June 19, 2015 in Events (live blogging), CIPD NAP 2015

#cipdnap15 – Pets, Pet People and Performance

Ryan Cheyne (former People Director, Pets at Home. Soon to join rental cars.com).

Ryan opened with a quick show-of-hands survey of how many of the audience are pet owners (it looks like more HR people own pets than the national average) and an overview of Pets at Home (along with some samples of dog toys). Pets at Home is more than just a shop (it included vets, grooming salons etc.) and, as such, it is totally dependent on its people. Pets at Home have received lots of recognition for their people activities (e.g. Best Places to Work).


How have Pets at Home done so well? Their people. You can’t be a specialist retailer without specialists.

They seek to do stuff in a straightforward way. You won’t ever see a competency framework at Pets at Home, although they do have an optional ‘hamster wheel’ that people can use to assess themselves (if they want to).

Their approach is to:
look after colleagues…
and they will look after your customers…
and sales and profits will follow

People love their pets and they are key members of the family. Pets at Home employees love Pets, and this love of pets drives customer engagement and colleague engagement.

Pets at Home values were developed through an exercise to find out what it was really like to work there and they produced their values, starting with ‘pets before profit’.

Their purpose is ‘to be the best pet shop in the world’ and the have a strategy on a page (in the shape of a paw print!) to make their purpose really clear. It was interesting to note that customers don’t appear on there as they know that if they get the people stuff right, then great customer service will follow.

The Pets at Home approach to getting the people stuff right is simple:

1 – Recruit the right people – without compromise

Pets at Home used to have annual staff turn-over of 78% until they upped their game at recruitment. They do all of the recruitment themselves, create the x-factor (some excitement), do group recruitment for all vacancies, have an audition process, then an interview, and they have talent champions.

2 – Bust a gut to train them

The Pets at Home core training programme is 9-months long and is mandatory. Nobody is allowed to sell any pets until they are at least 4 months into the training programme and everybody has to complete it (including people who have already had loads of training e.g. vets).

3 – Recognise and reward them

They have a simple appraisal form with 3 boxes, working hard to focus on having high-quality conversations. Ryan recommended Chester Elton’s book ‘The Carrot Principle’ as a great resource around reward and recognition. Ryan talked about how children love winning awards and being recognised and we don’t suddenly stop loving that…. recognition and saying thank you is important. Never under-estimate the power of a handwritten thank-you card. Their engagement survey question on ‘My manager thanks me when I have a done a job well’ has risen from 74% in 2008 to 91% in 2013 and they are now seeking to raise their game by changing the question to ‘Have you had recognition within the last 2 months?’.

As a result of doing those 3 things, staff turnover has reduced from 78% to 16.5%.

It is all about the people, and connecting customers and colleagues through a love of pets.



(This was live-blogged during a session at the CIPD Northern Area Partnership Conference 2015 in York – #cipdnap15 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of the highlights for me but my own bias, views – and the odd typo – might well creep in.)

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