This case study covers the work we did to help them revolutionise their recruitment practices and to save substantial amounts of money. There is another case study which covers the work we did on developing managers. The start of the two projects covered the same process to create a Success Prole so there is some overlap at the beginning of the two case studies.
The rate of expansion of this retail company is enormous. At the beginning of 2012, they were opening three stores a week in China alone. The company has a unique culture that has been a major element of – and possibly even the main reason for – their success. The store manager role is pivotal and encompasses a much wider, more empowered remit than in most retailers. Store managers in effect manage a business with profit and loss responsibility and are empowered not only to buy for their store, but also manage and develop employees within the culture, values and operating philosophy of the company.
But there was a combination of different factors that prompted a need for change. These included:
All of this put pressure on the recruitment practices and the speed at which people could be developed to take on store manager roles. The directors understood that exporting practices and people from the company’s home country did not always work in countries with a different culture and work philosophy, yet the company wanted to keep the best of their very successful culture and highly effective ways of working.
We were asked to create a success profile across the international businesses to define what made the biggest difference when it came to the success of their store managers. We also created a profile for those store managers who had been assigned from the home country to international locations, to train and pass on the culture to newly established stores. These profiles told the company the approach, beliefs and behaviours typical of those who were able to translate success from one country to another, and also what was required of a local company to grow into a truly international one.
This enabled the international businesses across Asia, Europe and America to understand the mind-set and behaviours of the most successful individual store managers and we then created tools that would help them to hire people with the same attributes and to accelerate their career development so they could take up and succeed in the store manager role.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has spent her career researching learning, and in particular exploring the mind-set for success. She describes a mind-set as someone’s entire psychological world, where their outlook and attitudes are founded on their core beliefs. Her studies show that people tend to have one of two belief systems that create their mind-set about work, learning and their own abilities.
Dweck describes people who hold a belief that talent, ability and intelligence are things that you’re born with as having a fixed mind-set. It’s extraordinary how much of our language surrounding ability and performance is framed by this belief: ‘He’s very bright’, ‘She’s so talented’, ‘She’s a natural leader’, ‘He has a gift for languages’.
People with this mind-set believe you either have it or you don’t, and there are a range of behaviours which reflect this world view. The first rule of a fixed mind-set is look clever – at all times and at all costs. And if you’re not going to look clever, don’t do it. In the face of any setbacks, hide your mistakes and conceal your deficiencies, because the fixed mind-set pre-supposes that mistakes and deficiencies are permanent and that’s going to be a black mark against you.
In contrast, people who have a growth mind-set believe that talent, abilities and intellect can be developed. Their primary rule is learn, learn and learn some more. They’re the people leaning over your shoulder when the new software programme’s being demonstrated, the first ones to sign up for an optional seminar, the person who went on a course as part of their last holiday.
People with a growth mind-set think things like, “It’s much more important for me to have a challenge than to be rated the highest.” They do care about ratings, of course, but they care even more about having an interesting, challenging role where they’re going to be exploring new areas and working with interesting and varied people.
You can learn more about Dweck’s work by reading the articles on our web site or the relevant chapter in our book Brain-savvy Business.
Together we faced a number of challenges, some of which were known at the start of the project and some that emerged as the work progressed. The first was the sheer variety of the countries we were working with, and the fact that in each different country, regional managers felt they already understood the ingredients necessary for success and were reluctant to have a profile handed to them from the international head office.
The second challenge was that the client already had a profile, created by the president, for more senior roles. We needed to ensure that this was integrated into our model. The profile that the president designed was only for senior leaders but we recognised that unless there was a clear flow from the store manager profile to the senior leaders’ profile, there would be a disconnect for people’s career path and limited acceptance.
The third challenge concerned the politics between the head office and the international businesses. Our client was in the international business side, and although the project had been endorsed by the global head of HR, and the president there were many other stakeholders who we did not have direct access to at all stages of the project. Helping the client balance the pace of change that these stakeholders could manage with winning acceptance of the change itself across a large number of people operating in multiple regions was no easy task.
The founder and president of the company is a remarkable man. He has great vision and a unique style of leadership. At the time we worked with him and his colleagues on this project, they were not aware of the Carol Dweck research, but nevertheless one of the defining features of the company culture was – and is – a growth mind-set.
However, when we looked at how they hired people, we found an expensive and relatively slow process, the most worrying element of which was the number of people who went all the way through the process only to be rejected at the final interview. This interview would take place with the region’s most senior manager, who was always someone who had grown up in the company and held deeply to the culture and beliefs. Throughout the process, HR and store managers asked the standard questions about biographical history and reasons for wanting to work in retail and for that company in particular.
The final interview asked one question all around the world. ‘What is your dream?’ It’s the ultimate growth mind-set question!
This was asked because the president felt strongly that every employee should have an ambition, something that was important to them that working for the company could help them realise. Many candidates were just too young to have thought about this pretty profound question and so were rejected at the final stage. Part of our ambition was to help the company keep the essence of this question – and make the most of the growth mind-set – but to unpick beliefs that underpin it to make it more accessible to young candidates.
We made sure that we identified the secrets of success across all the different regions from South Korea, China and Hong Kong to Europe and the USA, interviewing store managers and supervisors (managers who oversee a number of stores) as well as the most senior person in each territory. Senior managers in each region were asked for a bit of background information, what success meant to them personally and what they thought were the challenges their businesses faced. We asked store managers about their sense of purpose and their beliefs, capabilities and work habits, and also about what kind of environment enabled them to do their best work – what policies had helped them to succeed and which had hindered them?
To help with the recruitment challenges the company faced we developed a new approach that, rather than focusing on the volume of applicants, concerned itself with identifying candidates who could succeed in the culture and quickly become store managers – candidates who had a growth mind-set which could grow into a dream and a sense of purpose.
The process was derived directly from the success profile and included a number of selection tools that provided useful data and ensured that the candidates had a good idea of what was required for success. We also wanted the process itself to be a valuable experience for the candidates whether or not they ended up joining the company so, for example, we designed a selection exercise that enabled the candidate simultaneously to show how they worked with others, to learn about the company and to make suggestions about how the company could improve their recruiting experience. It was the very definition of a growth mind-set exercise.
Once the selection and development tools were designed, we ran workshops to train store managers and HR staff to use them, and we also conducted train-the-trainer workshops to enable managers to train their staff. Again, it was important that this training reflected the pertinent factors from the success profile and the growth mind-set culture. Some of the ways we did this were to structure the workshops based on our brain-savvy learning model. We used the elements of the model in the following ways:
We were aware that a number of people weren’t convinced about the new recruiting methods and to some extent were attending the workshop to gather evidence to use back in their region to persuade people that they should not adopt the approach. Again, if we look at this through a neuroscience lens we see the threat elements from CORE (you can learn more about CORE in this video). The new method threatened:
These threats had to be addressed and mitigated. We did this by helping participants understand the rewards they would gain from adopting the new recruiting methodology and development tools:
To some extent the reward factors were easier for the store managers to see because they had more to gain from hiring better staff – reduced staff turnover and improved chances of meeting their objective of developing more store manager candidates.
Some of the elements we built into the workshops included helping participants see where they had adopted a growth mind-set and how this had aided success, and also where holding a fixed mind-set had held them back. We produced a set of flash cards with phrases that typified the contrasting mind-sets and asked participants which ones suited the company culture best. This allowed them to learn about their own mind-set, and this exercise alone left many people more open to learning the skills on offer.
Elements of the training included videos that demonstrated how to use the tools we’d designed. But we also needed to get people to go out and actually apply these tools and create new behavioural habits. So we included opportunities for participants to tailor what they did in a day-to-day capacity for their store or region. We explained the principles behind the design of the training and the use of the tools, and then we suggested how people put these together in different ways to fit their region or store whilst still meeting required standards and aims.
We encouraged the company to adopt two key learning elements. The first was to create space between workshops where people could go off and practice their recruitment skills and then come back together to debrief, learn more and share experiences. The second was to set up a community of master recruiters who could help and coach others new to the process.
Finally, we always make a point of creating a light-hearted atmosphere in the workshop as well as helping the client to recreate this back in the workplace. It wasn’t difficult with this particular company as it has a strong culture of positivity anyway, where people celebrate success and congratulate one another on a job well done.
We had a number of goals and measures of success when we started the project, some quantitative and some qualitative. One of the qualitative goals was getting the success profile and tools accepted across the international regions. We had verbal agreement from everyone including the president of the company that the profile reflected the route to success, but this wasn’t going to be enough to make it stick. People had to find their own reasons for adopting it.
After a full cycle of using the tools, the results showed that the number of people who were made offers at the final stage went from 46% to 75% and the number who accepted those job offers from 78% to 95%. We also saw more people screened out earlier in the recruitment process. With the volumes being recruited, this represented savings worth around 2 million dollars in the first year alone. Managers were spending their time more profitably, direct recruitment costs were down and the company’s reputation also benefitted because candidates were usually customers too.
The client said, “The new recruitment tools have enabled us to streamline our recruiting by eliminating many candidates early in the process and improving the success rate of final candidates presented to senior management. This new approach has also created a better candidate experience resulting in an improved offer acceptance rate.”
Defining and sharing the success profile across different regions gave people a say in what makes a difference. This helped gain buy-in to the process and ensured important universal values were included as well as regional differences. We were careful to use the client’s own language and, because the examples came from within the company, people quickly identified with and adopted the model for hiring and talent identification. We also found, as one might expect, that making the tools as simple as possible meant that there was greater up-take and application in the business.
You can never do enough in terms of demonstrating how the tools will work and giving examples of them prior to tailoring them to the client company. Allowing stakeholders to discover for themselves what the tools and changes in the recruitment process could achieve, as well as the benefits that could accrue, was critical and proved to be much more important than logical arguments, cold stats or cost savings. The overwhelming learning was that we should always be looking for ways to manage the CORE threats and to create imaginative CORE rewards.