Is the end in sight? What do we make of the new beginning?

Well folks, after 9 weeks in lock up (…), it looks like the shackles might be coming off in 3 weeks, right in the middle of June. It’s been a crazy time, frustrating for some, relaxing for others, however I think we all share a sense of foreboding for the ‘new’ new!

Looking back, what have we learned?

  • Home made bread each day is brilliant, but it seems to pile on the pounds…
  • Make sure that you’re well stocked up on wine at all times, so you won’t get caught out in the next pandemic.
  • Working from home, although easier than expected, doesn’t stack up to being in the office from time to time.
  • Zoom is great! Zoom is awful! Refrain from doing 6 or more calls back-to-back in one day.
  • Organising people and setting up new procedures takes twice as long over the phone, compared to walking into a few people’s offices.
  • Exercise does aid mental wellbeing.
  • Generally, retailer’s digital channels need more investment, particularly in UX, in order to cope with a surge in demand like what we have just experienced.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention, judging by the entrepeneurship of local companies, who morphed their businesses into delivering a service or product in an entirely new way.

What needs to be done in the next 3 weeks?

  • Sell the bread machine on eBay…
  • New store procedures for customers need to be tested, honed and fine tuned.
  • Store staff need to be divided into shift teams, so that the same people always work on the same shift to avoid spreading infection.
  • Store staff need to be trained in the new ‘rules of engagement’, is there enough protective equipment to go around, what rules need to be invented for staff rest rooms?
  • New store replenishment schedules need to be drawn up.
  • How do we ramp up staffing levels in distribution centres?
  • Bearing in mind the restrictions that will be in place for the foreseeable future, how do we make in-store shopping a great experience for those customers who dare to venture out? How do we get them to shout about it to their friends, family and neighbours?
  • How, as leaders, do you stay empathetic to those on the front line risking infection?

And, thinking about it, what are our expectations for the future?

  • There is no doubt that we’ll see a more widespread flexible working pattern across most jobs and positions.
  • This ought to lead to a less frantic commute for most, which unfortunately will lead to subdued demand for all those travel retailers, coffee shops and lunch providers.
  • Demand planning will be largely based on gut feel for the next 15 months, as it’ll be foolish to use last years’ figures. After all we don’t know to what extent demand bounces back and for what product – have shopping habits changed?
  • More store closures, as digital channel sales will be higher than pre-lockdown, and more stores will prove to be unprofitable.
  • Traditional retailers will see heightened competition from wholesalers and brands, both of whom will continue to grow their direct-to-consumer proposition.

And from a recruitment perspective?

In a downturn companies need to have key personnel in place, who have experience of managing through a recession. These individuals will therefore be in high demand. Whilst supply of these managers should be static, in reality supply will be restricted, as people generally are less inclined to change jobs in a downturn if they don’t have to. On that happy note, we’re open for business!

Keeping your team engaged and motivated : banana bread, monkey brains and boundaries

A guest post from Zena Everett, Executive Coach and Productivity expert.

Keeping your team motivated and close: what people say about panic-working, banana bread, monkey brains and boundaries.

Now that we are in the groove of remote working, our challenge is to maintain motivation, focus and connection. What’s working? Here’s a list of home truths from people I’ve canvassed: take a breather to skim through it and share it with your managers:

Zoom Zombies – virtual meeting management:
Virtual work is exhausting because we have to concentrate much harder to pick up all the non-verbal cues. Reassess the meeting schedule that you put into place at the start of the lockdown and cut back if you can.  Ask people what they prefer now, what more they need from you and what can you stop doing. Cap meeting lengths to keep them pacey. Separate the well-being meetings from the business ones, otherwise people feel that you are just paying lip-service to the emotional aspects, waiting to get on to the real agenda. Zoom socials feel hollow to some of us.  Double check if people really want to do them now.  When we keep inviting work into home it means the boundaries between the two get fuzzy.  It might be kinder to give introverts a break from their screens, or at least make your socials optional. One team I work with agree that all videos are on, or all videos are off, at the start of each meeting.  Don’t expect to have any influence in a meeting if you are the only person staying hidden.

Train your frazzled monkey brain to work more quickly:
Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to concentrate.  The best use I’ve found for Hilary Mantel’s new book is for raising my laptop when the camera is on. Our monkey, limbic, brain is working overtime trying to protect us.  That’s why we are recalling vivid dreams.  You can’t fight this, but you can distract your brain. Work in intense bursts of time, say 45 minutes, setting alarms to start and a timer to stop. Avoid procrastination by breaking tasks down into mini-deadlines. Monitor your team’s activity and ensure they are having proper breaks.  Encourage them to work through their core tasks more efficiently so they get through them in less time and then switch off. That should be the goal here, not pointless presenteeism. Lead by example on this. Lunchbreaks are a necessity: make everyone block them out in their calendars.  I don’t care if people are working across time-zones: they have to have a proper break to re-energise. I’m printing off documents to read them quickly (I know, I know) as paper has less distractions. Explain to your team how their performance will be measured during this period, e.g.  quality of output, not quantity of emails.

Closer teams are more productive:
If you want your team to stay engaged and motivated give them engaging and motivating work to do. What’s the game – changing problems no one ever has had time to fix before – can you start it now? Get people collaborating to build team relationships and trust. Set them problems to solve. ‘What can we do to make the greatest impact on our customers during this time?’ Keep checking in with the progress of the work, not checking up on the workers. Practice your coaching and feed-back skills: how’s it going, what are you learning, how did you make that happen, what’s working well for you now? Seeing an end result gives us a sense of achievement. That’s why baking is so popular now – people want to see an end result and something they can control. Can you translate that drive into work instead: impactful projects, with clear output?

Build your boundaries and don’t panic-work:
Be wary of your own need to add value or justify your salary. You might be less busy than usual, particularly if you have an externally-focused role. Don’t start projects for the sake of it; that creates more work for other people who are still just as busy as before but now with additional responsibilities at home. Either help out your colleagues, write your post-C plan, use this time for personal development or enjoy the strategic thinking time you’ve been fantasising about. Do one thing at once.  You are either working or supervising home schooling. You can’t do both, that’s guaranteed burnout right there. Finally, get those hard boundaries between work and home in whatever way works for you. Put your work clothes on in the morning and get changed into home gear later. One of my client leaves through his front door at the end of the day and comes straight back in through the kitchen door. Makes him feel he’s psychologically finished for the day. I could go on, but I’ll stop there!

Zena Everett is an Executive Coach and Productivity expert 

www.zenaeverett.com

Under house arrest – week 6

So, here’s an update in follow up to my missive a few weeks ago:

Nearly 6 weeks under the belt and it looks like we have at least another couple of weeks to go – are you crawling up the walls yet? Are you still on speaking terms with your other half? Are the kids pining to return to school?

Over recent weeks, I have spoken with a fair few of you over the phone and, although all our circumstances are different, it seems that most of us have created a new daily routine that includes spending more time with family and spending time most days on our personal fitness levels.

It is no different in Jonckers Towers, although all I can do is stay in touch with people as all our search assignments are on hold, awaiting instructions once ‘the coast is clear’. So I guess our garden has received a bit more attention than most and I’m running out of DIY projects…

Overall, in a strange sort of way, I have enjoyed the slowdown, having time to reflect on what actually matters in life and enjoying the small things – a daily sunrise or sunset walk in the fields, a 22yr old daughter who likes baking, cycle rides without encountering traffic, a heightened community spirit and catching up with work acquaintances (both clients and candidates) without the pressure of ‘a deal to be done’.

And of course it has been a time to be thankful for what we have. I don’t envy those confined to an apartment with no outside space and small children to entertain. I am blessed that all of my family have been lucky enough to escape any effects of the Covid virus (so far!). We have food to eat and wine to drink, so things could definitely be worse. There is of course some financial uncertainty, but I’m sure that will work itself out.

After the lock down

I have been debating with some of you about how the retail sector returns after the lock down. Should stores be opened with a big fanfare, celebrating (re-)opening events, all shop staff keyed up to give the very best customer experience? Or should it be a low-key affair in a ‘business as usual’ sort of way?

I have just read the outcome of a survey by Jefferies, the investment bank, of 5,500 people across 11 countries (so not a huge sample of the population). Of the British segment only 20% thought they’d be shopping in the High Street as soon as quarantine restrictions end. Only just over half expected to be back shopping two weeks after lockdown. That said, 33% of people expected to be back in bars and restaurants, as soon as they’d be allowed. Interesting priorities…

Of course time will tell, however at this precise moment we do not know how financial and economic uncertainty, as well as a different perspective on consumerism and sustainability, has changed consumer behaviour.

So bearing in mind that unknown, what is your business planning to do and what is the communication strategy with both existing and potential new customers? I’d be very keen to hear from you as I cannot possibly do more gardening!

Wishing you all well. May you stay safe, healthy and sane!

Covid-19 will bring about a retail apocalypse

A guest blog by retail futurist, Howard Saunders

Currently we all speak from a position of absolute ignorance. No one can truly know what the outcome of this pandemic will be, nor when the virus will pass or if it will ever be defeated. Even if a vaccine is developed in the next few months it’s clear that we will forever mark this moment as one of seismic significance. From now on we will talk of pre- or post-C19.

If there’s anything positive to be wished from this, it’s that perhaps this is the socio-economic reboot we’ve all been yearning for. It’s almost biblical. The developed world has become increasingly guilt-ridden, hysterical even, over its impact on the planet, and steeped in doubt as to mankind’s purpose upon it.

In short, we grew to despise humanity and believed humans were responsible for all the planet’s ills. We became fully signed up Malthusians! Our new gods utterly despised us (Greta, Attenborough) and believed robots would do our jobs better than us.

Pre-C19 we grew hysterical over every social injustice, inherited privilege or innate bias we could hunt down or dig up. Put simply, we now have something more urgent to fret about, namely survival.

In the long term, we will learn to pull together more and it may well set our ship on a clearer course. In the short term, however, we must not underestimate the catastrophic effects it will have on twenty-first century life. Thousands of shops, pubs, restaurants, bars, cinemas, galleries and venues will close down for good.

There’s no question the retail apocalypse has arrived. Unemployment will soar as fast as our incomes decline. Nations will focus on feeding their own, rather than exports, meaning we’ll become accustomed to buying locally produced, seasonal food. Yes, globalisation died in 2020.

We’ll learn how to cook again, bake bread and home-brew. We’ll take on more DIY, learn to knit, sew and play instruments. Our renewed sense of mortality will see many of us writing diaries and journals again. In short, we’ll live simpler, dare I say more austere, lives.

As social animals the restrictions on social activity will be our greatest challenge. Months on end without family gatherings, nights out, holidays, celebrations, parties, festivals and sporting events will hit us harder than we can imagine.

But when, finally, we do emerge from this storm, consider how much we will cherish those ordinary, yet beautiful, social interactions we took for granted only a couple of weeks ago. It’s the hugs and the handshakes that give humans their humanity.

Very soon we will understand that retail and hospitality were never really about buying more stuff or filling our bellies. Our industry is all about human engagement and post-C19 I expect shops and restaurants to welcome us more warmly and sincerely than at any time since the festive period.

Sadly, as C19 proliferates, we are unlikely to be dancing and hugging in the streets as in 1945. Masks and visors will become standard dress, and restaurant staff will be obliged to wear protective gear for insurance purposes. Tables will be widely spaced and prices will have to rise accordingly. But with unemployment at 30% very few will be able to afford the luxury of dining out, so it will feel like a return to the 1960s.

The coming months will teach us a lot about ourselves. We will learn how to work remotely, how to replenish essentials online, how to write, read and entertain ourselves (We’ll also learn that bulk buying makes no sense.) Social media will undergo a much-needed reset as we become more sensitive to the vacuousness of posts and tweets that scream little more than fatuous mundanity or misplaced self-puffery. Our media will mature to reflect the age.

The global move into cities will reverse. We will have learned how to work remotely and, more importantly, what we really want from work. Cities will lose much of the thriving lunchtime market along with most of the fast-casual brands. Cities will become less about work and much more about play as we head back to the city in the evening for the choice of restaurants and the entertainment.

Celebrity culture will undergo a much-needed correction too as our moral and social hierarchies turn upside down. Hollywood will be humbled enough to stop its finger-wagging and lecturing. The BBC will follow too, if it survives.

These next few months are a period of contemplation not just for us but also for brands. Any brand waiting to bounce back to market post-C19, revved up like bloody tiger will have got it wrong. Advertising, as we currently understand it, finally died in 2020. Brands, like humans, must rethink their roles and their purpose. Legacy brands will either die or back out quietly.

Post-C19, we will expect our brands to be philanthropic, sponsoring, partnering, teaching and incubating on behalf of the local community. Brand values will shift away from self-indulgence, luxury, celebrity and narcissism towards more fundamentals such as family, home, friends and wellbeing.

Cultures don’t usually adhere to the tidy chronology of the decades. The 60s didn’t properly begin until 1964, for example. But the new age that lies ahead really did begin in early 2020. Expect everything to get a reboot, from our lacklustre music, inane superhero movies and even our egotistical urban ‘starchitecture’.

2020 is a mighty test for us all. When we do come out the other side we are sure to be more appreciative of simple pleasures, and a little more content with life on Planet Earth. Perhaps 2020 is the year of vision after all?

 

Under house arrest

Under house arrest – week 3

So, two weeks under the belt, not sure how many more to go but likely to be at least another 3 weeks, probably more…

If you’re anything like me, then you have managed to stay sane, but probably have eaten a little too much and have been drinking a little more frequently, whilst making sure to go out once a day to get some exercise. On all accounts, you will have settled into a new routine albeit one that may not necessarily agree with your other half…

Spending more time in solitude and given the new economic circumstances, I have had more time to reflect and here are some of my thoughts and observations:

As a retail business for non-essential products or services, so with stores firmly in lockdown, do you keep your online business open (technical and commercial colleagues can work from home, however anyone in logistics or distribution is potentially exposed) or do you shut everything?

  • Shutting down from a health and safety perspective will probably be welcomed, however will staff be happy to be furloughed?
  • Will your customers understand your decision?
  • Are your competitors following suit? If not, will you lose your customers in the long run?
  • Do you make this a PR opportunity (be that for staying open or shut down) or would that be too callous?

Not knowing how long businesses will have to be closed it would be difficult not to furlough at least some of the workforce. Not doing so would have a huge financial impact on the business, yet doing so will have a huge impact on those who earn more than £3125 per month, whose pay cut will increase beyond 20% the more they earn. Equally, those on much lower wages probably cannot afford a 20% cut, as they may already struggle to make ends meet.

  • So, does the business pay 100% of salaries and claim 80% (with a maximum of £2500 per month) back from the government? The financial impact is impossible to calculate as we do not know how long before we return to business as usual.
  • Whichever way you turn, people will be out of pocket, if not by means of a reduced salary, then by a diminished future bonus, reduced performance of share save schemes or cancelled dividend payments. By my reckoning, this must have a huge impact on consumer spending once we’re back to normal, therefore this whole situation will have a prolonged impact on the retail sector.

Whilst on the subject of furloughing staff, for a small business (and we’re no exception) we are grateful for the government to give us some support. That said, even though I understand all the reasons for it, it is disheartening that it is unlikely that we’ll see any money before June, as apparently it won’t be until at least the end of April (maybe later) before there will be a mechanism to claim for support.

We have seen a few companies making a valiant effort to make the best out of a bad situation (think Leon selling groceries and ready meals, the Body Shop delivering care packages to local hospitals and H&M using their supply chain to manufacture face masks), however we have seen small, local businesses really stepping up to the plate, changing their business model almost overnight. Locally to me, we have seen two small delicatessen taking their business online, where they only had a low-key presence previously, now selling groceries and complete meal plans delivered to your door the next day. I have also witnessed my wife, who runs a small business that delivers ante-natal and first aid classes, re-write her lesson plans and she now delivers highly personalised classes via Zoom, with the result that clients sign up from well-beyond her usual catchment area (one from the States!).

There are two points to make here

  1. Some of us will see opportunities for our businesses in this misery and
  2. I actually think that once we’re on the other side our sense of normal will have changed.

Which brings me nicely to the next point. Is anyone else making themselves paranoid by wondering what the competition is doing? What are they thinking of? Am, I missing a trick? Should I be doing more? But, in these times, who wants to talk about recruitment? Should I run a forum for candidates looking for the next opportunity? Should I run a forum for business leaders? Answers on a post card please.

And finally, what are your thoughts on those who are choosing this time to start playing the stock market via FTSE tracker funds? Is this clever entrepeneurship? Making hay whilst the sun shines? Or, insensitive ‘$%&@’s for making money out of someone else’s misfortune? Looking forward to receiving your comments…

Wishing you all well. May you stay safe, healthy and sane!

Unprecedented times

Instead of Goodbye or Cheers, a Stay Healthy or Stay Safe; instead of the 07.02am train into London, a cup of tea in bed; instead of a quick catch up or gossip over the watercooler, a dog that needs walking and a child that doesn’t want to do its schoolwork.

Unprecedented times indeed.

And with that comes uncertainty, how long will this go on for, what if this lasts for months, what if my business doesn’t survive, what if my position is made redundant, what if, what if…

Most of us will find ourselves working from home, if not every day, at least part of the week or month. Most of us can and will adjust, others find it harder. One way or the other, by not commuting, working from home gives you more time.

Bearing in mind that none of us have 100% clarity of what the world will look like and be like after we receive the ‘all clear’, is now a good time to reflect on our job, our business, our ambitions and to take control of our career?

This may be the perfect time to think about the next 5 years. What do you still want to achieve and learn? Is your current job and business offering the opportunity to fulfil those goals?

Is this the time to polish your CV, connect / network with previous colleagues and bosses, phone a few trusted head hunters? Why not be on the front foot?

For the adventurous, why not organise a Zoom meeting with people in similar positions as yours in competitor organisations and discuss generic topics that benefit all of you? For example:

  • What supply chain changes do we envisage?
  • If this WFH experience results in more wide-spread flexible working, how do we deal with excess office space?
  • If we’re all comfortable meeting online, can we cut our travel budgets? How will this feed into our company’s Green credentials?
  • Can we expect to see a higher % of our sales through digital channels? What knock on effect would that have on logistics, labour, store performance? Etc, etc.

Of course you could use this time to relax, play video games and pass on funny WhatsApp messages and it is probably important to do so, however I urge you to set time aside to plan how you will position yourself in the market place when a level of normality resumes. Of one thing I’m fairly certain, things will never be the same again…

In closing I’d like to echo the words of Jimmy Chin:

Cherishing this time at home with family. Slowing down in what’s been a fast paced world has been one of the biggest challenges for many, including myself. Now is that time. A moment of reflection for us all. I always look for the silver linings in moments of hardship and I’ve never regretted enduring hardship, once through the other side. It has only provided much needed perspective and made me a better and stronger person. I hope we can all embrace the moment to be kind, to be thoughtful, to be helpful. Collectively I can only hope we shall come out the other side as better people and see the world through a new prism of appreciation for each other and our natural world. Hoping you are all staying safe and healthy.

Your best team member has just resigned! What next?

You take your leadership responsibilities seriously and invest a significant amount of your time in mentoring, coaching and developing the people who report to you. You have a harmonious team, they work well together, they have had some lows, a fair few highs and they generally deliver the required results on time and within budget.

There comes a time when ambitious individuals feel that they need to move on in order to progress, no matter how much fun and satisfaction their current position gives them. Logically, the high performers are those who are thinking at least one career step ahead and if you or your company cannot deliver that opportunity for promotion then they will, sooner or later, leave. And they probably leave before the others in the team.

Generally speaking their resignation comes at a time when least expected and least convenient. So what to do? How to react?

At this time it is difficult to remember that you should feel proud. After all, you have been an instrumental part in developing this individual and ready them for making the next step in their career. But no, depending on what type of leader you are usually the things that go through your mind range from:

  • Traitor!
  • After all I have done for him/her!
  • How can they do this to me?
  • This is the worst possible time for them to resign.
  • Let me make a counter offer.
  • Maybe it is just a ploy to get a salary increase.
  • When did they go for interviews? When they had a dentist appointment?
  • What am I going to do?
  • How are we going to cover their work?
  • What will this do to team morale?
  • Who is next?
  • How can I stop this from happening?

to:

  • Congratulations! That is a great opportunity for them.
  • How can I make the transition for them (and the remaining team) as smooth as possible?
  • Can this be an opportunity for some of the others to take on more responsibility?
  • How do we manage a structured hand over?
  • What is most important to them now? How can I make that work in my favour?
  • How best to replace this person? Do we need to replace, can the rest of the team cope for a while / step up?

We have to assume the person who resigns is a grown up, has weighed up all the pros and cons, and has made a considered decision. It is likely that they find resigning a hard thing to do.

Counter offers are an insult to their intelligence, do you really think that you can buy people?

Now is the time to muster a smile on your face, congratulate them, wish them luck and ask for a little time to work out a transition that works for both parties*. And, who knows, if it all goes to plan, you may even be able to release them earlier than their contractual notice period.

My view is that once someone has resigned, with the best will of the world you cannot keep them engaged for longer than a few months, after which they can become a bit of a distraction to the rest of the team and if you’re not careful, more will resign.

Once a transition plan has been worked out, buy a cake, have a team meeting, make the announcement and publicly congratulate, let it sink in and then share the plan of how this is going to work out for all concerned.

Communicate regularly, keep a sharp eye on progress, have regular update meetings and get the person out of the door in a timely and orderly fashion.

It will do you credit as a leader, it will hopefully minimise the impact on the rest of the team.

 

*Now is the time to call a head hunter(!)

How to prepare for your second interview

Going for a second or third interview with a potential new employer? How do you prepare?

Having successfully cleared the first hurdle and being invited back for a subsequent interview/meeting with a prospective new employer, what could possibly go wrong?

There are a few points to consider here, some of which relate to your preparation for the first interview…

1. If after the first interview you don’t really know whether this opportunity is or is not right for you, then it is probably because you have not asked the right questions in the first meeting and this is probably down to poor preparation. Your first interview is as much part of your due diligence process as it is part of the hiring authority’s. So prepare well, ask the uncomfortable questions, do not assume anything and make sure that at the end of the meeting you know whether you want to be invited back or not.

2. However, if after the first meeting you are not 100% convinced that this is the right company, right position or the right fit for you then you must communicate this to the person who is arranging the second meeting. After all, if they weren’t 100% convinced that you were the right person either, then the chances are that this is probably not right for either party, therefore it might be best to stop the process and avoid wasting each other’s time. If it is decided that you should go ahead and meet a second time anyway, then this will be a very different meeting in which you can ‘clear the air’ and have a very open conversation about your and their concerns. Based on the outcome of this conversation both parties can decide to go ahead or abort, either way, you will come across as a professional, who wishes to carefully manage their career without making change for changes sake.

3. Assuming you are keen to go ahead and meet for the second (or third) time, then how do you prepare? How do you make sure that there is added value for you, rather than just a repeat of the 1st meeting, but with another person? Again, some of this will come down to the fact finding questions you asked in your first interview. Assuming you are meeting with a different person this time around, you may chose to verify your understanding around some of the facts you learned in the previous meeting – do I understand correctly that…? Is it true that…? As I understand it, this role will….?
Your colleague described the culture as…., would you concur?
Your aim here is to absolutely make certain that this is the right opportunity for you.

4. One good way of finding out about opportunities within the business is to ask questions such as – what will happen to the current person in the role? (if they are leaving, why? Were there no opportunities for further progression?). What is the average tenure of people in senior positions and what is their background? (in other words, were they external hires or were they promoted?).

5. It goes without saying that before the interview you need to do your homework on the person(s) you will be meeting. What is their background? Do you have common acquaintances or interests? If so, use these facts as an ice breaker. Depending on how well you got on with the first interviewer, you may ask them about advice on how to ‘handle’ the person you meet for the second interview.

6. If you prepared a presentation for your 1st meeting, make sure to bring it to your subsequent meetings too. Make sure to make any appropriate amendments based on your findings from previous meetings.

7. Do not assume that everything you told your first interviewer has been passed on to the next interviewer. Be prepared to give a repeat performance.

8. It may be that an offer is extended in this meeting, make sure beforehand that you know what your expectations are and particularly make sure that you know what your minimum is, below which you will not accept. If you are offered in the meeting and it is below your expectations, do not decline or comment on it. Instead, thank them for the offer and ask whether you can think about it for 48 hours. Your search consultant / head hunter should negotiate the offer, after all, that is what they are paid for, so let them earn their money and expect them to negotiate an offer that will be acceptable to you. On the other hand, if the offer in the meeting meets or exceeds your expectation, then accept it and ask for it to be confirmed in writing.

9. Based on the information gained in the first meeting, you will probably have some idea of how you would tackle the challenges in the role. In most cases, it is worthwhile clarifying your understanding around these challenges, before giving an overview of your first 100 day plan. This 100 day plan does not need to be too detailed (unless asked for it), however they need to know that you have thought it through and that indeed you have a plan…!

10. Always, always, clarify at the end of the meeting what the process will be from here on (another two meetings? Who will make the final decision?) and to what timescales they are working. You need to manage your own expectations here and if possible, create a bit of urgency.

 

Congratulations if you’ve reached second interview stage! If you have any questions or need more advice, feel free to contact me.

Want to get another job in a couple of years? Act now!

When asked how 2019 was for me, it’s easy to say ‘fine’. Gloss over and move on. However now we’re a month and a bit into 2020, looking back, I actually think that last year wasn’t so fine after all.

From a recruitment perspective, August to November was the quietest period in terms of new business I have experienced in 23 years. I felt there was a general apathy, sitting on hands and widespread inaction. Rabbit in headlight stuff. Brexit uncertainty, low consumer confidence and a general election to worry about. Pretty frustrating. And then, on the 12th of December (general election day), business started to pick up. As if all our problems had been solved. A very weird experience indeed.

From a human interest perspective, I have never met so many senior retail professionals looking for another job as I did throughout 2019. The vast majority of these individuals were at varying levels of desperation, although some were actually still in a job. And, looking back, I am surprised how few were organised and had a clear plan to find employment. Depressing.

Map it out

So, that brings me nicely to all those of you who are in jobs and careers right now, who are not just floating along but have a clear plan for your career. It is a good idea to have your career mapped out and know at any given time what your next move might look like. That way, any decision you make can, and should be, aligned to your short and medium career objective.

However, other than aiming to outperform your peers and standing out for the outstanding contribution you make to your company, what else can you do? Great performance should get you noticed within your business, but it is likely that your next opportunity will come externally. So how do you let everyone else know that you’re a high performer, great team player and generally a good egg?

And here comes the dreaded n-word. Whether you like it or not, those with good networking skills and as a result, those with a good network, climb the slippery pole quicker than those who wait to be noticed. And agility has nothing to do with it.

Act now

If you hope to make the next step up in a couple of years, start networking now. Stay in touch with all the people you used to work with, see who they can introduce you to (and reciprocate, of course) and make sure that you are remembered for all the right things, update them on career progress and successes and once you’re ready, let them know you are open to opportunities.

Get noticed

What else? Even though LinkedIn has become a proliferation of un-useful information, it is still the number one professional network in your sector, so make sure you are a regular contributor, be that with original articles and posts, re-posting articles you have found useful or of interest, or commenting on content that is applicable to your sector. Join a handful of LinkedIn industry groups and do the same – you have a higher chance of being noticed by relevant decision makers here.

Also, all industry sectors have their own weekly publication, be that Retail Week, Drapers Record or the like. Most post their articles digitally.To get noticed, comment on them – with a bit of luck your comment will be included in the printed version.

Finally, if you can, volunteer to be a speaker at industry events. Tell the audience to leave you their business card, so that you can email your presentation to them – hey presto, a whole new addition to your network.

Reap the rewards

Of course, all of this takes time and discipline. That said, there are a number of individuals I know in the retail industry, who are known to be great networkers and have never had to worry whether they may receive approaches for new job opportunities.

Morale of the story? Dedicate a set number of hours each month to develop your network, make it part of your routine. The long term benefits are untold.

Let me know if I can help.

Maarten Jonckers

Reputation. 20 years to build it, 5 minutes to ruin it

With thanks to Nick Easen and Raconteur for permission to republish this article as a guest blog

If you were to teleport a brand executive from the 1950s and set them to work on a 21st-century edgy product, they would probably have a heart attack within five minutes of starting the job. At no point in history have brands operated in such an unpredictable and unruly market. With the power balance now shifting to the digitally connected public, it’s ultimately a hostile environment.

“Gone are the days when brands could pull the wool over customers’ eyes. Consumers are more questioning, demanding and proactive than at any point in time. An innocent mistake can escalate to a brand-breaking headline within hours,” says Michelle Du-Prât, executive strategy director at Household.

Brand reputation and risk intrinsically linked

Whether it’s the brand and reputational risk of the Duke of York following his BBC interview or Pizza Express after Prince Andrew used their Woking restaurant as an alibi in the Epstein scandal, crisis situations can hit at the speed of a mouse click or Instagram post. Spoof reviews of the restaurant chain were taken down immediately, while the royal brand is still calculating the fallout.

“There are so many uncontrollable outlets for news, it’s a major challenge to get on the front foot. Historically you could hide, today if you don’t create your own narrative, someone else will for you and they’re probably not going to be friendly,” says Nick Cooper, global executive director for insights and analytics at Landor.

Just ask Chick-fil-A, in Reading. The opening of its first UK restaurant didn’t go to plan. In October the American fast food chain was told to “cluck-off” by campaigners protesting over the company’s poor record on LGBT rights, no doubt amplified by the internet.

“The online and offline landscape requires a 360-degree approach to risk and crisis management, from digital through to physical brand presence. It doesn’t help that social media can sully a brand instantly. A Twitter mob can bring a brand down based on flimsy claims taken out of context, while a Twitter craze creates a viral sensation,” says Ms Du-Prât.

FCK to negative events

When it comes to brand reputation and risk, especially with crisis management, there are headaches to be found everywhere. If the always-on, omnichannel landscape is enough to cause heart failure in a teleported 1950s executive, it can generate paralysis in today’s business climate. Yet doing nothing isn’t an option.

“In a world of unlimited content and noise, brands are most at risk from irrelevance. There’s definitely strength in proactivity. An overt focus on protecting reputation shouldn’t make brands risk averse when they should be winning hearts and blowing minds, challenging the status quo and moving the dial,” says Ashley Bendelow, managing director of Brave.

For example, Protein World infamously spent very little on its Are you beach-body ready? campaign featuring a woman in a bikini, which many claimed objectified women and was socially irresponsible. Yet the ad generated huge exposure and, despite the offence, sold extremely well. Meanwhile, when KFC experienced its chicken shortage, closing stores, its FCK campaign and subsequent apology was a brave, well-received approach.

“It demonstrated humility, but it was also very funny. It’s harder to be angry when you’re laughing. Crucially, brands should proactively mitigate risk rather than be constantly on the backfoot,” Mr Bendelow explains.

The only way is ethics

Brand reputation and risk have shifted, coalescing with how we feel about companies as a whole. Trust and brand loyalty over time mean everything.

“It’s important to see brands not as a separate entity to a business, but as inextricably tied to it. Gone are the days when the brand would be a communication umbrella for the business,” says Manfredi Ricca, global chief strategy officer at Interbrand.

“Transparency and reduced information asymmetry mean increasingly your brand is about what you do and are, not just what you say; and your business is about trust, not just delivery.”

In fact, customer experience is now at the heart of brand equity and is dependent on an accumulation of interactions. The bigger picture has never been more paramount. This is what digitally native vertical brands are good at. It means companies must put the needs of the consumer at the heart of what they do and this isn’t a bad thing.

“In such a commoditised commercial landscape, consumers are looking for reasons to disregard brands and limit the choice paralysis many feel,” says Fergus Hay, chief executive of Leagas Delaney. “This is now the era of ethics for brands where truth, transparency and clarity on values will underpin long-term brand equity and growth. Be human, be kind, be credible.”

A case of ‘call-out’ culture

You have to love Estée Laundry, an Instagram account that spotlights the insanity it sees daily in the global beauty industry. The bane of industry players and joy of superfans, it tells it how it really is on diversity issues to copycat behaviour. The same is true for Diet Prada on fashion.

Watchdog culture is in rude health, whether it’s lambasting Kim Kardashian for an insensitive underwear line called Kimono and a case of cultural appropriation or Rihanna’s cosmetic line named Geisha Chic.

“Brands are only one slip away from major reputational damage,” says Benoit Soucaret, creative director for Europe, Middle East and Africa at LiveArea. “But this can be looked on as an opportunity for the modern brand.”

Increasingly Generation Z and younger are vocal critics of businesses that get it wrong, but they’re also advocates when they get it right.

“The ‘Greta effect’ is real. Being a positive force in the world isn’t just gestural, it’ll also boost the bottom line. Offsetting emissions, reducing plastics, hiring with diversity in mind are all things that consumers expect. To avoid being called out, brands need to be the change their customers want to see in the world,” says Ashley Bendelow, managing director of Brave.

 

With thanks to Nick Easen and Raconteur for permission to republish this article