NRF: Top retailers share cultural keys to retaining employees

Discussion
Photo: Best Buy
Jan 17, 2019
Matthew Stern

In a tight labor market with little to prevent retail employees from switching companies, retailers are finding it critical to be considered a pleasant place to work. In a session at the NRF conference in New York, representatives of three retailers rated as top employers by Indeed.com spoke about how they are winning at retention.

Rosalind Vaughan-Chevreuil, senior vice president of HR at Best Buy, pointed to company values that are emphasized from the first interview as a big part of the chain’s success as a workplace.

Geoff Green, vice president of talent acquisition at Foot Locker, noted that the chain hires from the communities that engage with its products — sneakerheads, artists and gamers.

“You kind of figure out, what are their passions,” Mr. Greene said. “If they are at the entry level and they don’t have a lot of experience, then you look at what do they do in the community, what do they do in the schools … we have to look at them to make sure they’re going to fit the culture and the culture ends up being a byproduct of the talent that we bring in.”

He mentioned an instance in which employees at one location began having an impromptu dance party as one example of how company culture has flourished.

Mayerland Harris, group vice president of human resources at H-E-B, noted how a similar need to hire based on culture extended to grocery.

“Every type of culture has a different way of eating — a different product, a different herb,” said Ms. Harris. “You have to understand the population that you’re serving and have those same partners work for you to help explore that.”

She further said that allowing employees to set their career paths and not keeping them on a rigid trajectory is another key to retention.

“We ensure that people feel their individual career path is one they chart on their own,” said Ms. Harris. “You have the opportunity to go where you want to go or what suits your needs the best.”

The retailers also discussed different ways they were experimenting with flexible scheduling, childcare options and other worker-friendly arrangements to keep talent on board.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the keys to recruitment and retention for retailers? How important is hiring employees that fit a particular company culture to worker retention?

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Braintrust
"Correlating hiring around the passions that its associates have is a brilliant strategy to ensure higher retention. "
"For product categories that are not typically a passion for most people, the retailer will need to focus on other things that make employees happy..."
"Cultural fit is key! Feeling like valued members of a team is the difference between employees and advocates."

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17 Comments on "NRF: Top retailers share cultural keys to retaining employees"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Hiring for cultural fit is really important. Employees will be far more engaged and ultimately better serve customers if they connect to the company’s values. While pay, benefits, and schedule flexibility are important in attracting and retaining employees, given the tight job market and changing priorities – especially among younger employees – cultural fit can be the differentiating factor in whether an employee stays in the long run.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

The single greatest force in retail store culture is the store manager. They set and guide the values for the entire store. They also set the tone for both the customer and staff experience. Invest in great store managers and they will lead the culture that retains the best employees.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
First, provide a friendly working environment, second make ALL employees feel appreciated and give them opportunities for growth with the company. Third, make sure you offer them enough hours to work because that has become the biggest complaint of most store associates today. Yes, provide flexible scheduling so they can work the hours available especially if they have another job or are in school. Fourth, provide adequate training that explains “why” they need to do what the company is requesting. Moreover, make sure the training will help them do their job properly so they can enjoy their work. Fifth, make sure the managers they report to treat them respectfully, and when they’ve done something incorrectly, they provide the associate with positive criticism and explanation without put-downs and making them feel inferior. Sixth, group activities and reward opportunities like pizza parties, bowling night, etc. are all great ways to expand rapport among associates and build good peer relationships. Seventh, never be afraid to “thank” the employee for doing a good job and if they are interested… Read more »
David Weinand
BrainTrust

Absolutely critical. You can’t have a great customer experience without providing a great associate experience. Correlating hiring around the passions that its associates have is a brilliant strategy to ensure higher retention. Also, adding little things to their day-to-day will go a long way to creating a culture of inclusion and value. We visited a hot new retailer Stance in SoHo while at NRF and they have built a lounge downstairs that includes couches, video game consoles, and beverages for their employees to use when on break. This culture is part of their strategy to attract and retain the best associates. So good to see retailers finally realizing the importance of their frontline!

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

A retailer and brand’s sense of purpose and culture are not only elements to attract and retain customers but in today’s hyper-competitive job market it’s extremely important to get this mix right to attract the right talent. Typically the NRF is a showcase for all the emerging technologies and innovations. However, this year in particular, there were plenty of firms featured, such as Patagonia, that have an outstanding corporate culture that extends well beyond the product.

Technological innovations attract all the attention, yet it’s what the companies stand for which truly draw both customers and potential employees to your brand.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Culture is the most critical element in any business. And, in retail, it is critical to hire people that reflect and live the culture of the consumer. In its heyday Hot Topic became the darling of mall retailing by hiring pierced and tattooed workers that wouldn’t get a second look from most recruiters. Why? Because they looked like the customers. By the same token, language proficiency, understanding ethnic preferences and cooking patterns, etc. can only help boost sales. As far as recruitment and retention go, the key is to have recruiters who possess authentic cultural understanding. There’s no point in hiring a bilingual Mexican-American worker, for example, if you are going to insist they only speak English to the customers. The bottom line here is that, for most companies, real inclusive hiring requires hiring for a certain culture — not insisting people conform to your existing culture — and that’s tough for many employers.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I can easily see and understand the company culture being strong in hiring at Best Buy and Foot Locker. The product and brand suggests their employees are knowledgeable with the products being sold. When it comes around to the grocery silo, the hiring and training needs to be slightly different with more of an emphasis on customer service. Sure you need to know where the products are located in a store. But do you have to know which brand of an item is the preferred one? Being helpful and wearing a smile goes a lot further than knowing the specifics of a product when you are in a generalist job such as in the grocery or department store silo.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I continue to be surprised that fundamentally providing good jobs to people and treating them with respect is so rarely talked about. Certainly, it’s far more interesting to develop elaborate ideas, do extensive research, etc. But somewhere we seem to have lost the basics of respect among all those ideas.

The most basic respect is to remove from employees the threat of being fired or losing a bonus because of a poor survey response. That really does affect people at the store and they leave in a big way. But somehow, since an ISO organization says it’s the right thing to do, big retailers don’t seem to think twice about disrespecting employees in how they deal with customer feedback.

There’s more in my post about Walgreens and the dark side of customer surveys.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
I’m not sure we understand “culture” at all. The reason for that is we approach it in a mechanistic, cost-benefit, check-off-the-box kind of way … whereas it’s wholly a spiritual and belief issue. That’s a level of engagement very few companies explore. This article focuses on discovering what the recruit’s passions are. Nowhere did I see a reference to any attempt at describing what the organizations’ “culture” is. I’m sorry but an “impromptu dance party” is not an example of “flourishing” culture. Guaranteed once the music is turned off employees are thinking “What are we going to do next time?” Then we have the suggestion that culture is related to values, whatever they are. EVERY organization has some kind of bullet point value statement just like they all have vision and mission statements. I probably shouldn’t even get started here … but here’s why I think 90 percent of value statements are superficial mush. Any one of us, with remarkable accuracy, can list the “values” of any company in the country sight-unseen. “Honesty” or “integrity”… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
I’m with you on this one Ian. Culture is like the weather — lots of folks talk about it, but very few understand its dynamics. They just like to complain when it doesn’t suit them. Culture is what people build between themselves every day. It is dynamic, not static. My only argument with your analysis is your assertion that, ” … 90 percent of value statements are superficial mush.” I’d include equally generic, “Mission Statements,” and my estimation is that nearly 100 percent are “mush.” I’m not saying there may not be a good one out there, but I’ve never seen it. One exercise I like to put clients through is creating a, “Credo,” statement, i.e., spelling out a series of their beliefs. No “belief” is allowed on the list if it (a) lacks specificity and, (b) isn’t empirically verifiable. Easy to rattle off platitudes, pretty tough to get to an honest list of beliefs, but it is exactly those beliefs that — again as you noted — are the building blocks of culture. My… Read more »
Nicole Harris
Guest

Cultural fit is critical when hiring, as we all know that feeling we get both when we click with something and when we don’t. However once you bring people on board, even the best cultural alignment won’t retain top talent if they don’t feel as if they’re appreciated and that their efforts are making a difference. Each of us as humans have a need to feel as if we’re contributing to something bigger and we are making progress — it’s just the way we’re wired. There is no better way to do this than through recognition, but we’re not talking about the days of an “employee of the month” plaque. Your customer experience will never exceed your employee experience. Just as thanking your customers for their business is a critical part of their CX, thanking your people for their efforts and contributions is a critical part of the EX.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Are we talking about fitting employees into a corporate culture, or matching corporate culture to customer culture? Often, very different exercises.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Retail has always struggled to accommodate staff scheduling challenges, and today there is more sensitivity to these challenges than ever. Be honest in the first interview, so no surprises arise from the new employee. Be consistent with all employees, including long-tenured people who may object to flexibility given to new people that they themselves don’t enjoy.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

The brilliant brander Adrienne Weiss was absolutely right when she said companies have their own culture, language and customs. We have worked with so many retailers who were not in touch with what it felt like to work at their stores. Culture is important in attracting and retaining employees. I’m happy to see the industry talking about it.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Cultural fit is key! Feeling like valued members of a team is the difference between employees and advocates.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
Vice President, Retail Marketing, enVista
1 year 2 days ago

Passionate employees are the happiest and best for your customers. A recent RetailWire article on Barnes & Noble hiring book enthusiasts to provide customers with book recommendations is a good example of hiring employees that are passionate. It may be difficult to find the right employees to fill these roles but when they do, these enthusiasts for your products will probably be very happy and loyal employees.

For product categories that are not typically a passion for most people, the retailer will need to focus on other things that make employees happy, like pay, perks and flexible schedules. While culture is sometimes hard to sell, if the workplace is fun, employees will recruit their friends.

Joel Goldstein
BrainTrust

As the workforce becomes younger, retailer struggle with the generational gap and expectations of those employees more and more. The “mothering” of the employees now resides on the manager as that is what they have come to expect. The cultural fit is very important, however understanding the larger social and political environment is the key to retaining employees as they have shown they will quit a job quickly without a safety net if they feel their needs aren’t being addressed.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Correlating hiring around the passions that its associates have is a brilliant strategy to ensure higher retention. "
"For product categories that are not typically a passion for most people, the retailer will need to focus on other things that make employees happy..."
"Cultural fit is key! Feeling like valued members of a team is the difference between employees and advocates."

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