High-Volume Hiring Lessons From a Retail Giant

Devin Foster

This blog recaps the Feb. 11 Talent Experience Live featuring Kim Nicholas, Head of Talent Acquisition at The Warehouse Group. Learn about their peak hiring wins, employee experience success, and future TA plans! 
 

The Warehouse Group (TWG) is indeed a retail giant. Employing over 12,000 people across New Zealand with a store support office in Auckland, 260+ retail stores, multiple online stores, and distribution and fulfillment centers throughout the country, the company has devoted more than 30 years to its people, its customers, and its communities. 

And like other companies of its size, managing its people strategy during the pandemic required a powerful, proactive response. 
 

Kim Nicholas, who heads up Talent Acquisition for TWG, joined us on Talent Experience Live, to discuss how her team overcame peak hiring challenges last year — and how they leveraged Phenom’s Employee Experience to support a company-wide reorg at the same time.
 

Watch the episode here — and catch highlights from the show below!
 


Adjusting to New Zealand's First Lockdown 
 

2020 was a big year for TWG. They had a major company reorg to switch to a more agile way of working, a simultaneous internal mobility initiative on internal mobility, and… then the pandemic hit.
 

During New Zealand's first lockdown, TWG needed to close its stores, so there was a brief period of time when employees either worked from home or didn't go to work at all. But "Within a week, we were able to open our stores up again for essential items only, so we really quickly had to turn around and get our distribution team back in store," she recounted.
 

Essential to the process? Ensuring things were operating as smoothly as possible — from safely reopening stores to supporting employees in different circumstances. At the heart of it all was flexibility, which their recently launched AI-powered employee portal helped promote by offering a way to easily and transparently communicate to internal candidates. And now that operations at TWG feel "kind of back to normal," Nicholas noted that some of the changes that took place are here to stay — like a more agile work environment and generous work-from-home policy for knowledge workers. 
 

"People are really appreciating the flexibility now that we have a lot more than we did have prior [to the pandemic]," she said. 
 


The "Perfect Storm" of Closing New Zealand's Borders and Hiring for The Holidays
 

At the time, TWG had what some might call a “perfect storm” of events: borders were closed, seasonal hiring was at its peak, and there were major restructures taking place. A key piece of managing the hiring process as efficiently as possible was having a really good screening tool, said Nicholas.
 

"We knew we were going to have an influx of more applications," Nicholas said. "We had around 17,000 applications compared to about 10,000 the prior year, and we wouldn't have done it if we didn't have a really good screening tool."
By applying key values that matched TWG's new way of agile working, they were even able to reduce time to hire and improve quality of hire, she revealed.
 

But Nicholas anticipates that the process for 2021 will be markedly different from last year. Although the holiday season isn't currently top of mind for consumers, TWG has to start getting ready in August. A big part of that preparation is staffing for the peak hiring season — and the funnel has already tightened compared to the increase seen last year, she said.
 

This year we're really going to have to work a lot harder on campaigns, ramping up to drive processes using Phenom to push out to the 100,000 applicants that we've got in our system." 
 


 


Measuring Effectiveness when Competition is at Its Highest
 

With a greater focus on talent marketing campaigns, also comes a greater focus on analytics to see what is and isn't working. For Nicholas, measurements that ultimately help decrease time to hire and increase quality of hire are particularly important now that they've got new processes and supportive systems in place.
 

The value of robust analytics lend key insights to properly communicate to the right candidates, increase more completed candidate applications, better assess new hires and productivity, and help retain workers in positions that traditionally experience higher turnover rates, such as night-shift stocking roles.  
 

To avoid such turnover, TWG will rely on tech-enabled communication with applicants that explains role requirements more transparently while fueling their pipeline with more best-fit candidates.
 


 


Nicholas and her team also moved a lot of their recruiting efforts in-house instead of outsourcing them to an agency — which has resulted in a "huge" change for the better despite the increased volume.
 

Part of how they differentiate themselves from competitors is showcasing their company culture, their people, and their active community and environmental contributions on their external career sites. This type of personalized employer branding can be instrumental in attracting top candidates whose values align with the company's, giving them an authentic look at the culture and opportunities that await.
 

Agility Unveils A New Way of Working and Developing Careers 
 


During the pandemic, TWG was also adjusting to a company-wide reorg, which had a massive focus on agility and internal mobility. Using Phenom's Employee Experience, they were able to not only easily educate employees, but also drive excitement and adoption of their new employee portal.  
 

She and her team expanded TWG's employee portal to include more than 35 pages of important information, including organizational structure, HR support pages, and recruitment pages with internal job opportunities. "We could put anything on there, and it was super easy to build the pages up," Nicholas noted, touting the use of videos, org charts, and job descriptions.
 

Nicholas isn't the only one praising their new employee experience tech — internal engagement has been through the roof since the portal launched. "We had 1,400 new signups within three days, which was just awesome ... that conversion rate, the time on the pages was just phenomenal. And it really showed us how we could leverage the content and information we had in the right way for our team."
 


 


RELATED CONTENT: Find out how logistics leader Kuehne+Nagel built a scalable internal sourcing strategy with Phenom Employee Experience!
 

Looking Ahead: Initiatives to Guide TWG through Challenges
 

Moving forward, Nicholas is excited to push targeted campaigns to internal and external candidates — especially to help occupy hard-to-fill roles as New Zealand's borders remain closed. "We have a lot of things set up that we will push campaigns through," she said. "Brand ambassador stories, videos, and utilizing over 100,000 unique applicants on the system." 
 


Instead of just pushing jobs, however, they want to nurture candidates by giving them content they actually want to receive. "It's about what we can do for them," Nicholas emphasized, noting it's the same approach they take with their customers.
 

And in retail, when your candidates are your customers, that is a winning strategy 
 


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