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What keeps HR managers awake at night?

At the Retail Bulletin’s 5th Retail HR Summit, held in London this week, heads of HR in businesses as varied as, Marks & Spencer, Argos, B&Q and The Body Shop discussed some common challenges facing are the HR profession. By Katie Macaulay.


What keeps HR managers awake at night?

The themes that emerged from the Summit uniting both HR and communication professionals included: 

•Earning a place at the top table – by demonstrating business acumen, being clear about your financial targets and knowing your business well, both HR and communication practitioners are being invited to the top table. Esther O’Halloran was a great example, having been promoted to managing director of Paul UK from HR director. Her advice was ‘be nosy’ about your business, competitors and customers. Don’t sit behind a desk in HQ.

•Generation Y thinks differently – organisations are having to re-write their employee handbooks for this new generation. New entrants look for meaning in the work they do, and seek flexibility, continual feedback and a more discursive style of communication from their employer. This generation is forcing us to be more inventive, empathetic and transparent.

•Don’t tell your employees about the future, ask them to create it – in a frank and fascinating presentation, George Wakely, director of retail HR and shared services at B&Q, told us about a highly unusual approach to a restructure. Rather than lock B&Q’s senior managers in a room to pontificate on new roles, profiles, report lines and processes, executives started with a blank sheet of paper and invited employees to provide the answers. This approach – with elected representatives from each business area supported by listening groups – sent a message across the organisation that involvement and collaboration was not a management soundbite but really is the way B&Q does business.

•Think mobile – research shows on average we check our smartphones every 6½ minutes. If your channels for recruits, employees and even alumni are not optimised for mobile devices, you are being left behind.

•Think like a marketer – for me, as a communicator, this was the most revealing comment of the day. Paula Harvey from Kallidus told us that to attract and retain talented employees, HR should look to its marketing colleagues. There was much HR could borrow from the practice of attracting and retaining customers. As a loyal – indeed ardent – customer of several brands present, that seemed like sound advice. Every retailer present clearly has the ingenuity, creativity and passion to connect with people – and aren’t employees people too? As internal communicators, we are having to think in similar ways – targeting employees with the precision and tactics of the best marketers.

If you would be interested in speaking at next year’s Retail HR Summit, 8th October 2014, please contact Karen Howard: 01737 647103

Katie Macaulay is managing director of AB, the employee communication specialist.

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