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Retail HR Summit: solving the recruitment and retention conundrum

The ongoing shortage of people within the retail sector and other consumer-facing industries has led to severe problems but these can be overcome if companies adopt… View Article


Retail HR Summit: solving the recruitment and retention conundrum

The ongoing shortage of people within the retail sector and other consumer-facing industries has led to severe problems but these can be overcome if companies adopt a different approach to recruitment and also boost retention through greater employee empowerment.

Speaking at The Retail HR conference 2022 from The Retail Bulletin in central London recently Kevin Green, chief people officer at First Bus, says: “The challenge we have is not going away. There are labour, skills and talent shortages and most organisations are suffering from all three. You’ve got to have the right culture and many companies coming out of Covid-19 are suffering.”

Old ways no longer work

He suggests the issue begins with recruitment, which needs reviewing because it is known that the traditional method of interviews does not work. “There’s so much bias built into the system. We can’t always do what we’ve done before,” argues Green.

James Hampton, head of people & culture at St Austell Brewery, agrees and believes there has not been sufficient investment committed to “filling the bath up with talent” and that part of the problem has been too little time spent with academic establishments. He also argues for a move towards businesses having less biases within them. “How do we get young people passionate about our industry? Build a better culture without biases,” he suggests.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, believes the current difficult scenario of shortages and biases has a silver lining in that it will see employers now recognise, rather than exclude, people of all types: “Whether it is people with hearing or sight loss, mental health issues or MS this is a massive talent pool. Companies need to examine all parts of their recruitment process and re-engineer it. Does a job really need all the things stated such as a driving license? And sometimes the recruitment portals are simply not accessible to all people. The whole process needs unpicking.”

Diversity and inclusivity is imperative

General diversity is certainly a focus for companies but it can be challenging to implement. Phil Vickers, director of HR for UK & USA at Charles Tyrwhitt, says that with over 40 locations [in multiple countries] devising a strategy [at Charles Tyrwhitt] that resonates is hard. It’s not an HR initiative. It needs managers to buy into diversity.”

Nick Davison, former head of wellbeing at John Lewis & Partners, agrees: “For an employer like John Lewis, with 80,000 employees, it’s a massive thing to get right. How do you encourage participants and engagement? Expectations of employees has certainly changed and for those companies with rhetoric rather than actions they will have a challenge.”

The potential for greater inclusivity (and diversity) has been recognised by Marco Galer-Reick, human resources director at Delaware North, who says there is no longer an almost disposable labour market. “It is forcing people to be a lot more open minded and invest in people. People with disabilities will float to the top. A diverse business is a better one. The crisis represents an opportunity.”

Empowering employees

Green agrees and points to fundamental change in the way that HR functions: “You can’t do HR from the centre. This crisis is an opportunity to re-invent HR and help managers reinvent their jobs. If we carry on doing the same things it will be worse next year.”

This move from the centre is something that Sarah Eglin, head of people at Co-op operations – Funeralcare, stores, logistics & business services – at The Co-operative, has been committing much time to: “We’d built the Co-op around central operations. We’d created a thinking part and a doing part. The power had to move during Covid-19 [from head office] to the stores and we acknowledged this should be a shift that stays post-Covid-19 and creates a company without hierarchy. We have ensured colleagues know they have the power to make decisions and do not need a manager above them to make these decisions.”

During this transition HR has sought to co-create solutions with colleagues. “They’ve designed the solutions and we’ve facilitated their thinking. Colleagues don’t initially believe you mean what you are saying and you need to convince them about co-creation,” she says.

Tim Pointer, chief people officer at Nelsons, is also an advocate of this move to empower employees and suggests sufficient autonomy must be given to the teams on the shop-floor in order that they can make decisions that best reflect the brand when serving customers in-store.

“It’s about trust and respect for our people. Let’s put the effort into the context rather than the rules and regulations. Helping people understand what success is today and tomorrow is crucial. It takes us away from command and control [structures],” he explains.

Building trust, respect and caring

Another aspect that determines where people choose to work, and how long they stay, is the company’s reputation, according to Una O’Reilly, group chief people, culture & sustainability officer at The Ivy Collection and Caprice Holdings, who says: “Central to our organisation is reputation. People are making choices and the reputation of where they work is important. It’s not about pay, it’s about a company caring for its people, community and environment. When I took on this job I met my boss and he just said ‘look after the people’.”

Kirsty Rogers, partner at DWF, suggests that if companies can demonstrate caring then they will enjoy improved profits: “If you have a brand that has a more caring reputation then you’ll get more customers.” This helps ensure a sustainable business where ESG is “not an extra but is part of who you are”.

Heather Lee, head of HR at Lincolnshire Co-op, very much agrees: “Companies talk about CSR but it’s just about ticking a box. At the Co-op they really do live and breathe it. I moved for a better work-life balance and joining Lincolnshire Co-op was the best decision I ever made.” Feeding into this is the reputation the company has within the local community and its purpose-driven nature that supports the local economy and works with suppliers on projects that are over and above the commercial relationships.

Purposeful communications

“We’ve launched a new applicant tracking system and the content around recruitment is focused on our purpose. Purpose also sits at the heart of our colleague appraisals – to show how they lived the purpose and how they can get better. Our policies, language, and tone of voice reflects this purpose,” says Lee.

Communicating this purpose within the regular messaging to colleagues is conducted across various formats including an app, social media – mainly LinkedIn – and traditional workplace noticeboards. Lee recognises that “taking 3,000 people on the journey” requires a variety of mediums.

This has not been lost on Faisal Hawa, senior director of growth strategy within EMEA at Ceridian, who says a major challenge for HR is that for the first time in history there are five different generations in the workplace. “Companies have got to work out the relevant communications for all these generations,” she says, adding that such messaging is essential because companies have to be transparent. With this approach Hawa believes it is possible to much more easily bring about change within an organization and to have the full trust of employees.

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