Building a winning culture goes well beyond creating a mission statement or corporate values. A positive culture is something that is ingrained within operations from the top down.
BY DENISE DEVEAU
Culture in the retail sector can be especially challenging, both in terms of em¬ployee engagement and customer loyalty. For one, the industry comes with a lot of stigmas around the workplace environment and lack of opportunities, making it difficult to find appropriate staff, says Stacy Parker, Managing Director for Blu Ivy Group, an employer branding, recruitment and culture consultancy. “There’s a stigma that retail is not the place for long-term career development. That can really affect job seekers’ perceptions and the types of candidates applying.”
Candidates often view retail as a short-term or part-time job. “That impacts your culture, overall loyalty, and churn, making it much harder for employees to articulate and entrench a culture within the organization,” she says.
Retailers often underestimate the role of culture in delivering a positive customer experience, she adds. “They focus so much on the digital and on¬line experience that many have lost touch with the experience in-store and the important role that employees play in delivering that. There are countless proof points that a highly engaged workforce has a direct correlation to cus¬tomer loyalty, business growth and profitability.”
For any business, culture is the brand and vice versa, says Marty Parker, CEO and Founder of Waterstone Human Capital executive search consultants. This can be even more challenging in retail be¬cause the customer experience is also part of a brand. “For retailers, it’s more complex than other industries because they are touched by so many customers. For them, it is essential that brand and culture are the same thing in¬ternally and externally.”
Building a winning culture can seem like a daunting task, but not an impossible one. Following are some of the essentials that re¬tailers should consider when developing a culture of success.
Make culture a top priority at the exec¬utive level. It’s essential that executives are in line with the importance and priority of the brand and culture. “Some of the biggest retailers I’ve worked with don’t have culture as one of the top ten things on their agenda,” Ms. Parker says. “It also needs to be a promise the retailer will deliver to employees with consistency.”
Leverage the power of your employees, listen, and learn. The best value propositions are those that are built by employees around the things they value most, she notes. “Getting passionate people at the grassroots level and giving them a voice to talk to management about what can be improved is an effective approach to building a great workspace. Even if the business faces public criti¬cism, you can recover more quickly when employees act as advocates.”
“Our culture is built on listening to those closest to the customers,” says Jeff Kinnaird, President of The Home Depot Canada. “A key part of our culture is akin to an inverted pyramid with our customers and associates at the top and our CEO at the bottom. Because 75 per cent of our store managers started as hourly associates, our leadership teams fully embrace this concept.”
In the last year, The Home Depot has intro¬duced associate-generated videos in which they share their tips or product know-how across divisions. Associates also have access to The Warehouse, an internal social media platform for sharing best practices and asking questions.
Align employees with your brand purpose. “Today employees want to align to a purpose,” says Marty Parker. “Whether you’re a genius going that extra mile to help customers in an Apple store or someone at Canadian Tire who is passionate about outdoor furniture, that makes a difference in this day and age. Someone like lululemon for example could not get margins unless it had impassioned people on the salesf¬loor who believe in a healthy lifestyle.”
IKEA’s culture is one that is committed to supporting positive change in local commun¬ities and society at large. That has been a key factor in employee engagement, says Steph¬anie Harnett, Corporate Public Relations Man¬ager, IKEA Canada. For International Women’s Day for example, IKEA profiled Canadian coworkers at all levels from across the country to share their own stories on gender balance. “Through this recognition and opportunity to share, we engaged and empowered our cowork¬ers to be ambassadors for gender equality.”
It also offers an iWitness Global Citizens pro¬gram, where coworker ambassadors are select¬ed to visit projects funded by the IKEA Foun¬dation in locations such as Malawi, Kosovo, Jordan, South Africa and Indonesia. The IKEA Sustainable Living Challenge invites coworkers to improve their community and the planet.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure you are investing, articulating and controlling your story effectively. “Get stories out frequently and with consistency. These can be in the form of newsletters, townhalls or leadership meetings. Internal communications can also be improved through efforts such as employee am¬bassador programs, or featuring them on social media messaging,” Stacy Parker says.
Conduct regular employee engagement surveys. These provide a valuable benchmark form which retailers can use to identify areas of concern and gauge successes. “You should be doing them every quarter because they rep¬resent a pulse measurement at that particular time,” she advises.
Provide cross-training opportunities. Mil¬lennials especially want different experiences, notes Stacy Parker. “They get tired of being on the floor all the time. They want to work in other areas. Find ways to help them under¬stand the entire business.”
Don’t overlook the role of middle manage¬ment. “They tend to be the least engaged of the workforce because they have so many tasks to perform like reporting and scheduling, and often receive limited communications and coaching around culture,” Stacy Parker says. “But they are the biggest influence on employees.” She advises conducting quarterly workshops and communications training to ensure they deliver a consistent experience in stores.
Recruit in the right places. Figure out the channels to pull people to your organization as opposed to pushing, Marty Parker says. “You need influencers to find people with the behav¬iours you want. If you simply open doors to start recruiting, it’s hard to find the right people.”
Hire for fit and train them on culture. Hir¬ing people that align with your mission and val¬ues, including leadership, shapes a successful culture, he adds. “Are you filling roles or finding people that fit your culture? Are they properly trained? Understand how to train and develop people on behaviour and not just product. It’s hard to train passion, but once you have it, it’s so easy to work with those employees.”