GDI: The retail industry is complaining about recruitment problems. Why is it so difficult to find good staff nowadays?

Lucy Harris: The demand has temporarily exceeded supply. Leaders who thrive in today’s retail climate are very different to those that managed yesterday’s landscape. Retail is so different to even 5 years ago. Career paths are built in far more dynamic patterns, often a Director can have had experience of several core disciplines, not to mention territory, product type or model of business. On a macro level, the industry is obsessing about listening to and engaging with their customer, there are still too few businesses who behave the same with their employees at any level of an organisation.


What makes tomorrow’s retail talents?

Customer centric vision and the ability to learn at speed are inherent leadership needs today. Agile thinking, high IQ and emotional intelligence are a must.
Strategy has to be much shorter term to navigate the twists and turns coming from consumer behaviour; finding those who can manage ambiguity is important.  Sometimes the right answer is another question and deeper understanding rather than the good old rule book. It is thought that our industry will have a customer base and a workforce made up of more than 60 % millennial and Gen Z’s by 2023. Today’s successful disruptive CEO’s are entrepreneurial market makers who are comfortable with being uncomfortable and have no fear of failure. Gone are the silos previously seen in consumer organisations, cross-channel leaders are the norm.  While there is still a shortage, digital talent now exists, in a way that it did not 5 years ago. Think forward another 5 as we embrace technology 2.0 – AR, AI directors will exist.


Staff fluctuation is very high in the retail sector. Does a lasting employee-employer relationship already start with the recruitment process?

Far too many retailers forget how important the hiring process is for an employee. When a retailer courts the market with a new collection, courts the press for positive PR, every effort is put into representing the business well. It is those businesses who share their “brand”, its values, behaviour and vision that are magnetic for talent. Head-hunters can “lead the horse to water, however cannot make them drink”. It is the responsibility of everyone in the process to engage with candidates. Talent is competitive and a little like promiscuous customers, if they don’t like what they see or experience they really will go elsewhere. This behaviour is exaggerated in the millennial and Gen Z employee who will seek out meaning and values in order to want to belong to an organisation.


Digitisation and automation are making many jobs in the retail industry obsolete. Which functions will survive?

It is no doubt that data and insight and the use of AI and robotics will inform our businesses over and above human beings in some functions. The efficiency, intelligence and cost all support this. However organisations need a mix of new age technology and senior wisdom; too much technology and we’ll all be slick machines rather than intuitive businesses who have a relationship with their employees and consumers. We are in search of frictionless organisations not just seamless customer journeys. Regardless of your model, there is no “one size fits all” organisational design or talent map for 2023. With many examples of business mergers and inorganic growth, blending cultures and teams can be challenging. Unless change is systemic you cannot just cut cost and hope for the best.


Lucy Harris will speak at the 68th International Retail Summit on 6 and 7 September 2018 on the topic “Rethinking the Workforce: The DNA of Your Future Retail Talent”. Sign up now.