What's it like to work in HR at Harvey Nichols?

2 Jan 2018 By Emily Burt

Julie Holdaway on a visit from Rihanna, and life in one of the country’s most glamorous HR departments

What have been your main challenges in your role at Harvey Nichols, and how close do you feel you are to solving them?

Harvey Nichols is a unique customer-facing brand – our main challenge last year was to really harness that brand value to develop an employer value proposition. A good EVP is essential not only for attracting top talent, but for delivering an internal experience that retains and engages employees so they feel capable of developing a long-term career with us.

We launched our improved careers website, and new work experience and apprenticeship offers, as well as an internal range of tools including an employer onboarding programme, competency workshops, a group-wide talent management process and an online peer-to-peer recognition scheme. For the remainder of the financial year we will be focusing on finessing and embedding these initiatives, and finding new and better ways of working.

People assume HR in Harvey Nichols is as glamorous as it gets. What's the reality?

This is a glamorous place to work, not just for HR but for everyone. A particular highlight last year was launching Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty range – she made a personal appearance and met people from the various departments who had been involved in the launch, as well as those working in store. It’s very important for the Harvey Nichols culture that our staff are treated as well as any customer, which is backed up by a healthy discount for our employees.

How does the strength of your employer brand translate into the quality of candidates when you are recruiting?

People have always wanted to work with the brand; last year, we were working on improving the conversation around building our employer voice and outlining what you can expect of us as an employer, to encourage greater self-selection among our candidates. Particularly when it comes to places like London (much like our competitors), staff can be more transient given there are plenty of opportunities to work in different places, but Harvey Nichols does not experience anywhere near the levels of turnover I’ve previously been used to in retail.

How is Brexit likely to affect you, in terms of both current and future talent, and what steps are you taking to mitigate that?

Our biggest challenge has been in recruiting hospitality and bar staff, particularly in London. Of course Brexit is playing a big part in this, but there are always new restaurants opening up, in central and regional areas, where competition for staff is very fierce. We are taking steps to tackle it – with the launch of the new website, we have for the first time an area dedicated to hospitality careers and provision, and we are launching our first apprenticeship schemes for front and back of house hospitality roles, which will be rolled out shortly. We are not only focusing on this, but developing improved work experience and internship positions to attract talent into the business, reaching out to selected colleges and universities with information about the great range of jobs and careers with us.

How are you encouraging learning across the organisation?

When I arrived at Harvey Nichols, L&D worked quite separately from the HR function. I was committed to changing this, which meant getting everybody around the table – the head of L&D, talent management, operational HR and internal comms – and coming up with a combined solution for each phase of our employee journey. For the first time, HR and L&D were working together on content; when you are talking about managing performance, difficult conversations or recruiting people, your HR business partners are the people with the skills to feed into those training materials.

Everything about L&D and HR should be linked: you are never training for training’s sake, you are training the right amount of people so they can move into certain positions once they have the right skillsets. My vision for the future is an online Harvey Nichols L&D academy that houses everything, so people have more flexibility about how they access L&D. But there will still be face-to-face, on-the-job training – that will come first.

Julie Holdaway will be speaking at the Chief HR Officer Exchange, bringing together 50 senior HR executives and decision-makers from across the UK and Europe, on 30-31 January. It will be hosted by IQPC Corporate

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