Boots Retail Services

The Problem

In summer 2003, Boots Retail Services underwent a fundamental reshaping of its Head Office and Field-based business. This was a complex and challenging change programme, which included:

  • Reduction of Head Office headcount by 40% resulting in 210 people into consultation for redundancy.
  • Changing pay models within key groups of staff and changes to ways of working to empower increased decision-making
  • Centralisation of some field based services, resulting in the closure of 160 in-store labs and opening of 23 regional glazing centres,
  • Franchising trial in  9 stores, a move that had generated huge insecurity within the rest of the chain
  • Rationalisation of Laser Eye clinics and closure of all Health & Beauty Centres were being closed (over 700 redundancies)
  • Integration of the Services business into the wider Boots the Chemists business, including disbandment of the Services Executive team

All these changes happened simultaneously over a 6-month period. The issue we were asked to address was how do we handle the changes so that we have the right staff left in place at the end of it, in as good a place as possible.

The Solutions

We started the process by considering and planning for each change individually, and then collated this data to assess the overall impact. A paper to the Service Executive board, entitled Why would anyone want to work here reflected the enormity of the changes that were being attempted and the potential risks to the business.

A recipe for change was co-created with the HR Director and Change Project Manager, giving a framework within which each change programme could fit and be managed. Each programme then chose the ingredients that were most applicable to their circumstances.
The recipe contained five main elements:

  • Planning for change
  • Supporting individuals and leaders through change
  • Recovering from change
  • Rebuilding after change
  • Communications and involvement

The programme started work with the Executive board, both helping them plan for the change, but to also process their own reactions to what was being planned this proved critical in forming a cohesive group, able to survive the bumpy ride that ensued, individually and collectively.

We then moved on to working with the next layer of leaders who were in consultation themselves whilst trying to help others through the change. They were given training in how to conduct the consultation process and dedicated time to work through where they were all personally, so that they could go on to deliver difficult messages to others.  One-one support & coaching was provided for this group and the Executive team

A suite of programmes was then offered to all staff built on the importance of maintaining personal control during change. Whilst these workshops were voluntary, they were well attended, particularly the ‘Keeping Choice in Change’ workshop. Everyone, whether leaving or staying, were offered Interview and CV writing skills training and access to outplacement services.

Once leavers had gone, we started the process of recovering from change, which involved working with new teams and allowing them to work through ‘Survivor Syndrome’, which can result in anger and guilt that is destructive if not dealt with early on. The final stage was to work with the new teams to rebuild them in their new format and create new plans and work methods to take them forwards. The work culminated in a large group event for the entire business, bringing together the strands of individual and team rebuilding.


As a tangible outcome, no one left the business that the Executive team hoped to keep, and morale was maintained at unusually high levels for the scale of change. The feedback received from the workshops was exceptional. Staff saw their senior managers trying to do everything they could to make an unpleasant process less painful. When they occasionally got it wrong, they forgave them readily as the intent was clear.

The programme itself was held up as an exemplar within the company, and we were asked to do presentations to explain the approach. As other divisions started to go through similar cost reduction and efficiency programmes, framework was adapted and used throughout the Boots Group

The ultimate outcome for Boots Retail Services was a smaller, more efficient workforce that was committed to the future of the business, and a return to productivity much faster than past change programmes. It has also enabled leaders to handle future change more effectively and with less support.


We needed to spend more time with the Services board up front in the planning phase. Whilst detailed plans were produced and were essential, the vision and values work was not completed due to time pressures on Executive members, leaving their teams desperate for a completed vision throughout the first half of the change

Communicating little and often and repeating messages, sometimes 2-3 times, was very well received, and has had the spin-off benefit of improving on-going communication within the company. For example, there are now regular team briefings by Directors to discuss company performance.


The andpartnership helped us to plan the change and balance the need for achieving tight the deadlines of the consultation process with caring for our people. This was a critical factor in maintaining morale and productivity during the change and enabling us to come out of the change in better shape, ready for the challenges ahead!

Norman Usher, Managing Director, Boots Retail Services
“They helped us to think about how we regularly communicated with our staff, and guided us through what we needed to do as Directors to listen to and involve our people in the changes”.

Nicky Hill, HR Director, Boots Retail Services
“I have been through consultation for redundancy four times before with other companies and this is the first time I have felt that the management really care about us. The workshops really helped me to think through my options and stay in control of my future they helped me to see that I have choices and so far I have chosen to stay with Boots”