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Getting the goods on Consumer Goods

February 2023

Phew. Another January is in the books.

I don’t know about you but it’s far from my favourite time of year. Yes, there’s something about turning the page and starting anew but let’s face it, as months go there’s not much to shout about. Too cold. Too dark. Too long.

I’m writing this at the start of February — still early enough to pen a look-ahead piece but also late enough to still be light at 5pm. Then again, look what happened this time last year. The shock of scrolling through the news about Ukraine, aghast, on the morning of February 24th remains incredibly vivid. It also serves as a powerful reminder that the world never runs on a straight line. We zig, we zag, and never truly know what’s around the corner.

Consumer Goods (CPG) companies are no exception.

I’ve worked in and around this sector for more than 15 years and have seen different trends and challenges come and go, but there’s no doubt that today’s CPG HR leaders, such as CHRO’s, Regional HR Vice Presidents and Heads of Talent, face a panoply of competing priorities and challenges. Navigating their way through this evolving landscape won’t come easy — but it can be done.

One thing I do this time of year is write out a list of aims and priorities. A useful exercise, it’s one that helps me stay on track as the weeks fly by. If I were to write one for CPG companies, though, I think I’d need quite the weighty tome — no notebook would suffice.

For example, just like their counterparts in other sectors, CPG HR leaders are dealing with the aftershocks of The Great Resignation, which has really sharpened the focus on retention and greater diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) in companies large and small. As a result, CPG companies have sought to strengthen their magnetic allure — to current and prospective employees alike.

Culture and team morale go some way to developing inclusive behaviour and retention and this means everything related to the employee value proposition is up for grabs — and rightly so. In what is an ultra-competitive environment for the best and brightest, no company can afford to stick with their status quo.

To this end, CPG companies are seeking to improve their talent acquisition practices and looking for new and faster ways to acquire talent based on flexibility. This might involve, for example, allowing time for new hires to upskill on the job rather than looking for candidates which are already 100% qualified.

There is also increasing focus on becoming more human and, in turn, more relatable. The most successful and innovative organisations harness collective energy and are challenging legacy notions of value-creation and redefining how they contribute to society. This is particularly pertinent for CPG companies, which are having to adjust to a world where purpose has become a core attraction factor — only those which a genuine and convincing narrative will be best placed to thrive.

All this is testing the effectiveness of HR leaders and managers across the sector. Adapting to these new working paradigms requires exceptional leadership capability, both to fulfil the ‘day job’ as well as to attract exceptional talent. No one wants to go and work for someone they don’t look up to — role models still count.

But the war for talent forms only one part of the jigsaw.

1. Sustainability

In my conversations with HR leaders, it’s increasingly clear that environment, social & governance (ESG) themes are here to stay. Perhaps this is inevitable. After all, it’s an unwelcome fact that at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. Talk about room for improvement. But there is also an important aspect to consider from an HR perspective too. Sustainability is playing an increasingly crucial role in employee branding and the employee value proposition. There is now a clear need for HR to be at the heart of ESG policies and implementation.

2. Cyber

Then there’s ongoing issues around cyber security. Cyber attackers have become a constant menace, deploying approaches such as ransomware to wreak digital havoc on CPG companies, which are increasingly reliant on AI and analytics. Constantly evolving attacks mean organisations should ensure they also evolve defences — this is particularly crucial given the ongoing prevalence of hybrid working. Without the protection of the office firewall, employees have to rely on their home networks — and even their own devices. This makes it far harder for IT security teams to identify and address suspicious activity by intruders.

3. Spotlighting HR

Colleagues in HR are also facing shifting sands. For example, they are now playing a more strategic role when it comes to governance, organisational design and change management. Staying agile and breaking down silos while maintaining and reinforcing accountability all loom large as core priorities.

4. Flexibility

And this is all happening as organisations adjust to the reality of what looks like being a permanently hybrid workforce.

Personally, I like coming into the office to see colleagues in the flesh but it is also nice to work from home too. The good news for CPG employers is that a hybrid workforce creates the potential for benefits which were previously not accessible on the same scale — office space savings and reduced absence rates spring to mind. Remote working also creates a larger talent pool because companies are now able to hire talent from across a wider geographical region.

But at the same time, HR leaders are having to adjust to their teams not always being present in the office. As a result, they are working on defining the new modes of leadership required to fully realise the benefits of hybrid working, as well as looking into advanced collaboration technologies. They also need to identify how to entice people back to the office — reminding them of the sheer value of face-to-face interactions might not go amiss.

5. Collaboration

The more progressive companies are deploying communication techniques other than filling the inbox, while also rethinking processes and making digital investments that support collaborative working and deliver on a new vision for work. For example, onboarding has become more important to ensure the success of new hires. A tailored and high touchpoint/intensity process for remote workforce employees, combined with regular check-ins is becoming the norm.

If and when I sit down and write a similar blog at the start of next year, it would doubtless contain some of the themes mentioned above — DE&I, hybrid working and ESG, for example, aren’t going anywhere.

But while these issues have taken firm root, the sheer size and diversity of this sector means that CPG companies will always have different opportunities to pursue, fresh challenges to traverse and new market share to target. Now that’s an attractive vision for any leader, HR or otherwise, to get stuck into.

Watch this space.