Asda Magic – 7 Key Ways to Create a Great Company Culture

01 Sep 2016

David Smith, author of ‘Asda Magic’, talks about his 15 years at the company helping to instill a great company culture. He played a key role in putting the company in one of the top positions on the Sunday Times list of ‘Great Places to Work’ for five consecutive years. Remarkably, he was brought in when Asda was just 10 days away from financial collapse. So how did he manage to turn things around and establish a strong and clear corporate culture?

Here are 7 of the lessons he learned along the way…

1. Hire the right people for your desired culture

Identify what it is about people that makes your company special and hire people who exemplify this in their behaviour. David Smith explained that in Asda’s case, this was friendly customer service so they set out to look for what they called ‘Asda Magic’ in extroverted and gregarious people. They stopped doing quick-fire interviews about skills and experience which was the norm in retail and started running half-day assessment centres. Asda wanted to see people being their ‘normal’ selves, and in a half-day, they found that it was virtually impossible for people to hide their true colours, particularly when they were playing games.

2. Talk more, write less

Ask most employees and they will probably say their company isn’t great at communicating. Why, when there is so much more information available than ever before? The answer – there’s simply not enough done face-to-face. Typically, messages are relayed in a written form, especially with the prevalence of email, intranets and the like. We write more and talk less when, in terms of engagement, we should be writing less and talking more to enable meaningful dialogue and more agreement. Talking to your people in person in as much depth as you can (rather than the minimum you think they need) is more important than you think. The more you talk, the clearer it becomes to them that you care and the more likely it is that they in return will care.

3. Listen

Listening – and listening well – means that you are going to hear stuff you don’t want to hear, but it is better to know it than not. So long as you are honest with your people and let them know what you can and can’t do with their feedback, then they will feel better for it. According to David Smith, you should just listen and not be prescriptive about it; you will gather ideas you would never have found anywhere else. Simple it may sound, but in doing this, Asda has generated huge revenue by implementing ideas which employees have put forward. You can build a huge pool of motivation by asking your people what they would do if they were running the company.

4. Identify Your Leadership Style

Culture is shaped largely by how team leaders act. David Smith set out to ensure his leadership style embodied the type of company he wanted Asda to be. Is a teamwork culture the ideal? If so, make sure your executive team works truly as a team. Or is it ‘transparency’ that is key? Leaders need to be transparent – however tricky that may be at times. In the current ‘candidate-short’ employment market, people are less loyal, better informed and willing to move to an employer with a better reputation. The most frequent reason given by employees for leaving is that they didn’t like how they were being managed – and they weren’t prepared to be open about this to their leaders because it was simply too hard to talk about. Making sure that you are fully in the loop with regard to what your people feel about their job is key. Survey them regularly – you can even ask people six months after they’ve left to get a really honest appraisal of what they thought of you!

5. Cherish stars, get rid of talented terrors and dogs

It has to be said, Brits aren’t great at this. We don’t like to shout about success – in fact, we often knock people who are mega successful – and we skirt around poor performance because it’s horrible to deal with. If we want a great culture though, it’s vital to manage underperformance effectively and don’t forget to push talent – otherwise your talent will push off! David Smith advises focusing on dealing with your ‘talented terrors’ – the people who may be great at generating revenue but be unpopular among their peers. If other people hate working with them they will undermine your values and drive out the stars. Don’t hang on to poor performers either – you will lose respect and do them no favours in the process.

6. Prioritise Employee Recognition

It costs nothing to say thank you and you can run some great recognition programmes relatively inexpensively to reward great performance. Asda ran a highly successful ‘Oscar Night’ which people talked about for years. If people feel valued, they will reward you with their discretionary effort. People with positive energy and good self-esteem are your best employees. If they feel appreciated, they are more likely to go above and beyond what is expected of them, will be more productive and motivated – and much more likely to stay in the team.

7. Build a sense of fun

We spend more of our life at work than we do at home, particularly in PR. So, if work is miserable, life is miserable. It’s therefore vital to create a warm and inviting workplace where the employees have a good rapport. Having fun at work leads to a great company culture, as David Smith found out by implementing a super simple mantra at Asda – ‘Be yourself, have fun and enjoy what you do.’

How do you rate your company culture? What makes it great (or not so great)? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Works specialise in placing high flyers in PR and corporate communications. We have a strong track record of placing with professional services and offer career-making advice. Do get in touch if you would like our support building your team.

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