Business Essentials: 'We don't just mind the shop now. Can our workers deliver the goods?'

An old-style shopfitter has upgraded to become a project manager. But it needs to sweet-talk sub-contractors

Barlows has been a shopfitter in the traditional sense of the word for the last 130 years. But the Sheffield-based company restructured last April and it now plays a very different role. "We want to know how to communicate this change in culture and vision to the people we hire to do work for us," explains its managing director, Lee Walker.

In essence, Barlows has shifted from being a contracting-based company to one that focuses on project management. "We now oversee the entire life cycle of a building from a retail perspective," explains Mr Walker. "That means the customer comes to us with an idea and we design it, deliver it, project- manage it and also maintain it when it's finished."

He admits that Barlows isn't necessarily cheaper than its competitors, just more cost effective. "Our differentiator is that, because we manage the whole process, we are able to reduce the time when the store is closed, sometimes by up to 50 per cent. From a retailer's perspective, this is important, because they have to close their store during the process. So if a shop has a revenue of £50,000 a week, we can ensure they have £100,000 coming in that they wouldn't otherwise, just by doing the work two weeks faster than you get with traditional methods."

Communicating this culture change has been one of the firm's main tasks, says Mr Walker. "It's been really important that our people understand the link between their individual job roles and our new business objectives."

To ensure that everyone understands where they fit in, Barlows has held team briefings and a series of workshops. "It's worked well. Whereas in the past, people tended to see customers as a problem, they are now really focused on customer outcomes and ensuring the store is closed for the least time possible."

Mr Walker's next step is to get this message across to his sub-contractors - the decorators, floor layers, joinery companies and so on. "Internally, we have a captive audience because our employees are stakeholders in our business. But with our supply chain, which we are heavily reliant on, it isn't as easy."

Indeed, the workshops held for this group of people haven't always taken place due to work commitments. And when they have happened, they haven't been so effective.

The sub-contractors are largely owner-managed businesses that rely on Barlows for 10 to 20 per cent of their workload, explains Mr Walker. "This makes it much harder to get them to care about our objectives to open these stores quickly. But if they were to buy into our vision, we would undoubtedly reduce the time a store is closed even further."

Ultimately, says Mr Walker, it feels as though these sub-contractors hold all the cards. "So we want to know how to capture the hearts and minds of our supply chain."


Vanessa Robinson, Strategy and Organisation Adviser, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"As more companies rely on outside staff, the traditional psychological contract between organisation and employee can no longer be relied on to elicit motivation and superior performance. So Mr Walker needs to find other ways to engage with his sub-contractors.

"Effective communication is the key to ensuring the success of any organisational change. Mr Walker needs to broaden his message beyond merely demonstrating the link between the roles of individual employees and the new business objectives. He must illustrate the key part played by the sub-contractors and the 'what's in it for me' factor. Financial, and non-financial, incentives may be needed.

"Having worked out what the message is, he must ensure it reaches its intended audience. Brief workplace-based sessions could be the solution."

Neil Bullen, Head of Management Consultancy, Tuner & Townsend

"Barlows faces a common problem, but one that can be tackled using three elements.

"First, actively work with the sub-contractors, accepting that you may have to go beyond the halfway line in the early days. Clear leadership and a consistent demonstration of 'how it should be done' are vital in initiating a sense of purpose and direction.

"Second, a compelling case for the sub-contractors to change must be created and communicated. Consider measures such as increasing the workload for the best sub-contractors, introducing commercial incentives linked to performance improvement, or 'investing' in their business through, say, joint training.

"Finally, deal with resistance. Give them a chance, but there is no basis for a long-term relationship with those that don't share your vision. Be prepared to end those relationships, allowing others to take their place."

David Pendleton, Business Psychologist and Chairman of The Edgecumbe Consulting Group

"Barlows understands its customers' needs and the need to manage change effectively. It does not seem so clear about the needs of its suppliers - merely what Barlows needs from them.

"The firm should talk to its suppliers by phone or face to face, not email. It will probably hear that the suppliers need a measure of certainty about future work and would like to gain in some way from service improvements to customers. They are more likely to attend workshops positioned as 'How we grow our businesses together?', rather than hinting at their place in Barlows' future.

"There are three key principles here. First, people do not resist change, they resist being changed. Second, involvement increases commitment. Third, the best partnerships are based on mutual gain."

On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Sales Executive

£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week