Hiring Talent Vs. Bodies In Retail

Hiring Talent Vs. Bodies In Retail

According to Gallup, 82% of hiring processes don’t pick the right talent! This is a very real, and unfortunate statistic. Despite all of the information available to us that we need to identify and source talent using a completely different [and infinitely more critical and relevant] set of criteria. Hire character, train skill – this is not a new initiative but one that has yet to be embraced by the retail industry at large. If you Google search retail interview questions – here is a sampling of what you’ll find:

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  • Where else have you applied?
  • What motivates you to do a good job?
  • What qualities do you consider most important in this retail job?
  • How do you go about familiarizing yourself with the products you sell?
  • Describe your working hours in your previous position?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • What system experience do you have with POS and email?

You’ll find the answers to these things as well. None of these questions [or the provided answers] help you determine who will be successful in your business and who will elevate your team or deliver a remarkable customer experience. This doesn’t determine any alignment with the organization’s mission, values, goals, and objectives. The “safe” and parochial list of questions we’ve been using for the past 20+ years needs a complete reinvention.

Frequently, when training and upskilling my team, I reference identifying and interviewing to two business components:

Critical Success Factors

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 These are the shared competencies and soft skills of all of your organization’s top performers. Some examples are [this is not a comprehensive list – just a sampling]:

  • Initiative | Ability to Self-Motivate
  • Honest | Authentic | Integrity
  • Forward-Thinking
  • Pragmatically Inclusive
  • Customer Experience
  • Empowered
  • Solution-Oriented
  • Builds Great Work Relationships | Collaborative
  • Innovative | Creative
  • Empathetic
  • Inspire | Motivate
  • Adaptable | Agile

These potential success factors need to be looked at often to see what defines the top performers in the business and shaped to ensure we are looking for the right set of soft skills.

Signature Relationship Practices

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This is the second component to assess talent alignment. The importance of hiring to these practices ensure that your incoming candidate will work in syncrony and “click” with the existing and high-performing team.  Some of these qualities are:

  • Celebrate team success | Recognize results of others
  • Surface and manage emotional issues that can help or hinder the team’s progress
  • Each person carries their own weight
  • Feedback is frequent, frank, and comfortable among peers and supervisors
  • Will weed out people that don’t fit the team or impede the team’s progress

None of these qualities can be identified on a résumé or by asking the expected questions. We need to devise a program that is flexible and can evolve with the changing needs of the business. These are also fluid to the team dynamic and it’s beneficial to stop on occasion and see if new team behaviors can be identified that make your team truly remarkable and make sure you include those in your search for right fit talent.

By far, understanding the actual skill set and qualities that we needed to drive our business and elevate the customer experience commitment was the best thing I have done for my teams. This is aligned with my mission statement to create a great place to be where great people can do great work. Identifying that truly remarkable talent wants to work to other great talent and people – not simply “bodies” that ATS sifts out that display a background using an antiquated criteria of technical and similarly positioned retail experience.

Added & Critical Skills Remote Store Leaders & Their Teams Need to Possess

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Then we have an additional layer of criteria we need to add in for hiring and leading our frequently remote teams [especially leadership]. With most retail markets at the District level, and certainly at the Regional level, we are oftentimes leading and supporting teams we don’t get to see as often as others. The skill set and qualities of the leadership in these stores needs to be measured differently. Having the ability and commitment to consistently recognize our people and how their contributions tie into the organization’s goals and objectives is even more important when people can opt out silently and we may be unaware for several days or even weeks.

Making It Simple For Store Leaders And District Leaders

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Hiring has always been at the top of my team development list in every single business I have been involved in. I have tried to communicate the importance of finding the right fit for the role, the team, and the organization’s culture as I guide my district and store leaders in their hiring process. It has always been one of the most difficult parts of the business to impact and has been met with significant resistance when I push back on candidates that I am second interviewing. I see the need for store leaders, initially, to fill in hours with a “warm body” that they can train on the POS, operations, and merchandising. None of those technical skills make for a memorable customer experience [at least not the good kind] or a supportive and driven business partner. And poor talent selection makes everyone’s job more difficult.

When I first started to lead a reinvention and upskilling around hiring, I asked – when the district or store leader was giving me their thoughts on a candidate I was going to interview – one single question: “Will this person help you earn bonus?“. If there was even a momentary pause I knew we were hiring bodies not talent. Since the start of this program I have reinvented my criteria and questions and I now pose three specific questions to my team before interviewing their candidates to help them avoid bad hires:

  • Can they speak to their alignment with our values and vision?: If a candidate can identify with a minimum of two of our organizational values and can speak to why those things are important, we will move forward with the interview process. If they cannot – we keep looking. Candidates need to articulate how they can add value to our business and the team they are interviewing to join. Great people want to work with great people and relationships are easier to build upon when there is a foundation of similarly aligned priorities.

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  • Does the candidate really want the job?: Or do they want a job. We want people who believe in the purpose of the business – not just the paycheck. If they haven’t taken the time to research things like the mission statement or have a compelling reason to be speaking with us – outside of the need for a paycheck – they will, likely, not be invested in the success of the business. Retail is a difficult business and we should be hiring people who want to be a part of the culture, the future, and the growth of the organization. We will be making an investment in hiring and developing this person when they join our team – we need that to be important to and appreciated by them.
  • Do I Want To Work With This Person?: I certainly take this into consideration when I am interviewing candidates. Is this a person I am interested and invested in? Do I see the investment of time, onboarding, and development expense being appreciated and utilized? I guide my team to really analyze this question through other questions…such as: How will this person fit in with and contribute to our signature relationship practices? Can we have fun together? Are we going to mentally challenge and engage each other? Does this person share the same goals and objectives? Will my customers be inspired and excited by this person? Can I meet the career path expectations of this person?

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Sometimes you have to “kiss a lot of frogs”, but it’s worth it in the long run to find the team that will support and help each other be great and deliver authentically and with sustainability. And when we start asking the right questions we will see a huge impact [the good kind] on employee turn, engagement, and an elevation in the culture that will support bottom line growth.

Building an effective, efficient, fun, and successful team takes a huge amount of time and effort – but not as much [in the long run] as “managing” a weak, ineffective, and bland/zero-charisma team. You will never have a moment to develop or grow your team if you don’t invite the right people onto it. When you build a great team and everyone knows their purpose and how it fits into the organization’s purpose and plan; When you can spend time developing and guiding people to better performance and stronger results and in doing so building career capital in them; When you can recognize and enjoy consistent and celebration-worthy results – that is why hiring the right talent for the culture, the team, the store, the customer, and the role is so important and is it’s own reward in the long-run!


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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