British retail giant takes digital approach to employee engagement

kcress    October 5, 2015


Organization Name: Marks and Spencer

Industry: Multi-channel Retail

Name of Contact: CEO

Web References:

Marks and Spencer Corporate Information

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Benefex UK Case Study

 About Marks and Spencer

An iconic British retailer with a large global footprint, Marks and Spencer was first opened in Leeds, UK in 1884 by Michael Marks. Michael Marks initial success was due to the “penny bazaar” model, with all prices of goods set at a penny. Ten years later, the retailer recognized the need for collaboration and formed a partnership with Tom Spencer, a local bank cashier. Over the next ten years, Marks and Spencer grew their business to more than 36 penny bazaars and 10 high street locations.

Today, Marks and Spencer, affectionately known by its customers simply as “M&S”, has grown to be a large multinational organization, with nearly 86,000 employees across 54 global locations. In the United Kingdom alone, M&S has 75,000 employees located in 798 stores and six corporate offices.

“PLAN A” drives engagement programs


A key element of Marks and Spencers’ vision is their “PLAN A” business plan which was launched in 2007 and updated in 2014.  Designed to meet the organization’s goal of long-term sustainability as a multi-channel international retailer, the plan incorporates four pillars of success: Innovation, Intouch, Inspiration, and Integrity.

“Plan A is at the heart of our plans to become a sustainable, international, multi-channel retailer. It’s become a vital part of how we run our business, as well as helping us to maintain high levels of customer trust and employee engagement” – Marc Bolland, Chief Executive Officer

Intouch, the second pillar of Plan A, includes a focus on employee communication and involvement. In support of this mandate, key human resource professionals within the M&S corporate entity embarked on several initiatives to increase employee engagement. The range of engagement initiatives included:

  • recognize employees for their work
  • solicit employee suggestions for in-store promotions
  • communicate about the employee benefits program
  • involve employees in learning about the company

Engaging, the social way

Given the diverse nature of their workforce, and the sheer number of employees, social media  tools were utilized to help facilitate employee engagement. Notably, the enterprise social network tool Yammer was deployed across the organization as a central tool for reaching and interacting with M&S staff.

Sarah Findlater, head of employee relations and employee engagement at Marks and Spencer shared with Employee Benefits magazine: “Teams often use Yammer to congratulate colleagues on great in-store displays and it links to the M&S Living the Values app, which workers can use to post messages to congratulate colleagues on their work, which can then be posted to live feed on Yammer.”

Yammer Customer Success Manager Nina Pattinson speaks on the topic of enterprise social networks on this podcast.

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Findlater made special note of the employee of the month program which gives recognition to those employees who embody the company’s values. “Celebrating the efforts of our employees is very important to us and recognition is one of the most important factors in inspiring our teams to keep up the good work. “By introducing innovative recognition methods to our workplace we can now acknowledge any of our colleagues who are displaying great work and share this with the rest of the M&S team.”

Staff performance incentives are another element of M&S’s engagement strategy. In a recent promotion, employees were incented to increase sales of a new fragrance, with the reward being a personal visit from a well-known Hollywood actress.  Through Yammer, employees shared selling tips and best practices for using social media as a sales tool.

Employees used social meet to win a content to meet Hollywood star

Employees used social media to win a contest to meet Hollywood star Rosie Huntington-Whitley

Measuring Success:

Since the implementation of social tools to engage employees, Marks and Spencer has seen a steady increase in employee use of its internal social channel.  As of February 2015, the following metrics were reported:

  • 15,000 staff using the network, a 15.7 per cent increase on the previous month
  • 63,000 messages posted
  • 18,000 pictures uploaded to the site

Lessons Learned:

A well-articulated business plan with clearly stated objectives helps employees to develop programs to meet objectives. The human resources function at Marks and Spencer has taken the core goals in its PLAN A business plan and implemented several employee engagement programs.  By selecting an enterprise-wide social network solution, M& S was able to communicate, recognize and incentivize its vast employee base.  Adoption of the internal social channel at M&S is on the rise, a positive indication that employees are engaging more with the company.


M & S’s appreciation of “engagement” can be traced back to its early days when Michael Marks put his wares on display for his customers to engage with and not merely view behind glass – a practice unheard of at the time. Today, engagement focuses not only on the customer, but on the employee as well. Using tools such as enterprise social network solution Yammer, helps Marks and Spencer to engage with and involve employees in working towards the company’s goal of the being the world’s foremost retailer in sustainable practices, with a global footprint.

Submitted by: kcress, University of Waterloo

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