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How Superdrug drew up its mission statement.

Health and beauty retailer Superdrug was so determined that its mission statement would be something everyone in the business could relate to and learn to live by day-to-day, that it sought the help of employees with wording it.

The executive team had already identified the "seven core characteristics" of the business mission (see list below), spelling out what kind of retailer the company aims to be. And it had a previously-developed vision statement, designed as an aid to strategic planning rather than for widespread communication: "To be the number one retailer of toiletries in the UK, in terms of consumer perception, market share and profitability". But the team had stopped short of summarizing these in the form of the new statement it believed would be critical in "giving all our 12,000 employees, and our suppliers, a clear understanding of what we're trying to do in the business".

Core characteristics of the Superdrug mission:

(1) Superdrug's primary market focus will be on health and beauty. A distinctive offer that provides sound reasons for shopping at Superdrug for your health and beauty needs.

(2) Superdrug goes the last mile for its customers. We will go out of our way to help the customer.

(3) Superdrug has its finger on the pulse. We will be closer to our customers, understand them best and be the first to meet their needs.

(4) Superdrug offers superior value. We will not waste customers' time or money.

(5) Superdrug offers superior choice. Customers will prefer our offer of products, services and shopping environment to that of our competitors.

(6) Superdrug is friendly and fun. An interesting and enjoyable shopping experience.

(7) Superdrug creates winning teams. Customers, employees and suppliers all win by being associated with Superdrug.

Personnel director Joan Howard observes: "We could have sat round a table and done it ourselves, or asked an outside agency to come up with something they thought would be inspirational. But we wanted to involve employees rather than just present them with a statement. After all, we can only achieve our mission if we all work together. So we started at that point to share with employees the process of looking at what the mission actually means, for teams and for individuals around the business."

Using the briefing system, the executive team cascaded the mission characteristics and launched a competition inviting employees' suggestions for encapsulating them in a short mission statement. The aim, says Howard, was to "engage people in the ideas, stimulate discussion in teams and get people talking about the mission in language that's understandable to them". Competition entries were sent direct to the managing director and judged by a sub-set of the executive team, who selected winners for cash prizes in various categories, including most creative and most irreverent.

A total of some 1,300 entries were received from individuals and teams from across many of the company's 700 stores, three regional distribution centers, and functions at its Croydon head office. Howard says: "Because we ended up with three joint first-prize winners, each of which captured some but not absolutely all of the core characteristics, we took these people's entries and, using their words, formed the final mission statement". The result, according to Howard, is a simple but "very touchable" statement, which supports the delivery of the business strategy by "helping individual employees to see what they can do to move Superdrug towards the mission": "Our mission is to be the customer's favourite, up-to-the-minute health and beauty shop, loved for its value, choice, friendliness and fun."

The success of the competition rewarded the executive team's earlier investment of time and effort in the creation of the mission characteristics, says Howard. Six months of "hard debate" had taken place in "an iterative process in which we made sure, at every stage, that every one of us really did believe we were charting the way forward for Superdrug". Howard adds: "This meant that when the mission statement was finally formed, we had got an executive team which was fully behind it. Committing to the communication process which followed was therefore much easier."

Again, the team-briefing system was used to communicate the decision companywide, with a video reinforcing the importance of each aspect of the mission and illustrating the sorts of everyday actions, in stores and elsewhere, which contribute to its achievement. This marked the beginning of a continuing campaign to encourage people to "translate the aspirations expressed in the mission statement into real behavior changes".

Howard explains how the campaign got under way in Superdrug's retail operations which represent the company's "biggest communication challenge", accounting for the majority of the employee population, many of them part-timers.

"I ran a session with the store-operations director and regional controllers to examine, with a lot of soul-bearing, how we stack up against the mission today, how the culture supports us getting there, and what might obstruct our progress. We produced an action contract setting out what we would start to do differently, as a team and as individuals.

"Then, with HR facilitation, each of the regional controllers ran workshops for their area managers to do the same exercise, so that each region had its own action contract. Area managers worked in the same way with store managers, and finally all the store managers with their local team members. Now, in our stores, you will see on the staffroom wall the contract which the store staff have drawn up, showing how they will live the mission."

All the action contracts resulting from the two-month process are different, says Howard. "We weren't giving any answers. The important thing was for people to participate in their own way." But all identify specific changes which employees can themselves make happen - for example, a manager pledging to "actively compliment staff on things they're doing well, as well as putting right things that are wrong"; or a sales assistant always taking customers to a product when they ask about it, instead of just telling them where it is.

Implementation of action contracts begun in late 1995 - will be monitored at both local and national levels, including through the company's employee opinion survey, conducted two to three times a year. Howard adds: "If the mission is working, we should start to see more positive feedback from customers. We'll be assessing progress through customer comments and complaints, and our regular customer surveys".

Meanwhile efforts are being made to strengthen the campaign using communication via all internal channels. Howard comments: "Whether we're talking about a new product or procedure, or doing a feature in the employee magazine, we try to demonstrate what's being done to support the mission". Adjustments are also being made to the company's competency framework, to reflect mission-related behaviors - with associated changes in training programmes and the rewards system.

Howard concludes: "We need to keep the mission at the front of people's minds because if we stop the whole thing will die. We see ourselves as having only reached bus-stop No. 1, with about 20 more stops to go. It will take a lot more work to help people really understand what the mission means for them, so we can get everyone acting in line with it."

This article first appeared in "The Strategic Management of Internal Communication", a study of best practice in the management of internal communication based on the "Is Anyone listening?" survey, by Linda Gatley and David Clutterbuck, for Business Intelligence. Further information is available from Amanda MacPherson, Business Intelligence, 22-24 Worple Road, Wimbledon, London. SW19 4DD. Tel: 0181 879 3300; Fax: 0181 879 1122.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Emerald Group Publishing, Ltd.
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Publication:International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management
Date:Aug 1, 1997
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