Jenny Parry joined Harrods in 2008 and is currently Head of Resourcing. Here we talk to her about the Harrods Employer Brand and the many changes that have taken place in recent years.
Jenny, you joined Harrods from Tesco, how did you find the transition?
Although the fundamentals of retail are the same regardless of the products that you are dealing with, I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who helped me understand the transition into Luxury which was about a different approach to service, meeting the high expectations of Harrods and its customers, as well as personal presentation.
How has Harrods developed your own career?
Harrods has provided me with some great opportunities that have helped progress my career. I initially came to Harrods as an HRBP, a role I did for 18 months before moving onto a Project Manager role for the HR transition that we went through in 2011. Managing such a large scale project provided me with the opportunity to develop a whole new skill set as well as exposing me to other areas in the business, such as IT, and external companies.
Since the transition, I was able to develop my ability to work at a strategic level as the Head of HR, which then led to my current role as Head of Resourcing. This has once again allowed me to learn new skills and develop me further as an individual.
I was part of the first team from Harrods to take part in the Times Leadership Challenge which involved a rigorous fundraising exercise which tested my entrepreneurial spirit. I have been to a number of IMS events and was lucky to be given a mentor who sits on our main board - all opportunities that I am extremely grateful for.
What has been your greatest challenge as Head of Resourcing?
Working for Harrods means our stakeholders have extremely high expectations and a drive to push the boundaries in whatever we do. Consequently, the main challenge we face on the Resourcing team is being able to manage stakeholder expectations. Given the volume of roles we recruit at any given time, it can be difficult to meet the hiring manager’s expectations on timescales, particularly when we deliver an end to end recruitment process in-house. We therefore have to stay one step ahead, anticipating their future needs and providing evidence to the line managers about the recruitment market for their vacancies. We also face the challenge of delivering both permanent and temporary recruitment in-house – maintaining contact out of season with the hundreds of temporary staff we employ can be difficult.
From an Employer Branding perspective, what qualities do you personally value?
I have been lucky enough to work for some great customer brands within the UK and there are lots of companies I interact with daily who I really respect for the work they are doing to improve the engagement of their employees. For me, I always respect an Employer Brand that looks to give something back to the community they are part of, a company that allows you to develop and grow your career, a company that trusts you to get on with your job and gives you the autonomy to do the right thing and last, but by no means least, a company that has the same values that I have.
How would you describe Harrods’ Employer Brand?
The Harrods employer brand has gone through a mammoth journey over the last four years and today sits with the very best, not just within luxury retail but across the whole of the business sector. Having listened to feedback from both prospective candidates and our current employees as to what they expect when they apply for a job at Harrods, we now offer an unrivalled package which includes extensive learning opportunities, generous benefits, an open and honest culture and a focus on how we can help others as well. This can be seen with a learning offering which not only includes over 60 different learning courses but an opportunity to earn a BA (hons) degree in Sales. We have a recruitment programme that looks to bring in A Level School leavers as an alternative to going to University and have also launched new initiatives around Armed Forces Resettlement and with the West End Skills Shop to encourage people to think about a career within Luxury Retail. In addition we recognise that people want to give something back to the community they live and work in so we now have the option for people to take paid time off work for charitable work. The success of this and the drive to help others has led to the company launching our first official CSR working group.
The benefits we offer are able to support you through every stage of your life whether it is your birthday, your wedding day or your retirement. The employer brand and communication department proactively engages with our employees and we have a charitable focus which has seen the store raise a significant amount for Great Ormond Street Hospital and Macmillan Cancer Support.
Prospective candidates come to Harrods expecting a lot, and I feel today we are in the position to not just meet their expectations but exceed them.
How has Harrods changed as an employer over the last few years?
One of the biggest changes was the introduction of the Staff Survey in 2008. This provided the perfect platform for us to really start to understand what our employees thought of us. From the feedback we received we listened and worked hard to improve the working environment, the way we manage our people and generally to make working at Harrods simpler and easier for our employees. One instigator of this has been the introduction of the Satisfaction Forum that is headed up by our Managing Director and HR Director. Allowing our employees to speak to senior members of the company has provided a real opportunity for a strong two way communication.
How have these changes affected staff turnover and satisfaction scores?
Since the Staff Survey was introduced, employee turnover has dramatically reduced and engagement with the company has risen making the challenge of catching up with the retail average a thing of the past. Whilst the retail industry average of employees proud to work for their company is 79%, Harrods achieved 93% which clearly shows just how far the company has progressed in recent years. Having continually broken records in sales over the last few years, I cannot agree more with the Macleod Report, which shows that by focusing on becoming a better employer, it isn’t just turnover or satisfaction that you impact but more engaged employees impact sales, profitability and customer experience.
Harrods has a reputation for being a demanding place to work, what makes it so challenging?
Our mission is to remain the number one luxury department store in the world and to achieve this we constantly need to exceed expectations in whatever we do. This is quite a bold statement to make and one we take extremely seriously which inevitably leads to high demands. Whilst it is demanding however, there are generous rewards as a result, for example excellent commission, fantastic opportunities to develop yourself further, and the chance to work in a place where every day is completely different.
What is your greatest challenge in attracting top talent to Harrods?
The pace Harrods moves at means prospective candidates are not always aware of just how many changes the company has made. Increased investment has seen some truly stunning departments created, an improved employee restaurant, a dry cleaning service and most recently two new working areas for employees. The growth of the company has meant that Harrods can no longer operate from just the four walls of the Terracotta Palace in Knightsbridge, and has led to support areas moving into a modern head office in Hammersmith, and our distribution team moving to a brand new state of the art warehouse in Thatcham, West Berkshire.
For people interested in a career in Retail Management I think that people underestimate the opportunities and responsibility they will get working for Harrods. At all levels of Retail Management you are involved in budgets, merchandising, shop refits etc. and as all of the Directors are in the store daily, the exposure you get to some of the best retailing minds in the world is amazing.
In addition to this, a lot of top talent think of Harrods as only offering careers in retail, which is certainly not the case. Working behind the scenes of the store is a massive IT team which is always in need of top SAP and BI specialists, a team of web enthusiasts running our .com business, the biggest, and in my opinion the best, Chef Brigade under one roof in the UK, and a CRM department which is always increasing as we endeavour to find out more about our customers. There are some more bespoke roles where we need to fight harder to get access to the best talent: Online Analysts & IT specialists, Pastry Chefs, Interior Designers, Architect Project Managers and experienced Retail Managers. With career opportunities always coming up, I cannot stress the importance of prospective candidates visiting our careers site to see what we can offer them.
London is an incredibly competitive market place, how are you ensuring you are an Employer of choice? What makes Harrods a unique employer?
We know we are extremely privileged to be working for a well-established, globally recognised name. However we do not take this for granted and continually work hard to raise the awareness of people to the opportunities that we have.
We have a lot of our training accredited and run apprenticeships so people can come to work for us and not just get training that supports them in Harrods but also their future careers. We look to retain people by having a programme called ‘Your Future’ where people can express interest in a career move and we support them to get there.
There is no other employer like Harrods in terms of range of products you get to work with but also the theatre you are surrounded by. You only need to do a quick Google search to see how employees of Harrods celebrated the Jubilee this year, the Christmas Parade that we recently had to welcome Father Christmas to the store and recent exclusive celebrity launches that we have had.
How have you ensured that what you sell at interview matches up with reality, post-placement?
This is always something that is at the forefront of my mind. There are the usual statistical reviews that you can do to understand why people leave within the first few months of employment to make sure we are getting it right however it is much more than that. We have introduced Ambassadors for the shop floor employees so that there is someone on hand to help new starters find their feet and in addition, there is a robust probation training plan. For people moving into the support areas we have a bespoke induction plan so people get to know the people they will be working with and understand more about the role that they want to do. We have a broad spectrum of internal communication channels which are easily accessible to employees and will help them with any query or concern, no matter how far into their career at Harrods.
How has Social Media changed how your team has approached resourcing in the past 12 months and how do you see it changing in the future?
Social Media is a total game-changer – it’s revolutionised the way we communicate with each other, the way we consume, the way we give feedback – the list is almost inexhaustible! Most of all, it’s been an interesting, fun and important addition to Harrods Careers. As far as our approach goes, we haven’t necessarily had to change the way we think about the overall recruitment method because at Harrods it’s always been an end-to-end process whereby we engage with candidates from the beginning through to the final stage. However, what social media has given us is a totally new portal; one which is instant and highly interactive; it has given us the opportunity to reach millions of people at the click of a button; all which have, in turn, made us even more aware of our employee brand, the Harrods community and the importance of nurturing past and present relationships with employees to source future talent.
My colleague, Donna Price, is doing a fantastic job to further develop our Social Media strategy and objectives. This has already yielded results. It’s amazing to see our Twitter and LinkedIn followers grow daily thanks to our efforts in engaging people on a daily basis by responding and talking to candidates, and providing informative content about our company values. We aim to illustrate what it’s like to work at Harrods; we are opening the doors and breaking down barriers to show people they can build a lasting, rewarding career with us which is why social media is so important in our overall recruiting strategy.
Jez Styles and Sophie Mackenzie AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.