Jumping the fence – Swapping the shop floor for a seat at the table

Today I asked myself, “Are employers missing out on a pool of talent with an inherent customer focus, waiting for the opportunity to step into the head office environment and make a difference?”

Not out loud obviously. There’s not enough punctuation in that sentence for a start. It has been a question which I’ve pondered for a while now though.

At university, I studied Music Technology. “What’s that?” I hear you ask.

Well, I’ll tell you what it isn’t. A career.

Around half way through my third year, I realised, like many other graduates, that I was unlikely to fall out of university into a job in my field of study.

Due to the mountain of crippling debt I had decided to take on, I thought I ought to enter some kind of employment.

Retail came to the rescue.

Having worked for Fat Face before university, I naturally veered back towards clothing retail, bagging a job at White Stuff on a zero hour contract. It sounds like rocky start to working life but here’s the kicker, I absolutely loved it.

The next few years were full of excitement. I had inspiring managers, awful managers, huge achievements and crushing failures but one thing remained constant and that was my unwavering interest in every aspect of retail business. I became fixated on the relationship between customers and companies and took any chance I found to preach my philosophy and realise that through my teams.

By the time I became a deputy manager, I had started to have ideas above my station and was running out of colleagues to share my grand schemes with. They may have been avoiding me, this is beside the point.

I began to master operational processes, understand buying, merchandising and marketing and how they all effected the performance of stores.

I started to build relationships with head office departments and directors and this only served to clarify what I had been thinking.

If I want to influence overall retail strategy, I need to swap the shop floor for a seat at the table.

This is where I hit a road block. From my deputy manager days to my current area manager role I have been seeking out a suitable crossover to make my move a reality. But alas.

There have been many cases of store based employees taking on an entry level role in merchandising, allocation, marketing and so on, however, salaries very rarely stack up to experience a store manager or equivalent could bring to a role.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand there will be sacrifices and compromises. I’m sure there are lot of people in a similar position who are just as willing to drop their pay in return for more responsibility and better progression.

The age old adage of transferable skills comes to mind but in this case transferable behaviours are more important. An employee with a good working knowledge of the business, the ability to adapt and manage change should trump an outside candidate every time. Does your business want someone with a preconceived idea of how the role should be performed, based on an entirely different companies structure?

Credit: Oliver Bendorf

I have heard companies talk about closing the gap between head office and the stores and I can’t think of a better way to achieve this then by creating clear progression paths from store management into head office roles.

Similarly, if companies want a diverse, creative workforce, they should actively seek candidates with varied experience. Make an out of the box appointment and I’m sure you’ll find; that person will challenge the norm and help your organisation to evolve.

This is just my experience but it seems to be a typical one. I’d love to hear what others have to say.

Have you made the jump? Are you a recruiter who actively looks for candidates with shop floor experience to place into head office? Or does your company see this as a viable consistent progression path?

Thanks for reading, comment below or if you’re feeling daring, share with your network.