Purpose: the retail recruitment superpower

retail superpowerThe new norm in retail may be a permanent state of disruption and distraction, but in CEO circles, the conversation is shifting beyond challenging trading conditions or bricks-and-mortar versus online – even beyond Amazon.

The discussion among retail leaders is pivoting to ‘purpose’ as being the new leading edge; a renewed focus on purpose and people, and importantly, how the two translate to progress.

But what is purpose? An organisation’s purpose is ‘an aspirational reason for being, which inspires and provides a call to action for an organisation and its partners and stakeholders’.

Recent research by the EY Beacon Institute on the business case for purpose highlights the correlation between the extent to which purpose is utilised by organisations and the impact that it has upon their ability to grow, innovate and transform.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research indicated only a minority said their company currently runs in a purpose-driven way, even though there is widespread belief among executives that a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction, has positive effects on key performance drivers and increases customer loyalty.

There are some retailers in our market today – both established and new – that live and breathe their purpose. Their aspirational reason for being, as seen at Paspaley, Van Cleef & Arpels and T2, flows from the top through to the shop floor.

For Paspaley, it is to ‘discover the most beautiful pearls in the world’; since the early 1900s, for Van Cleef & Arpels has been inspired by the unique creative energy of love ‘to create something lasting together’ and then there is T2, whose purpose revolves around a love for reimagining and reinventing the humble tea leaf.

Now, we are starting to see the concept of purpose gain traction not only as a core business driver but also as key to talent attraction and retention strategies.

A return to purpose

The renewed interest in purpose and an understanding of how an organisation’s ‘reason for being’ positively impacts business outcomes, is encouraging many retailers to switch from focusing on what they do, to why they do what they do.

Thinking of purpose in this way has perhaps been best articulated by leadership consultant Simon Sinek in his 2009 TED talk ‘Start with why’, where he famously said: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

The same can be said for talent. We are now seeing more talent make career decisions based on an organisation’s purpose and how effectively it is brought to life, rather than on the role, what the organisation does or the paycheck. Millennials may get accused of being ‘fussy’, but in reality, purpose speaks to talent across every generation and decisions are being made based on where there is best alignment.

Recruitment for retailers has become just as much about alignment on purpose and values as it is skills and capability. This is especially so where brands do not have a strong EVP in market. And while recruiters have long prequalified candidates for roles, candidates are now prequalifying organisations and their leaders based on an assessment of their EVP.

It is interesting to consider the LinkedIn Top Companies list for Australia compared with the UK. Only one brand aligned to retail, Wesfarmers, is included in Australia’s top 10 list of places people want to work. Yet in the UK list, half of the top 10 companies are retail, including John Lewis Partnership, ASOS, Arcadia Group, Harrods and Sainsbury’s.

A new entrant of note on the Australian list for 2017 was Scentre Group, coming in at number 13. Scentre Group’s journey to become a purposeful leader in retail and property with a strong values-driven DNA has not gone unnoticed by talent in the sector. The company’s renewed purpose to ‘create extraordinary places, connecting and enriching communities’ and their vision ‘to be the best place where talent can thrive’ is seeing significant change take place across the entire organisation including through their diversity and inclusion strategy.

The path to purpose

Purpose is not a new concept, but as an industry, there is still some way to go to bringing purpose to life in many retail businesses, regardless of size or scale. Here are some tips on how to make it happen in your organisation:

Defining (or re-defining) your purpose

Every organisation has a purpose. If you’re not able to answer the question, ‘Why do you do what you do?’ or if the majority of your staff are not familiar with its purpose, then a critical first step is to define and articulate your organisation’s purpose so everyone understands the company’s reason for being.

However, be mindful that purpose is not confused with marketing or branding. Purpose should impact every aspect of the company and every decision considered through the lens of purpose. More than words on a page, purpose should live and breathe in a meaningful way such as through performance metrics and recognition.

Empowering your people to be purposeful

As the adage goes, actions speak louder than words. Leading by example is the key to embedding purpose in an organisation. It is all well and good as a CEO, or a senior leadership team to be aligned on purpose, but without alignment or engagement across the entire company, purpose ultimately falls flat.

Too often, we see a disconnect between the theory and the reality of purpose in organisations, which becomes evident when talent is ‘sold’ one version of the truth and experience something altogether different.

Customers also recognise when organisations empower their people to be brand ambassadors for their purpose and the service that comes from highly motivated and engaged staff aligned on purpose.

Hiring for purpose

Organisations that have a clear purpose naturally attract talent that will thrive within their culture.

Hiring talent aligned on purpose, not just capability or because there is ‘no other option’, builds a strong foundation. Unsurprisingly, candidates who seek out opportunities with retail brands based on purpose tend to be a better fit culturally than those who start by considering the salary package.

Purpose also plays a critical role in retaining talent. Where employees are driven by and meaningfully contribute to an organisation’s higher purpose, there is a greater sense of belonging. Based on the EY research, executives at these companies believe that their employees are more engaged and their customers are also more loyal.

Purpose + people = progress

When business gets tough, regardless of sector, it takes a conscious and courageous leader to step back from the numbers and focus on the bigger picture – not what you are doing, but why you are doing it.

With countless retailers having seemingly lost their way, it is those organisations that are recognising the power of purpose and where people strategies are aligned to purpose, that we start to see progress, performance and profitability.

Richard Wynn is a retail recruitment consultant and managing partner at FutureYou

 

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