Skills and Talent
Storytelling is key to attracting talent for The Very Group
19 January 2023 • 5 min read
It’s one of the key characteristics of achieving digital greatness, but how does any organisation attract and retain talent? Ahead of joining our upcoming Magnets for Talent webinar aimed at answering that question, we sat down with Sean Allen, Head of Talent Acquisition at The Very Group, to explore the core ingredients to attracting and retaining the best.
How vital has digital talent become for The Very Group’s success?
Sean Allen (SA): Digital talent is critical to our success being an e-commerce retailer. But I’d also say digital talent is critical to any business, especially seeing the impact of COVID and the way many organisations are driving their progress in the digital space.
It’s key for us to ensure we’re offering our customers the best experience possible on our platforms and it’s also key internally that we are ensuring our employees have the best technology available to them to perform their roles and serve our customers.
How do you attract the best digital talent?
SA: To attract any talent in the current market you need to ensure you are telling your story and showcasing what any prospective employee will get from you as an employer. We all know the market is competitive, and not just in tech/digital.
For us it’s been about really telling our story to the external market. We want potential candidates to understand where we are currently at as a business and a tech function, and where we are heading. This isn’t just about attracting the right candidates for now; it’s allowing candidates to self-select out before they even think about applying as they may decide we’re not the right company for them at the current stage in their career.
By telling our story it’s enabled us to attract the right candidates to help us on our tech journey and really be a part of something big.
We’ve also made some strategic partnerships with Hackajob and Manchester Digital on top of existing relationships with the likes of SheCanCode and Women in Data to help gain access to great talent and collaborate on more external facing content (blogs, podcasts, events etc.). We’ve also looked at routes into our tech/data/product teams and are working to strategically expand our reach through graduate schemes, apprenticeships, career returners and, of course, hiring experienced candidates.
Once you’ve attracted the best talent, how do you retain it?
SA: We continue to invest, and not just from a salary/package perspective. We invest in continued technical and/or leadership growth and development. Our Academies team recently rolled out Udemy across The Very Group allowing all of our people free access. We also have lots of different business areas within tech, enabling people to move across different business and product areas, giving them different challenges to work on and new colleagues to work with.
We invest heavily in work life balance and wellbeing. We operate a self-organising hybrid model allowing teams and individuals to do what works for them. Whether they’re a parent, carer, pet parent or have a hefty commute, the way teams self-organise allows everyone to get the best from themselves.
We also have a low ego culture with candidates and employees really aligning to our values. We value everyone’s input at whatever stage of their career they are at and want to ensure everyone’s voice is heard so we create the best outcomes for our customers.
Tell us about the journey The Very Group has been on to reach its position as a talent magnet.
The blend of COVID and Brexit impacted the shape of the UK market. Offering flexible hybrid working opened up talent pools for us, as it did for everyone, but the lack of coordination on hiring requirements meant we didn’t always focus on the most important roles. That left gaps in the permanent headcount being plugged by external resources, increasing costs to the business.
We’re on a large tech transformation journey so the Talent Acquisition (TA) team really needed to realign itself with the business to ensure we were targeting the most critical vacancies and securing the right talent at the right time. We also sat down with the Tech Leadership team and Employer Brand Manager to understand our story so we could tell it to the market. We realigned our processes with hiring managers to create smoother candidate and hiring manager experiences and ensure quicker turnarounds.
We also looked at our other routes into tech, such as graduate schemes and apprenticeships. Working with our Head of Academies and his team, we also launched our first ever Career Returners programme. We’ve recently hired our second cohort following its initial success.
What are the core ingredients for attracting digital talent?
SA: Collaboration and clarity. We know we have a great culture for talent to come to, but did the market know that? I feel we have a great company, full of wonderful people to work with. We needed to showcase that to the market and show what we can offer candidates. Not just an inclusive work environment and the benefits you get, but the investment we put into people’s everyday learning. We know when people join they will add value, but we were keen to show what candidates get in return in terms of their career development.
What have been the biggest challenges?
It’s a tough market so we’ve continued to look at how and where we bring talent into the business. We’ve seen great success but we’ve still had challenges with some vacancies. To overcome those we’ve continued to ask ourselves what core skills we actually need and remove things like ‘desirable skills’ from our adverts to avoid putting off candidates we would want to hear from.
What difference has your approach to talent acquisition and retention made to the business?
I think by really working more closely and collaboratively with our tech and data teams, we’ve truly been able to understand the roles and opportunities in greater depth and showcase this to the external market.
We’ve made real waves in the last 18 months and we’re starting to see the reward in a much lower open vacancy rate. That has allowed the TA team and hiring managers to really focus on the key requirements as they arise. It’s also been great to see lots of internal mobility across tech and even the wider business – we’ve seen some people move from other areas into tech.
How do you maintain and develop The Very Group’s appeal to digital talent?
The journey we’re on is really exciting and we have to continue on that path. We need to keep iterating and constantly looking for ways we improve how we do things, and continue to strengthen the external partnerships we have to keep telling our tech story to the wider market.