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Company Culture in the Retail Industry: Troubleshooting Your Top 4 Challenges

Navigating Culture in the Retail Industry

Company culture is not one-size-fits-all, and that’s especially evident when it comes to company culture in the retail industry. These HR managers and recruiters must hire, retain, and motivate large numbers of hourly workers, create and maintain a company culture that represents the brand across states and sometimes oceans, all while navigating the changes in the industry.Fortunately, if this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone, and technology is making it increasingly easier to work through these challenges. Here’s a look at four common barriers to crafting a positive company culture in retail and how you can troubleshoot them:


Challenge 1: Company culture varies by geographic location

Maintaining a cohesive culture across locations is a challenge for any organization. However, when a software company might have 1-2 offices per region, a retail organization could have 10+ stores per region, in addition to their corporate offices. This makes creating a shared employee and culture experience even more difficult.

Solution: Align around mission and values and empower regional managers

Your company’s mission and values should be the common thread that unites employees and connects them to a larger purpose. For example, employees at Wawa are reminded that they’re not just making sandwiches–they’re helping friends and neighbors have a better day.” For a company with stores on every other block in various cities, this type of thinking pays off: Wawa is responsible for selling one in every five cups of coffee in its active regions.However, sometimes variation by location is intentional, such as with grocery retailer Whole Foods and fashion retailer Zara, where the location picks up the flavor, feel, and products of its geographic location; stepping into each location is like stepping into a new store. The key to balancing this natural (and welcomed) variation with a cohesive culture is to align around the mission and values as a common compass, while empowering local management to make the best decisions for their region. For example, the hypothetical value of “always be learning,” could take on different shapes depending on location. It is the responsibility of local management to determine how to incorporate the local flavor and priorities into value-based programming.This strategy has worked well for Texas-based grocery chain HEB. In an HBR article, the president and COO explained: “The key is pushing decision making to those who know best — partners in our stores — and having great leaders and partners to be constantly learning and working to evolve our business.”


Challenge 2: High turnover for hourly workers

According to recent research, turnover for hourly retail workers is higher than ever, a shocking 65% of hourly store employees compared to 18% in corporate positions. Unfortunately, many factors contribute to these high rates, including low hourly wages, strenuous work, and poor working conditions. Even worse, HR managers and recruiters often feel powerless to change these conditions due to limiting economic factors or simply the nature of the work. But what HR managers can do is listen.

Solution: Give all employees a voice by collecting ongoing employee feedback

The best way to understand why your hourly employees leave and what your organization can do to help them stay is to ask them and take action accordingly. Collecting regular feedback and consolidating it in a single platform will empower you with data to align stakeholders and make informed decisions. Further, hourly workers that might not usually have a voice in these matters will feel heard and valued. Take some time to understand and account for any potential barriers employees might face when providing feedback. For example, do employees feel comfortable providing their honest opinions? Partner with a third party to make surveys anonymous. Are employees having a hard time getting to a computer to take the survey? Provide mobile access to the surveys, or even designate time for employees to take the survey on a shared terminal in the break room. Or maybe some team members don’t feel comfortable taking the survey in English. Provide the survey in multiple languages and allow individuals to choose their preferred language. While a responsive culture starts with employee surveys, it doesn’t end there. Use the results to craft clear follow-up communications and action plans tailored by location. You should focus on up to three areas of focus (though one would be better, as Google, Zappos, and Apple all attest). Using the buy-in you’ve developed, spread that focus through division, branch, and store managers so that employees across locations understand how their feedback contributed to change.And remember, not all positive changes require big spending! For example, a high percentage of hourly employees are just as interested in soft benefits, like a relaxed dress code (30 percent), opportunities for growth (56 percent), and flexible scheduling (80 percent).

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