Recruiting For Cultural Fit In Retail

Recruiting For Cultural Fit In Retail

When it comes to the success of any retail organization, human capital is a tricky equation that’s challenging to solve. And even though most industries are willing to dig deep into their pockets with resources to recruit and retain top talent, it has been a consistent struggle for the retail industry. We consistently insist on using ATS to select a resume that fits in with the criteria the computer finds “matches” the job description. What we end up with, whether we choose to acknowledge or not, is a homogenized employee. Someone who will be amazing at following the rules and an understanding of how to mostly manage the product piece of the business. Generally, ATS will not determine who can drive results, recruit and network for talent, build an effective team, or deliver a customer experience that creates brand loyalty.

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I was asked the other day if I believed I could “fit in” with an organization that has structured processes designed to create  consistency around policy and procedure? The context that the question was posed in made me believe that the consensus was that I was too independent to adhere to a “strict and rigid” operations process. My answer, “Of course I can, but I am an individual with a personality. I would infuse that personality and style into my communication and leadership of the business unit. That’s how I have always achieved best in company results in both structured and unstructured business environments.” I got the distinct feeling that wasn’t the answer they were looking for. Retail loves employees who are primarily compliant. Which is definitely a fair expectation – to a degree, but not to the detriment of innovation, creativity, problem solving, and the ability to work autonomously to deliver results.

There is a lively conversation taking place on LinkedIn, based on a LinkedIn Pulse posting about, “Where Have All The Great Retail Store Manager’s Gone?“. In this posting, the author Bill Rooney, CEO at 6one5 Retail Consulting Group & Cultivar Group references a dialog he engaged in with a client asking “How Many High Performing Store Managers Are There?” According to his sources, Mr. Rooney points out that, “A maximum  25% of the retail store management population are high performers. Our experience suggests the number can be down to 15% in retailers where there is high store manager turnover or in retailers who depower the responsibily [sic] of their store management – the ‘give me robots’ style of head office management.” This is a real plague that is eroding the potential of retail organizations to maximize the customer engagement element and maintain a healthy business that market talent wants to be a part of.

Truly competent talent is needed that is capable of delivering results, adapting to the evolution of retail, identifying and closing gaps to build capital for their companies during the growth stage, to replace someone who didn’t succeed, or when they’re trying to reinvent themselves. After all, hiring these innovative minds with a fresh perspective can turn out to be huge wins for a company by adding new dialogue into the standard, and possibly stale, mix.

Hiring For “Cultural Fit”

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There are SO many opinions about what “cultural fit” means so when I am seeking talent I ask myself the following question, “What do all high performers in our organization, regardless of departments/positions, have in common?” – the answers to this provide me with a guideline on how to assess “fit” for talent into the organization. Here are some of the potential factors that I have assessed most recently:

  • Solution-oriented
  • They are empowered
  • Driven to deliver excellence
  • Customer focused
  • Collaborative
  • Dynamic communication style
  • Innovative
  • Trustworthy
  • Risk-taker
  • Passionate about learning
  • Great working relationships

By identifying these qualities for your organization…you’ll have a single set of competencies to guide your dialogs with candidates to determine “cultural fit”. Questions that cannot be answered by asking the 25 pedestrian questions we have been asking for the entirety of my years in retail. Amongst “organizational design” experts, the answer you identify to this question creates a common language called “potential or critical success factors”, which are similar to competencies [as you can see above]. They show what it really takes to be successful amid the circus of chaos, change, and day-to-day expectations in your organization – they’re the same for each successful, productive, and happy employees in your organization.

Mission Statement & Company Values

Personal responsibility, resourcefulness, reliability, resiliency and openness for organizational change characterize growth-oriented and highly productive employees. When candidates feel an alignment in their values to the organizations values they find a stronger, more powerful connection to the business [yes…deeper than a paycheck] and it’s ultimate success. They identify they have a contributing role to the organization’s goals and objectives and they are invested in the successful outcomes which make them more involved, active, interested, and collaborative when it comes to finding solutions and innovative approaches to obstacles in the business.

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Hiring the right people in today’s complex retail world is greatly enhanced when companies break with traditional hiring practices. Focusing on who the candidate is versus what the candidate has accomplished is more important in hiring the right person. Although, it requires adopting a very counterintuitive recruiting approach. Which is scary to most retail organizations that have so heavily relied on a form and list of questions to determine how compliant this potential employee will be. Rushing to bring someone on board, simply because they have experience with, for example; “denim walls” or wardrobing, into another retailer can have consequences that linger long after that employee is gone. That’s why you should follow four important steps:

  1. Define your organization’s values, vision and goals
  2. Find out if your candidates are talented, growth-oriented and mission-driven
  3. Interview the candidates for their ability to meet the challenges specific to your organization
  4. Carefully decide who the best fit is [by matching their personality with the competencies you’ve identified as the drivers of success]

Using these tools ask the candidates how aligned they are with your brand and the future business objectives. It’s also a great topic to cover to see how thoroughly your candidate researched your organization to measure genuine interest.

Tips To Attract Top Talent

As a retail leader you have the ability to establish your leadership brand in your community. Great people want to work with and for great people. Creating a professional brand reputation around human leadership, passionate development of your team, being a supportive and encouraging retail leader, and one who creates a best place to work will help you to attract top talent in your market(s). You have to commit to being a strong networker and involving your team to advocate on the organization’s behalf to ensure your reach extends to all, potentially amazing, talent of both passive and active candidates. When you build a culture of transparency, trust, honestly, and collaboration – your team will want to ensure new hires meet the standard of excellence they have worked hard to help shape.

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  • Define Your Criteria For The Role:
    • What needs to be accomplished by this person? You aren’t hiring a body. You are hiring a talented, smart person to move the business agenda forward, build brand loyalty, and create an engaging and memorable customer experience.
    • Why would your ideal candidate(s) want this job? This is why it is so important to have a strong team identity or brand reputation in the market.
    • What are the shared qualities your top performers? In order to hire right you must know what competencies or “potential factors” that will help identify and position a new hire for success.
  • Develop A Compelling Recruitment Plan:
    • Your recruitment plan should include a job description that share the color and personality of your team expectations and should include:
      • A functional title
      • A creative title
      • A personal message to the candidates you are trying to attract.
      • I have always taken the corporate description and added our team spirit to it for a job description [with character].
    • Part of a compelling recruitment plan is your brand identity in the market where you are hiring:
      • Are your existing team members engaged in the community?
      • Do they represent the brand and advocate on behalf it?
      • Who are they referring? Are they referring talent that reflects the best competencies of the team?
    • A well-constructed and engaging interview process including the right questions:
      • Avoid the standard hypothetical interview questions; they’re useless.
      • Well constructed questions will help attract the right people because they show an understanding of what success looks like and why the job will be of interest to them.
    • Be proactive – with a proactive commitment to recruiting talent and networking you should have a plan for a time-to-fill of no greater than five days.
  • Cast A Wide Net & A Focused Strategy In Your Process:
    • I consistently share our Employee Referral Program as an active way for employees to work with future friends. That being said, offering a compelling & rewarding referral program will help keep this top of mind with your top performers.
    • Starting with the easiest and least expensive, but personalized, methods – job fair attendance or hosting, networking events, college recruiting initiatives and partnerships, strategic and mutually beneficial networks in the community will help source the best pool of candidates.
    • Have your top talent attend events as brand ambassadors. Including them in the process will help them develop a commitment and have a voice in who they work with.
    • Invite your two top performers to interview candidates to determine fit and give you feedback on your candidates – this will also allow your candidates to ask questions that they are curious about that they aren’t comfortable asking someone more senior.
  • Commitment To Treat Your Candidates Like Customers:
    • Because they, likely, are.
    • All kidding aside, this is critical. Treating candidates like supplicants not only offends them, but gives your brand a bad reputation….just like poor customer service would.
    • Think of it like this – you want all your candidates to give your hiring process an “A” grade, regardless of the outcome – how do you achieve this?
      • Being respectful
      • Being focused
      • Being honest
      • Providing feedback
      • Creating a fun and engaging process
      • Engaging and energizing communication
  • Move Quickly When You Find The Right Person:
    • It is a candidate’s market right now
    • The antiquated tendency is for some people is to wait until they have seen several candidates before making a decision, even if they have THE ONE who fits perfectly.  When you have someone that fits well, move quickly… before they get hired by someone else.
    • When you find great candidates in the course of recruitment and networking – make sure you stay in touch with them to cultivate a relationship.  Be honest and transparent about timelines and about your interest in their personality and skills – where you think they’ll fit in role. If you have a great boss they will be willing to interview your candidates and administer any assessments to ensure that when a position opens up you have the enthusiastic talent and fit to take on the role and deliver excellence without losing momentum in your business.


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 | [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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2 thoughts on “Recruiting For Cultural Fit In Retail

  1. Hi Beth,
    Your article resonated with me in a big way. I am currently looking for a cultural fit and was very inspired me by your article. I find that your assessment of interview screening and questions asked spot on, especially in the training of new managers to interview. I always start out with letting the candidate know it is as important for them to know who we are as it is for me to know if they will fit the job needs. Thank you for this article.

    1. Thank you so much Clarice! I am so happy you found it helpful. I am actually writing an article right now, digging into this a little deeper and found some great supporting statistics on hiring – while trying to define, a little better, while we should hire to the critical success factors in the organization. Hopefully I will have it completed by later today and I would love to hear your thoughts! Good luck as you interview your candidates. I am sure you will find a great match!

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