Bunnings MD on connection, culture & healthy competition

10,000 new employees joined the iconic brand last year

Bunnings MD on connection, culture & healthy competition

Bunnings is arguably one of Australia’s best-known brands and during the pandemic, the appetite for all things gardening has flourished. From abundant windowsill herb gardens to full-blown garden renovations, lockdowns have encouraged even the most novice of gardeners to nurture their green thumb.

DIY and gardening stores like Bunnings have reaped the reward of this blossoming trend, rapidly expanding headcounts to meet the spike in demand. Bunnings Group MD Mike Schneider said their workforce grew by around 25% in 2020, taking on close to 10,000 new team members.

Speaking at Workplace from Facebook’s virtual Transform summit, attended by HRD, Schneider said the last 18 months has been about resilience, making good business decisions, and working hard to keep Bunnings’ staff and customers safe.

“I've been really fortunate at Bunnings to be surrounded by teammates who've got so much experience not only in leadership, but in all things that operate within our business. We've been able to really pull together to support our team and stay focused on keeping customers and team members safe, particularly in our retail stores, where there's always that risk that someone could come in with COVID,” he said.

“We've put lots of measures in place but at the end of the day, the thing that's really stood out to me is the need to be resilient, focused and stay very committed to that idea of caring for the people around you because in doing that, they're caring for you back.”

Read more: Flexible working: Is it given or is it earned?

To foster the company’s caring culture, Bunnings utilised technology to bring people together – even when they were forced to be apart. When a manager asked whether Schneider was really presenting live during one of the company’s Facebook Live sessions and asked him to prove it by doing 10 press ups, Schneider did just that. But that interaction also sparked a wider idea about connection and a dose of healthy competition.

“That really got us thinking about ways that we could create challenges within our business to engage our team, but also to use that as a way to reward and recognise the team through monetary prizes and other gifts. Those prizes were then able to be used to donate to different community groups,” he said. “We had the push up challenge, we’ve had dancing challenges, we've had a whole range, including different community activities, and it's given the team a great opportunity to be competitive with one another right around Australia and New Zealand.”

Schneider said the video challenges also helped foster a fun culture at Bunnings, bringing a sense of lightness to an otherwise difficult period of time for many staff. The impact of working in retail during the pandemic shouldn’t be underestimated. Dealing with heightened safety measures, the risk of contracting Covid, and potentially difficult customers, Australia’s retail staff have not had an easy ride.

“It would also do a whole lot of good for their own mental health and wellbeing by staying active, having a bit of fun and a few laughs when the going’s been tough, but also providing much needed funds to community groups across Australia and New Zealand at a time where, as I said before, so many people have been doing it so tough,” Schneider said.

Read more: Workplace COVID-19 vaccinations could begin in September

Beyond culture, broadcasting to the Bunnings’ workforce through live videos also opened a direct channel of communication between employees and decision makers. It was a chance to reward and recognise behaviours across the workforce, as well as a feedback opportunity to pinpoint where employees needed more support. Schneider acknowledged that openly communicating to a large workforce via a live video and offering that opportunity for immediate feedback might feel daunting to business leaders.

“I can certainly understand that for some businesses there might be some nervousness that as leaders you lose a sense of coordination or control around the way that a business works, but to me, we're a much better organisation for the sum of our close to 50,000 team members pulling together, rather than a small handful of executives setting the rules and the regulations,” he said.

Going forward, Schneider said video streams will continue to be a useful tool for Bunnings to connect its ANZ network of employees. But once restrictions ease, Bunnings will look to a mix of in-person and virtual channels to engage its growing team.

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