The Yorkshire farmers who founded Asda in 1965 could not have foreseen the daily bonding rituals — or huddles, as they are called — that are now part of everyday life in this British outpost of one of America's largest corporations. The company became a subsidiary of the US retail giant Wal-Mart in 1999.
A special buzz envelopes Asda — the top company in our 2002 list — which employs nearly 140,000 people in Britain: flexible shifts provide opportunities for working parents and students, and strong training and development structures support aspiring managers, who get the highest management ratings in our big company survey.
Initial training follows three guiding principles, taken from a cult US leadership manual called Gung Ho! — the Spirit of the Squirrel, the Way of the Beaver and the Gift of the Goose. Employees are proud of such a strong, identifiable culture: three-quarters feel they make a valuable contribution to Asda's success. Internal promotion is also excellent: 70% of appointments at managerial level come from within the existing workforce.
An employee suggestion scheme was relaunched in March 2003 named "Tell Tony", after chief executive officer and president, Tony DeNunzio. All ideas are responded to; if implemented they win £50 and the chance of a weekend break for two.
Directors help to stack shelves in the Team Christmas initiative, and senior executives strive to visit as many of the 300-plus stores as possible. More than two-thirds of staff say senior managers truly live the values (respect for the individual; service to customers; strive for excellence) of their organisation.
An exhaustive benefits scheme goes some way to compensating for pay, which only 44% of employees feel is fair (the lowest proportion among the 10 big companies). A colleague bonus scheme aims to reward the contribution of hourly-paid employees and there are staff discounts.
Staff — brought together nationally through football and netball tournaments — are united in their stores through Christmas parties, theatre trips and the obligatory Oscars-style awards dinner. Three-quarters of them say their immediate colleagues go out of their way to help them, making it clear that teamwork is high on the Asda agenda.
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