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How to recruit the right people

Does challenging the status quo on recruitment in retail lead to better outcomes for business?

While the industry continues to grapple with the ‘how’ and ‘why’ some of Australia’s most recognised retail brands are no longer, there is a renewed focus on the path ahead.

Commentators talk about the rise and rise of online retail and international retailers as the catalyst for local retail failures, but that is only part of the story. It may be cliché, but at the end of the day businesses are about the people, and without the right people in place, businesses struggle to survive, let alone thrive, in this rapidly changing retail environment.

With only moderate economic growth anticipated for the short-term, many retailers are looking for a step-change in their business that will lead to above market growth, whether that be as a result of changes in people, products or processes.

In times past, when it came to getting the right people in place, big box retailers would look to other big box retailers to source talent; grocery to other grocery chains; and luxury brands would never consider talent beyond those who had a long pedigree in luxury.

Across the board we are seeing this ‘tried and tested’ approach to recruiting talent change, and retailers are actively looking beyond their sector to other retail verticals – and beyond the retail sector altogether – for the right mix of talent; seeking cultural, brand and capability fit rather than ‘career fit’.

When it comes to identifying new talent, retailers take one of two main approaches:

1. Maintain the status quo: These retailers have a fixed idea about what they want in their next hire and to find that person they look in all the usual places, targeting candidates with similar brand experience on their CV and typically from competitors. On paper candidates look ‘perfect’. They have the right experience, talk the same language and therefore are perceived to be more likely to make an immediate, positive impact on the business. But it is questionable as to whether or not this would ultimately lead to a step-change for the business.

2. Challenge the status quo: These retailers are more fluid in their approach to recruitment, considering non-traditional options for a new hire that could potentially achieve the ‘step-change a business is seeking. On the surface a candidate may appear to be an altogether unlikely fit for a role, but by reading between the lines, an open minded recruiter (internal or external) will look beyond a candidate’s ‘on paper’ resume to see capability, adaptability and cultural alignment with the aspirations of the brand and business.

But does challenging the status quo on recruitment in retail lead to better outcomes for business?

There are just as many retailers who say ‘yes’ as there are who say ‘no’, but what is certain is that retailers are now more open to the opportunities that cross-sector pollination of talent can bring to a business.

A ‘maintain the status quo’ approach to recruitment is most prevalent at the luxury end of the retail market. So much so that when a luxury brand makes a senior appointment from outside of the sector, it becomes a topic of industry-wide conversation.

Understandably, a senior candidate going from high volume, low margin retail to a low volume, high margin retail environment with a completely different customer service model focused on experiential selling, as opposed to mass market selling, will at first glance appear to be a stretch.

However, these once ‘unlikely’ candidates with experience gained at the polar opposite end of the market such as in grocery, big box or discount retail are now being considered for these luxury brand roles. Why? If a candidate is the perfect fit for an organisation, personally and culturally, there is an increasing willingness for these organisations to challenge the pedigree-first approach to recruitment. And from experience, we know this approach can work exceptionally well.

Although several years ago a cross sector approach to recruitment was not widely endorsed, today, retailers focused on a future path that pivots around a step-change in business to remain relevant may want to consider how challenging the status quo on a new appointment could ultimately bring about the desired shift.

Richard Wynn is managing partner at FutureYou Executive Recruitment.

This story first appeared on sister site, Inside Retail Australia.

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