Apple and Lululemon teaching the industry a few lessons about approaching talent in a more intuitive and humanistic way.
Australia's $265 billion retail sector employs over 1.2 million people.
While most young Australians start their working life in retail, traditionally, working in retail is seen as a stepping stone before starting another career, or a means to an end to pay one’s way through study.
It’s a transient industry, but one that relies heavily on the success and professionalism of its staff. Retailing works in cycles, and when retail times are tough, all of those old adages resonate.
One of these adages is more important for retailers now than ever before: your staff are your best asset. So, how do retailers attract good staff and hold onto them?
How do they find staff who, with a little bit of training, are capable of delivering the kind of customer service and product knowledge that Australian shoppers are so desperately craving at the moment?
And once they have them, how do retailers show their top staff that the retail sector offers many rewarding career paths?
Retail organisations are discovering that the secret to attracting and retaining valued staff has less to do with money and is more about creating a culture people enjoy being a part of. One of the greatest drivers of your team’s success is their level of engagement.
Becoming an employer of choice is a highly valuable status to hold as our industry digs deep into the talent pool to support the reinvention of brands and the stabilisation in trading times that will not suffer fools. So, what does it take to be an employer of choice?
It depends on who you ask, but broadly our focus needs to consider: what others think of your business, not your own perception; what makes you different and how will that matter to me; and what is your view of me if I was to join – how can we both benefit from this equation?
Attraction and retention of quality, committed and professional teams is paramount to success in a tight labour market with narrow cost margins and escalating wages. Growing talent takes time and commitment. Keeping talent takes careful planning and consideration.
It is therefore essential that we take a practical approach to getting close to the true talent in the industry and nurturing a new breed of resilient and focused retailers for our future. Before embarking on attracting talent, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and question our cultural blueprint.
This is the foundation of an employer of choice.
What are we made of around here and what does our version of good look like? The reality is that winning in the recruitment and retention race is about not building a one size fits all approach, but a culture and connection that brings a community of strong retailers with passion and commitment.
Clearly we can see brands such as Apple and Lululemon teaching the industry a few lessons about approaching talent in a more intuitive and humanistic way. Attract them because they are people like us – they get the direction and they want to play the game.
So there lies another question; are you recruiting for attitude or skill? Powerful brands are built with united teams. Teams are only united when they are facing in the same direction, well lead and work from a common values base. Motivation and inspiration are key, particularly for emerging talent in Gen Y teams.
You may say that one of the greatest challenges businesses face in contemporary retailing is managing Gen Y teams. Right? Wrong.
The greatest problem that businesses face is finding a style of leadership that focuses all of our talent of all generations seamlessly on common goals that are great for the team, customer and business.
That’s really the problem- are we all equipped with the vision and skills to do this? Having this formula sorted is a magnet for talent from all ages.
It is worth calling out a few differences that need to be considered in our approach to attracting real talent from the Gen Y pool: They are self-confident and selfaware; they are stimuli junkies, educated, fast learners and technology-savvy; they are informal, independent and focused on ‘having a life’.
Importantly, they are motivated and inspired by good managers and leaders. This is the ‘in’ for our industry. The race is on to see which retailers will get the best out of this vibrant sector of the workforce. This requires a strategy to support the attraction and retention of talent.
So there is another question for us - do you have a people strategy? Is it written down?
If you answered no to both questions, then it might be time to ask why not.
Building a plan for the way we manage our people matters right now more than ever before as we drive for optimisation of staffing levels and investment into talent.
The irony is that as retailers we might be able to get the best out of our employees by changing our mindset from growing teams of dependent employees to growing independent employees in the ‘business’ of building their own personal brands.
Allow them an opportunity to grow and shine – teach them how to make a new retail formula, not just follow one. If we are to attract and retain high achievers, we need to challenge them to go after their “career PBs”.
So how do we do that?
Question ‘what it is like to work around here’ – just as customers have choices and are attracted and repelled by their perception of a brand, so are our teams. It’s those retailers where their teams are most understood who have the winning advantage.
Embrace a big vision – believe it and talk about it openly and often. Recruit for intelligence, drive and attitude – skill will come easily later.
Communicate to them constantly – help them to understand the formula of retail, not just to follow the formula.
They can never reach their potential unless they understand the why – this is the only way that we grow the talent. Don’t hide the detail about business performance, as we know the devil is in the detail in retail.