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Why strong culture delivers business results
Vital Stats: Stephanie Nash joined RedMart in August 2015 as chief people officer based in Singapore. Before this, she was part of the HR leadership team in Asia Pacific with multinationals such as Allergan and Microsoft. Prior to this she held a variety of HR leadership roles with BHP Billiton. Over the course of her career and personal growth, she has lived and worked in the US, Chile, and Australia.
Q Having worked at a number of MNCs, what made you join RedMart in 2015? What were the first 100 days on the job like?
There were a lot of compelling reasons to join RedMart. One of them was the opportunity to unleash more than two decades of experience into an organisation that practically has a clean sheet of paper from a people and processes perspective.
Before I started in the role, I put together a 100-day plan, but I realised in my first 100 minutes at RedMart the 100-day plan was completely irrelevant. At RedMart, the pace at which we needed to move overtook having a well-documented and laid out plan. It was just that opportunity to get a sense of what was happening, what the priorities were and what I could contribute to as quickly as possible.
Q RedMart started with three co-founders in 2011 and now you have more than 1,000 employees across two locations. How did RedMart achieve such rapid growth?
We are headquartered in Singapore and have a technology hub in Bengaluru. We have a clearly articulated culture code that underpins who we are, what we do and who we select, and that has allowed us to grow the way that we’ve grown. Our co-founders really emulate that culture code – they walk the talk – and that has really allowed us to thrive.
At the same time, we have translated that culture code to attributes we use to select new employees for RedMart. We look at how they behave and if the attributes that they bring to the table are reflective of our culture, as well as the technical and functional skills in their role. It is also how we assess and think about the performance and development of our employees.
We have translated that culture code to attributes we use to select new employees for RedMart.
One of our culture codes is ‘we put our customers first and we are our customers’. The way we translate that into an attribute is that we have a question that says, ‘I put customers first’, and we have a set of questions behind that for the interviewer to ask the candidate that allows the candidate to demonstrate how they put customers first.
Q Did RedMart face any challenges in recruiting people, for example, in the fulfillment centre in Singapore?
There are a few different aspects of the diverse employee population that are similar – they’re all talent in demand and there’s a greater level of demand than it seems there is supply. Our workforce in the fulfillment centres, similar to the software development engineers, are hard to find, attract, retain and engage.
That’s one of the reasons that has led us to really look into our branding and our employee value proposition. One of the things that is really important to us and we believe is critical to our success moving forward is retaining that entrepreneurial spirit and the aspects of our culture that we define in our culture code irrespective of the size or the complexity of our business.
Q How has employer branding played a part in attracting the current workforce so far?
We hit an inflection point as a company where we have moved from being this really gritty start-up to being an organisation with quite complex operations. Hence, we set out to define our value proposition by asking our employees a set of questions.
We gave employees a set of 30 attributes and their definitions and they were asked two questions – the top seven attributes that described their experience at RedMart; and the top seven attributes they value the most.
We cut the data many different ways and looked at it from Bengaluru to Singapore to the fulfillment centre and what we saw was some commonality between what people experienced and what they value. There was this very strong theme around the people that they work with – the informal work environment, camaraderie and diversity.
Another common thread was the experiencing and the valuing of flexibility. This struck me as really interesting because I wouldn’t necessarily have thought the fulfillment centre would identify flexibility.
They are able to have predictability of their schedule and therefore flexibility in how they spend their time when not working. For example, one of our shifts is a four by three, meaning they work for four days and they are off for three days, and they find this flexibility really suits their lifestyle.
We are somewhat flexible in terms of how people work and where people work. One of the things that we value is ‘what works for you can work for us too’. As long as the job and performance level of the individual supports the flexibility that is being sought, and that individual is meeting expectations and making an impact meeting the business needs, we can support a reasonable level of mutual flexibility.
However, the nature of the role needs to support the level of flexibility they are looking for. As an example, for our employees in customer service, the nature of the work they perform and the technology they rely on aligns very closely to the operations in the fulfillment centre and the deliveries that are occurring, so their flexibility is more oriented around shift work. Whereas the software engineers or others in the office can support different work arrangements.
One of the things that we value is ‘what works for you can work for us too’.
Q What was the outcome of the employer branding exercise?
One of the outcomes was that it helped us prioritise the people initiatives we are going to roll out. We found that across the organisation, people value development opportunities, but they didn’t feel they were exposed to them sufficiently. As a result, we really put a lot of effort into building and communicating more development-oriented experiences.
We established the RedMart academy, which used to be virtual – we would go from wherever we could to hold sessions. Now we have taken over a few conference rooms, changed the look and feel and named the room ‘innovation’, and as we grow, we hope to have a bigger space.
We have developed over 18 programmes and had over 500 people through the RedMart academy so far and that’s growing in leaps and bounds. We can’t develop content fast enough and deliver programmes sufficiently to meet the demand out there, but we are working hard on that.
We developed programmes that are focused on career, peer, and remote mentoring. That programme is now available and we’re turning that into a training course.
We also really emphasise to managers and employees that development matters and that having conversations about development is important.
The overarching philosophy of the development processes is underpinned by our belief that we need to have better and more frequent conversations about performance and development throughout the year.
We are supporting that through training and development, coaching and mentoring of employees and managers on how to have those conversations and how to give and receive feedback – both positive reinforcement, as well as how to give feedback if performance is not meeting expectations.
Q How do you communicate the overall EVP, including the development opportunities available, to your employees?
We recently launched a revamped version of our external career site. In that we have articulated our EVP – ‘bring ideas, deliver the future’. ‘Bring ideas’ points to the innovation aspect of our organisation and culture, and that we are not afraid to take risks. ‘Deliver the future’ covers the customer experience and the logistics aspect of our business.
We continue to reinforce these messages externally and internally and this is the first time that we are really putting it out there in a comprehensive, clearly articulated, backed by example and data kind of way.
Q What do you expect to see from these initiatives?
Some of the results will be hard to measure, but the ones that are measurable are our ability to attract, retain and the level of engagement that we have across the organisation.
We have really talented people in our organisation and they will get phone calls from recruiters, and there may be better offers out there, but we believe that if we create an environment where people want to join and stay, that will be a measure of success.
There’s a direct correlation between what we say externally on our website, what we say internally to our employees and what we actually make available to them. There is that connectedness in terms of us doing what we say we are going to do and being who we say we are.
There’s a direct correlation between what we say externally on our website, what we say internally to our employees and what we actually make available to them.
Q I understand that RedMart has been acquired by Lazada. How does that change things for employees?
Basically it’s business as usual for our employees. They go to work in the same place, but with enhanced terms and conditions, and a greater level of certainty around the future of the organisation.
We are not being absorbed, we are not redefining our culture code. We remain autonomous, able to run our business in the way we know how and is appropriate for our customers, and we are able to provide our employees and Lazada employees with the opportunity to work across different parts of the business, in different geographies across different categories, with more predictability in the employee experience.
Q How did you communicate this plan to employees and address any concerns they might have?
We communicated to employees the intent of the Lazada Group to have a majority investment and to acquire RedMart about a month before the acquisition was completed.
I would say the employee reaction was a big sigh of relief as they no longer faced the uncertainty and ambiguity as to whether our company would survive. We continue to communicate with our employees primarily through our people managers, team meetings and in town hall sessions.
Q Post the acquisition, what are the main changes at RedMart? What does this acquisition mean for the HR function and employees?
The main changes are that we are no longer dependent on external investors, therefore the time that has more recently been spent by management on the various scenarios related to fundraising, is now spent on the strategic and operational aspects of running the business.
Additionally, we now have access to and shared commitments to partner with the Lazada teams to collaborate and find opportunities for potential synergies in how we engage and delight customers and how we run our respective businesses by leveraging each other’s strengths and demonstrated areas of expertise.
Q In line with the acquisition, how does your role change? And how will this change the way HR handles employees?
Fortunately, my role evolves in a positive way as I am now able to focus all of my efforts on helping to grow the business and to ensure we are creating an environment that enables our employees to excel to their fullest potential.
My role evolves in a positive way as I am now able to focus all of my efforts on helping to grow the business.
This includes helping to establish a bridge between the teams and functions at Lazada and RedMart so that we can find potential synergies, opportunities to collaborate and areas to leverage the unique strengths and capabilities that each bring to the table.
We will continue to communicate with our employees through various channels in an open and transparent manner on our company priorities, performance and potential development opportunities that become available.
Q Lots of people have tried and failed at the e-commerce model, not just in Singapore, but across the region. Of course, they have tried and failed for a number of reasons, but are you ensuring that doesn’t happen to you as well?
My response is not necessarily oriented or specific to companies in the e-commerce space, but applicable both to e-commerce and other start-ups. I think one of the differentiators for RedMart, and an advice I would offer, that our founders have said they would do differently in retrospect, is to have invested in the people agenda and the culture sooner.
We actually believe that a significant contributor as to how and why we survived and have been acquired by such a credible company as Alibaba’s Lazada has been due to the people and culture.
Q How do you think that sets you apart from other organisations which are perhaps able to pay top dollar to bring in talent or who can afford fancy perks in the office?
While we also have some perks in the office, I think that what has been able to differentiate us is that we foster our culture with the employees that we have.
As a result, we have created a tighter commitment, a greater sense of loyalty and a stronger belief in who we are today and what we can be in the future.
If our culture hadn’t been as strong, and the relationships and experiences that we provided to our people hadn’t been as strong, many more people would have left us in difficult times and less people would have been willing to join us during those difficult times.
The exciting news is that we are now grounded, thriving and ready for all current and future Redmartians to bring ideas and deliver the future!