changes aheadJust 14% of retail employees understand why change is good for them personally

  • Compares poorly with engineering (30%), IT (37%), and law (52%)
  • Poor management of change key to retailers’ poor financial results recently

A lack of quality leadership in the face of change is holding the retail industry back, according to the latest research from leadership development consultancy Head Heart + Brain.
In a survey of 1,227 employees, 35% said the leader of their organisation made them aware of why change is good for them personally – one of the key attributes of leading in the face of change. But just 14% of those working in retail said the same.

The retail sector compared particularly poorly with those working in engineering (30%), IT (37%) and the legal profession (52%).

Head Heart + Brain partner Jan Hills said, “One of the key things we’ve found from neuroscience is the best ways of dealing with change. The best leaders understand the importance of engaging employees in why organisational change – which no one likes going through – and why this is good for them at a personal level. The current figures suggest the retail industry needs to do more to help employees understand. While strong leadership can overcome problems brought about by change, poor leadership can leave an organisation – or in this case a whole sector – in dire straits.”


Fundamental changes are taking place in the UK’s retail sector that are forcing change on retailers – from deteriorating consumer confidence in the face of a crippling recession and the failure of some companies to benefit from e-commerce or the dramatic growth of m-commerce, to the inability of companies to penetrate emerging markets, the emerging threat of e-crime – and black swan events such as the horse-meat scandal.

While some leaders are not coping with the threats posed by these changes and appear afraid to experiment, others are fostering innovations such as mobile scan-and-shop services, interactive mirrors, and contactless payment.


The results of the Christmas trading period offer stark contrasts. Morrisons – the only big four supermarket without an online food presence – saw sales fall 2.5 per cent over Christmas. Blockbuster and HMV, which were both infamous for slow moves to online and digital services, went into administration, as did camera retailers Jessops – which never responded adequately to the increased popularity of camera phones and the resultant downward spiral of demand for digital cameras.

Whistles, on the other hand – which launched a same-day delivery option for customers in London – saw sales rise 26 per cent in the Christmas trading period. John Lewis, one of the best multi-channel retailers, reported like-for-like sales up 13 per cent. And Tesco – which is experimenting with hydroponics in some markets – posted its strongest growth in like-for-like sales for three years and bounced back from a disastrous Christmas last year.

Approximately 1.5 million people are employed in temporary and part-time jobs in the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics’ Annual Earnings of Hours & Earnings.