For workers across a wide range of industries, the Covid-19 pandemic presented a huge challenge, but also an opportunity to sit back and reassess their life and career. Having considered their work-life balance, priorities and future goals, many made the decision to quit their current job, or to leave the workforce entirely.
This phenomenon, known as the ‘Great Resignation’ or ‘Great Retirement’, is severely affecting employers looking to recruit board-level and c-suite retail executives. The departure of skilled workers is squeezing the labour market and making it harder for retail leaders to recruit and retain talented and experienced staff. Previously, a retailer could simply contact a head-hunter and fill the position in a few weeks. They now need to look further afield and be more creative. This means developing imaginative long-term plans for attracting and retaining high-calibre talent.
Tony Gregg, Chief Executive at Anthony Gregg Partnership, a leading retail executive search firm, shares his thoughts on how employers in the retail sector can adapt their recruitment strategies to reach the most talented candidates in this difficult environment.
What’s the current hiring process for c-suite roles in retail?
It’s clear that across the global economy, labour shortages are presenting a significant challenge for businesses. This is particularly true in sectors that were most affected by the pandemic and therefore need to make the most significant recovery. The retail sector is one of the industries hardest hit, and the result has been employers struggling to find candidates within limited timeframes.
Employers are being advised to change their hiring processes to stay on the front foot. Currently, many experienced employees are being lost to the Great Resignation and Great Retirement and workers are demanding more flexible working practices. Employees haven’t progressed as expected because they’ve missed out on in-person development opportunities. The result of all this is a labour market that’s tighter and more challenging than ever.
Reactive approaches increase time pressure on hiring, and it can be hard for retailers to quickly find workers with the right skills, particularly in digital and e-commerce. The dominance of e-commerce is here to stay — that’s the trend highlighted by successive lockdowns and the closure of high street giant Debenhams — and this has changed recruitment needs in the retail sector. Now, retailers want candidates for board-level and c-suite positions who have digital and e-commerce skillsets, along with an understanding of social media and younger Gen-Z audiences. The desirability of these skills and the recruitment challenges facing the sector mean proactive hiring practices are essential.
How must retailers adapt their hiring models to find top c-suite talent?
Retail sector employers can identify individuals who will thrive in their company using psychometric testing. This testing highlights candidates who, for example, have leadership potential or are closely aligned to your business’s ethos. Psychometric tests streamline the hiring process, providing an extra measure that employers can use to determine which candidates are strongest.
It’s crucial that you also carve out space in your schedule for thorough interviews. Having face-to-face conversations with potential new recruits is essential, not just because it helps you decide if they’re the right fit, but also because it shows your deeper personal engagement and helps them to become more invested in the opportunity. When you take time to really understand a candidate and answer all of their questions, they see your care and enthusiasm, and this positive impression can give you an edge over competitors with whom they’re also speaking to.
It’s important to establish what you want to find out about a candidate before meeting or interviewing them and to consider how you can best achieve this. Sometimes, traditional interview formats might not be the most effective. Sitting down for a more informal chat over a coffee can be a great way to spot the most promising talent. This can speed up the hiring process by providing a clearer insight into what a candidate would be like to work with.
Why is it important that retailers adapt their current hiring models?
One major impact of the pandemic has been a distinct shift in employees’ expectations and needs. Most people working in board-level and c-suite roles in the retail sector have spent extended periods of time working from home, and this has brought many of them benefits, such as the ability to pick up their children from school. The changes have altered people’s feelings about their work-life balance.
In the past, when labour markets were squeezed, offering higher salaries could tempt the best candidates away from your competitors. Now, employees are demanding more than just financial incentives. Many top-quality candidates have noticed that remote working enables them to live further outside of city centres in attractive rural areas and to dedicate time previously spent commuting to family, all while maintaining their career progression. To attract these candidates, retailers looking to recruit new CFOs, CIOs and other board and director-level executives must show that they can offer opportunities for hybrid and remote working.
It’s not just working from home arrangements that employees increasingly want to see from their employers. Many workers, especially from younger generations, are keen to join companies that show a social conscience, and this is undoubtedly motivating firms to change their policies. For example, many major retail sector employers – such as H&M and Apple – pulled their Russian operations in a show of solidarity following the country’s recent invasion of Ukraine. Another key priority for candidates is opportunities for progression. Employers who present a clear professional development pathway are more likely to attract top talent.
How can retailers reach the right candidates?
It’s a great time to reimagine how you reach out to candidates.
Board and director-level retail executives in the post-pandemic era need to be flexible and open-minded. They must be able to manage their teams, along with their own work, in a hybrid or remote work environment. This will require a flexible style of leadership, which enables them to communicate just as effectively online as in person. Determining whether a candidate is the right kind of leader for this new era will be crucial.
As new working practices become consolidated, retailers cannot stick to previous hiring strategies when looking for c-suite and board-level candidates. Showing your commitment to responsible business practices and setting clear sustainability targets may be central to winning over the new generation of emerging retail leaders.
But whichever strategy you adopt, planning for the future is a must. Retailers who think ahead when developing their recruitment plans are those most likely to succeed in the post-Covid world.
About Anthony Gregg Partnership:
The Anthony Gregg Partnership is a high-end executive search consultancy based in London, which operates across the UK and Europe. The firm was founded in 2003 by executive consumer search specialist Tony Gregg. He has since recruited hundreds of board and director-level candidates for market-leading clients.
AGP specialises in the areas of FMCG, retail, fashion, luxury brands, supply chain, e-commerce and human resources. AGP’s consultancy services include executive search, interim, talent acquisition and organisational transformation, as well as executive coaching.