10 steps to top-in-class employee engagement

Julian Richer's thriving hi-fi empire is proof that ethical business pays dividends.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 10 Feb 2020

Julian Richer is famous for his chain of hi-fi shops, Richer Sounds, which has prospered through five recessions and the turbulent rise of ecommerce, and for an industry-leading record of employee engagement. He does not believe the two to be unrelated.

Here’s his quick guide to best-in-class employee experience.  

"If I wanted to introduce a great culture, the first thing I’d do is read In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters. The number two thing to do is an attitude survey of how miserable your staff are now, so you can improve it. We measure morale scores every week, in the simplest way: everyone anonymously gives scores to their manager, who works out an average and sends it in. This throws up anomalies, and then we send in the fire engines.

"Number three is come up with a mission statement you really believe in. Four is a take a microscope and a knife to it, and make sure everything you do is customer and staff friendly. Five is set up a cost control group to keep things sensible, and six is set up a customer service group.

"Number seven is pay a living wage. Some things are non-negotiable. Zero hours contracts should be illegal. There’s a tiny percentage of students who don’t care if they work three hours a week or 10, but you try to rent a flat in the private sector with zero hours and they’ll tell you to get lost. What are they supposed to do, sleep on a bench? This is no joke, it needs to be abolished.

"Eight is sign up to the fair tax mark. No business is an island. A rogue retailer living in the Virgin Islands and not paying their tax here is dependent on state infrastructure – the hospitals that make their staff well, the schools that trains them, the police that protect them. We all have a huge debt to society.

"Number nine is drive an ethical campaign – transparent accounts, overseeing diversity, giving money to charity, looking at executive pay to make sure the multiple is fair.

"Last but not least is motivate your people. Give them recognition, communicate with them, make sure pay is sensible and show them loyalty.

"When I talk about all these things, people say I can’t do that, my finance director would have a fit. But what about the payback? Which? gave us best retailer four out of the past 10 years. We have 14% staff turnover per annum – some shop chains are at nearly 100%. Absenteeism is low, and our shrinkage [employee theft] is 0.1%. The average is 1-2%. That makes me millions a year."

Key takeaways

--What gets measured gets done. You can’t improve staff morale unless you have a way of testing it.

-- Do well by doing good. Being a good corporate citizen is as important to your staff as it is to customers.

--Do unto others. It sounds basic, but people are far more likely to be engaged at work if their boss treats them well.

For more information

See this feature for an in-depth exploration of what makes a good staff survey. Alternatively, for more on Julian Richer's approach to employee engagement, his book The Ethical Capitalist is published by Random House Business (£12.99). 

Management Today’s mission is to help British businesses become world class by sharing experiences, unearthing opportunities and distilling lessons from the world’s most successful companies. Email me (adam.gale@haymarket.com) to let us know the challenges facing your business that you’d like us to explore in depth.

Image credit: Kaboompics.com/Pexels


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