Waterstones staff have spoken of their sadness at seeing managers with decades of experience leave the company. Over 60 managers departed the chain last week as part of its management restructure.
However managing director James Daunt has defended the development, which saw all 487 branch and assistant manager positions earmarked for redundancy at the end of May as the restructure and consultation process began. Staff were invited to apply for the new position of Bookshop Manager, which Waterstones m.d. James Daunt said was designed to put more emphasis on “traditional shopfloor bookselling”.
The Bookseller has been told that “the majority” of people passed the assessment, and have been given new Bookshop Manager roles. Several people who failed to pass, or gained “borderline passes”, are in ongoing consultations with their regional managers to see if they can still negotiate positions or be redeployed. Sixty-six individuals who chose not to take part in the assessment process left last week.
One manager, who did not want to be named, commented: “We feel all those with loyal service have been singled out and morale is at rock bottom. Many of those managers who have just left were not even thanked for their efforts by their regional manager . . . I would like to emphasise that I’ve always seen myself as a lifer—but not any more.”
Another bookseller told The Bookseller that she quit her job this week in disgust at the consultation process. She said: “Yesterday I gave my notice because it seems to me unfair that so many department managers are losing their jobs. They have been offered redundancy or redeployment on inferior terms. The last straw came for me when my line manager was offered the choice between redundancy or accepting a lower position, which would be a demotion for him both financially and in status.“
She added: “All the managers have been dedicated and creative people with valuable expertise and years of experience. I think the redundancy process has been extremely unpleasant and unfair for everyone and, although, as a bookseller, my own position is not at the moment at risk, I no longer want to continue in this job.”
Daunt told The Bookseller: “It goes without saying no one has enjoyed this process, including us, and there are some people who feel it should not have happened. I firmly believe we have run our process [in a manner] as fair and transparent as possible.
"Right from the outset I have said—pretty unpalatably for some—that some of our managers are not fit for the job and that is of course not very nice to hear. I have said quite a few times that I do not think that our bookshops are, or have been, good enough. Although I think that is improving a lot. Some of it was down to what we were doing centrally and some of it was what we were doing locally and some was down to a lack of investment in shops and we need to improve it all. We need to improve the retailing. I think what we are doing now is recognising that.”
He added: “I think we have a good cadre of booksellers who remain with us. I am very grateful to those who are going for their service. I have received some very positive feedback from the people who are leaving but I recognise there will be many people who do not like it and some will not be shy in saying so . . . What we are asking of our managers is changing fundamentally. The assessments focus on the skills we need from people now. The majority of people passed those.”
One insider said he thought more managers than the company anticipated have chosen to leave Waterstones instead of reapply for their positions, and some of those are people the company would have preferred to have kept.
Daunt has always been adamant Waterstones needs to “book sell its way out” of its current financial situation, amid a challenging bookselling environment in the UK. He has previously told The Bookseller: “We have to book sell our way out of this and that really does mean changing our methods.These changes are not primarily about saving costs, we have restructured the business and moved to a cluster system which no longer requires a mainly administrative management in our shops. To ensure our long-term health our emphasis must be on traditional shop floor bookselling with those in the newly defined role of bookshop manager being a part of, and leading, a team of skilled, motivated booksellers dedicated to delivering excellent customer service."
A document describing the role of the Bookshop Manager says the person should, among many other merits, “prioritise service above everything else” and “lead the team of booksellers to deliver consistently high levels of service, expert advice and hand-selling” plus “provide regular feedback to the shop team”.