Morrisons’ CEO adopts ‘host leadership’ approach with HQ staff, says author of management book

News that David Potts, the new CEO of Morrisons supermarkets, is sending his headquarters staff to spend a week working in stores over Easter is akin to spending time with guests in a gallery and is an example of a ‘host leadership’ approach, which is gaining moementum in the leadership and management world, according to the author of a book exploring this topic.

Dr Mark McKergow, co-author of ‘Host’ (£11.99, Solutions Books), said Potts’s approach follows a similar move by Dave Lewis of Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer.

Potts is hoping the knowledge and experience gained – particularly around the views of customers and staff in the stores – will help Morrisons to fight back against the rise of discount retailers and convenience stores. In the future all 2,000 headquarters staff are to spend a week a year working in stores – a major shift in priorities.

“We discuss the power of this kind of initiative in our book about Host Leadership,” said McKergow. “Time spent ‘with the guests’ and ‘in the gallery’ – alongside staff and customers, rather than standing in the spotlight and talking at them, is a key element of leading as a host. The act of co-participating, being a part of the work rather than simply in charge of it, sends clear and coherent messages to staff about the importance of their work and how vital is it.  The leaders concerned gain vital knowledge too.”

An extract from Host , in the chapter on the leadership role of Co-Participator:

“Going back to the floor affords the opportunity to spend time on the job with people in different areas. Given the right mindset, the leader can gather a wealth of intelligence about what is really happening in different areas. In a previous role, Helen was responsible for helping managers improve the levels of customer service afforded to customers in their branch. External measures of the service provided were reported to the branch by way of mystery shoppers and customer questionnaires. Very often, a branch manager could not see why their scores were as they were. By picking up the reports and various other branch indicators and sitting amongst the customer service teams, evidence for the scores soon became apparent. Helen could then help the manager see what was happening and work with the manager to identify ways to improve the service.

“As a co-participator, when you are participating in a back-to-the-floor-type activity, people will talk to you about what they are doing, what frustrates them, what challenges arise, what could be better. There is so much new awareness and learning to be gained from spending time in this position. The idea of management as a profession is relatively recent. For someone who has come into management as a career, spending time on the floor is an ideal opportunity to learn about what goes on and how it is done. Alternatively, if the manager comes from the field, they may think they know everything, including how to do the job, and may still see things from their perspective as things were. This can result in well-intentioned comments such as, “What I did was. . .,” “I’d do this. . .,” or “This is the way to do it,” the effect of which can be disempowering. Going back to the floor with the intention to watch, listen and learn provides the opportunity for a more rounded picture and to gain input from those actually doing the job. After all, they are the ones who know a lot about what could be better – if we choose to involve them and listen to them. “