Harrison Brothers – Case Study for 7015EHR Exam – Semester 1, 2015
(Based on a case from Nkomo, Fottler and McAfee, 2011)
Company History: Harrison Brothers Corporation was founded in upstate New York in
1898, by Aubrey and William Harrison. Harrison Brothers is a multi-line traditional
department store that carries mainly men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing. In recent
years, the store has expanded to include household furnishings and other items for the
home. The long-term goal of the company is to become the leading chain of department
stores in the Northeast, selling moderate to higher priced merchandise to fashion-conscious
customers. Harrison Bothers is one of the largest privately owned retail stores in the United
States. A majority of its twenty stores are located in the North East. Its largest store is
located in a major urban centre and has 950 employees. The company is highly
decentralised and maintains a small corporate office.
Industry Challenges: Traditional department stores like Harrison Brothers are beginning to
experience the effects of a number of changes in the retail industry. Not long ago, major
department stores succeeded by being ‘all things, to all customers’. However, today’s
customer is looking for both value and specialisation. Superstores and giant discounters are
also popping up. At the same time, the industry faces the challenge of keeping a welltrained, highly motivated sales staff and management team. James Harrison, CEO of
Harrison Brothers, wishes to take a more deliberate approach to securing the future of
Harrison Brothers. He describes the company’s strategic challenges for the next five years:
“We can no longer continue to do the same old things that gave us a reputation for fair value.
We must reposition ourselves on each floor, by offering exciting brands names, excellent
sales help, and frequent sales. We need sales staff who know the merchandise and
understand customer preferences. Buying expertise is also critical because fashions and
consumer tastes never stay the same. Ultimately, due to the nature of the competitive retail
environment, we need to have highly competent, skilled and knowledgeable workers in order
to make our business succeed in the future.”
We have five strategic goals:
1. Convert non-selling space into revenue-generating selling space.
2. Build up underdeveloped merchandise categories.
3. Invest aggressively in private brands like Bolo, Nautica, and Tommy Hilfiger.
4. Reduce costs through the use of advanced computer systems to project sales.
5. Improve productivity of sales associates, buyers, and department heads.
James Harrison hires a consultant to help him understand the company’s issues. These are
excerpts from two interviews conducted, which are detailed below.
Human Resource Department: There are five people in this department: HR Manager
(Brenda McCain); HR Assistant; Trainer (Joanne Flynn); Payroll Clerk.
Interview with Brenda McCain: “My role involves managing the HR department, observing
workers’ actual performance on the job, and selecting applicants for the sales and support
positions. There is a heavy turnover on the sales floor, and the average salesperson is either
part-time, an older employee, or one who is “in-between jobs” – if a better job came along
they would snap it up immediately. For example, of the 119 part-time people hired in the last
four months, 65 have left. Therefore, I feel we could manage our talent more effectively and
consider placing further emphasis on their development in order to better retain staff. I feel
this might be related to a lack of effective orientation and induction processes and practices
that the organisation has to assist staff when assimilating into our culture. I think we need to
focus more on making employees feel welcome and the managers need to take more
responsibility for this.
Right now, I conduct about 25 to 30 interviews a week and perhaps more in the holiday rush.
I know what a good salesperson should be like and place a lot of weight on motivation,
personality, and drive as I believe that any good addition to the team can be trained.
Therefore, we need to have greater focus on managing the Human Resource Development
function more effectively, especially seeing the training of new salespeople occurs every two
weeks and every week during the holiday season. The sessions last all day and are
conducted in a formal classroom style learning environment. However, now and then we get
some employees who cannot effectively complete even simple mandatory training, such as
cash register operations. On the job, our trainer, Joanne, tries to expose them to selling
techniques and to properly interact with customers. I do spend a good deal of time with
Joanne and will help out if the training classes are too large. Additionally, we don’t really
have time to evaluate this training or test each participant’s ability to transfer their learning
into practice in the workplace. Ultimately, I am not sure if this is an effective way to train our
staff, moving forward.
When I arrived, there was inconsistent discipline with staff. Supervisors all took different
actions to improve and develop their staff, which was problematic, so now I take all actions
in relation to disciplinary rules. However, this is taking up a lot of my time and I am not sure I
am the best person to be handling this as I am not on the floor working with them every day.
We have a bonus system for individual sales people who make above the breakeven
amount. It doesn’t seem to help with our turnover though. I think we need to improve how we
use the system to help develop our talent and drive performance in the business. It might be
an idea to create a culture of continuous improvement so we are consistently learning and
For our sales support staff, the supervisors basically evaluate the employee’s quality and
quantity of work. Last year, though, we incorporated a form of employee development into
the performance evaluation process. However, I think we need to give this process more
attention. Supervisors are required to discuss the employees’ career opportunities and
professional development with them. I initiated this as a form of career planning and
hopefully as a way to keep good employees. Unfortunately, supervisors have been slack in
doing the assessment and in using this as a Human Resource Development tool. They
seem to be more anxious to get the performance evaluation completed rather than focusing
on the development potential of the staff member. Furthermore, several employees came to
me to say they had not received a ‘professional assessment’ since the program was
established, which is defeating the purpose of the strategy that is supposed to be helping to
better engage the workforce.
There is a lot more we need here in human resources, but we are somewhat constrained by
cost considerations and the realities of the retail industry. The turnover of staff in the sales
areas gives me little free time to develop new programs and ideas.”
Interview with new Store Manager: “I think the HR Department seems too internally
focused. They tend to struggle to keep up with day-to-day activities, let alone look to make
improvements or focus on development. I don’t know if they are understaffed or not but we
need to grow the Human Resource Development function. Our store has experienced very
high turnover. I need human resources to be more of a key player in driving our staff and
their performance. It’s not too hard to get the merchandise we want to sell, but we need
people who know how to sell it to customers. There are a lot of changes going on in the
company and we’re all going to have to learn how to do things differently and better to stay
James Harrison and the con
sultant discuss the issues and decide that the HR Department is
over-stretched and that an additional person should be employed. Although the person
would be employed within the HR Department, he/she would also communicate directly with
James Harrison who still believes there is much to understand about what is really going on,
especially in relation to the high turnover and customer service, which he suspects is related
to training and development. Therefore, they advertised for a Human Resource
1) As an HRD specialist selected to work for Harrison Brothers
a) Provide an analysis of any HRD problems or major issues that you perceive in
b) Provide an analysis of the strengths and weakness of McCain proposed
approach to leadership development and then discuss your recommendations for
leadership development in this case
2) How would you go about showing that HRD could ‘make a difference’ to this