The importance of pub-talk and public perception

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People need to know there are tech jobs available outside the big players and hip start-ups

Ocado is a retailer and a technology company. The two go hand-in-hand, although perceptions of our business are often dominated by our online grocery service.

When we’re recruiting it can be a challenge to properly communicate the difference between the two. We’re not asking people to join a traditional retail organisation – we’re asking them to join a large technology organisation within a digitally-minded retail company. We have had to work very hard to let other engineers know we’re here and doing all this – otherwise people subconsciously see us as the delivery driver who turns up with their groceries.

The UK is experiencing an explosion of demand for technical people. Big players like Amazon and Google, as well as the UK’s booming start-up scene, are all vying for the same limited talent pool. This means companies must be incredibly clever to recruit the right talent. This not only means getting the word out that these new roles are there for the taking, but also creating a narrative that inspires people to look beyond traditional technology companies or ‘hip’ start-ups when choosing their careers.

People are your most important asset

In a crowded marketplace, it’s more important than ever to tell your brand’s ‘story’ in a very distinctive and personal way. The messaging needs to explain to people why they should work for you, and not the hundreds – or perhaps thousands – of companies trying to recruit the same targets. In order to achieve this, the narrative should be unique and interesting, as well as genuine. It needs to be a true story that everyone can believe in.

When it comes to recruitment, the phrase ‘people are your most important asset’ rings true. After all, what better way to tell your brand’s story than through the mouths of the people who work for you every day? At Ocado, we encourage our employees to engage with the wider community. From writing blogs, to attending meet ups and speaking at conferences, the more visible your employees are, the greater your chances are of telling the right people the right story, in the right way.

Better language. Better results

The technology sector is notorious for its jargon. Web copy, recruitment adverts and associated literature are often littered with baffling terminology that, more often than not, confuse rather than inspire. Perhaps the industry needs to develop a more diverse language to better describe what it does.

If our employees are to be advocates – whether that’s in the pub with their friends or at industry networking events – we’d do well to provide them with a straightforward, positive way to talk about what they do and the company they work for. Doing this will create a consistent narrative, told in a genuine way.

Again, much of this falls to better public relations. The more stories there are in the public consciousness about big brands being a hub of innovation or at the vanguard of change in their sector, the easier it will be for engineers and technologists at, say, McDonald’s to talk up the importance of their roles in the same way they might talk about working at Google. We’ve found that being in the retail sector works to our advantage. A sweet spot is describing interesting technical solutions like artificial intelligence or robotics in the context of retail, because people understand it and can see how, if they joined Ocado, they could apply their tech skills to the job.

Practise what you preach

The technology community is relatively small, and with so many companies vying for the same candidates it’s important to offer people something different. This doesn’t mean you need a theme park in your office, but it helps to create an environment that employees want to work in, where they can be creative, collaborative and free. It takes an enormous amount of work to create this atmosphere, but it pays dividends if you can find the right balance.

But, as with all things, talk is cheap. Well-executed PR campaigns and public engagement programmes only work when they paint a true picture of your organisation. Everything you do to attract talent needs to reflect your business: its values, its benefits, its environment. Above all else your story must be real.

Matt Soane is general manager of Ocado Technology

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