Talent management is an essential tool that can contribute to an organization’s success by enhancing performance, innovation, and employee motivation. This practice is especially valuable for large firms working in highly competitive business environments. Marks and Spenser (M&S) is an international retail company based in London, United Kingdom. Over the years, it has developed an effective human resources (HR) management strategy, counting talent recruitment and retention among the key focal areas. The present paper will seek to identify and discuss the company’s talent management strategy, evaluate the influence of environmental and regulatory factors and propose recommendations for improvement.
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Part I: Background and Practices
M&S Business Strategy
As a company that operates in a highly competitive retail market, Marks and Spencer require a solid, effective business strategy to aid in the company’s growth. At the core of this strategy is the firm’s unique business model, which focuses on delivering great value for money (M&S, 2019). This approach requires the company to control costs without sacrificing the quality of materials, designs, and services, which can be made possible by using innovative technologies and ensuring commitment on the part of employees.
A significant part of Marks and Spencer’s business strategy involves allowing customers more choice. The company’s shops offer a wide range of products from home accessories to clothing (M&S 2019). Products such as shoes and clothing also have a great variety in terms of sizes and color schemes. This aspect of Marks and Spencer’s business strategy is critical to the firm’s performance as it expands the target market. For example, by offering clothing in large sizes, the brand attracts customers who would usually only shop in plus-size brands. Although such variety complicates the company’s internal processes, requiring adjustments in production, the benefits of this strategy outweigh the costs by increasing sales volume.
Lastly, according to the 2018 Annual Report, the company is now in the midst of a large-scale transformation process designed to ensure that Marks and Spencer can succeed in the contemporary market. This change involves enhancing the consumer value proposition, re-designing the sales structure, and improving operations (M&S 2019). For example, the company is planning to diversify its range of food offerings, switch from clearance sales to full-price sales, develop the digital shopping experience and reduce production and distribution costs (M&S 2019).
These changes will most likely allow Marks and Spencer to improve its position in the UK market as well as in some global markets. Nevertheless, the company requires the full commitment of its staff along with successful talent management to ensure that the change process is implemented smoothly.
M&S HR Strategy
The success of Marks and Spencer in the business arena is a direct result of the company’s efficient human resource management. The company recognizes the input of every worker, which is why a significant part of its strategic report is focused on the people in the organization: “M&S has a longstanding tradition of employing excellent colleagues and creating an engaging and motivating working environment” (M&S 2019). The role of HR in the company is therefore prominent and involves functions such as recruitment, selection, motivation, training, and performance management. The present section will explain various HR strategies in these areas and show how they help Marks and Spencer to enhance talent management.
Recruitment strategies are a critical part of Marks and Spencer’s human resource management strategy as they facilitate attracting new talent to the organization. To achieve this goal, Marks and Spencer use three recruitment strategies: targeted recruitment, partnerships with schools and universities, and job advertising both on the M&S Career portal and in stores (M&S 2019). Targeted recruitment is typically used for high-level positions and involves offering a job vacancy to a particular person having known achievements and competencies. This means that the prospective employee has a history of accomplishment in other companies and possesses the skills necessary to enhance the success of Marks and Spencer.
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To attract young workers for entry-level positions, Marks and Spencer draws on partnerships with schools and universities and offers programs for internships, placements, and postgraduate employment. Recruiting graduates and students is a potent HR strategy because it helps attract fresh talent with excellent academic knowledge in appropriate areas. Researchers also note that, provided the organization offers professional development opportunities, recent university graduates are likely to stay in the company for a long time, reducing costs associated with recruitment, selection, and induction training over time (McCracken, Currie & Harrison 2016).
Lastly, posting job advertisements on the M&S website and in brick-and-mortar stores is a useful recruitment strategy, particularly because it attracts applicants who are already interested in the brand and its products. For this reason, Marks and Spencer do not employ independent job search platforms, a strategy that enables the company to narrow down the pool of applicants, thus supporting the selection process.
Selection methods used by Marks and Spencer vary depending on the type of recruitment strategy. To identify talents in targeted recruitment, Marks and Spencer use information gathered from recruitment agencies and references obtained from existing staff members (M&S 2019). This is a potent talent management strategy because it enhances the selection process and ensures that a candidate can perform well in the chosen position, a particularly critical factor when recruiting for top positions (Collings, Mellahi & Cascio 2018).
The selection process for students, graduates, and other external applicants follows a different path. Candidates are typically invited to use the M&S Careers portal to complete an application. At this stage, all candidates undergo mandatory screening, which takes the form of online tests and further in-store field evaluations. The assessments used by Marks and Spenser vary for different positions, evaluating the specific skills and competencies of each candidate. According to Mensah (2015), aptitude tests and assessments help attract new talent to the organization. Hence, the recruitment process in Marks and Spencer is an active component of talent management for the firm.
Marks and Spencer do not openly share its performance management strategy in official documents or statements. The company, which uses a wide range of KPI measures to assess performance, states that its approach to performance management is outcome-based (M&S, 2019). These factors fit into a performance appraisal and management method called management by objectives (MBO).
In this effective albeit relatively recent approach to performance management, companies define their goals and translate these into employee performance indicators (Aksoy & Bayazit 2014). For example, if a company’s goal is to enhance customer service, the target for store workers would be to have a high customer satisfaction score. If a company is focused on enlarging revenue, store employees will be evaluated based on sales volume in a given period.
Marks and Spencer perform monthly appraisals with additional quarterly and annual reviews (M&S 2019). This allows the company to track the implementation and success of its business strategy in real-time and make any necessary alterations. To support performance management, employees showing excellent results in appraisals receive rewards and recognition by the scheme identified in the next section. As a consequence, performance appraisals and the firm’s management methods motivate employees to show their best, contributing to talent management.
Rewards and Recognition
Rewards are an essential part of performance management because they encourage employees to work towards achieving goals. Hence, Marks and Spencer offer two types of rewards and benefits: performance-based rewards and general rewards. General rewards apply to all company workers regardless of their performance and include employee discounts, corporate schemes such as Share buy, Salary Sacrifice, and Sharesave, and an annual bonus based on the company’s overall financial performance (M&S Careers n.d.). While these bonuses do not contribute to performance management in the organization, their usefulness lies in attracting new talent to Marks and Spencer.
Performance-based bonuses, in contrast, are aimed at existing workers who are willing to develop and grow with the organization. For Marks and Spencer, these include quarterly benefits, the Performance Share Plan, and industry awards (M&S 2019).
The Performance Share Plan is applied primarily to top management, delivering company shares in return for excellent performance (M&S 2019). Industry awards are available to all employees; these include Marks and Spencer providing prizes, monetary and non-monetary, to its best employees and stores (M&S 2019). Such performance-based bonuses help to motivate workers, achieving better business outcomes.
Training and Development
Employee development at Marks and Spencer is focused mostly on training and mentoring programs. For instance, according to the company’s annual report, Marks and Spencer offer business school training as well as senior management mentoring and coaching schemes to develop employees’ skill mix (M&S 2019). Store employees also receive additional training in customer service to enhance the customer experience.
Offering a variety of training programs allows organizations such as Marks and Spencer to develop an internal talent pipeline and improve performance (Schiemann 2014). Festing and Schäfer (2014) also note that training and skill development reinforce the psychological contract between an employee and an organization, improving commitment and engagement levels and enhancing retention rates.
Similarly, mentoring and coaching schemes help to improve employees’ skills, thus contributing to talent management. These strategies are particularly useful for developing leadership capacities and identifying talent for promotions (Corner 2014). Most employees perceive successful persons, such as high-level managers, as authority figures, and the latter also possess unique experience and knowledge of the company. Therefore, mentoring further assists employees in their professional growth and improves their performance in their current position.
Part II: Legislative Environment
Legislation has a significant effect on HR practices because it influences hiring and compensation in a company. For Marks and Spencer, the key legislative document in this area is the 2010 Equality Act, which protects individuals from discrimination based on race, sex, disability, religion, and age (“Equality Act 2010: guidance” 2015). In particular, the Act stipulates that all people should receive equal pay and equal opportunities concerning employment. The legislation allows employees to file complaints regarding workplace discrimination, which could lead to legal action against the company (“Equality Act 2010: guidance” 2015). Therefore, ensuring appropriate employment conditions is vital for Marks and Spencer in complying with the law.
To reduce discrimination and promote diversity, the company has committed to improving its internal environment for all employees and has made adjustments to HR practices. For example, Marks and Spencer have pursued efforts to promote employment for persons from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, members of the LGBT+ community, and persons with disabilities (M&S 2019). The company’s management is also taking action to monitor and reduce pay gaps, reporting that the mean gender pay gap stands at 12.3%, lower than the industry average (M&S 2019). Future activity in these two areas will help the organization to ensure compliance with the law and create a positive internal environment beneficial for all employees.
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Part III: Corporate Social Responsibility
While reducing discrimination is necessary to establish legal compliance, maintaining corporate social responsibility (CSR) is essential to fostering a positive image for the company. The critical aspect of Marks and Spencer’s CSR strategy is enhancing sustainability by addressing environmental risks, such as emissions, energy use, and waste (M&S 2019). For large companies, engaging in sustainability initiatives is crucial because they have the most significant impact on the environment (Sheffi 2018). Therefore, by acknowledging and improving its influence on the environment, Marks and Spencer are building a positive brand image.
Other efforts related to CSR in Marks and Spencer concern enhancing relationships with local communities and suppliers. According to the company’s report, Marks and Spencer contribute to local communities through improving infrastructure, providing jobs, and running fundraising events (M&S 2019). The firm also monitors suppliers’ labor practices to prevent modern slavery and includes low-income populations, such as farmers, in its supplier base, thus helping their development (M&S 2019). Both of these aspects of Marks and Spencer’s strategy are having a beneficial effect on its corporate image, attracting not only customers but also prospective employees.
Part IV: Core Position Analysis
The core position in Marks and Spencer is the store manager because these individuals can influence sales and customer service, thus improving financial performance. The main information related to this position is as follows:
- Job description: A store manager oversees all internal operations within the store, including recruitment, selection, training, motivation, marketing, performance evaluation, and record-keeping. Store managers are required to report performance to regional management and should ensure that their store has the resources and staff to operate effectively.
- Person specification: A store manager must have prior experience in retail work, preferably in management. This employee should have a positive job attitude and be highly motivated to achieve great results. Key skills required for success in this job include communication, conflict resolution, motivation, leadership, customer service, accounting, and performance management.
- Recruitment channels: A store manager should be hired through internal recruitment, meaning that the best store employees having strong leadership potential should be offered this job. Internal recruitment is beneficial as it ensures that the manager will have sufficient knowledge of the company and its internal processes.
- Selection methods: Store managers should be selected based on individual performance appraisals and standardized candidate screening used for applicants at Marks and Spencer. This will ensure that the candidate has sufficient skills, knowledge, and motivation to succeed in a leadership position.
- Performance management criteria: The performance of store managers should be judged based on the sales performance of their store and in-store customer satisfaction rates as well as by relevant HR metrics, including turnover, job satisfaction, and engagement.
These specifications help to clarify desirable job behaviors, knowledge, skills, and attitudes critical to the success of store managers. The recruitment, selection, and performance management plans identified above will allow Marks and Spencer to find excellent candidates and ensure that their work results remain consistent. Consequently, they will also assist in improving the financial performance and customer satisfaction rates of Marks and Spencer stores, thus helping the company to achieve its development objectives.
Part V: Recommendations
Although the chosen strategy for HR management enables Marks and Spencer to attract, develop and retain talent, some limitations remain that could affect the firm’s effectiveness in this area. First, as noted in the annual review, the company suffers from a bureaucratic culture with poor accountability and staff-led decision-making processes (M&S 2019). According to a study by Kontoghiorghes (2016), organizational culture plays a critical role in talent management success because it impacts the attitudes of the management along with internal decision-making processes.
While staff-led decision-making is not necessarily a negative practice autonomy improves employee development and motivation (Collings, Mellahi & Cascio 2017) – poor accountability and the laid-back attitude of the management could be harmful.
Hence, it is advised that Marks and Spencer should create a change in its organizational culture by enhancing the internal structure of teams and processes. This will allow the top management to implement any further talent management initiatives successfully while also ensuring clarity in terms of duties and processes. Instead of introducing centralized decision-making, which could discourage employees from taking initiative in their areas, Marks and Spencer should establish a shared decision-making model with adequate supervision and define a path of accountability for various processes (Collings, Mellahi & Cascio 2017).
This will promote effective decision-making on all organizational levels while also allowing employees to exercise their autonomy, thus developing their professional capacity. As a result of these changes, the organization will improve talent management by removing barriers to positive HR practices and developing the staff’s competencies.
Second, the review also highlights the issues of communication and innovation in the company: “This top-down silo structure has been compounded by a very strong sense of hierarchy which often means that ideas and challenges do not feed back to the leadership and the value of our passionate store management talent does not get exploited” (M&S 2019, p. 9). Poor communication is among the key obstacles in talent management, possibly resulting in impaired innovation (Tafti, Mahmoudsalehi & Amiri 2017).
As a consequence, it is recommended for Marks and Spencer to enhance internal communication using a two-way, transparent communication scheme that connects all employees to management. This will help to successfully implement any changes in HR and talent management practices while also promoting idea sharing, leading to improved innovation.
Lastly, it is recommended that Marks and Spencer should enhance the range of training opportunities available to employees. The analysis of the company’s HR practices suggests that the company focuses its training schemes on business training and on-the-job induction (M&S 2019). While these may help employees in their professional development, the company could also greatly enhance its talent management by offering training in creativity skills and leadership. Creativity training is effective in promoting innovation as it allows employees to develop problem-solving abilities and out-of-the-box thinking (Ritter & Mostert 2017).
Leadership training, on the other hand, will assist Marks and Spencer in preparing existing employees for new professional opportunities. Such in-house talent development schemes are effective because they promote retention and reduce reliance on external recruitment while creating a committed and motivated workforce (Chartered Institute of Professional Development [CIPD] 2017). Hence, this recommendation promises to have a positive influence on the talent environment in Marks and Spencer.
On the whole, Marks and Spencer is a well-established company with a strong business strategy that allows it to deliver consistently high-performance outcomes. The HR strategy of the company is effective in attracting and retaining talent in the organization. Nevertheless, Marks and Spencer are experiencing some issues in organizational culture, decision-making, communication, and innovation, influencing the effectiveness of HR practices for talent management. The proposed recommendations are based on research evidence and can thus help to address barriers to talent management in Marks and Spencer along with increasing the role of employees in the company’s success by contributing to their skills and autonomy.
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