Decentralisation within a book retailer
A Waterstones case study

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Page 4: Organisational structure

Waterstones 5 Diagram 1A typical retail company will have a hierarchical structure like the one shown. Dependent upon management policies, senior buyers will control the quantity and type of products provided, despite the fact that sales staff are the company’s direct point of contact with customers. In this model, communication is one way. Within Waterstone’s decentralisation helps to invert this triangle. This method of organisation brings the customer sharply into focus. This means that:

  • customers are at the top of the hierarchy
  • as local booksellers are the buyers at the front-line of the organisation, they are best placed to respond accurately and immediately to customers’ needs
  • communication between customers and booksellers, who are also the company’s buyers, is a two way process.

Career Development Framework (CDF)

In order to equip booksellers to meet this pivotal role, Waterstone’s has developed the Career Development Framework to develop and reward the skills, values and attitudes of its staff. The framework covers six key areas of the business at branch level including
customer service, business awareness, stock management, team development, security and health and safety. The framework consists of the ‘five stages of bookselling’
Waterstones 5 Diagram 2Stage 1
Bookseller (Core Skills)
Stage 2
Bookseller (Development)
Stage 3
Senior Bookseller (Core skills)
Stage 4
Senior Bookseller (Development)
Stage 5
Senior Bookseller
(Preparation for Management).

These stages enable individual employees to set objectives that improve staff performance as they move through pay points and their skills are acquired and developed. Personal, team and company objectives encourage individuals to be flexible and dynamic in thinking about how to improve the customer service they offer in order to satisfy individual and local needs.

Starting a career as a bookseller

One element of the Career Development Framework is Waterstone’s unique approach to stock management. The hallmark of decentralisation is the concept of ‘freedom to act’. This means that booksellers are actively involved in making day-to-day decisions within the business. From the start of their career each bookseller is given responsibility for a number of sections within their branch, such as fiction, history, politics or travel literature. At a basic level this means that they ensure that the sections are tidy, well-ordered and customer friendly. As they become more experienced, they become directly responsible for monitoring stock quality, display and presentation, controlling budgets and marketing each section.

Waterstones | Decentralisation within a book retailer