Best Buy, Future Shop closures difficult (Guest Commentary)

HR leaders correct misperceptions, share inside story of tough decisions
By Janice Antaya-Finlayson and Chris Taylor
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/09/2013

Earlier this year, a necessary business decision was made to close 15 Best Buy and Future Shop stores across Canada based on a dramatic shift in the Canadian retail landscape. Regardless of the reasons, it was a tough decision.

An unfortunate and unavoidable byproduct of this type of situation is the immediate impact it has on employees which, in this case, led to much media and industry scrutiny for the way it was handled. Was there a better way to close the stores? Perhaps.

However, many of the perceptions and criticisms around how we handled the closures were misguided and based on inaccurate information. Our decision was difficult but it was implemented with our guiding principles of respect, humility and integrity for employees.

One-to-one communication: Before we posted signage to inform customers of the closure that would take effect that day, on-the-ground team leaders were in the stores at 5 a.m., prior to staff arriving, to prepare for one-on-one conversations with each employee.

Opening team members were notified the store was closing and phone calls were made to every store employee to inform them of the closures and to set up one-on-one meetings that same day with one of the leaders in the store and on-site employee assistance counsellors to review each individual’s circumstance and the support package they would receive.

Dedicated HR live phone support and additional email contacts were also provided to ensure employee questions and concerns could be answered as quickly as possible.

Talent retention, priority hiring and compensation: HR played a key role in the talent retention strategy. Employees who could not be retained were given priority re-hiring consideration at another store and, if hired, would continue to receive their full severance package. This was planned with much thought and consideration for employees at neighbouring stores who may have felt they could be at risk.

To date, we have hired back nearly 20 per cent of the employees impacted by the store closures without impacting the current employees at nearby locations.

Employee compensation packages considered not only employee tenure but also seniority, personal and family situations as well as other factors to provide as much support as possible during the transition to new employment.

Job skills training and workshops: Some impacted employees had been with us for many years, making the prospect of re-entering the workforce intimidating. With this in mind, during the two weeks following the closures, we offered job skills training workshops for all affected employees to assist them with finding new employment. These provided instruction on resumé-building, interview training and networking through social media.

In addition, our employee assistance program (EAP) was extended beyond the termination date should additional resources be required outside of those offered through outplacement.

Employee notice: The most prevalent criticism we received was we didn’t give employees advance notice of the closures. We considered this option but decided against it because we felt it unfair to ask employees to focus on providing top-level customer service while their imminent job loss loomed overhead. It also wasn’t realistic.

Keeping our employees’ integrity and respect in mind, we decided to close all locations simultaneously and provide them with paid notice in lieu of working notice so impacted employees could move through the emotional phase using the provided resources, and have the time to focus on finding other work while being paid.

Communication: Our approach included a detailed communication strategy for vendors, business partners and, most importantly, all employees across the country. Communication was timely, detailed, honest and upfront as to why the stores were closing and made clear there were no further closures expected this year.

Employees were informed about how their former team members at impacted stores were cared for and the steps we took as a company to ensure they were treated with respect. Senior leaders from across the country attended these store meetings and led from the front. We felt it was important employees see the decision-makers and have an opportunity to speak to them directly.

Balancing employee needs and business outcomes is never easy or straightforward. During this time, our energy was spent on transparent communication to and support for impacted employees — these were our first priorities.

As the HR leaders for both brands, we worked closely together to ensure consistency in the communication to all employees.

We even issued a company-wide survey to gather feedback and identify areas where we need to improve to ensure employees are listened to and actions are taken where possible to deal with the impact of our decisions.

We’ve made mistakes. We are by far our toughest critics and are by no means suggesting we handled things perfectly.

But when it comes to the way we treat our employees and the consideration that went behind the decisions we made, it’s important to share the reasons behind our approach.

Janice Antaya-Finlayson is vice-president of HR at Burnaby, B.C.-based Best Buy and Chris Taylor is vice-president of HR at Burnaby, B.C.-based Future Shop.

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