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16 min watch with captions and full transcript

Halfords understands that service is what sets them apart from their online competitors, and that it’s their employees that deliver this service each and every day to each and every customer. They also understand that it’s their leaders that set the tone and environment for their employees to be the best they can be, and for this reason have developed a leadership model they call the “Big Four”.

In this interview, Jonathan shares his tips for:

  • The importance of leaders to a business and to their workforce
  • How to create a leadership model that helps managers create and maintain an engaged workforce
  • How to use data to measure and drive engagement


Learn from Jonathan’s rebel insights, like:
  • It’s important to help and let employees play to their strengths in the work that they do
  • Leaders need to truly understand their employees, what drives them and what’s going on in their world
  • Use data to make leaders accountable and drive action
  • Keep it simple, don’t overcomplicate things
Our favorite quotes:

A store is like a family unit. If you don't get engagement right with the leader, you can feel the difference as soon as you walk in.

If I (as a leader) have got a team or a bunch of colleagues who I can really share that genuine concern for, then the likelihood is, they're going to be more committed to us as an organization.

Jonathan's interview:

DEBRA COREY: Hi, I'm Debra Corey. I am the co-author of the book Built It: A Rebel Playbook for World Class Employee Engagement. And I'm here today in Redditch in the UK, at Halfords' head office. And I'm here with Jonathan Crookall, who is the People Director at Halfords. And we're here to talk about a play that is in the book. And I'm really excited about it, it's on the topic of leadership, which we all know is absolutely critical to engagement. And I'm going to quote you already, Jonathan. I love this quote. It's in the book, which is, a store is like a family unit. If you don't get engagement right with the leader, you can feel the difference as soon as you walk in. And I've been in retail before, and I know exactly what you mean. You can tell when you have a strong leader and a strong management group. So we're going to talk a little bit about how and what you do at Halfords to create that. So, first maybe you want to tell us a little bit about Halfords, for people who don't know the organization.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Sure. So, Halfords is best known as a retailer of automotive and cycling products. So, we have around 460 stores in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. But as well, we've got a garage business, so we do servicing, after sales servicing with cars. And we've also bought recently a small business, smaller business, called Treads, which is an online cycling resaler. So we're in the business of satisfying customers for their needs where it could be around automotive products or around cycling, and we're very big on the serving aspect on that, so when people have bought the products, we want them to come back to us, and talk to us some more about their lifetime needs for those services.

DEBRA COREY: And I think that's really important, because with a lot of retailers, you sell them something, and then they leave. But you are right, I go to Halfords all the time. I told you, I've got an electric bike from Halfords, which I love. And I go there with my car, and you're right, you have to have that service. And your employees are the service.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Absolutely. Yeah. So, yeah, I mean, really the thing that makes us very different from a lot of our online competitors is, we provide that service, and that knowledge and expertise to our customers when they come through the door.

DEBRA COREY: Great. So, we're going to focus on the leadership side. I know there's lots of great things that you do on engagement in general. And the thing that we talk about in the book is this novel approach with this leadership model. So maybe you can talk a little bit about why you decided to create this in the first place.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Sure. So, I think what follows from thinking about serving being so important to us is really, well, who delivers that service? Well, it's the colleagues who work for us in those stores, and in those garages actually. And so what we figured out was that what we really need is for the environment for those colleagues to be right. And who creates the environment for those leaders? Well, for those colleagues, well, it's our leaders. So we focus very strongly on engagement, and it's the leader in a particular store, as you've just mentioned, who really sets the tone and sets the environment that colleagues work in.

So, and the reason that we know that service-related sales is our growth area, it's the big, huge potential for us going forward.

DEBRA COREY: Yeah. People coming back...


DEBRA COREY: Time and time again.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Absolutely. And so that is embodied through the colleagues that you meet when you go into store.

DEBRA COREY: Definitely. So, tell us a little bit about this model. I think you call it the Big Four.



JONATHAN CROOKALL: Yeah, so we worked with an outfit called Positive Reframe to create this model. So very grateful to them. And basically, it features the big four, as you call them. And so it starts with clarity, so we need everybody to be clear about what the organization's about, but
equally what their role and what their part in the organization is.
Secondly, we talk about strengths. So it's really important that people are playing to their strengths on a daily basis, so when you come to work, you're doing the things that you're really good at. So quite often, we find, when we start to talk to store managers about this, that they'll find, well, actually, this particular colleague is great at this stuff, so why don't we switch them into a different role where they're really, you know, their gifting is brought to life. The next one is praise and recognition. So again, we spend a lot of our time encouraging people to do the right thing, and we go around the organization looking for people doing things well, rather than focusing on the things that they're not doing so well. So praise and recognition. And then finally, and I think this is probably our magic secret ingredient, if you like, we took about...

DEBRA COREY: Your secret sauce, like, some food company. Yeah.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Absolutely. We talk about genuine concern. And what we mean by that is, do I actually know the people who work for me and with me? Do I really know them? Because if I understand what drives them, and what's going on in their world, so what's their partner's name? What do their kids do? What do they do when they're not at work? Then we've got a deeper relationship and that genuine concern gets played out in all sorts of ways.

So if I've got a team or a bunch of colleagues who I can really share that genuine concern for, then the likelihood is, they're going to be more committed to us as an organization.

DEBRA COREY: And it's interesting, because if you think about the new world of work, and the new way that we expect our leaders to lead, I agree with you completely. You need to have that compassion, you need to have that concern.


DEBRA COREY: And it's less about that just dictating what people should do. So it's nice that it's built into your model. What talk changes have you seen since you've rolled out the big four at the organization?

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Sure. The very sort of base level of understand of what happens as to our engagement survey, so one of the things that we do is, as well as... so we ask a typical sort of 37 questions every year, of all of our colleagues. By the way, we get about 95% of them participating in that survey.

DEBRA COREY: Wow. Well done.


DEBRA COREY: That's great.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: So it's something that people really engage with, if you'll pardon the pun. But one of the things that we look at there is we look for direct feedback on leadership style. So every leader in every store will have a score that combines each of the aspects of the four, the big four, and gives them a sense of, where are they, and how are they doing against those? And obviously we also correlate that with a number of other things. So we correlate that with engagement. We also look at our customer data. And we also look at our sales and financial data. And the great news is, and this is why it's probably worth featuring in your book, we've seen all those metrics moving in a positive direction as we've rolled this approach to leadership out across the business.

So, and you can see as well, back to my quote from earlier, you can see, when you go into a store, where we're getting it right with that leader, and that model is playing out. We can see the benefit of that, just in the atmosphere when you walk into the place. But also in the results that flow, whether that's NPS data, another customer's scores, or whether that's returning customers, whether that's top line sales or bottom line profitability.

DEBRA COREY: And that's one of the reasons that I really wanted to feature the play, as you said.


DEBRA COREY: Because a lot of times, I've worked in organizations before, and you try to convince your leadership team that you need to focus on leadership, and you need to spend the time and energy on leadership. But the fact that you've got the data behind it to show, I think
for anyone who's having challenges convincing, read this play, talk to Jonathan. It does make difference. I know, I was in retail for many, many years, and I've seen that as well, that you can definitely see that strong correlation.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: And the other... sorry to interrupt, but the other great thing, because we are a retail-based business, our store managers and colleagues generally love a number.

DEBRA COREY: Yes, they do.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: So because we've got the data, and we've got the numbers around this stuff, so I'll go into a store on a store visit, and in the back shop, in the colleague room, there'll be a board on the wall that's got their data for engagement and leadership. And you can see, the good ones, of course, will go, hey, Jonathan, take a look at my scores. The others, the ones who may be on the curve still, will go in and say, okay, well, let's have a look at where you are and what are you doing about? So it becomes very actionable, as well as... so it gives a great focus for people to get after.

DEBRA COREY: And it's great that it's talked about, it's not just, we look at the number once a year, and then we just ignore it. What do you do in situations where you might find that there's a leader who might be struggling, or their number might be low? As an organization, what
do you do to support them?

JONATHAN CROOKALL: So quite often, it may be a new leader or someone who's moved to a new store. Quite often the situation is, maybe they weren't aware of it, so that first piece of understand and getting that data is really important. And frankly, it's just classic coaching, working with that leader, that manager, to understand what the data's telling them. And we have a bit of a drum beat of sort of quarterly review of engagement and leadership. So each of the teams will sit with their own team and work through, okay, so what are we going to do about it? And it's very clear, visible, actionable stuff that generally happens. So it's, you know, we try and use the mode itself to work with those leaders and managers. So we work out what their strengths out, and we follow it with the praise and
recognition as to what are they doing to try and fix it.

Occasionally, you get a situation where somebody doesn't make it, and they're not maybe built for leading that particular team at that particular time. The great news is, because we've got so many different roles within the structure, it's easy to accommodate them doing something else. So we'll see people self-select out of leadership roles, and then very, very occasionally, obviously, we have to take people out of those roles as well.

DEBRA COREY: But I think staying on top of it and constantly evaluating it, and to your point you said earlier about playing to people's strengths, so is this the right job for them?

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Absolutely, yeah.

DEBRA COREY: Is this the right role? Instead of two years later, oh, maybe we should have moved that person out.


DEBRA COREY: So, I think it works well. The other thing I like about the model also is, in the book we have a ten elements of the engagement bridge. And what you've done in the leadership model itself is bring different elements in. So even your leadership model is not one-
dimensional, and I think that's really good, how it is more integrated with other areas that you expect leader to get involved with.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

DEBRA COREY: Perfect. So, if anybody is thinking of doing something like this, first of all, what we talk about all the time is, don't just go take the four aspects of your big four. Create it in your own way. But if they're doing it, what kinds of tips or advice have you learned by doing this that you could suggest to people?

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Sure. I mean, a lot of the backgrounds of the big four, for us, comes out of a lot of the sort of traditional thinking around what makes great leaders. So we looked at, there's a great thinker called Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe, who wrote a load of work about followership. And that's partly where the genuine concern piece comes out. And so actually doing a bit of background on where this thinking comes from I think really
important. And there's plenty of literature out there to go and check out.

But I think what you're hinting at is you've got to make it work for your organization. So for us, the key thing is that the service that we provide to customers, it gets delivered through our colleagues. So the engagement of those colleagues is really important, and then what flows from that is the leadership model that works in a Halfords context. So I don't think you've got to work through the logic behind it, and how you get there. But also do something that's really appropriate to your organization. 

And the only other tip that I would have is, keep it simple. If we could boil it down to a big three, I'd be even happier. But the fact that it's four, and pretty much every single one of our leaders, managers, would be able to tell you what those big four are, and they know that it's in the currency, it's in the language of day to day running of Halfords, which is... so I think those would be my top tips, really.

DEBRA COREY: I think that';s really smart, because if you keep it simple, people can remember it. And if you talk about it all the time, people can remember it. Because even if you have three, and nobody talks about it, they're not going to remember it. So again, it goes back to what we talked about before, it's well integrated into the business, and it's making a

And you told me, when we were starting before, that you've got a new boss coming in. What was the reaction to this new model?

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Yeah, so, Graham Stapleton, the YouTube exec, starts on Monday, this coming Monday. And we've already talked about the leadership model here, he was really interested in, what are we doing in this area? Which is a big tick to start with.

DEBRA COREY: That's good. You want a leader who supports that stuff, yes?

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Absolutely. And so in taking Graham through that in his sort of pre-induction, the thing that he said to me he felt really stood out, and was very compatible to the culture we have, and the business objectives that we've got here, was the aspect of genuine
concern. So I think a lot of organizations will talk about, well, are we being clear, do we have clarity? Quite a few will talk about strengths now, because that's, again, in the literature, and in people's thinking. And again, there's been a lot written about recognizing and praise. But I think genuine concern is, it almost feels, oh, that's not hardcore enough. Why would I want to share genuine concerns to the people that I work with? But I think, so he noticed that, and said, oh, that's really interesting, and I can see how that would support the types of things that we're trying to do, in terms of really looking after customers on their life's journey.

DEBRA COREY: And I think that's what makes it unique also, because the fact that you build it into your model. I mean, we should all be having genuine concerns, so if anyone was creating a model, I would hope that they would have it. But the fact that it's there means that it is top of mind, and it is a focus.

And as a customer, I love that you have it, and again, I've been into many of your stores, and I've felt it. Somebody who had to walk me around and try to find a bike that fits someone who's five feet tall. I think he spent an hour with me trying to help me. And that truly was genuine concern.


DEBRA COREY: He was going to find a bike. He did not want me to leave feeling like I was this short person who couldn't find a bike. So, yeah, it does make a difference, definitely.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: I'm pleased to hear that.

DEBRA COREY: Perfect. Well, thank you very much for that. I enjoyed speaking to you when we did the play in the book, and I've even learned more today, even a new book I'm going to go out and read. So I'll make sure that we put that in our notes so other people who are interested in that book.

And I guess in ending, really my advice to everybody, whether you're working on leadership or any other area on the bridge, is just to go out there don't be afraid to be a rebel. Just go be a rebel and make it your own, and all the best, and if you want to read more about any of the plays, or we've got lots of other video interviews, just go to rebelplaybook.com. Thank you.

JONATHAN CROOKALL: Great. Thanks, Debra.