Insights

PART II - A View from Asda: Aligning The People Strategy With The Business Strategy To Drive Commercial Success

by Sarah Cullen

In the second of our two-part interview, Senior Vice President – Chief People Officer at Asda, Hayley Tatum, speaks to Marlin Hawk about aligning the customer and colleague experience, measuring the commercial impact of HR and the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

Can you talk us through which you see as the main pillars of your colleague engagement strategy? And which initiatives you have put in place which you can measure the impact of?

I think it is important to consider every aspect of the colleague experience as a life cycle, end to end. What is the reputation of the business before you start? How is the company viewed as an employer and a brand of choice? From a hiring point of view, what is the experience that we give to someone who is considering Asda as a place of work. Then, as we say welcome, come and join us – how does that feel?Once started how helpful is the training so you are confident in your new role. Then with a little more time and opportunity to learn more about your local team, and specifically who you are working with. How are we creating a sense of belonging and purpose? How do we show how your job fits into the wider team? Then how we create that much broader picture of the entire organisation, where does each colleague fit and what is their unique contribution.And in return what are the pay and benefits package, what am I getting for my work today and how can I expect that to change in the future?Incentives need to reward discretionary effort and help retain colleague experiences and loyalty right from Day 1.

Then we look further to consider opportunities to progress and career options? Being clear how to move from the job I have today to any other job in the company.This is my passion; I love that in retail there is nothing to prevent our lowest grade colleagues join our business and one day become the CEO. There is no barrier to prevent that happening, in fact we are always spotting talent early in our teams, and encouraging/ pushing that to progress... We actually show you the route you can take if you choose to.

We would then look deeper into things like health and well being, how do we make sure every colleague can be themselves at work? How do we provide the right environment and support to promote both physical and mental wellness?Then we complete the life cycle to how we support our colleagues who are choosing to move on from Asda. Whether that is retirement, or a choice to work elsewhere: If the experience is strong enough colleagues might choose to re-engage with us at a later point in their careers and of course, we’d want them to remain brand advocates!

We dissect those experiences / colleague moments into the areas I’ve highlighted and then measure them through our “Your Voice” engagement survey or externally through Glassdoor. Internal measures like attendance, diversity, succession plans, and attrition levels are all mapped across those various areas of the colleague journey. The data indicates currency, which gaps we have and which initiatives to prioritise. It is a forensic study to continue to test and learn.

An example is something we landed recently.We have created a digital learning journey for anybody joining our stores and training to be ready to go on the shop floor for the first time to serve customers. There are detailed “missions” – each colleague undertakes – online [on their phone or a device that we provide them]; once successfully achieved their line manager can sign them off as competent to use those skills with customers…The learning journey is visible should they want to build new skills and try the job next to them or the job across the store from them. They gradually build experiences and that experience unlocks even more opportunity. It means if they have learned front-end, petrol stations, post offices, counters, and so on, suddenly the opportunity to volunteer for more shifts, work different shifts, and progress to higher grades all open up.

Can you tell us more about the digital learning journey and digitalisation of the onboarding experience of colleagues?

During work, it is important not to forget all the ways in which people intuitively communicate outside of work via mobile devices and social media. We need to leverage how people are already communicating and consuming information, and then provide work related content in bite-sized, palatable pieces so that our employees can access this in exactly the same way and at the same rate as they read today’s news. That is how life works so engaging in work has to be the same, friction free, fast and relevant.

The challenge for leaders is getting used to not having all the answers, so making decisions with a sense of doubt. Having leaders who can respond to complexity and uncertainty, still lead with confidence and humility, despite not knowing how some of these things on automation and AI are going to emerge. Because none of us know how this is going to land. As a confident leader, you have to get very used to learning as you go, flexing your thinking and approach to respond to new data. One of our biggest challenges is to prepare the workforce for that uncertain future including our leaders. How do you lead others when you cannot give them definitive answers? The world as we know it is not staying the same and is changing at a very fast pace. Leaders will provide clarity of direction, but not certainty of path. One of the key competencies of success going forward will be the ability to learn and relearn and have a curiosity to try things out for the first time, to experiment.A benefit of the Covid-19 crisis and I believe we must find some amongst the tragedy; is the fact that there were no answers.We had to figure things out together and trust that our shared goal was the same.

Have you had to adapt or change your people strategies to respond to heightened scrutiny and additional media coverage around the gender pay gap and other inclusive talent strategies that you are running?

For the last 3 years we’ve published our gender pay gap and whilst small, it has continued to reduce in each of those 3 years. For the majority of our workforce there is zero gap. In our stores and in our depots, we pay exactly the same hourly rate whether you’re male or female; the nature of the work has nothing to do with gender. At a corporate level for subject matter experts, there are differences between different professions and so gender representation has created a marginal gap. It’s currently running at 6.5% against a national average of 17.9%.We monitor this across the entire organisation quarterly but also by function to ensure there are no poor practices hidden in the averages – an important lesson in businesses of scale!

We also run very clear succession and recruitment campaigns with gender balanced slates and balanced interview panels. I am pleased that women are pretty well represented right the way through the organisation and there are even a few specialist functions which tend to be more female oriented – including marketing and HR. However, never happy to rest on our laurels, ethnicity is where I know we are still underrepresented in the geographies we serve. Therefore, it’s really understanding not just as one label “BAME”, but really identifying more closely within that. For example, is it specifically the Black and Afro-Caribbean community where we are somehow not managing to attract as many people and then looking to understand why that might be? This is a live example we are exploring, to examine each representative group and understand if we are attracting, retaining and promoting the candidate’s representative of the communities we serve.One additional point I would add here is that whilst we’re all suffering from Zoom fatigue, we have learned that remote working creates fairness.Every square on the screen on a Zoom call is the same size!

What would you list the three trends or challenges that you think your role and other people like you in other large-size organisations will be up against over the next few years?

Automation, AI and robotics or the fourth industrial revolution as it’s termed; these tech advances are fundamentally changing the nature of work and how it gets done. Therefore, what does the future of work look like and how do we plan for that?How do we prepare our teams for that uncertain world? How do we secure the talent and skills that we are going to need?

In a large organisation like ours, we have quite a lot of manual and repetitive work which over the years has become less and less. I can see with advances in technology this going even further. Research from the BRC (British Retail Consortium) predicts that by 2025 there will be 900,000 fewer jobs in retail than there are today. That’s out of a population of around three million. Our role is to re-skill colleagues to adapt to the challenging demands of work.And that has to go beyond training for a future within the organisation. As work changes and demand for the labour force flexes as a responsible employer it is an important role to prepare long serving colleagues for their next career step inside and outside of the company.I know that is not three but it’s a really big one.

During these unprecedented times, well being has always been important but being part of a business that genuinely cares for the health of their colleagues will be a current and sustained measure of an Employer of Choice.The enemy of commitment to any goal is lip service and I think employees will quickly be drawn to those who truly commit and care.

Talking about automation and the fourth industrial revolution, do you find that it hampers your ability to set a strategy for years in advance? Are you only able to look at quite a short-term view over the next year or maybe two?

It is important to be comfortable with having a supple strategy. You do know where you are going but the way in which you get there will be iterative, learning as you go, and you might have to go back in order to go forward and at other moments opportunities become unlocked and the business can leapfrog dramatically. It is not a straight linear year one, year two, year three. There is a direction that you are heading but the way in which you head might change.

The current situation has challenged us all to operate remotely and /or with safe social distancing.For how long we don’t know, so adapting operating models to respond at pace which may be temporary (or not) is a challenge to all businesses in not only surviving…but thriving.

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