I joined James and James Fulfilment as its first Head of People in March 2020. It was a few weeks after the company had celebrated its tenth birthday and secured its first major, external investment – £11m from private equity firm, LDC.
It was also a few days before the first coronavirus lockdown began – something which ignited a period of exceptional growth for the company, requiring us to hire hundreds of (the right) people during challenging times.
James and James provides an outsourced fulfilment service for online retailers. We store their products, pick, pack and ship orders as they come in, and handle any returns. When lockdown began, most consumers turned to online shopping, creating a surge in demand for our services.
Unlike hospitality or physical retail businesses that had to close – or professional services firms that could just work from home – we had to keep our fulfilment centre in Brackmills running. Clients depended on us to get necessities to frontline staff and creature comforts to people isolating at home. Thousands of independent businesses – and the wider economy – have relied on services like ours over the past year.
At the same time, we were also refreshing the company’s mission – ‘To challenge the industry, create change for the better and deliver 100 million orders to happy customers’ – and cementing ‘challenge, create and deliver’ as the three core behaviours that define our company culture.
Our challenge was to instil this mission and culture in a disparate workforce – fulfilment centre people on site and office-based people at home – and ensure that we were assessing our many new hires against these behaviours too.
The first step was to roll out a new website, set of brand guidelines and Culture Code handbook, which reflected this mission and culture consistently. We discussed these regularly with the whole team through virtual ‘town hall’ meetings, in which managers shared examples of how their department had challenged an existing way of doing things, created an innovative solution to overcome a problem, or delivered an exceptional service to a client.
As the number of office and fulfilment centres roles we needed to recruit grew exponentially, we also doubled the size of our People team, bringing in two new members focused on recruitment. With unemployment on the rise, we also saw the number of applicants skyrocket, so we put in place guidelines to help us recruit in line with these behaviours. This included initial CV and telephone screening for our recruiters to ask culture-based questions, followed by video interviews with hiring managers to ask more traditional competency-based ones.
As lockdown eased and we were able to have more of our office-based people back on site, we also ran Culture Workshops – some delivered by our CEO, James Hyde, to new starters, and some by our People team to existing team members.
During these workshops, we asked everyone to make a Culture Commitment, by writing down a behaviour they wanted to improve on a cardboard leaf. These are hung around our offices on trees, as a reminder of our behaviours and what we can all do to improve them, day in, day out.
We’ve also developed a similar process for recognition, with team members able to give a shout out to colleagues each week, by noting down an outstanding way they’ve demonstrated the behaviours. These notes are on apples, also hung on trees!
Since the start of lockdown, we’ve recruited more than 25 permanent office-based roles and more than 80 permanent fulfilment centre ones. We also brought close to 200 seasonal team members onboard for Q4.
The 2020 Black Friday to Christmas period was the most difficult the company has ever faced, with a second lockdown creating unprecedented e-commerce demand, COVID-secure working practices limiting our productivity, and Brexit stockpiling filling our fulfilment centre to the rafters.
It was a brilliant demonstration of our culture in action, however. The whole team challenged conventional processes, finding ways to make things more efficient on the spur of the moment. People that ordinarily wouldn’t work together collaborated to create solutions to the small issues that cropped up. And everybody mucked in, to delight our clients – whether working shifts in the fulfilment centre or hopping on the phone to resolve a client issue.
Another achievement during lockdown was signing the lease on a brand new building, also on Brackmills. As it nears completion, it will provide six times the space we currently have, offer a fantastic working environment to our whole team, and enable us to double our revenues and headcount over the next few years.
We’re excited to be recruiting for a whole host of roles in 2021 and bringing onboard many more people who can help us challenge, create and deliver.
Clara Buckingham has more than 15 years’ experience leading people functions at household brands such as KP Snacks and Morrisons.
For more on working at James and James Fulfilment, visit James and James Careers