Why a fast-growth retailer did an appraisal u-turn

Bell case study
Bell Northampton - appraisal and performance management case study

With sales up 38% in 3 years, a new website with £1m income in less than 9 months, and a second store opening soon, Bell of Northampton is poised to realise an ambitious vision.

How people are managed has been an integral part of this transformation from small local business selling fires to unique one-stop luxury home lifestyle store. 

I met Graham Jackson, the MD, at a local CIPD event.  He was making a presentation on performance management.  To be honest, I was expecting to hear about a traditional approach done well. 

Yet what he said was really quite interesting. 

He talked about a 120 year old family business that survived obsolescence in 2006 due to a loyal team and customer base.  Yet was still inward-looking and staid when he joined in 2013.

Armed with change management experience from big brands such as Virgin, Ikea and Heals, Graham engaged the whole team to create a bigger, outward-looking, vision for the business.  Firmly rooted in the luxury market.

He took the management team to London 5-Star hotels and Jaguar Showrooms to ‘experience’ luxury service.  And he engaged with the team, putting robust HR processes and training in place.   Of course, this included an annual appraisal with a comprehensive form linked to JD’s and identified competences.

It was clear within months that this approach wasn’t right for the progressive, innovative business they wanted to become.  The team wanted:

  • clear objectives, updated frequently to keep up with the pace of change
  • regular coaching conversations about developing for the future, not reflecting on the past
  • something less ‘task’ oriented, cumbersome and complex
  • positive, encouraging, conversations

So the Bell “How can I improve” 1-page performance review was developed to add to the day to day conversations.  15 minutes each month, and a quarterly review of goals.  Short, forward-looking, and regular.

With no appraisal rating, reward varies according to individual sales, skills required in the role and company profit.  Importantly, there’s plenty of non-financial recognition “there’s always something to applaud every day”.

Graham says what he has now is “a far more empowered and accountable team clear on what they have to do to succeed, both for themselves and the business”.

What stood out for me is that his journey was a tiny microcosm of what we see happening in the likes of Adobe, KPMG, Deloitte, General Electric, ITV and Accenture.

What’s next?  Graham talks enthusiastically of his five year plan.  60% growth, 120 seater restaurant with high end local chef and 3-4 stores.  “It’s about creating difference, too many businesses just plod on”.

Are you plodding on buried under the weight of performance management fit for yesterday?


At Verditer, we make performance management and reward more effective.  Talk to us about our Performance Management Diagnostic - an evidence-based approach to establish a clear roadmap for performance management that's right for your business. 

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