Vital Stats: APAC HR director Aditi Madhok-Naarden moved from IT and financial services to the beauty industry when she joined The Body Shop nearly two years ago. Enriching its 700-strong workforce, she leads the region’s HR functions from its APAC headquarters in Singapore.

Q How would you define the broad HR philosophy at The Body Shop?

Our Strategy House at The Body Shop articulates our 2020 vision and informs our people focus, which is to ‘Enrich Our People’. It is focused on key business outcomes and delivered through five key people strategies – aligned leadership, shared culture, a simplified and accountable organisation, individual and team performance, and talent.

Q What were the business needs that prompted these strategies?

It boiled down to our key business outcomes, with each strategy driving a specific business need. For aligned leadership, it was to drive performance and accountability with leaders as enablers. As for our commercially focused and sales-led culture, it is to drive new customer recruitment and increase our transactions and growth in new markets.

Additionally, a simplified organisation and ways of working drive speed and momentum, allowing for higher performance of everyone focused on their customer.

Finally, a differentiated investment in strategic core capabilities drive the success of retailing and the delivery of a digital revolution. All of these are underpinned by our Enrich Not Exploit™ commitment.

Q What is one of the campaigns that support this commitment to enrich your people?

That would be WorkWise, a flexible and additional benefit that we recently made available to the majority of our officebased employees at The Body Shop across Asia Pacific.

It started from PULSE Live, an employee engagement survey that was launched in December 2015. Through PULSE Live, employees shared quick-win, mid and long-term solutions for three areas – communications, people and culture, and work processes. Some of the endorsed mid-term solutions suggested were flexible in-office hours and the implementation of an APAC meeting charter.

Consequently, WorkWise was launched with effect from February 2017. With WorkWise, employees are given flexible hours to better balance professional and personal commitments, as well as the ability to work remotely on an irregular basis to enhance individual productivity.

Q What did WorkWise aim to achieve?

In a nutshell, WorkWise is an initiative designed to enable employees to work to their full potential. WorkWise has allowed more flexible ways of working without making formal changes to contractual terms of employment.

The spirit of WorkWise is in trusting employees to choose how to best allocate their working hours through occasional flexible in-office working hours; the ability to work remotely as long as it is not on a day with important meetings; no formal changes to contracts of employment; and no changes in the contracted number of working hours.

Employees are still required to respond to emails, instant messages and phone calls within a realistic timeframe, as defined by their respective local markets, as well as support the business across time zones as required by their roles. Through offering flexibility of standard in-office hours, The Body Shop hopes to focus our culture on results and performance as opposed to presenteeism. Essentially, working more flexibly is about trust, responsibility and collaboration.

Q How did the managers react to this, and what were some of the challenges faced?

Initially, there was some scepticism from line managers when we first launched WorkWise – especially from those who were uncomfortable and/or unfamiliar with flexible working arrangements. They were understandably cynical about employees taking advantage of or misusing the benefit. To get past this, we first engaged our Asia Pacific managing director and management committee (ManCom) to get their buy-in.

We presented a business case for the initiative, including external benchmarking and data on how initiatives such as this have helped increase productivity and engagement while reducing attrition. Our initial proposal was to have the initiative be piloted in one of our three company markets before rolling it out across the others. However, as a consequence of our session with the APAC ManCom, it was decided that all three markets would pilot the initiative. This enabled us to test it across Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore as opposed to only one market.

The HR team then organised briefing sessions with all managers (all of whom attended the sessions) to help them fully understand and appreciate the rationale behind WorkWise as well as address any concerns they might have had. All managers, which make up 30% of the employees in Singapore, were issued with a WorkWise Guide which included everything they needed to know about the initiative.

Finally, managers were empowered to manage the execution of WorkWise within their team members so they did not need to ask permission from or even inform HR of employees working flexibly or remotely. Additionally, the HR team conducted briefing sessions with all employees (which make up 68% of the Singapore team) to support managers with the roll-out.

Q Has The Body Shop seen a positive impact after implementing WorkWise?

Since its launch in February, we have received an amazing amount of ad-hoc positive feedback from both managers and employees about WorkWise. We have witnessed a significant take-up of the initiative across all markets and functions. Soon, we will be conducting an online survey to ascertain the impact of the initiative. The results of the survey will also help inform us of any changes that we need to make to the initiative.


Q What’s one of the other practices that have worked out nicely at The Body Shop?

There is also a new approach to meeting management to help drive more effective meetings guided by a meeting charter. With our APAC office-based employees making up close to 28% of the region’s workforce, the meeting charter was designed to improve meeting efficiency, both within teams and collaboratively across the organisation.


It focuses on three key areas – before, during and after the meeting – with the overarching theme of respect, which refers to respecting each other’s time, including one’s own.


There’s a meeting time window (9.30am to 5pm) where meetings should ideally not start before 9.30am nor later than 5.00pm. Employees can, of course, upon agreement, meet outside this if they wish. We have also designed a meeting charter that is displayed prominently in our meeting rooms to remind employees of some simple things to do before, during and after meetings to help them be more effective.


For example, we advise that attendees be invited to confirm what they want to achieve from a meeting, a process known as “checking in” and confirm they have achieved what they wanted from the meeting by “checking out”. These small things have made a big difference to the efficacy of our meetings.


Q Moving onto the topic of the retail sector, would you agree it’s hard to retain and groom talent because of the nature of the industry?

I would definitely agree it is hard to retain and groom talent in the retail sector. It is especially challenging for us to attract as well as retain candidates for beauty advisor roles in our stores. Q What do you think is the reason? It’s simply because retail is still to be seen as an attractive career in Singapore and, indeed, many markets across Asia Pacific. Despite all the efforts the Singapore government is making, it is not viewed as a profession per se.


There is also a shortage of candidates due to greater competition in the market and it is common for employees to jump ship, so to speak, for a small increment being offered to them by the next retailer. Many younger candidates/Millenials are also put off by the long hours and the physical demands of the job.


Q What is The Body Shop doing to tackle these issues?


The Body Shop is doing its bit to professionalise retail. We are renowned for providing some of the best training to our store employees (one of the reasons why our competitors are so keen to poach our people!) For example, we have developed a robust career development roadmap for our retail employees. Beauty advisors have to achieve satisfactory ratings across objectives/ KPIs, competencies, operational excellence and essential skills during our performance management process.


Following that, they are then put through a 16-week on-the-job training. At the end of the training, they are assessed on competencies for which they have to score more or equal to 70 marks before being confirmed for promotion to the next level. We launched our employee engagement survey for frontline retail employees last October.


We wanted to ensure that they, like our office employees, felt empowered to improve their working environment and culture by forming focus groups to brainstorm ideas on how to improve these things. This then enabled them to develop the ideas they had into actionable plans for implementation.


Q In general, retailers have long been dependent on female consumers – especially for beauty brands such as The Body Shop – resulting in more female staff in stores. What do you think HR professionals can do to promote gender diversity in the retail sector?


With 92% of our employees being female, we are making a conscious effort to achieve a better gender balance when hiring – both for our offices as well as our stores. We encourage agencies as well as search firms that we partner with to create a candidates slate with both men and women.


We know we have a long way to go, but we pride ourselves on being an inclusive employer and welcome applications from talented individuals irrespective of their gender and, indeed, any other demographic. The ultimate criterion for selection into a role at The Body Shop is really the fit with the individual.


Q On a personal level, what is the HR mantra you abide by when it comes to retaining talent?

My HR mantra is really simple – hire the right people (easier said than done, I know!) In my experience, if you take the time and effort to recruit the best fit for a role, everything will flow from there – retention, engagement and performance.


Q At the end of the day, what drives you to work?

On reflection, I think what it is, is the opportunity to learn. What I love about being an HR practitioner is that, not only does the work I do give me a chance every day to learn about my favourite subject – people – it also enables me to help people develop.