Five minutes with Alexander Snelling, HR Director, Cath Kidston

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It's HR in Retail month on HRZone! We're focusing on all things retail - check out our HR in retail hub to read all our great content!

We caught up with Alexander Snelling, HR Director at Cath Kidston, on the challenges and opportunities in the retail sector, and what Cath Kidston are doing to innovate their people practices.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What do you think are the biggest people-related challenges facing the retail sector at the moment?

Alex Snelling, HR Director, Cath Kidston: The key people-related challenges in retail for me are the Brexit decision, the National Living Wage & the continued challenge of building retail careers rather than retail jobs.

Many colleagues are concerned about their future in a post-Brexit Britain and reassuring our team and communicating openly has been key since June.

The progression of the National Living Wage is welcome news for colleagues and calls on all of us in retail to have a sharp focus on productivity and results.

Finally, marking out retail as an opportunity to build a career rather than just be a job continues to need innovation.

Our new Area Manager roles at Cath Kidston are giving us an important new step on the road to multi-site management for store managers across the country.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: You've relaunched the bonus scheme to make a clearer link between performance and reward. Can you talk through how you did this, how you worked through any challenges and how you made this link crystal clear?

Alex Snelling, HR Director, Cath Kidston: We moved from a bonus scheme entirely dependent on company results to a more nuanced system where individual performance is taken into account.

We involved stakeholders early to talk through how the matrix should work between company and individual performance to reach consensus.

I believe in being pro-active rather than reactive with senior stakeholders so my goal is to set the agenda for HR issues.

When we shared with colleagues, we accompanied the new scheme with retraining on setting objectives to make sure that the individual portion of the bonus could be accurately assessed.

We’ve built on the new system this year with a more modern quarterly appraisal system relying on “little and often” meetings rather than two longer meetings per year.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: You've increased your learning and development spend significantly. How do you ensure this adds business value because it's hard to track outcomes with such a dispersed workforce?

Alex Snelling, HR Director, Cath Kidston: We’ve leveraged technology much more effectively to make sure of impact with a dispersed workforce.

We’ve seen a real transition from centrally created training content delivered through print to video and interactive training relying largely on content created in store or through partnership with our buying team.

This approach is much more traceable as we can monitor participation, views and downloads to really understand what content lands well with stores.

We brought our store managers together this year at a fantastic summer conference where we reaffirmed our retail vision.

This approach is also making it much easier to deploy training worldwide to markets where we are growing and to support our franchise partners.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What have you learnt about making engagement work with retail workers? They're geographically dispersed and dealing with 'localised' issues and environments.

Alex Snelling, HR Director, Cath Kidston: Engagement in retail is about motivating through presence and enabling at a distance.

We brought our store managers together this year at a fantastic summer conference where we reaffirmed our retail vision, gave them hands on training sessions and equipped them to take the messages and learning back in store.

To keep engagement alive in store we have a close web of communications built on both informal tools and an improved set of retail ops communications to ensure managers are empowered locally and know exactly what they need to deliver.

As well as geographicaly dispersal, different types of stores have different challenges and needs across outlets, airports, shopping centres and the high street which Regional Managers are expert in taking into account.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What about building a culture in a retail environment? Any tips for other HR Directors trying to build a brand brand across dispersed cultures?

Alex Snelling, HR Director, Cath Kidston: Focus on Values. I believe Values are the sinews of a culture, the pulling power which brings it together and makes it strong.

We spent 6 months relaunching the Cath Kidston values taking inspiration from the heart of the brand and bringing it to life through the experiences and ideas of people all over the business.

To keep engagement alive in store we have a close web of communications built on both informal tools and an improved set of retail ops communications.

Through taking a bottom up approach we established instant credibility for the values – people accepted them as authentic because we explained where they had come from and involved them in bringing them to life in teams. 

We’ve made sure all our stores have the values to hand in store so they can apply them every day and make Cath Kidston a special place to develop your career.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: You report directly to the CEO. How do you ensure this relationship is progressive and that you put HR issues on the corporate agenda in the right way?

Alex Snelling, HR Director, Cath Kidston: I’m fortunate to have a progressive CEO and Operating Board with a genuine interest in people questions. 

I believe in being pro-active rather than reactive with senior stakeholders so my goal is to set the agenda for HR issues.

Most Board meetings will include a discussion of people challenges which we tackle together.

Being a small, agile business means we can move quickly into action.

It's HR in Retail month on HRZone! We're focusing on all things retail - check out our HR in retail hub to read all our great content!

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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