Monday was meant to herald England’s so-called ‘Freedom Day’, initially planned for 21 June but now delayed until 19 July at the earliest.
It’s another blow for businesses operating in the consumer industries that rely on high levels of footfall to turn a profit. However, if the measures avoid a harsher lockdown later in the year then I suspect most business leaders will accept them as a necessity.
What the delay has done, based on recent conversations I’ve had, is push back some of the big recruitment decisions retailers plan to make until after the summer. There is currently just too much energy and resource being expended on managing the transition from step three in the government’s reopening plan to step four for retail leaders to be able to focus fully on the task of reshaping their leadership teams to thrive in a post-Covid landscape (notwithstanding the fact we still don’t fully understand what that landscape will look like).
This is reflected in the recent lack of significant retail hires. Yes, we’ve seen John Lewis Partnership bring in new personnel in senior roles but this perhaps reflects the specific urgency of the challenge facing a business that has been impacted deeply by the pandemic.
That’s not to say that change at the top won’t happen soon. On the contrary, I fully expect the floodgates to open at some point in the fourth quarter once businesses have a better sense of how consumer habits have been altered by the repeated lockdowns and restrictions of the past 18 months.
Much of the sector is still in survival mode; it’s only when businesses fully enter recovery mode they will have the confidence to make those big strategic decisions that will impact the personnel they require over the next three, five or ten years.
I have written before how the recovery from coronavirus will require a skillset that some current executives simply won’t possess. In particular, those people with cross-functional strategic and transformation skills will be in high demand across all roles and sectors, as will those with more specific digital and customer expertise.
Retailers will be looking externally for talent as well as seeking to promote from within those people that have performed strongly over the past 18 months, showing themselves to be both adaptable and strategic.
Another trend that will become increasingly prevalent is the disappearance of rigid job specifications. First and foremost, businesses want talented people and will be prepared to mould roles to fit their capabilities.
They will also be looking further down the organisation to identify the talent that will form their future leadership team, ideally people with experience across multiple functions and exposure to how the business really works.
From a jobs market perspective, we are currently in the calm before the storm. When that storm does arrive later in the year, retailers will need to work hard to secure the talent that will lead their recovery.