Section 1: Employability Skills
During my time at Asda, I was presented with the opportunity to work on a variety of projects within the Project Support and Governance team. In doing so, I was enabled to develop a wide range of employability skills. The three skills which I feel I developed the most during my time and which I will now discuss are team working, creativity and innovation and world of work awareness.
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I feel that I have always been a team player but not had many opportunities to demonstrate this to myself. The working environment at Asda is very much centred on being part of a team and being a team player. I have worked on around nine different projects taking on varying roles in each project. I have primarily assisted the project manager with admin support but there have been occasions when I have been required to step up and facilitate the meeting in the absence of the project manager. This has been a good opportunity for me to demonstrate to my own team that I am a team player as I lack confidence and the role of meeting facilitator was daunting at first and something I was not keen to do. However, I was willing to do it in an effort to support the team when we were low on headcount. This resulted in me covering two different projects for a PM while she recovered following an operation. Within my team, I have also got involved in other ways. I plan our quarterly team meeting which is always held away from the office and have taken the opportunity to create and deliver ice breaker activities at the beginning of the day in order to bring the team together. This is something which the team has come to look forward to and have said they will miss. My team have been one of the best parts of my placement experience and working with them has given me the confidence to get involved in project and team activities and prove to myself how capable I am of a variety of team roles.
Within the world of logistics, innovation is a key focus with the constant desire to deliver cost and time saving initiatives. I have never considered myself a creative person or a forward thinker but my involvement in particular innovative projects has really developed this skill. One of the first projects I became involved with had the aim of delivering automated guided vehicles (AGVs) into depots. This technology immediately impressed me and sparked my interest as I was not even aware such technology was available. I joined this project as admin support at the very beginning of my placement and continued to support throughout. To begin with, my understanding was very limited but I eventually began to absorb the technical language and information shared in project meetings and produce meeting outputs that were suitable to be circulated with the project group. One of my biggest contributions to this project was pulling together a piece of work on use cases for whether the AGVs should feature CCTV. This was then presented to the project group and I surprised myself that I was able to understand the need for the technology but also the implications. Another key project was being part of a Phone App team in the Innovation Group. I had to take the lead due to poor group participation and ultimately the team became just myself and a colleague from the graduate scheme. Despite this, we were able to land changes to the Asda intranet site WalmartOne to make it more user friendly and include features that depot colleagues had asked for in a survey we had conducted. I would say I required support and time to develop my creativity and innovative ideas but I am grateful I had the opportunities to work on projects that allowed me to do this as I felt it was a key weakness.
World of work awareness is not really something I had ever really considered until beginning placement. Being in the head office of such a large organisation, you are frequently provided with business updates and become very aware of how things work and the external pressures faced by the business. Some key events for the business have taken place during my placement. One of the most notable was the proposed merger with Sainsbury’s. The communication to colleagues in head office was very strong with the business being keen to inform colleagues before information was broadcast by the media. Due to the strong communication and conversations within the office, I was able to understand the pros and cons of merging and the implications not just for the two businesses, but for the grocery market as well. Having already worked for Asda for four years prior to my placement, I had a good level of retail knowledge. Going into Logistics, I have been able to share this knowledge, particularly technical vocabulary, and it has enabled me to better understand changes in the business and understand how the supply chain works and how different departments interact and impact on each other.
Section 2: Placement Report
Throughout my placement with Asda, I have worked in a single team but undertaken a great variety of tasks. In this report, I will focus on how the tasks I have been involved in and completed have impacted my personal development and growth but also how I, as an individual, have contributed to the organisation in my role as EDLC Project Support and Governance Administrator as part of the Project Support and Governance (PSG) team. Firstly, I will consider how my placement began with time in the Asda depots and how this introduced me to the industry and the placement. I will then discuss the most significant projects I was involved with and how I was able to contribute to each of them. After this, I will look at the involvement I had in larger meetings which were not project related and the support I provided to Asda Logistics Services (ALS) events. This will lead on to the key administration tasks I completed on a regular basis. Finally I will evaluate the contribution I provided through training colleagues and the handover plan I created for the next Industrial Placement student.
My placement with Asda began with a three week induction which essentially involved touring various depots within the network. Through this, I was able to gain a rudimentary understanding of how different types of depot work having seen ambient, chilled and clothing. The final week of induction gave me the opportunity to actually spend three days working in a chilled depot. For me, this was an interesting experience as the depot was one which delivered to the Asda store which I had previously worked in and I was now able to see the processes involved to get the stock from the goods-in door to the supermarket shelves. During this week, I spent most of my time working on goods-in as this required very little training, however, I also spent time in the Operations Room and the Transport office. Through doing this, I was able to interact with a variety of colleagues including department managers and shift managers and even the General Manager. I took the opportunity to question the colleagues on their experiences and was able to take this feedback to managers in head office. The time spent in depots mostly had the purpose of inducting me into the world of logistics but I was also able to provide myself as a valuable resource for the depot I worked in as I was ultimately an extra head and worked full eight hour shifts assisting with a variety of tasks.
As previously mentioned, my main role was to provide support on projects, assisting the project manager in meetings and with the general admin involved with the projects. One of the first projects which I became involved with was based at Doncaster depot and focused on switching from one operating system to another. I would say that it was this project which provided me with the greatest learning experience as I was able to be involved from beginning to end, something which is not often possible for industrial placements due to the limited time they are with the organisation. I was part of the initial milestone planning session and learnt the technique that is frequently used within my department called “Sticky Steps”. This visual and interactive exercise involves using post-it notes as milestones and positioning them on a timeline. Once this was completed by each workstream that was part of the project, I was then given the challenging task of turning the timeline into a digital milestone plan. My line manager provided me with a template but challenged me to create the plan with little guidance, having never completed a task like this before. The end result was my plan being used in every project meeting to track progress and I was then approached by other members of my team to create plans for other projects, something which has continued throughout my whole placement. As the project progressed, I supported at every project meeting which were held at the Doncaster site rather than in head office. A few months into the project and my placement, I was asked to lead the project meeting due to the PM being on holiday. I was not keen to do this due to a lack of confidence but I pushed myself and was able to run the meeting and capture all actions that came out of it. Although I was not particularly pleased with my performance, the team assured me that I had been successful and I would not be asked to do such a task if they did not believe I was capable. As a result of this, I have gone on to lead several other project meetings, usually as a last minute replacement of the PM due to illness. However, I lead two projects for a six week period in the absence of the PM, something I never believed I would be capable of doing. This has resulted in other members of my team not receiving an increased workload as I have been capable of covering the projects.
A key part of my role is to support with non-project meetings which is more of an organisational task rather than attending meetings to take minutes and distribute outputs. One of the most important is the ALS One Team meeting, a meeting held every couple of months which every central colleague attends updates are given by every area of Logistics. My role in this is to ensure the large meeting room is booked to accommodate all the colleagues and then to arrange the pack which will be shared during the meeting. To do this, I have to first plan an agenda and have it approved. I then contact every Senior Director and collate the updates which they send through. I then facilitate the actual meeting in front of around 200 colleagues, I am responsible for setting up the video conferencing facilities, switching slides and ensuring the meeting keeps to the agenda timings. I have two other meetings which I am responsible for that follow a similar format, one being my senior directors whole team meeting and the other being another senior directors monthly board meeting. The difference with these meetings is that they are not just to provide an update, they are about the teams having in-depth discussions which I have to take notes on and then distribute any actions which I have captured during the sessions, much like I would for project meetings. I particularly struggled at first with this task. I began doing this in project meetings but I was not clear as to what constituted an action and was often overwhelmed when colleagues used industry-specific language. Over time, my ability to record accurate minutes and actions has improved and I rarely have any alterations from my managers or challenges from those present in the meetings. It may seem like a minor task but being able to do this means that those in the meetings are free to discuss in detail without thinking about having to take notes and it provides accountability with people not being able to say they never agreed to a certain action or task.
My team is responsible for a lot of the admin work that goes on within the department and as a result, some key administration tasks were given to me. One of the first tasks I was trained to carry out was Weekend Read. This is essentially a weekly update document that contains sections from every area of the Asda Logistics department and is distributed to the Vice President and the Senior Directors. It was my responsibility to pull this report together which consists of 14 individual reports. To do this, I had to build up good relationships with those that contribute in order to ensure they met their deadlines so that I could meet my own. A key success I had with this task was encouraging one team to use a new layout in order to better display their update, something which I received praise from the Vice President for. The main benefit to myself of doing this task was that my name became known to a wide variety of people within the department, evidenced by my first meeting with the Vice President of Logistics who immediately knew who I was and that I was responsible for sending out the Weekend Read. Another task I was responsible for during the initial stages of my placement was called Leankit, an online tool that we used to track project statuses and updates. I was then involved in devising the replacement for Leankit when we realised it no longer suited the purpose. The solution my team created was a weekly Project Review Meeting (PRM) and I was tasked with creating a new design of status reports that project leads could fill in each week. From this, I then created a spreadsheet that I updated weekly to give a visual overview of key project information such as the Red, Amber, Green (RAG) status, whether it was within budget and a brief project summary. This spreadsheet could then be used in the weekly meeting to discuss projects with the project leads. I believe my contribution in the admin tasks has been fairly significant, especially in helping to design a more effective and efficient method of reviewing projects that is now used on a weekly basis, compared to the previous method which was only reviewed monthly.
Something that I did not expect to have to do during my time on placement was to provide training to other colleagues. I have had experience in training colleagues previously when I worked in store and had to train them on a new inventory system. However, I expected to be one of the least experienced people within my team at Asda House and so was surprised when I was asked to do this. During a team away day (which is a full day team meeting) we collated a list of every task that everyone in the team does, no matter how small. It was then my responsibility to type up this list and distribute it around the team. Our senior manager then split the tasks out to provide everyone with a more fair workload and as a result, I was required to train others in tasks that had previously been mine. The other purpose of the activity was to ensure we always had cover for holidays or illness which meant colleagues had to be trained in tasks they would not be doing on a regular basis. I passed several of my tasks to a colleague (including the old Leankit system) and was therefore required to provide her with adequate training. To do this, I sat with her and talked her through, letting her take notes which made sense to her. To make my colleague feel more comfortable, I set up a video conference and we worked through the task together the first time she did it. The feedback I got from this was overwhelmingly positive and she was particularly impressed with my patience as she was self-conscious about not completing tasks quickly enough. I have then been required to provide more frequent training with the same colleague each time she is covering my holidays as she can struggle to remember what to do when she is not carrying out the tasks frequently. I have also collated resources to be used as a handover for the next IP. This began with a pack which I pulled together to hand to her at an induction event which included a Logistics overview, jargon buster, information on the team and even useful things such as carpark maps. I will go on to provide her with more detailed training resources for when she begins placement in September, although I will no longer be in Asda and therefore unable to train her personally, I will be providing her with instructions for her tasks, links to useful files and an induction timetable which will be circulated to the team to ensure her time is filled.
Section 3: Reflective statement
This essay will explore human relations management and how this management theory has an impact on motivation. This will be followed by an analysis of the effects and influence of transformational leadership on organisational culture based upon the practices used within the Asda head office.
It has been commonly assumed employees have strongly financial motivations, however, the human relations management theory seeks to prove that this is generally not the case. Human relations management is an approach to management and the general theory surrounding it is that employees are motivated by a wide array of social factors which include pride, a sense of achievement and praise. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 2013) links to this theory as it suggests that the psychological needs of a person include a sense of belonging in either relationships or friendships and self-esteem, which often requires a feeling of accomplishment. Leadership style can be key within organisations and balancing the retention of staff with the achievement of organisational objectives requires the use of strong management techniques (Clegg et al. 2008:172). At Asda, this is something which comes across particularly strongly, especially within the Logistics department. Asda is known to not be the highest paying organisation within the grocery industry and yet labour turnover within the company is low with a common phrase being “Asda Lifers” a nickname given to those colleagues who have more than ten years’ service.
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Human relations management can be broken down into two models; high commitment human relations management (soft human relations management) and low commitment human relations management (hard human relations management). High commitment management is an approach in which managers look to gain a competitive advantage through the workforce being used in a range of techniques including personnel and structural techniques (Storey 1995:5). This type of management encourages strong workplace relations and loyalty to the organisation. It also seeks to encourage development and internal progression for employees and create long term employment. The promise of promotion and development alongside job security can be a significant motivating factor for employees and would support their psychological needs. It may also require a restructure within the organisation as employees must be strategically deployed in order for them to reach their full potential in a role they are capable of. This goes hand in hand with strategic alignment as the actions of employees are brought together with the organisations objectives in order to achieve strategic aims. It could be argued that Asda operates within this theory in mind to a certain degree as there is a definite sense of commitment to the organisation from the employees. Strategy is also a particularly key focus, especially since the rise of the “discounters” as brands such as Aldi and Lidl are often referred to. The changes in the market have led to a huge focus on corporate strategy and as a result of this, structural changes are commonplace with teams being created and disbanded frequently. One key example within Asda was the creation of a merger team for the proposed Sainsbury’s merger and a Brexit team to deal with the implications of the political situation in the UK.
By contrast, low commitment human relations management requires much less from those at management level. Employees will be simply hired to perform a task when needed and their employment terminated once that action has been fulfilled, there is also much more monitoring partnered with arm’s length employer/employee relations (Watson, 2003). There is only a focus on achieving goals in the short term by carrying out set tasks and then having no further need for the employees. There is no strategic deployment of employees who are used in the single task and to achieve one set aim with no concern for the psychological needs of the employee. This style is less commonly used by Asda but there are still examples of it in situations where it can actually be a necessity. For example, head office teams will frequently bring in contractors to carry out a specific task or lead a specific project and once this is completed, the contract will be terminated. This does not have the negative impact on the emotions and psychology of the employee as a contractor expects this situation and knows every role is only designed to be temporary.
Transformational leadership is another style that can be found within the Asda organisation. This is when the focus of the leader is on gaining the commitment of employees to work towards the objectives of the organisation (Stone et al., 2004). Managers can create an organisational culture where the non-disruptive are rewarded, a way of ensuring a collective approach to achieving organisational goals (Analoui & Kakabadse, 1993). It is vital that employees gain an awareness and accept what the overall aims are, it then becomes a part of the culture of the organisation to not indulge self- interest and to work towards the interests of their group or the organisation’s interests as a whole (Bass, 1990). It is therefore vital that transformational leaders find common ground that enables them to ensure the participation of subordinates in order to work towards the overall goals. The shared values of the organisation come into the building of relationships and require high levels of emotional intelligence in order to successfully gain the support of employees and evoke a positive emotional and productive response (Hay, 2017). The strategy and objectives of Asda are all made very clear to the employees through a variety of techniques which are designed to boost employee engagement and ensure that focus is maintained on the objectives. Weekly huddles are used to provide a business update in each department and allow opportunities for open questions to be asked which receive honest responses. There is also a quarterly business update which the entirety of head office is invited to attend and is presented by the executive board. This, again, has the aim of providing honest updates and puts a focus on the targets for the year ahead and what must be done in order to meet them.
Asda is able to use a variety of management and leadership styles, in particularly high commitment human relations management and transformational leadership in order to promote clear objectives within the business and create an organisational culture that is successful in retaining its workforce.
- Analoui, F. and Kakabadse, A. (1993). Industrial Conflict and Its Expressions. Employee Relations, 15(1), pp.46-62.
- Bass, B.M. (1990). Bass & Stodgill’s Handbook of Leadership. Theory, Research and Managerial Applications (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.
- Clegg et al. (2008). Managing and Organizations. London: Sage.
- Hay, I. (2017). Transformational Leadership. [online] Leadingtoday.org. Available at: http://www.leadingtoday.org/weleadinlearning/transformationalleadership.htm [Accessed 15 Jun. 2019].
- Maslow, A. (Eds.). (2013). Hierarchy of Needs: A Theory of Human Motivation. Wilder Publications.
- Stone, A., Russell, R. and Patterson, K. (2004). Transformational versus servant leadership: a difference in leader focus. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 25(4), pp.349-361.
- Storey, J. (1996). Human Resource Management. A Critical Text. 17(5), pp.158-158.
- Watson, T. (2006). Organising and managing work: organisational, managerial and strategic behaviour in theory and practice. Harlow: Pearson Longman.
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