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Future-proofing your workforce

By Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media

Seasalt Cornwall explains how it utilises surveys and training to prevent issues before they arise, and ensuring a community-feel within the company where employees feel valued.

Seasalt Cornwall is a fashion retailer with over 1,000 employees across 64 stores. The brand has seen rapid growth in the past five years, and during a time of drastic change and adaption it is essential for companies, particularly ones with such a focus on maintaining a community-feel in its culture, to remain connected with employees, and for staff in leadership positions to feel comfortable and confident in their responsibilities.

James Hampton, Head of Development and Engagement, and Georgie Mills, Head of HR for Retail, explain the approach Seasalt Cornwall take when employing new staff members. Hampton says: “When someone joins the business, we take a well-rounded view of them as a person, not just an employee.”

This notion of “employing the whole person” is something Seasalt Cornwall stands by throughout the time its people spend working for the company by supporting staff to develop and progress towards their career goals. Mills says: “We’re trying to make sure we give everyone the tools and the access to what they need in a flexible way”. Hampton continues: “We take quite a lot of time to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to progress around the business and work towards what they are interested in. This has a huge impact on their performance and whether they feel connected to the purpose of the business.”

Furthermore, the company culture is based on a “family-feel”, which Hampton explains is one of the key elements in Seasalt Cornwall’s growth and success, and one that he is keen to retain moving forward. He says: “We do our best to communicate effectively, to socialise, and to celebrate some of the things we do well together. That then connects to people’s careers because if we are able to help people understand what the purpose of the business is and where it’s going, and also get their thoughts on where it’s going, we can be connected to every individual employee.” Mills also states that Seasalt Cornwall doesn’t “have a natural hierarchical trajectory that you might find in other businesses”.

Hampton notes that another benefit of this continual communication is the ability to provide staff with more “directed opportunities”. Mills explains this further: “We always try to make sure that there are meaningful connections between managers and their staff. Especially in-store when they become such a close-knit team.”

This is also reflected in the company’s move away from twice-yearly employee reviews where managers look back on employees’ performances over the past six months, and instead changing to “future-focused, objective-setting monthly catch ups or check-ins. These enable people to have coaching conversations and look at those objectives regularly to allow for more changes as developments and shifts in focus happen,” says Hampton. “We found a lot of our managers were doing more regular appraisals anyway, and formalising it just made it easier for them to help their staff progress in their careers.”

He continues: “It’s created far more conversations around progress and ideas for positive change to enhance that community-feel and making our staff understand that they can influence things themselves.”

Furthermore, another focus for Seasalt Cornwall is providing its staff with “enlightened, meaningful careers” to increase employee satisfaction and engagement. Mills says: “Something we want to focus on is how people can transition through the business and move through different disciplines in a really great way. We want to give people meaningful careers in knowing how where they want to be, how they’re going to get there, and how they’re going to develop.”

In addition, Mills and Hampton explain the “emerging leadership programme” that was introduced this year. Hampton says: “We make sure we look at the bigger picture of how people learn, when they learn the most, and what’s going to have the most impact.” He explains that they tried to modernise this approach, and partner with all parts of the business to collectively take a more “performance-led approach to people development”.

“We started doing a lot of development on our leadership. There are people in many businesses who are promoted to management or leadership roles and never receive any leadership development. We really wanted to future-proof our progression and succession around the business, and look to promote and develop people who really want to be leaders. We want to teach, coach, and support them through what we feel leadership looks like at Seasalt, and what we feel leadership looks like as a whole,” he says. “We want to support our leaders before they get promoted.”

Moreover, connecting and communicating with employees at all levels across the business became a top priority for the company in 2018. Hampton says that this was to encourage an open dialogue between the employees and the leaders in the business, to enable employees to highlight any concerns they might have for the purpose of dealing with emerging issues before they became problems, and to give individual managers targeted support based on feedback.

Digital surveys began to be conducted, and gave every member of staff the opportunity to take part. Mills says that, “particularly in our stores, we took some practical steps and kept things very simple to ensure providing feedback was easy and accessible for everyone”. She says that this proved successful in encouraging employee involvement: “We were all quite happily surprised at the high participation and engagement percentages.”

This ties into Seasalt Cornwall’s belief that all staff should have an influential voice in the business. Hampton says: “The managers and leaders are key to employee engagement so we focus the survey their performance and ensure that everyone knows that they can influence where things are going. But also to widen that conversation across the business so communication is open and transparent, and all employees felt like they have a voice that matters and is heard. Equally, we make sure those managers are able to receive that feedback effectively, and to remove the barriers of hierarchy for better communication and act on the feedback they receive.”

Mills explains that feedback is redistributed back to teams efficiently. “We take a structured approach after each survey in ensuring that results get back to teams very quickly. Team members are quickly able to see results and managers can conduct meetings to discuss results. Every manager is responsible for driving an action which engages their team as a result of that feedback.” She adds that moving forward her focus will be to ensure that new and different change happens each year as a result of employee feedback to keep enthusiasm and engagement high, and for Seasalt Cornwall to remain “a different kind of retailer”.

Hampton finishes by summarising why the surveys have been so effective in encouraging employee engagement. “Our staff feel happy to share feedback because they can see changes taking place as a result of the surveys. If we don’t take the business down a route that has been suggested, we ensure to always give some rationale behind the decision so people understand that their perspective was still considered. The surveys have created far more conversations around progress and ideas for positive change to enhance that community-feel at Seasalt Cornwall.”