. The day opened with a presentation from Roger Holmes, managing director of UK retail, who set the business scene. He was followed by motivational speaker Humphrey Walters, Gratton, Feltham herself and a group of actors who played M&S as it was, and as it would be if everything goes according to plan. Perhaps the most extraordinary part of the day was an interactive exhibition, with stands representing the different aspects of the change programme.

These exhibits, put together by the members of the HR leadership team, included games based on Big Brother and The Weakest Link, Punch and Judy and a basketball display. Like the rest of the change programme, this was a high risk event, but fortunately it paid off. The change programme unvelied at Lords touches on almost every aspect of the way people are managed at Marks and Spencer, but its main features include (Rana & Crabb, 2002): a new vision; a new structure for HR; the development of an in-house strategic capability; linking reward to performance; empowering line managers; measuring staff attitudes and a commitment to ensure effective, two-way communication. Before the programme could be properly begun, the HR function in common with the rest of the business had to go through the painful process of selecting people for redundancy. Consultation took place in May and June 2001 and those affected left the company in July (Rana & Crabb, 2002).

For example, every person employed by the company now has a copy of The Cube, a model that shows M&S’s new values, culture and key ways of working. This is produced by the executive board and owned by it.

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