Bookshop Manager Assessment

The reputation of Waterstones is built upon the knowledge and enthusiasm of their 4,500 booksellers who love great books and are dedicated to finding the titles that their customers want. They strive to create places where people can go to browse, new readers are encouraged, and booksellers are passionate about the books they sell.

The challenge


In 2013 Waterstones began a company-wide consultation with around 560 management-level staff, as it prepared for a restructure set to emphasize traditional shop floor bookselling, creating a new Bookshop Manager role, which would, in the words of James Daunt, Managing Director, “call on different skills.”

The solution


It was clear from the outset that the process had to meet a number of aims, namely:

  • Objectivity – The assessment had to provide each candidate with a fair and equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities relative to the new Bookshop Manager position while ensuring robust measurement of the agreed criteria.
  • Sensitivity – As the process would impact those involved and the business as a whole, effective communication of the approach was paramount.
  • Efficiency – With circa 500 managers in scope, the process had to be implemented quickly in order to minimize the operational impact.



Our consultants spoke to subject matter experts to gain a thorough understanding of the new role, the Waterstones’ environment and the requirements and expectations of Bookshop Managers in the future.

We then designed a series of bespoke exercises set in the organizational context, replicating a Waterstones shop environment and providing candidates with a realistic preview of the responsibilities and challenges of the new role. Various methods, including a webinar, were used to communicate the process to candidates prior to the assessment centers taking place.

Centers were then delivered on a regional basis across a two-week period with two centers running in each location per day. Selected Waterstones assessors were fully trained in the behavioral assessment process and, by working alongside our consultants, we ensured a combination of high quality assessment combined with relevant business context. At the end of each day, a final scoring matrix with key strengths and development needs was created for each candidate.

The results


  • An analysis of the assessment center outputs allowed Waterstones to see that the right people had been selected.
  • In a two-week period, we assessed 341 candidates across six regional locations using over 50 consultants.
  • 82% of the appointed candidates showed an awareness of their local community and core customers, working to ensure that the bookshop was aligned with the local demographic.

It is particularly important that we do this because more than ever before our managers will be central to our ability to deliver effective bookshops: the decisions that define the character of our bookshops will fall to them in the new role. The future of Waterstones ultimately rests on the skill and effort of the bookselling teams in our shops and the leadership given to them.

James Daunt

Managing Director