Bill Grimsey’s retail journey started on the shop floor of Bishop’s Food Stores where he rose to become a board director. He went on to become Tesco’s first ever customer services director.

Bill earned a reputation as a turnaround specialist for his role in masterminding the recovery of DIY group Wickes, where we worked together and developed the concept of customer journey mapping. As well as the Iceland Group, which was renamed the Big Food Group and later successfully sold to investors.

Bill’s passion for the high street extends far beyond a career of over 40-years in retail. In 2012, he published a book called Sold Out: Who Killed the High Street? and has spent the last decade campaigning for a more supportive policy environment to help high streets adapt to 21st century challenges. In 2013 and 2018 Bill worked with a team of experts to deliver The Grimsey Review: An Alternative Review of the High Street and The Grimsey Review 2. Both reviews have been widely acclaimed, with local government in the UK and abroad adopting many of the key recommendations.

I asked Bill what soul means to him…

BG: For the individual, soul is about your whole persona, your spirit, your brand, your personality, who you are. Your whole soul is your values, your principles. How do you behave? How do you behave towards others? What do you see as right and wrong?

The soul of a businesses is its culture, the way it behaves and how it presents itself. It’s about how we do things around here and how we treat people. What is it that’s important to the organisation? Who are the stakeholders? From the perspective of everybody who’s engaged with that organisation, whether they’re employed or at the receiving end of its activities, how does it behave?

Look back to the second half of the nineties and then into the early noughties and the greed that was imposed on our way of life by people, me included to some extent. The boardroom greed of people like Philip Green epitomises what I consider to be bad behaviour and exploitation of people around the world. That says something about that company’s soul.

You then look to Microsoft and what Bill Gates has done as a leader and how that has permeated into his organisation. Which is quite different to Apple, whose soul was predicated on the back of Steve Jobs. Steve was a remarkable individual in terms of what he did, but his leadership style was a vastly different persona in that business – and it’s ingrained.

NB: Can you share an example of a business that you have experienced that has soul?

BG: I try to build businesses with soul, and you were part of that at Wickes. I’ve tried to do the same ever since, sometimes very successfully. At other times, for different reasons, not so successfully.

NB: Yes, at Wickes I remember working hard with you, the rest of the leadership team and my friends in the TMI team to develop a simple, clear, communicable vision for the business. One that everyone could immediately understand. You developed some strong core values and principles, and a brand ‘target’ to get everyone on board – to feel they could contribute.

We then developed (I believe the very first) customer journey maps to involve and engage everyone, to create a vision for all the touchpoints in the new stores. And we used culture audits to track the culture as it developed. We found that there was a solid gold direct link between sales performance and team culture scores – up and down.

BG: Absolutely, soul has always been important in my opinion, it’s just that other ways of doing things and other motivations have historically overshadowed what I consider to be good behavioural patterns for businesses.

I think in the future because of climate change, once this pandemic is sorted, we’ll be challenged to behave as communities in a different way. I call it a social type of capitalism. I’m not a socialist, but I’m a social capitalist in the sense that I think it’s important that organisations put something back and become integrated inside the communities in which they’re prospering.

To give you some examples, Marks & Spencer have many purpose-built shops in towns that were built in the twenties and thirties. We may want to question why they’re just closing the shop down and leaving without any conscience about having profited out of that community for nearly a hundred years.  It’s important to try and help people manage that transition and not leave a great gaping hole in their high street.

I think it’s all about leadership. If you look at what happened historically with Bourneville Town, Cadbury’s and those kinds of organisations, they recognised that working with the communities and their people is important. Bourneville as a town was built for the workers.  We’ve lost sight of all of that in the humdrum of the 21st century and technology.

I think this pandemic might help bring it back. I explore this in my latest report Build Back Better: Covid supplement for town centres. Organisations need to latch on to opportunities to work with communities and local people. And ensure that the economic health of local areas, whether they trade there or their headquarters is there, that they’re an integral part of that community and helping it grow.

Get in touch or connect on LinkedIn if you’d like to know more about my research findings or to explore how I can help you to drive your business forward…with soul.

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