From today’s Vancouver Sun Newspaper – very interesting and will more companies follow suit?
Opening the lines of communication adds the human factor for retail employees
A funny thing happened when Nathalie Balfour posted an article about her job description on the company blog. Within a few days, the public relations supervisor for Lululemon Athletica in Vancouver received dozens of responses from all sorts of interested parties. “It was so interesting to see how quickly doing that blog turned into a conversation with people within the company and externally,” she says.
Lululemon is embracing social networking in a big way to keep lines of communications open with potential and current employees. With 116 stores throughout North America and Australia, online community manager Carolyn Coles says having the ability to use Twitter, Facebook, blogging and Flickr, among other tools, “helps to keep everyone connected at every level and empowered, and really elevates internal conversation.”
The company goes out of its way to encourage stores to set up their own Twitter and Facebook pages. “It’s amazing for morale and gets everyone really involved because it puts the power of communications in their hands,” says Balfour.
She adds that social networking provides more opportunities for staff to connect with managers to air their views and get direct feedback. Employees can also educate each other online, share ideas and post stories, and help new hires feel like they are part of the family. “Being able to do that really humanizes the company. That’s what makes [social networking] so powerful.”
More and more retailers are realizing that social networking can play an important role in employee recruitment, training and retention. Given that many retail employees are in the 18-24 age bracket, social networking is second nature to them, says Brenda Dumont, national retail recruitment specialist for canadianretail.com, a subsidiary of working.com. “These people have been on Facebook or MySpace since they launched.”
She adds that to date, 65 per cent of retailers in Canada have embraced the practice of online recruiting, and virtual career fairs are also gaining momentum with the tech savvy crowd.
Social networking helps retailers in three ways, according to Cary Schuler, CEO of cfactor Inc. in Saskatoon, a provider of web-based social networking and workforce solutions. “First it can be used to attract new talent. Second, it ensures that new people coming on board feel socialized within the first few months of joining the company. Third, it can help employees advance their careers by allowing them to contribute ideas and get noticed.”
Cfactor and a number of specialists in the social networking field are saying retailers are becoming a rapidly growing part of their business. “It’s about speaking the language of youth,” says Neil Grunberg, vice-president of sales and marketing for Vortex Connect, a developer of text messaging applications for managing workforces. “Typically employees go to where they’re offered the greatest flexibility in the way they can communicate, and the amount of hours they work and when.”
Retailers have also started to use online surveys to engage their workforce and collect feedback, says Daniel Debow, co-CEO and co-founder of Rypple in Toronto. “They find it is a good way to get honest, direct answers that they never had before, and that’s helpful in bringing employees into the improvement cycle.”
Jason Perlman, marketing director for Jean Machine, says that social networking has become a big part of its recruitment and retention picture. “We have a very social, very active and very motivated workforce,” he explains. “Retention is definitely tough, so retailers need to create a comfortable group environment that they enjoy being part of. That’s why it’s important to offer tools that fit within their lifestyle and they are already very active in using in their daily lives.”
What social networking brings to the mix is a sense of community that goes beyond staff parties, he adds. “A lot of our stores use Facebook to communicate with each other. There is also tons of teamwork being done through instant messaging. It’s all about embracing existing technology and using it to create your own culture.”
Social networking is also a way for employees to be seen as unique individuals in a company’s eyes, Balfour says. “In this day and age, a person isn’t just a resume anymore. Each time they use a blog or post something on Facebook, they leave a footprint and establish a connection with us… It’s fascinating. Some say it’s the way of the future. But we know it’s going on right now.”