How to find the right company culture for you

With a rapidly improving jobs market candidates are starting to enjoy more options when it comes to developing their career than they have experienced for a number of years. So, with candidates facing more career choices both internally and externally, making the right career decision is critical. We have previously talked about how to handle multiple offers (click here) we want to focus on how to make sure you identify the right cultural fit. Finding an organisation where you “fit” and where your values are aligned is as important as finding a role which has the right scope and challenge. So, what do you need to consider when identifying whether the culture will be a fit and is it really that important? Why is it so important to work in a culturally-aligned organisation? Working in an aligned culture is important on a number of levels.
  • Success - your level of success is likely to be greater in an environment where your style and behaviour are in line with those of the company and its other employees. Being great at your role is sometimes not enough to develop your career. In some cultures it is also about how you do your role and whether you are seen to embody the values and ethics of the business.
  • Happiness – most of us spend the majority of our lives at work and so working in an environment that doesn’t fit and where we don’t enjoy the working environment can have a very negative impact on our happiness. Different organisations have quite different expectations of their employees not only on a professional level but also on a social level. Some cultures are work hard/play hard and this type of environment won’t suit everyone. In a smaller business some of these issues can be magnified and therefore finding the right working environment will have a real impact on our happiness in the workplace.
  • Culture is more than just values – there are lots of definitions out there about culture but ultimately, it is a combination of how a business expects it’s employees to behave and work and how it treats them in response. It is about style and expectations. There are a lot of elements to consider when determining whether you think it is the right fit for you.
  • Horses for courses – often people assume that there are good cultures and bad cultures and that Google and Facebook are the best companies to work for in the world. Google has a fantastic culture but the point is that their culture won’t suit everyone. Yes, there are generic elements that make companies a good place to work but many elements of a culture are much more personal. For some people, joining a highly sociable business where the expectation is that you are out socialising with colleagues all the time is fantastic but for others it just doesn’t suit their lifestyle. When trying to assess a culture it has to be in the context of what is right for you as an individual.
  What cultural factors do you need to think about? Here are some of the factors which affect culture and whether someone will fit in:  
  • Social Life – are you looking for a highly social culture or one where there is much greater separation? What are the organisation’s expectations of activity outside of working hours?
  • Behaviours – what drives the culture and the people in it? How professional or fun is it (these needn’t be mutually exclusive!)?
  • Environment – do you feel you fit best in a highly structured, corporate, political environment or more so in an open, creative, unstructured environment?
  • Working patterns – what are the organisation’s expectations? Is there the freedom to work at home? Does the business have a long hours culture or expect you to undertake a significant amount of travel? Does it have reasonable expectations of its people?
  • Office – do you want a loud, social and open plan office environment or one with closed offices and very individual ways of working?
Again, it all comes back to what you believe is going to be right for you and the next step is to try and find out more about an organisation’s culture. How to research a company’s culture? Some would argue that the time to research the company is before you even make an application, saving you and others time if it is clearly not going to be a good fit. Whether it is part of your pre-application or indeed pre-interview research, it is really important that you conduct as much research as possible to understand culturally what the organisation is like to work for. There is a wealth of information out there for you to review prior to your interview.
  • Social Media – the rise of social media has significantly increased our accessibility to information about organisations. By looking at companies on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter you can gain a really useful insight into the attitude of the company and how it interacts with its customers and employees.
  • Glassdoor – this is a site that we use and is a great way to gain an insight into what it is really like to work for an organisation. It has a number of different features but in essence, it is a review site of organisations.   Clearly most organisations will have some negative reviews from disgruntled employees looking to leave but you can read between the lines to understand more about the realities of working in their culture.
  • Company website - an organisation’s website is a good indicator about how they want to be perceived in the market. It will give you some good information around size, market focus etc. It should also give you an insight into their strategy and goals. The point I would make here is that this is just a shop window; this is how they want themselves to be viewed and in some cases may be quite different from the reality of working for the company.
  • Backgrounds of other employees – using LinkedIn to identify the backgrounds of the other people working in the business/department/team may give you further insight. What type of businesses and cultures have they worked in previously and do they seem to employ like- minded people?
  • Use your network – do you know anybody that currently or has previously worked for the business? In some circumstances, confidentiality may prevent you from reaching out but in most cases you will be able to speak to people to find out the realities of working for the organisation. My word of caution here is that, of course, their overall perception will be governed by the extent to which the culture suited them personally however again, this is another tool that will help you build a greater understanding.
  What to ask at an interview to understand a company’s culture?  
  • Ask direct questions about the culture. Most interviews will of course try and be as positive as possible because they are trying to sell the opportunity however you will still be able to read between the lines and pick up some additional information about how the organisation works.
  • Ask about reward and personal development. This will give you a good indication as to its philosophy on people and how they are treated. How much investment does it make in its people?
  • Ask about leadership style in the business? Is the culture very direct and results driven or perhaps more values-led? What style will suit you best?
  • Ask about the company’s values and objectives – does the interviewer know them? Are they just written on a poster somewhere or is it the real DNA that determines how the business works day to day.
  • See for yourself -attending an interview gives you a great opportunity to get a true sense of the working environment. Not only from a physical perspective i.e. how it is laid out but also from in terms of its vibe and feel? Are people chatting? Is the energy positive or negative? Although this is only an insight, it will build upon the picture you are building.
  Due Diligence Making the effort throughout the recruitment process to really understand an organisation’s culture and how the reality may differ from perception will greatly assist you in making the right career decisions. Going for team drinks is another way to try and find out the “real” culture of the business, this will give you the best possible feel for the personality of the people you will be working with. Making the right decision As I have discussed the first part has to be about understanding what is important to you as an individual and what style of working will suit you best. Once you understand this you can better assess potential employers doing the necessary due diligence discussed above to see how well you will really fit into the organisation’s culture. Being successful is hard work for everyone but find yourself in the wrong culture and the odds are steeply against you. In reality, it will be very difficult to find a company culture that is totally aligned however it should be achievable to find one where your values can co-exist. Finding a culture where your values, beliefs and ways of working are in some way aligned should make for a much happier, rewarding and successful employment.
 

Can the launch of glassdoor.co.uk help you to identify your employer of choice?

By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.   For those of you who are as yet unaware of glassdoor.com, it is a US based site whose aim is to create a community providing a source of information about prospective employers, job roles and salaries based on anonymous reviews from employees. They have recently launched their UK site, glassdoor.co.uk .

The format of each review comprises Pros and Cons and Advice to Senior Management along with star ratings given for the following criteria: Compensations & Benefits, Culture & Values, Career Opportunities, Senior Leadership, Work/Life Balance and CEO Rating.

It is a simple format and undoubtedly can prove a useful resource when researching companies or preparing for interviews.

Under each company profile, it includes a Recent News section which is useful for ensuring you are up to date with latest Press Releases, results or general news.

Understandably, the large, global businesses have the most reviews (often in their thousands) with some sectors being more broadly represented than others, particularly the Management Consultancies, Technology companies and Financial Services. I would guess therefore that reviews on these businesses are a pretty accurate reflection of working life within those companies.

Within Retail, the major UK brands are represented although many have a limited numbers of reviews – I’m sure this will change as more people in the UK become aware of its existence. Until there is a significant body of material on each company, I think it will be a while before it provides enough insight to accurately reflect what it is like to work for a particular company.

In their Community Guidelines, glassdoor are clear that participants should write balanced reviews without reverting to bitter or overly personal accounts of their own experience. Reviewers must be current or former employees of that business within the past 3 years and so there is reason to assume that the integrity of the reviews is good.

As always with reviews, you must take each contribution in context and look at the overall theme which emerges from a number of reviews. Other factors to bear in mind are the level of the person reviewing (junior candidates will have a different perspective than senior managers although their opinion is no less insightful or valid). Equally with the Interview section, where people provide sample interview questions and insight into their application process, it is wise to be cautious. Interview processes can change and your preparation still needs to be thorough enough to deal with any unforeseen eventualities.

We are all becoming increasingly reliant on reviews whether that is before booking a holiday or buying something and they can be an incredibly powerful tool. Recently, before leaving on holiday, I accidentally stumbled upon some Tripadvisor reviews on my destination. They were so bad that I was tempted to cancel, however I kept an open mind and sure enough, I had a lovely time albeit with my eyes wide open and expecting the worst! With something as important as your career, the more research you can do the better, and as long as you keep an open mind, glassdoor.co.uk should prove to be a useful addition to your ‘career toolbox’.

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What do you do when your Retail Employer brand needs a refresh?

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development. 

The most challenging, and by it’s very virtue interesting recruitment is often when you are resourcing for an employer whose brand does not quite match up with candidate perceptions. This can work two ways. A business may have a great employer brand but in truth be a difficult to place to work and develop a career. Conversely, there are many businesses that have a poor employer brand but are actually a great place to work. This mismatch often arises for two key reasons; firstly businesses change - a company may have had a high staff turnover previously but due to a change of CEO/HRD the underlying problems have been removed. The second reason is that many people confuse the customer brand with the employer brand. Yum! Brands (The parent company of KFC) are a great case in point. Potential employees think ‘fried chicken?’ but do not necessarily know the fantastic, employee- focused career opportunities they offer.

So, what can you do to educate candidates?

I was recently invited to a Retail networking event at Harrods. I’ll declare my hand early; I used to work in Harrods. It was an amazing experience and I can honestly say that it was the most theatrical and exciting place to ‘retail.’ However, it would seem that many candidates do not see Harrods as being an employer of choice. Following a period of change at Harrods (click here for more information) the Resourcing team have decided that now is the time to win hearts and minds.

The event was by invitation only (thanks to Linda Treen for the invitation!) and was aimed at attracting the top talent from retail that had thus far declined to attend a formal interview. It was typically Harrods - held in the Georgian restaurant where we were offered some beautifully crafted bacon rolls served with coffee and tea. The Retail Director, Paul Thomas, kicked off the day with introductions. This was perhaps the most powerful part of the day. There were 8 Harrods employees present; they came from Asda, Zara, Tesco and a collection of large and small retailers. Not the typical luxury backgrounds one might expect. They also had interesting career paths; it would seem that the path from Operations to the Support functions was well travelled. I guess that is the benefit of having the core of your business and its supporting Head office within a few miles of each other.

Following the introductions, a chap by the name of George Hammer talked about his own experience of setting up the Urban Retreat salon concession in Harrods. George is a classic entrepreneur and was quick to cut to the chase. Harrods is not an easy place to work quite simply because the standards and expectations are so high. As he put it, if you want to work somewhere spectacular you will have to take a risk. This is an interesting point, as this is absolutely about confidence. If you are confident in your ability then why would you not be successful? His most memorable quote being; "be exceptional, do not be average." George is clearly an extremely successful entrepreneur, he was the founder of Aveda amongst many other concerns, however he seemed to connect with the audience and many of the candidates present were clearly impressed by his honesty and his passion for Harrods.

Paul Thomas went on to talk about his own career path (Asda - Saturday boy to Store Manager, Sainsburys, Harrods Food Hall) and then fielded some questions. Paul was candid about his own decision to join Harrods with the admission of a wobble during his notice period prior to joining – had he made the right decision?  He was keen to tackle the negative perceptions within the room. A few candidates opened up and to Paul’s credit he dealt with these in a way that encouraged others to raise their own concerns.  He talked about the operational roles being narrower, yet deeper, than normal. He discussed perceptions around a more mature workforce and the ‘stuffy’ stereotypes. He noted that in the four years since they have started measuring employee engagement, they have seen a marked improvement in scores. This willingness to meet these questions head on certainly engaged the audience.

I noted with interest the number of candidates that were keen to formally register their interest in Harrods following some further informal conversations. I suspect that the Resourcing team were slightly surprised to get such an immediate result. Jenny Parry, Head of Resourcing, told me that she was primarily hoping to get the message out there that Harrods is evolving.  Judging by the reaction from the candidates attending, I think they certainly achieved this. It would be interesting to know what other retailers are doing to actively manage their employer brand in what is proving to be a period of intense change in the retail industry, comments below please!

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

 

Harrods Head of Resourcing, Jenny Parry, talks to AdMore about recruiting for the most iconic retailer in the world.

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.

 

How to identify an 'Employer of Choice'

 

An ‘employer of choice’ can easily be described as one that inspires talented workers to join them and to stay with them. However, it is often difficult to ascertain whether a potential employer is one that fits this definition when you are considering a career move. There are a number of lists, awards and websites dedicated to sharing best companies to work for however there are of course many other companies that offer excellent opportunities. Here are a few points to consider when looking for your own ‘Employer of choice.’

Research the business

It is worth looking at the basics; the company mission and values. Does this match up with press statements and reviews? Talk to people in your network, what do they think? Look at awards and honours that the company has received that are linked to their ‘employer brand.’

Utilise your recruitment consultant
Recruitment consultants gather intimate knowledge of their clients’ organisational culture and values, company structure, career opportunities available, employee benefits and employment details. By working more closely with your consultant you will be able to access this knowledge. It is worth asking some specific questions:

  • How has the career of the person currently doing the position developed
  • What internal or external training is offered?
  • How would they describe the management/leadership style within the company?
  • Is the package on offer competitive with market rate?

Interviews – a two way process

This is a great opportunity for you to assess your potential line manager. It is worth trying to establish how well defined the company culture is and how this manifests itself.

  • How are employees’ contributions valued?
  • What career progression is available and is there a structured approach to succession planning?
  • How is the L&D function valued within the organisation and how does the business interact with its customers and environment?
  • Does the interviewer’s style match what you have researched?
  • What is the quality of working relationships, how do different functions interact with each other?
  • How much TRUST is there in the organisation? Are people trusted to do a good job? You can assess this by looking for signs of; openness (give and ask for feedback), honesty (what I say is what I mean), reliability (I will do what I promise to do) and acceptance.
  • Pay close attention to the environment, is the building cared for? Does the working environment provoke a positive feeling?

What is most important to you?

The reality is that few businesses will be able to deliver everything perfectly. Therefore it is worth putting a list together of what is important to you. Prioritise the key points and use this to guide you when assessing whether you wish to make an application or accept an offer.

Have we missed anything out? What would be on your list to understand what for you makes an ‘employer of choice’