Retail: Talent Wanted

Discussion
Jan 19, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Roger Farah, president and chief operating officer of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., told an audience at the National Retail Federation conference in New York this week that the biggest
challenge the retail industry faces is attracting creative people to the business.

“Talent is the largest challenge we face,” said Mr. Farah. “When you see businesses faltering, going stale, I attribute that to gaps in talent.”

“We haven’t done a good job of selling ourselves as a group,” he said. “Unless we rally ourselves as an industry and fight for the best and the brightest, that will be the biggest
challenge in coming decades.”

When retail businesses have succeeded in attracting creative managers, said Mr. Farah, they have not always enabled these employees to put their creativity to work. Faced by
continuing obstacles, many choose to look outside of retail to find fulfilling work.

Moderator’s Comment: Do you agree that the retail industry has had a hard time attracting topnotch talent? Why do you think this is so? Where within
retail is talent most needed and how can companies go about attracting the type of people they need?

George Anderson – Moderator

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13 Comments on "Retail: Talent Wanted"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 1 month ago

As we’ve discussed here previously, jobs are growing faster than the worker pool, and most companies expect to increase their entry-level compensation while implementing “pay to stay” practices this year. It’s a seller’s market.

Additionally, new workers frequently move on to better opportunities before their current employers even get to know them – let alone assess their talent. There is no sense of urgency among employers to actively engage new hires. Gone are the relaxed old days when bosses gradually discovered their subordinates’ skills and talents. Early-engagement programs for new employees are becoming a business necessity, but traditional management practices haven’t yet embraced the need.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Mark Lilien pretty much said what I would have said. Good retailers have no problem in attracting good talent. They get first pick of the crop and have plenty of people eager to work. However, with weaker retailers today, they make their first mistake when they hire an accountant CEO with no retail experience.

I recall after, graduating from college, there were many opportunities to get into retail. Most of them were with low-prestige chains. Woolworth’s, Kmart, McDonald’s, etc were looking for warm bodies. They were beating down the doors on college campuses. I wish I would have known about the Wegmans, HEBs, and Publixs of the world. Perhaps I would have set my expectations a bit higher.

Anna Murray
Guest
Anna Murray
15 years 1 month ago

Like most of the commentators, I agree…When a company is having troubles, it’s almost always about talent. And yet, I don’t think the retail industry is any kind of special case. I think a lot of industries have a hard time attracting talent. There are lots of reasons for talented people to avoid joining corporations. Just look at what’s happening to pensions. It makes a lot more sense to be at a small company or self employed. Creative and talented people want flexibility and room to grow. Why put up with the comparatively stifling atmosphere of a corporation if you are not getting the security once offered by corporations?

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Good talent is in real short supply and I expect it to get worse. Too many companies are run by the numbers. The Wall Street effect is making too many decisions. Only when companies focus on their customer/consumer and look out beyond more than one quarter will we see a change. Only when senior executives have a gut feel for the company, industry and economic environment will be see a change. We need people to take risks and if they fail, then we learn. This does not mean bet the ranch, but remember, a good manager is someone who’s decisions are 51% right. For some reason we have management striving for 100% and this can only be achieved by not taking risks.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 1 month ago

Many great comments – especially about retaining good employees. The grocery industry seems to use the criteria that a good bag boy will make a good store manager. Their “promote from within” [practice] places long term employees in a position of having no one to learn from.

While past and current practices may suffice, they will not insure prosperity or satisfaction in the future. Additionally, a large base promote from within employees will effectively fight any efforts to reimage or reinvent the retail environment.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 1 month ago

The talent crunch is more perception that reality.

There are extremely talented and creative people out there. They are the entrepreneurs and risk takers that take businesses to new levels. It’s all well and good to say we need people who take risks. But who’s going to take those risks when top management is not there to back you up?

The kind of talent that retail or any other industry needs is being stifled by the fear of being wrong and by senior executives who talk a good game. When push comes to shove, their mentality is to throw the risk takers to the lions.

Let people be free to discuss and implement new ideas, take chances–and sometimes be wrong–and you’ll see the creativity and talent that’s buried in this industry.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

“A fish smells from the head.” If a retailer has trouble attracting and keeping talent, the CEO is responsible. The primary task for any CEO is to recruit, empower, and retain the best people. How many retailing CEOs have taken emphatic persistent action to do this? A very small minority. For example, the brightest business majors want to be investment bankers, technology execs, and management consultants. There is no stampede for the brightest people to become retailers, funeral directors, nursing home administrators or trucking executives. Many retail organizations act as though they believe in hazing or that staff must hang up their brains and initiative with their coats upon entering the workplace. Is it a surprise that the 2 fastest growing retail organizations in the past 10 years (Amazon and eBay) were NOT started or run by anyone with retail experience?

Bill Bishop
Guest
Bill Bishop
15 years 1 month ago

I certainly agree. How many young people today want to work long hours–including weekends–in return for the deferred opportunity of a good job? Unfortunately, retailing is a little out of step with the larger society on this one.

All is not lost, however, because there is good news in the fact that retailing does employ a large number of people early in their careers and has the opportunity to identify and retain the best and the brightest if they want to. Wegmans is a great example, and I’m sure there are many others.

The key is to identify and aggressively work this opportunity. Those retailers that do don’t seem to have nearly the same shortage of talent.

Marc Drizin
Guest
Marc Drizin
15 years 1 month ago
Roger Farah almost had it right. The largest challenge that the retail industry faces is retaining talent, not attracting it. The average retail employee stays with their employer 2.8 years, 30% less than the national average for employee retention. So, what creates an environment in which retail workers want to stay with their employer? According to the pan 2004-5 Workforce Engagement Assessment of Retail workers, five factors most impact the engagement of the retail worker, and correspondingly their retention: 1. Overall Job Satisfaction: Providing feelings of accomplishment, ensuring a good fit between the skills and abilities of an employee and their job, and being able to affect the quality of their work 2. Organization Reputation: Being a leader in the industry, treating employees well, and having highly regarded products and services 3. Opportunities for Advancement: Company supports employee career development, performance on the job is judged fairly, company considers internal people for promotions and advancement 4. Effective Senior Leadership: Senior management has a clear vision for the future, they are people of high personal integrity,… Read more »
Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 1 month ago
My belief is that sufficient talent exists. There are two obstacles facing the effective use of that talent. First, retail and related businesses are absolutely stuck in the “have you already done this” mode of interviewing and hiring. Second, the majority of talented and creative people do not meet expectations because the processes, methods, organizational culture and technological tools are either outdated, non-integrated, or poorly designed. Solutions. First, interview on the basis of skill sets and capabilities linked directly to mission critical decision points. If a specific knowledge set is actually demanded, then include that as well. Having “done it” for someone else, does not mean it was done well, or that they have the actual skills and capabilities YOU need. So as a prerequisite, it’s important to have identified what are the “must have,” “nice to have” and “don’t need it” skills, capabilities, and experiences. Second, look at your existing organizational structure, processes and technology BEFORE you make the personnel changes. Dumping new blood into a poorly functioning environment, unless they are very, very… Read more »
rod taylor
Guest
rod taylor
15 years 1 month ago

I worked as a teenager for A&P back in 1967. Here is what has changed since then in food retailing:

-Checkout and order scanners

-Salad bars

The lack of innovation in conventional grocery retailing is astonishing, especially when you look at firms like Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s that are reinventing the category.

There’s a lot to be said for the ‘promote from within philosophy’ of most food retailers, however in this day and age the end result is the same as in any inter-breeding experience.

The biggest opportunity in retailing today is to change the food shopping experience and to make it fun. Nobody ever talks about going to Starbucks as drudgery.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
15 years 1 month ago

Our industry has done little to make retail careers desirable to young people. I have yet to talk with a high school or college student who said anything like . . .”I’m looking forward to a career in retailing!” with any enthusiasm. Yes, we need a deeper talent pool in retailing, but we also need to do a much better job of “selling” the many benefits of a career in retailing.

Like every industry, there are bad companies to work for. Fortunately, retailing also has a number of great companies to work for including those recognized in the January 23, 2006 issue of Fortune. These great companies include Wegmans Food Markets, Container Store, REI, Whole Foods Markets, Starbucks, Nuggett Markets, Nordstrom, Hot Topic, Publix Super Markets, Stew Leonard’s, Men’s Wearhouse and IKEA. If we had more of these great companies to work for, maybe our industry would attract a lot more talented people.

Ragnar Haugan
Guest
Ragnar Haugan
15 years 1 month ago

Talent needed, but not valued! The supermarket manager today is operating within a strict routine/rules how to operate the store – all created from above – and “our spy shoppers will get you if you dare to make some local adjustments.”

– “You sell what we have bought and to set prices!”

But, as a manager, you are still responsible for the bottom line….

It’s time to rearrange the chain of management! Look to IKEA, with educated people that will do everything to stay and develop with and within their company! Because they love it and they may take part in the success, not only the owners and the top management!

Stew Leonard’s and Kamprad show their personnel that they love to be in the store; talking and selling, smiling, being proud.

You cannot give your workers that lesson from the top corner office.

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