Schafer: Pitching in is the new rule at Best Buy

  • Article by: LEE SCHAFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 16, 2013 - 3:20 PM
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Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly

It’s been all hands on deck at Best Buy Co., as about 600 district and territory managers and other staffers, with hundreds more from headquarters, jumped into stores for a 10-day push that closed the fiscal year that just ended.

It was a big effort, but Best Buy did not bother with a project name. No acronym or clever tag line.

“We called it ‘all hands on deck,’ ” said Shawn Score, who was appointed head of U.S. retail last fall. “We tried to keep it so simple you could just get it.”

Simple, and, judging by the tone of conversations last week with Score and CEO Hubert Joly, probably effective.

They couldn’t talk financial results, as the quarterly numbers won’t be disclosed until late this month, but Richfield-based Best Buy already has announced that it had flat domestic comparable-store sales for the nine-week holiday season. Given expectations, flat was a big win.

As Joly observed, “you can feel that the air is lighter” at Best Buy.

This is the month that founder Richard Schulze was permitted by his agreement with Best Buy to make a proposal to take the company private. Whether or not his bid materializes, it is clear that Joly and his team are not waiting around to be acquired.

“All hands on deck” is more than an anecdote. It shows the conviction Best Buy’s management team has that fixing the company does not have to mean inventing a totally new business model. They expect to get better financial results managing the assets — and employees — they have.

Creating a sense of urgency has also led management to look at some Best Buy practices that seemed fine when the company was thriving, like the ROWE model of organizing the work at headquarters. It stands for results-only work environment, celebrated in the media for enabling employees to come in when they wanted and leave when they wanted. What mattered was the quality of the work.

But in a turnaround situation, that may not be enough. New teams might be formed at any point in the day, as new ideas are being tried. People may just need to be at work a little more regularly.

Joly bluntly described ROWE as “fundamentally flawed from a leadership standpoint” in that it effectively assumed the only acceptable way to lead is by delegating. But he hasn’t killed it, instead asking employees what they think works best.

The company is careful not to hint that work culture or ROWE was somehow a cause of Best Buy’s recent challenges. It’s more like, as Joly put it, “this is a time when we all need to be mobilized as a team, work toward our vision of renewing Blue, to work as a team, to collaborate.”

In other words, it’s all hands on deck.

Score got to that conclusion on a January conference call with his district and territory managers. They were slightly behind “the pace” Score wanted but with plenty of time left in the month.

Further, he saw in his first few weeks running U.S. retail that store managers seem to have given a lot of new assignments. His managers were doing what good managers do, and checking to see if they got done. Maybe that wasn’t the best way to drive sales when nearing the finish line for the month, quarter and fiscal year.

“We agreed as a team,” Score said. “All of the territory and district managers were going to go adopt a store in their market, and they were going to go live in that store for the rest of the month.”

His district and territory managers, and their staffers, each called a store manager to essentially volunteer for duty. They worked as greeters at the front, sold televisions and computers, pulled product off shelves or backed up the cashiers.

Score then invited headquarters staff to “volunteer” as well, meaning salaried folks in Richfield did their day jobs and then spent evenings or a weekend day helping at a store.

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