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Will writes on subjects from retail to media, politics, entrepreneurialism, science and technology. He previously worked for The Australian Financial Review in Sydney and Canberra.

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Can fancy toilets for a better workplace: Myer’s Brookes

Published 27 November 2012 05:06, Updated 28 November 2012 05:54

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Can fancy toilets for a better workplace: Myer’s Brookes

Myer chief Bernie Brookes says it’s important for managers to remove the “airs and graces” – and swanky toilets – that can separate managers from their staff.

The former Woolworths trolley boy, now Myer chief executive Bernie Brookes outlined his theory of management during a keynote speech at the 2012 Australian Retail Awards in Sydney last week – covering everything from toilet hierarchies to leadership during a crisis. Here are five points Brookes says have helped him in his management career:

  1. Don’t have a toilet hierarchy – Brookes says that when Woolworths settled in offices in Brisbane that were previously used by General Motors they found a rigid toilet hierarchy in the building, with quality improving with the seniority of office. “There was a toilet, then there was a general manager’s toilet, there was a vice-president’s toilet and there was a president’s toilet,” he recalls. He thought it was a sure way to creative a divisive culture. He says it is important for managers to remove the “airs and graces” – and swanky toilets – that can separate managers from their staff.
  2. Tell the truth – Brookes says he learned this from a mentor, former Woolworths CEO Paul Simons. “Paul used to have a saying that I really liked,” he recalls. “You never get into trouble if you tell the truth. And you never have to remember what you said.” He says that honesty is crucial for maintaining good relations with staff and suppliers. He says for all the management books on sale, the essence of good management is simple: do what is right.
  3. Have a clear vision – Brookes says leaders need a clear vision of where they are taking a business, whether they are running a chain of five or six stores, or a department store empire. “People want to know where they’re going, what they’re doing and how they’re going to get there.” He thinks that Australia’s political leadership currently lacks that vision.
  4. Be decisive – Brookes says that sometimes making a decision fast is more important that making the perfect one. “Whether you make the right or wrong decisions, people respond to individuals that make a decision,” he says. He tells the story of rebuilding Myer’s Hobart store, which burnt down in late 2007. After arriving at the charred site he announced to staff that they would rebuild the store in 45 days. “Now I have no idea where I got that from!” Brookes says. But after 45 days store had been re-fixtured, re-built and re-opened. He believes his initial decisiveness got the Hobart store operating again so quickly.
  5. Be a servant leader – Brookes say leaders need to be aware that they are servant to their team. They should know the name of the cleaner. They should, from time to time, get involved in the operating of business – in his case, by working on the till. “It’s an acknowledgement that you are side-by-side with them,” he says.