Thursday, May 19, 2005

Culture shock...

I had cause to visit ASDA’s Headquarters building in Leeds yesterday for a meeting. I was looking forward to this as Karen (“the Wife”) had been there for an interview a couple of years ago and said it was a very interesting experience.

ASDA started off as a bunch of Yorkshire farmers who decided to diversify beyond their original purpose of making and selling milk (ASDA is actually a concatenation of ASsociated DAiries). About seven years ago, they adopted a management philosophy called “Gung Ho!”. This is from the man who brought us “one minute manager” and the main message is inspiring employees through relating to animal traits, namely the rather unlikely sounding squirrels, beavers & geese. There must be something in it- the Sunday Times has polled ASDA as a Top 10 Employer of the Year five years running.

Visiting their signature headquarters is definitely an experience. They don’t provide any parking for visitors but they do have a handful of special bays right next to the main door called “Golden Cones”. These are awarded as a kind of employee of the week arrangement for Head Office Staff who have been nominated as particularly helpful by the Supermarket teams.

The entrance lobby leads into a large atrium which is hustle and bustle as there is often an event of some sort on. (They appeared to be handing out samples of shampoo and beauty products yesterday). The colour scheme is the same as the Supermarkets, green and white with signage in the house style. There are two large clocks with ASDA “Happy to help” smiley faces next to the escalators, one clock labelled Leeds, the other Bentonville, the Corporate home of the parent Company, Wal-Mart. (Bentonville is a small town in North West Arkansas, U.S.A., where the first Wal-Mart Variety Store was opened.) The Company values are adorned on the pillars and the uniforms of the security people are the same as the checkout operators and shelf-stackers in your local store.

All of the staff (or “colleagues”, in ASDA-speak) have a “happy to help” first name badge as well as their regular Head office ID (which has their first name in much bigger letters than the Surname). Visitors badges are emblazoned with “I’m here to make goods and services more affordable”, which must be food for thought for the stream of supplier reps that go there.

At the foot of the escalator is a saints and sinners board showing the statistics for the particularly good (& bad) vendors. The top ones are in red and labelled as “offender vendors”, the bottom ones in green “obsessed vendors”.

There was also a display cabinet nearby showing off the family silver, various awards that ASDA had won (& there were a lot of them). There was a chalice, a sword, a miniature trolley, a truck, silver cups, plates, goblets, plaques and glassware. One that particularly stuck in my mind was an etched glass mounted slab awarded for something to do with the most innovative use of dry vine products, whatever they are.

One other item that got our party of technologists talking after our meeting was a large tree graphic outside their Information Systems Department. At the tip of the tree was an eagle, at the roots an oven-ready turkey. Each of their suppliers had a graphic panel that represented ASDA’s perception of how well they were doing with their IT & Telecommunications Services. What a delightful way to focus the mind of an Account Manager! Apparently some of them bring their bosses to see it when they are particulary low (or high) on the tree. It was interesting (but not surprising) to note that some well-known fixed and mobile operators were low hanging fruit…

No comments: