Happy staff are good for you

All successful retailers have one thing in common - shiny, happy people on the shop floor, says Guy Moreton.

Anyone involved in recruitment knows what a minefield it can be. The volume of legislation means you cannot afford to get things wrong. However, the law does not yet quite cover personality-based recruitment.

At the HTA's annual conference last year, the main event was a speech by retail guru Mary Portas. Her warts-and-all opinion on the state of the nation's garden centres was forthright, entertaining and, generally, spot on.

To be fair, there was nothing revolutionary in most of her findings, but one thing that did strike a chord was her description of the type of people who good retail outlets (including garden centres) should employ - happy people.

It turns out that Portas is a big fan of Pret a Manger and has always been impressed by its customer service. So she asked the founder, Julian Metcalfe, what criteria he used in his recruitment process to ensure he ended up with such good people. Apparently, he was a bit perplexed by this and said: "Criteria? What criteria? I just make the point of employing happy people."

All a bit touchy-feely, a bit vacuous, not something you can measure and mould into a "proper" recruitment model? Well, at the same event two years ago, Tim How, the founder of Majestic Wines (as it turns out, another favourite of Portas's) gave a similar speech. And, although he did not use the "H" word, he was very clear that the key to his success was finding bright, enthusiastic and motivated people and then providing them with the backing and means to give their customers the best possible wine-retailing experience.

Now, I am sure that Pret a Manger does have an excellent training programme and people do not simply turn up for work on their first day with a big smile on their face and are then told to get on with things.

However, the idea of looking out for happy, positive people who will naturally treat customers and colleagues with respect and enthusiasm is not a daft one. Why? Because, as Metcalfe reasons, even when they do not know something or make a mistake, positive-thinking or happy people generally just handle the situation better.

So before you go off to your next interview, do npt forget to dig out that old REM CD to get you in the mood.

Guy Moreton is director of MorePeople.

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