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25 min watch with captions and full transcript

Dunelm, the UK’s leading home furnishing chain, decided that they wanted to start listening to their employees in the same way they did with their customers. So they created their “always on” employee survey, integrating it with their three-part “Keep Listening and Looking” program for collecting employee feedback.

In this interview, Wayne shares his tips for:

  • How to create an employee feedback approach that will truly drive employee engagement.
  • How to use feedback to make a positive difference to your business, and open the lines of communication between managers and employees.
  • How to integrate your feedback tools to create a variety of tools for employees to be heard, and for managers to act upon.


Learn from Wayne's rebel insight's:
  • Make sure your employees understand and are clear about the feedback mechanisms you have at your company or they won’t use them.
  • Let the person who can genuinely influence and make a difference own the feedback.
  • Once you ask for feedback, be ready to action it quickly or you may never get it again.
  • Align your processes with your values and your culture, making it work for you
Our favorite quotes:

We very much believe in great place to work equals great place to shop.

It's about making sure that you're always on to listening to what people have to say, and you're able to take that, and you're able to look at what's going on so you will make better decisions on that basis. That's exactly why we introduced this.

It's just about not listening just once, it's about making sure that you're listening always, and you're able to see trends that are happening on the whole company basis, and also take more tactical action that you wouldn't be able to take otherwise.

Wayne's interview

DEBRA COREY: Hi there. I'm Debra Corey, and I am the co-author of Build It: a Rebel playbook for world- class employee engagement. I'm here today with Wayne Hall, who is the Reward Manager at Dunelm.


DEBRA COREY: Very excited to be here today talking to you. It's a lovely office.

WAYNE HALL: Thank you.

DEBRA COREY: You walk around the office, and you see the product all over the place.

WAYNE HALL: Yes, absolutely, because you can get kind of a bit more siloed if you're in an office all the time and, clearly, that's where all the actions happens at, in our stores selling products, and on our websites and things.

DEBRA COREY: We're talking about engagement today, and it's a nice subtle type of engagement, engaging people with the products.

WAYNE HALL: Absolutely, yeah. When we moved in here four years ago, kind of for the first year, we were much more clear of product in here, and it was a bit more sterile, I guess, but we've tried to bring that to life a bit more in this building for that reason.

DEBRA COREY: Yeah, Star Wars sheets. I'm ready to go out and buy  some, so now all good stuff. What we're going to talk about today is data, specifically employee data, employee feedback data, which we talked about in the book, but I thought today we could maybe talk about it in a little bit more detail for everybody.

WAYNE HALL: Yeah, cool.

DEBRA COREY: Would you start out maybe telling us a little bit about the company. I've talked about Star Wars sheets, but I know you do more than Star Wars sheets.

WAYNE HALL: Yes, so Dunelm is UK's number one soft furnishings retailer, so we sell cushions, fabric, curtains, bedding. Even furniture is an area that we're obviously growing in, so yeah, lots of anything, really, for the home, in the inside of the home, so yes. We have 170-odd shops now across the whole UK and one in Jersey as well, a couple in northern Ireland, so covering quite a span. We have two offices and employ about 10,000 people.


WAYNE HALL: Which has grown, as you can imagine-

DEBRA COREY: I can imagine, yeah.

WAYNE HALL: ... exponentially over ... I've been here about 17 years, and think they had about 50 shops when I came, so it's ...

DEBRA COREY: Wow, it really has grown. But everybody loves home furnishings. I mean, my husband got sheets for Christmas. Nothing says love like sheets. So yeah, home furnishings, definitely on the rise. But if you think about your employee population, you've got people in all of those stores, it must be really difficult to reach all of them. It's not like they're all in this nice lovely office here.

WAYNE HALL: Absolutely, yeah. So of course, we've got probably on average 40 colleagues in each of those 170 shops, and we've got our own distribution center, manufacturing center, we've got our own fleet of home delivery network drivers. I'm trying to think of all the different populations. Fitters, contact center, we've got so many different arms to our business. Which is fantastic for lots of reasons, career point of view, you can literally do anything in retail within our business, but it also proves it can be challenging in terms of engaging every single one of those colleagues.

DEBRA COREY: Yeah, especially from an HR perspective.

WAYNE HALL: Absolutely, and listening, being able to listen kind of centrally to what people think in Truro versus what people think in Inverness, which are probably experiencing some very similar things that they want to either suggest, or think we could improve on. Or equally just want to tell us we're doing well at, so yeah it's important that we're able to listen in that way.

DEBRA COREY: Definitely. Now, you sort of have a head start in that you come from the stores, don't you?

WAYNE HALL: Yeah, many years ago but yeah.

DEBRA COREY: Talk a little bit about your career ... Many years ago, yeah.

WAYNE HALL: I think I started in 2000, well it would have been wouldn't it, entering my 18th year, so yeah, 2000 I started. Probably did about five years in store whilst at uni, and doing my A levels and things like that. I'll let you work out what that means for my age. Then I came in into the HR department as it was then, in a much smaller converted warehouse office that we were in, and I've done several different HR roles ever since, and landed into rewards, as you're well aware, kind of about two and a half years ago.

DEBRA COREY: I think it helps though, I mean when I worked at Gap I used to have sort of an approach that half of my people on my team would come from stores, and half my people would come from traditional HR, because you bring a perspective that someone like me, who didn't formerly work in stores, has. Which I think makes even a richer approach to HR.

WAYNE HALL: Absolutely. We have really big push around our home grown talent, and developing our own people. Particularly people who are going to, I guess, also running our stores. In the last year 88% of all of our store manager roles have been filled with internal people, which, you know, that's incredible.

DEBRA COREY: That's really good.

WAYNE HALL: Yeah, really proud of that stat, because no one knows our culture and our own people, and can lead our people, like ones we've developed.

DEBRA COREY: We could talk forever about all this.

WAYNE HALL: Yeah, sorry.

: I know, sorry, I get very interested and passionate when we talk about this. But let's go back to data, employee data.

WAYNE HALL: Yes of course.

DEBRA COREY: You've done some really innovative and rebellious things, I think you have.

WAYNE HALL: We've tried.

DEBRA COREY: You've tried. But maybe you can just talk about why. So, why did you decide ... A lot of companies do an annual review, works well for them. Why did you decide you needed to do something different and something more?

WAYNE HALL: Well, we've had surveys for many years, colleague surveys, employee surveys. We've done it in very traditional way, so for many years we did kind of the 40 questions, once a year, the verbatim box but you couldn't really do anything with that data because it was just a load of words, and you listened once a year. Then I went to something, it was clearly ... We launched the way we now do engagement, it was November last year. So it was early last year, I went to a conference and someone was up there talking about treating your colleagues in the same way as you treat your customers, and said, well you wouldn't switch it and listen to your customers only once a year and make all your decisions.

It really made me think, "Yeah, good point." We do one snapshot survey, and you know what it's like, how you feel at that point may feel very different from three months down the line, or whatever. So it made us think we've potentially got an opportunity to do something a bit different, so we changed it. So now we are kind of listening to our colleagues, and we're able to get that feedback, and our colleagues really use it. Still more we can do, it's still relatively new, it's 12 months on, but yeah, we're quite proud of what we did with it.

DEBRA COREY: Think what I like about it, just from a starting point, is that you took all the good things that you do from a customer perspective, and you treated your employees as customers. So you are right, so when I bought those lovely sheets for Christmas, I automatically gave feedback on how was my experience, how was my shopping experience, how did it go. I think it's great to take those lessons and that inspiration.

WAYNE HALL: Yeah, and it's exactly the same platform, we use the company who provide it, and we did that on purpose because it means we can correlate that information, so we very much believe in great place to work equals great place to shop, so that's exactly why it really fitted. Also our culture was set to it, our culture's always been built on honest, real-time kind of "Tell it as it is" type feedback, yet with our colleagues we were doing this one survey, once a year. It just didn't really fit our culture, whereas what we do now really kind of plays into that much better.

DEBRA COREY: It's interesting 'cause we talk a lot about it in the book, is that we've all gotten a bit comfortable with some of the traditional ways of doing HR, and it is very traditional to do an annual survey, and I'm sure that a large percentage of companies, that's what they do, and they haven't moved on. And you do need to shake it up every once in a while, so you do it ... How often do you do it? Talk a little bit about what it is, and even, you told me what it was called, what it's called?

WAYNE HALL: Okay, so we call it Keep Listening and Looking, which will just sound a bit crazy to everyone else, but we quite like that.

DEBRA COREY: It works for you.

WAYNE HALL: Exactly, 'cause it's based on one of what we call our business principals, you could call them values, you could call them model behaviors, you could call them lots of things, but they were written by the founder's son, who was also our CEO for much of our time. One of those is keep listening and looking, which is a fantastic phrase, it's about making
sure that you're always on to listening to what people have to say, and you're able to take that, and you're able to look at what's going on so you will make better decisions on that basis. That's exactly why we introduced this.

What we introduced is a Always On approach to listen to our colleagues, so as a colleague in Dunelm, you can go to a website it is, and say what store you're in, you don't have to give any kind of personal information whatsoever. Answer the NPS question, would you recommend Dunelm as a place to work, and then you've got a big box to write ... I think it says something round, kind of, tell us what would improve, what frustrates you, what you like about Dunelm, and they fill in that box.

On average they probably talk about six topics in that box, when they give that feedback. So what we realized quite early on in this process is, you think of why you change things around, 'cause why you do far more social media things with customers and all of that, when it applies ... Our customers are our colleagues, and vice versa. All those things that are going on in their ... All the reasons they want Always On, the reasons that they take to social media, they all apply to our colleagues. So we're just embracing that way of thinking.

DEBRA COREY: And you want to know that roller coaster that people are going through, you don't want to just know, as you said, that one point in time. Now some people might be thinking, "Oh my gosh, it's always on. The HR team is going to be forever working on this." Is it really as scary as it sounds? Are you just, 100% of your team, devoted to the survey and this data now?

WAYNE HALL: We are devoted to the data, I want to say we're not slaves to the data. So we absolutely are listening to every piece of feedback comes in, and that piece of feedback gets to the people who can make a difference to it. So that's really important in our business, to make sure that happens. So I would say it's just a great way of us being able to listen, to the point that our retail director, as an example, every single piece of feedback that comes through from a retail store, retail store colleague, gets to him. Every single one. And he genuinely reads it, and he genuinely reacts to it. Doesn't just get to him, clearly you wouldn't want him to be totally accountable for answering that, but it goes to anyone else in that chain who needs to know that feedback. So yeah, they absolutely own it, take that on board, so that we can move forward.

We've definitely made better decisions on the back of what we've heard on it, but it hasn't been a case of kind of, it's just constant grievances coming through or anything like that, and it's all anonymous anyway. It wouldn't be the right way, and we've been very clear on that. I mean it is a difficult message to get across, particularly early doors, about, when do you use this, and what's the purpose of it. But once people see that
they can create change out of it then all the better.

DEBRA COREY: I love the ownership aspect of it, because a lot, again if you think about annual surveys a lot of the time it's HR that owns it, and then we'll share it with the leadership team and the management team but at the end of the day we own it. So what was your decision to have your store people, your retail people, own the data and action the data?

WAYNE HALL: Mainly because we'd create an industry in here if we tried to do everything centrally, and it's really important, and again it's something, that bit about taking ownership, being committed to doing the right thing, is again ingrained in our culture. So it's about just driving the right behavior and making sure ... They will make a much better decision
and make it quicker, and be able to take action quicker, if the person who can genuinely influence it takes that ownership.

The other thing to say is, annual surveys for us still have a place. So what you can't do on an Always On basis is say, that store is not engaged because we've had this one piece of feedback from, as an example, Aberdeen. But you can take good, tactical action on the back of what you hear through that, and then the annual survey is when you make then
the judgment call, is that an engaged store, are they doing the right things.

So we still do the annual survey-

DEBRA COREY: So there's a place for both of them.

WAYNE HALL: Yeah, we still do an annual survey, because the other time you can go to ... So it's one where you go to the population and say, "We want your feedback," and we do want to prompt that and make sure it's tied to the right demographics, and all the rest of it.

So we do know it's from that store, and all of that good stuff that you get with an annual survey. But it's just about not listening just once, it';s about making sure that you're listening always, and you're able to see trends that are happening on the whole company basis, and also take more tactical action that you wouldn't be able to take otherwise. I don't think it's as clear otherwise.

DEBRA COREY: Now, a lot of companies have challenges getting people to fill out surveys. So again, devil's advocate, if you're doing it Always On, how are you going to get people to participate, people to join in? What have you found to work well in those situations?

WAYNE HALL: Make sure that people know it's the clear feedback mechanism, so people know if they go to, I don't know, a training event, or if they have a big piece of news that's communicated, clearly we don't want people not to talk to their line manager, that's never what this is about. Again that's another balance you have to strike.

DEBRA COREY: That's a good point.

WAYNE HALL: Absolutely, if you're going to give us feedback, don't go to Glassdoor and just do it on there, or don't go and moan on social media and do it on there, come and tell us, genuinely, 'cause we can do something about, and we want to do something about whatever it may be, and we want to make sure you're clear on the message if there has been any doubt. So yeah, it's really important, I think.

DEBRA COREY: Definitely, and I think you're right, if you can even just ingrain it to what you're talking about in the organization. The fact that it's one of your values also, I think, makes a difference, 'cause it's not like that's the only way that you listen in the company. There's lots of mechanisms for listening. It's not an island on its own.

WAYNE HALL: That's definitely true, and I think we've also learned as we've gone ... I mean, hey, we definitely made mistakes in the start of this, as you can well imagine, but nothing that crippled anything. We were able to adapt it and make sure, I think in this building it got used in a slightly different way than it did in the other area of the business. I think it did become probably, had a bit more kind of airy pockets where you had a bit more just moaning for moaning's sake going on. But what we did with that is we've now made it into a more positive, so every month our exec team stand up in our center, we record it so it can go out to the rest of the business, and they do a update on the strategy and how things are going.

But then there's also a session called Ask The Exec. And in order to submit your question for Ask The Exec, you put it through our Keep Listening and Looking portal.

DEBRA COREY: That's a really good idea.

WAYNE HALL: And literally every single question that's asked gets answered. So we had one question which was about the strategy around our distribution network, so that was one question. We equally had a question about, I think it was, who has longer arms, Mr Tickle or Inspector Gadget? Clearly someone thinking they were very clever, and to be
fair to our IT director he stood up and he answered it. It broke it up, it was a bit of fun, and it was very early in how Ask The Exec worked. Now people do genuinely use it in a far more productive way, 'cause they trust that it genuinely gets listened to, and they get the answers they want out of it.

DEBRA COREY: I like how you've been creative and not just had it as a standalone survey, you've given it more of a life by having Ask The Exec, and other aspects. I think that makes sense, and also you made it work in your company.


DEBRA COREY: So what kind of results have you had because of it? You said you've made better decisions, which is fantastic to hear, because that's what you want to do with the data. What other types of things have you seen as a result of doing the survey?

WAYNE HALL: There's some quite, again quite tactical stuff I guess, would be some examples.

So we heard some things that we thought had been eradicated out of our business, some things around rota planning, holiday planning, and when communication happened, there was a few things around that. We thought we were very clear around how those things were ... What the expectation was with that, and we heard very quickly, once we launched the Always On, that actually that wasn't the case. But you didn't just hear ... What was very different is, you didn't just see on a ... 'Cause we already had stats around who'd published, for example, three weeks worth of rotas in stores. But actually what we also heard is, "Because I've not got my rota for two weeks' time, I can't plan my childcare, that's causing me immense stress, and feels like nobody's listening to me." Suddenly, the emotion that's attached to that, is much greater than you've ever going to get on a statistic. So that meant we really stood up, took notice, and we went out with a very strong message around, no no no, that's not tolerated. And clearly it reduced dramatically, very quickly, once we went into that with that message. So we were able to take quite tactical decision in that way.

In terms of, I think there's been, kind of ... When decisions have been made we've had a bit of, people have come and said, "Oh I'm not sure what this is about," or, "I'm not quite clear on this element." And very quickly again we've been able to stand up, or present a communication on our weekly, our CEO or Will Adderley, the founder's son, sends out a weekly communication, and again we've been able to say, "You've said this on here, let's be really clear what this means," and we've been able to very quickly and tactically get in and clarify, without it needing to create jungle drums, which it may have done before. So yeah, I think there's quite a few little examples. I think one of the biggest examples is the fact that, in July of last year, we had a minus ... I think it was somewhere ... A minus score on engagement, and actually we're now shifted that by kind of 50% or something, in a six month period.


WAYNE HALL: And it was just by saying to managers ... I think that annual survey that happened in July last year was the point where our managers really got the power of this, and yeah, they now clearly took it much more seriously. And in our half-year survey results, as I say, we saw a huge swing, which was fantastic, and it was because managers really did take that accountability and owned their result, and listened to their colleagues and took action.

DEBRA COREY: It just shows how important it is though, for your colleagues, or anyone, to be listened to, and the thing that it sounds like you've done multiple times in the organization is that you action it quite quickly, and you also action it locally. So you're telling people what you've done, instead of behind the scenes fixing things, which is quite important as well.

WAYNE HALL: Yeah I think particularly on the annual survey, literally the day the survey shut, because we tied into the same way that we do our Always On, we were able to release the results the next day. As opposed to, previously we had a three month waiting time.

DEBRA COREY: People forget about it by then.

WAYNE HALL: Yeah of course, and three months, realistically, is three months for the manager to get it, then probably another month for them to-

DEBRA COREY: For them to work it out.

WAYNE HALL: ... work it out, yeah, and then they're waiting for, centrally, what are they going to do on the back of the results. We very quickly went out with, oh no no no, this is your result, the biggest thing we've seen in the results is the difference in the my manager questions, so you've got to own that, managers, and you've got to be more consistent in, here's some things you can do very quickly that will make a big difference. So the message wasn't, "Wait for us to do something centrally for you to implement." It was, "No no, own it, make the difference." I think that's the biggest thing that changed.

DEBRA COREY: I was going to ask you for some tips and you've said some-


DEBRA COREY: No, you've done some really good ones already, so the bit about ownership, definitely ownership. The last one you talked about was timely, which again I don't think enough people think of, they think that things need to be nice and neat and perfect before you go out to employees. But the fact that you do it so quickly and make it so timely, I'm sure that's made a big difference to your colleagues.

WAYNE HALL: I think so, I think sometimes just standing up and saying, "Here's what we know. We haven't got all the answers here."


WAYNE HALL: But it's a hugely authentic way of leading, I think people think they have to have the nice packaged box to be able to say, "Here's everything,"; before I tell you. And sometimes you're saying, "You know what? Here's what I know so far, I don't know everything but I'm committed to making sure that you guys are... This is better." Or, "We do this." I think that's fine for people.


WAYNE HALL: I particularly, again going back to the world that we now live in, people do not wait.

DEBRA COREY: No, not with social media, no.

WAYNE HALL: People do not wait. So apparently, I heard that in certain parts of London, Amazon could deliver on Christmas Eve if you ordered by something ridiculous like 10 o'clock at night, on Christmas Eve you could have it within two hours, you know. If you're in that world, then why on earth would you wait three months to find out the outcome of something
you've just contributed to?

DEBRA COREY: Yeah. I think it's a really interesting point, because we keep talking about how work life and home life keep intersecting, and we expect the same things that you have at home.

WAYNE HALL: Of course.

DEBRA COREY: So you're right, that is something that you have at home. If you've got really slow wifi, heaven forbid you wait like a minute to download something. My children freak out when those things happen.

WAYNE HALL: Absolutely. No more, "Get off the phone, I'm trying to dial up on the modem." Exactly, it's a completely different world now, so why are we using the methods, necessarily, that we used back then. It isn't necessarily the right thing to do.

I'm not saying this works for every business either, let's be clear. As I said at the start, our culture was ready and fit for this. If you're a business which is probably a bit more hierarchical, a bit more kind of reflective, and I guess wants to take their time a bit more on these things... You've got to be ready to listen, 'cause once they give their feedback the worst thing
you can do is just ignore it. You might as well not ask for the feedback if you're going to just say, "Okay, I'm not really that interested." Then your engagement will fall off the cliff.

DEBRA COREY: I think that's a really important point, that you have to do something with it. I worked in organizations before where you do the survey, you put it on the shelf, then next time you go to your employees they don't even want to give you the feedback. So I think that's a really important tip. Then also the point that you said about, make it your own.

We talk about that engagement all the time, about how ... You were inspired at a talk by something that someone said to you, hopefully what you're saying is inspiring. I know it inspired me to take a step back and look at what we're doing at my company, and that's really what I'd like to end, by saying to people, is think about how you're getting your employees feedback right now. Is it working? Is it timely enough? Is there
enough ownership? Is there enough action? And be a bit rebellious, and be a bit innovative, because it works, doesn't it?

WAYNE HALL: It does.

: Yes, you've seen results.

WAYNE HALL: It's fun, it's fun as well.

DEBRA COREY: Oh, and it's fun too. Oh well, then definitely go out, be a rebel, make it fun, and I'd love to hear what you do also, if anybody has any interesting ways that they're getting data. So thank you so much for that, I wish you all the best with the feedback, and getting it, and continuing to engage with your employees, and I look forward to hearing what you do next in other areas of engagement. Lots of great ideas, right?

WAYNE HALL: Yes, yeah, lots. So yeah, watch this space.

: Watch this space - thank you.

WAYNE HALL: Thank you, cheers.