Case study: How Lane Crawford made culture change fashionable

The famously upmarket Hong Kong department store needed a root-and-branch shift among its employee base if it was to keep pace with competitors

Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford is the undisputed grand dame of the city’s luxury shopping. Founded 168 years ago, it offers high fashion, furniture and homewares, and every accessory the well-heeled could wish for.

Yet behind the glamorous façade, all was not well. A year ago, the company was in dire need of restructuring and culture change. In an age of fast-moving retail with major shifts in the supply chain, new online shopping platforms and increasingly knowledgeable and demanding customers, Lane Crawford realised that although its day-to-day business was strong, its corporate structure had not kept pace.

It was adrift in a new environment with no fundamental ethos to ground and guide it. “We were shopkeepers managing a global brand,” says Andrew Keith, the company’s president.

HR was “delivering the operational excellence, but we were fire-fighting,” adds Mabel Wong, vice president of human resources, adding that the former work style was “primitive”.

That has changed dramatically. But the process began with a painful restructuring that saw reporting lines switched and teams rebuilt, as well as the first redundancies in the company’s history.

Deeper changes followed as the business realised it also needed to alter its ways of working to instil team building, cooperation and real commitment to change at every level. That meant, in part, a leadership manifesto explaining the new company values: passion, learning and collaboration.

Not wanting to end up with a list of values that were not lived, Lane Crawford called in The Culture Builders, a consultancy that specialises in building high-performance workplaces and teams. They began embedding behavioural changes through group working sessions, individual conversations, and 360-degree feedback to show managers when they were living the new ideals well and when they weren’t. They also worked with the business to create a new employer branding proposition, designing values-based interviews and an enhanced induction procedure.

Wong now has a focused talent acquisition team which she says helps the business focus on value creation. The aim for HR is “creating a delightful employee journey,” she says. “Only if you feel happy when you’re at work […] and you feel you’re recognised and treasured – that’s where the productivity comes in and that’s when the employees are engaged.”

Lane Crawford’s financial results for the fiscal year just ended exceeded expectations, and Wong believes at least some credit for that is due to the culture change.

She says the emphasis is now on knowledge sharing, collaboration and working together on a project basis across teams, which has helped build a new culture of trust, synergy and sharing. The company has completely changed its attitude to negative behaviour. Instead of complaining about colleagues, the question now is “what are we going to do about it,” says Keith.

Lane Crawford has succeeded because it has followed conversation with action that has embedded lasting change across the business, says Jane Sparrow, founder and director of The Culture Builders. "They aren't falling into the trap of just having conversations about culture and values but are also giving people the skills and confidence to encourage colleagues to keep changing, and challenge each other on their behaviours.” For a business that had always done things one way, that’s quite an achievement.

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