A key business unit in the US division of The Body Shop has switched its recruitment policy to an ‘open hiring’ model, designed to bring in staff who may find themselves excluded from roles under traditional HR practices.

In an article at Fast Company, [1] the brand’s US general manager Andrea Blieden said: “We’re not asking for your background check. We’re not asking for you to be drug screened. And there’s only three questions to get a job: ‘Are you authorised to work in the US? Can you stand for up to eight hours? And can you lift over 50lbs?’ If those three questions are answered [in the affirmative], then we will give you a chance to come work in our distribution centre.”

Roles will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

According to the piece, the distribution hub – which hires 200 temps towards the end of each year to provide seasonal support – piloted open hiring in late 2019. The trial produced startling results: in late 2018, turnover in the run up to Thanksgiving and Christmas was 38% in November and 43% in December. But in the same two months of last year, the figures were 14% and 16% respectively.

The Body Shop shifted its recruitment policy after learning of the success of open hiring at New York social enterprise Greyston Bakery – the motto of which is: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.” The firm keeps a list of individuals who have sought work there, and fills vacancies directly from that list. In addition, it treats new recruits as apprentices and trains them up in a range of crucial life skills.

Blieden explained that she and her senior Body Shop colleagues were impressed by a presentation that Greyston and other social enterprises with similar goals delivered to them early last year. “It really ignited all of us to think about how we can become a more inclusive employer and how we can implement open hiring practices in our business,” she said.

Meanwhile, Greyston CEO Mike Brady has taken his firm’s mission one step further by launching non-profit learning hub the Center for Open Hiring. [2] He noted: “[There’s] a lot of momentum around business as a force for good … Thankfully, people are thinking differently about how to bring good people into their business.”

What should leaders take away from The Body Shop’s HR innovation?

The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This story provides us with some revealing insights on what has gone so badly wrong with recruitment. We have become increasingly obsessed with trying to identify skills, knowledge, experience and other apparently essential or desirable characteristics in fine, granular detail. We have also insisted that candidates should be able to quickly recall scenarios in which they have faced similar challenges to those that may await them on the other side of their interviews.

“While those methods may ostensibly have streamlined areas of the hiring process related to screening and shortlisting, they have also evidently led us to exclude huge numbers of people – hence the need for more imaginative approaches that answer growing calls for workplace diversity.”

Cooper notes: “Amid our relentless focus on granular detail, we are losing sight of larger qualities, such as enthusiasm and willingness to learn, which can’t be specified in quite the same way as the more particular characteristics HR units are currently chasing. So, what The Body Shop has said here is, ‘What’s the absolute bare minimum you need to be able to do this job? Right – those are the sorts of people we want.’ And the pilot statistics themselves would seem to indicate that this approach has really worked.

“Now, some firms may argue that the detailed screening and scrutiny they apply to candidates makes the recruitment process easier. But if you widen your pool, not only are you more likely to meet your inclusivity targets – you’re also bound to generate a great deal of thought and discussion within your organisation about what the real point is behind each of the roles it offers. What’s the purpose of Job X? What’s it really trying to deliver?”

She adds: “In my view, the question that The Body Shop must now ask itself is: ‘How can we keep this trend going?’ How can the brand maintain its fresh approach to recruitment, while ensuring it doesn’t become every bit as stale and standardised as the granular methods it’s trying to get away from?”

For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on understanding HR

Source refs: [1] [2]

Image of Body Shop signage courtesy of JHVEPhoto, via Shutterstock