These are testing times in grocery’s ‘squeezed middle’. The big four have been struck by food price deflation, the rise of the discounters and a growth in online shopping, forcing them to accept that structural weaknesses must be addressed. This means shedding organisational fat and simplifying management structures.
For many employees, the axe has already fallen. Last summer, Asda cut 1,360 store management roles saying, presciently, that others would have to follow suit. Asda should be applauded for being the first to take such a hard, but necessary, decision.
One area I’d identify as being vulnerable is the trading division. Buyers have come under intense scrutiny for aggressive practices, which, in Tesco’s case, have attracted the attention of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. With Dave Lewis promising to change the way Tesco does business, it would appear a good time for the supermarkets to have a clear-out of their ‘old school’ buyers, many of whom will lack the interpersonal skills needed to adapt to a more collaborative approach.
As for people seeking a job with a big four grocer, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is still demand for top-quality candidates. But what we’re increasingly seeing is clients willing to cast the net outside the immediate competition. Tesco’s appointment of Dave Lewis and Matt Davies to the two most senior posts in the UK is testament to a more open-minded approach and a tacit acknowledgement that grocery can learn from other sectors.
One of our objectives is to use our industry knowledge to find the right candidate, be they from a grocer, a supplier or a non-food retailer. Diversity will continue to be our big focus in 2015. All searches should have diversity at their heart and clients should be prepared to look beyond the obvious hire and consider candidates who share their values, thinking long term. Candidates, meanwhile, need to be flexible, which means having the open-mindedness to seek positions outside their comfort zone.
The grocers are shedding weight and, with the right recruitment strategy, they’ll soon be fit to launch a new assault on the market.
Tony Gregg is chief executive of Anthony Gregg Partnership