M&S boosts engagement via ideas scheme

EXCLUSIVE: Marks and Spencer (M&S) has seen participation levels in its latest employee suggestion scheme rise after the scheme was extended to 500 staff in its international sourcing offices.

Its Big Idea scheme, which is jointly managed by the retailer and its employee representative network, was introduced in 2010 when an employee survey found that staff wanted to get more involved in the business.

In October 2012, it was extended to employees in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India and Turkey, as part of M&S’s first step in exploring the international expansion of this scheme.

Jo Steer, reward manager at M&S, said: “As a company, we want to move away from being a UK-focused organisation to a truly international retailer. We’re looking for opportunities for our international employees to participate.”

Through the scheme, the organisation poses a quarterly question focusing on a key business issue to its workforce. Each quarterly question attracts around 2,000 ideas, which amounts to around 3% of its 65,000 UK staff. The first question posed to the international staff attracted a response level of 11%.

Each question is open for employees to submit responses for an average of a month. Employee representatives at each level are then involved in filtering through these, first at a local store or office level and then at a regional and national level. Steer added: “We want it to be truly a scheme of employee voice.”

A shortlist of suggestions is then sent to the director who initially posed the question, who selects a winner or, in some cases, joint winners or runners-up. The full process takes one quarter, so the winner is announced at the quarterly business conferences, before the next question is posed.

The winner(s) is awarded with a cash prize, letter of congratulation from the director, a day in the department responsible for developing the idea, an article in M&S’s employee magazine, and recognition at the national business conference.

Marks and Spencer follows up the top ideas to determine whether they can be implemented. Some that have been implemented in the past include: allowing customers to review products online and the Shop Your Way card, which allows customers to find products that may not have been available in store to encourage multi-channel shopping.

The Big Idea scheme is communicated using posters, messages on the intranet, in team briefings, and through quick-response (QR) codes and online videos.

Steer said: “We try to engage employees very much through the reasons for questions, which puts them in the best place to put forward their ideas.”

The latest question, which was posted on Monday 14 January, focuses on the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy Plan A. The question is: “Plan A is changing – and we need you to tell us how we can keep making a difference”.