7 October, 2016

More from Digital Grad, Alysia

After graduating with a first in English Language from Aston University, Alysia completed her placement year with M&S.com. She is currently our Digital Marketing Manager for Food Brand.

“In all honesty, the first time I thought of working for M&S was when I watched a Christmas advert. I instantly thought ‘I want to work there’. A few years later and here I am. I chose M&S because it’s a brand which never goes unnoticed. We’re known by a lot of people for a lot of reasons and I was intrigued to find out how a brand with such great heritage actually functions. The option to gain experience in a number of roles appealed to me too, especially as I struggled to pin down exactly what it was that I wanted to do. 

“When I heard that I’d been successful, I couldn’t stop telling people. It was the first thing to come out of my mouth in any conversation. On my first day, I was extremely nervous as I had no idea what to expect. The building itself is enough to make you feel anxious. But I settled in quickly and have never looked back.

“My current role involves managing the digital advertising which supports our in-store food offering. This involves working with agencies to agree media budgets and aligning the digital creative direction for upcoming campaigns. I’m part of an amazing Foods team. I’ve met so many people along the way, many of whom have become mentors and friends. Everyone here helps to create a friendly and, most importantly, comfortable place to work. This has encouraged me to ask questions – no question is a silly question – and given me the confidence to network. I definitely challenge myself more in my personal life as I take influence from what happens in the office.

“Fast-paced is most certainly a phrase I’d use to describe the world of digital. I’ve had to hit the ground running in my roles so far to make sure that I get the best out of a rotation. I have a real passion for all things digital and online, so I’d like to focus my efforts here. But I’ve got my eye on a number of opportunities I’d love to take on in the future.

“I think it’s really important to take advantage of all the resources on offer. I have a graduate manager and mentors, as well as graduate buddies to start. Then there’s the breadth of training courses and workshops I’ve attended. But there’s no substitute for learning on-the-job. Something just clicked on one of the digital projects I was working on and, suddenly, I found myself coming up with solutions for all kinds of things that no-one had thought of previously.

“A lot of other retailers don’t have the heritage and brand love we enjoy at M&S. We’re very much a part of people’s lives, so it’s important that we live up to their expectations. Our graduate programmes prepare you for this. You learn so much as they allow you to move around the business and expose you to so many faces.

If you’re a new starter, don't limit yourself. Make suggestions. Be open about what you think if you feel strongly. Never take things personally if your ideas aren’t taken up or the end result is not always the one you wanted. Work can get stressful for everyone at different moments. 
Just take a step back and start again when you’re ready.

“Working here is exciting; you never know what’s around the corner. I get to see new products first and pitch in on the story we tell our customers first-hand. What more can I say?”

Think you could join Alysia on our Digital team? Find our graduate roles here.

Inside M&S
6 October, 2016

Getting to know... Alysia

Tell us about your biggest ambition?

I’d love to learn how to DJ. Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from someone working for a huge retail brand like M&S I’m sure, but I really enjoy music. When songs are mixed in the right way, they have the ability to put a smile on my face; they turn a mediocre night out into one of the best. Whether I’ll ever get on a stage and do it; well that’s a very different story.

Who inspires you and why?

I could name a celebrity, however, I’ll say all of the women who’ve been part of my life: from family members and childhood friends to women I go to the gym with; each of them has a special, unique quality. They’re a huge influence on how I live my life and, of course, they’re the people I go to with anything and everything. I really believe learning how to be a successful woman comes with trials, tribulations and ultimately, other great women.

What would be your dream job?

I think my ultimate job would be a luxury travel editor, where I could test and review hundreds of hotels, activities and food across the globe. My friends and family are constantly joking about my love for travel and how it’s hard to keep track of where I’m planning to go next. Plus, I love food. So teaming the two together would be a dream. I suppose I’m halfway there working in the Food marketing team at M&S – I look forward to any new product sampling sessions.

What do you see as your major strength? Pick one trait and explain

People – in every sense of the word. I enjoy getting to know new people and learning from them to gain a wider perspective. My brain is always ticking over with ways to work through issues or improve processes. But I always come back to the same point: people make the world go round. There’s not much you can achieve on your own.

What is your proudest moment?

Personally: graduating with first class honours. I’d studied hard throughout university, so this was a great moment for me.  Professionally: delivering one of the biggest suites of digital content we have done to date for Foods. I was completely new to the role and had to manage the creation and digital syndication of 13 videos created around our Spirit of Summer product range. It meant everything from buying samples, travelling to the locations to shoot the videos, planning a seamless customer journey with my colleagues and reporting on their performance.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?

“If you’re in the room, be in the room”. I went to an inspiration conference and an author said it. It really means pay attention and give your all to everything that you’re involved in, and it’s something I try to do every day at work.

Tell us something unexpected about you.

I can sing. Definitely not to X-factor standard but well enough not to be an embarrassment.

What makes you tick?

Feeling like I have a purpose, both inside and outside of work. Over the years, I’ve established a role in my friendship group and I think it helps to know where I stand with them, otherwise I’d feel pretty useless. The same applies in work and even travel, I like to be aware of the reason that I’m doing something.

Which M&S value – Innovative, Inspiration, In Touch, Integrity – do you most identify with and why?

In touch. I think my strengths lend themselves well to this value.

What motto do you live your life by?

“Aim high, achieve high”. My mum still says it to me this day and it has always reminded me to look up, particularly when I feel things aren’t in the best place.

Inside M&S
6 October, 2016

Essex Region - the Pride of M&S

This year M&S stores across Essex worked as one to make a difference for colleagues, customers and their local communities, Sparking Something Good through fundraising and volunteering as part of M&S’s Plan A commitments. On September 22nd Essex Region was recognised for their Outstanding Contribution to Plan A at the annual Pride of M&S awards, Regional Plan A Champion David Berry explains what they did to scope the prestigious accolade…

Essex has had a fantastic year delivering its Plan A Strategy. We are still evolving as a region having been formed in 2014. In our first two years, I don’t think we were truly engaged with Plan A as a team and as a result, we couldn’t deliver our Plan A Strategy and there wasn’t a clear drive or vision to improve. Whilst we clearly had passionate colleagues in our stores we were not able to drive and help shape Plan A to truly make a difference.

Our first step to improve was agreeing our regional Plan A strategy - driving our People Plan A efforts, improving relationships with schools and driving recognition through engagement with the Pride of M&S awards.

We believed that through this vision we would harness the passion that was evident across our region, drive improvement in our Plan A credentials, have a positive effect on the engagement of our colleagues and deliver a benefit to the local communities in which we trade.

Through our initial get-up-and-go on our employability programme, Marks & Start, we started to feel the real passion and appetite for Plan A across our region. With our Charity partner Gingerbread we set the target of running programmes across every store on our region. It was the first example of where we had seen our Store Management Team show a united passion for one of our Plan A priorities – all of our Store Plan A champions were invited to a Marks & Start engagement day run by Gingerbread and it was clear from this day that with the Champions and Management teams working together and the programme giving colleagues the opportunity to support and develop these individuals, that we had unlocked a passion within our teams to go on to deliver great things.

From here the momentum really built and resulted in colleagues across the region becoming driven to go above and beyond with every community initiative – from our Macmillan Coffee Mornings (where we raised over £51,000) to our Charity of the Year fundraising (with stores such as Romford leading the way raising £5,500 for their local charity The Dream Factory). Colleagues started their own initiatives too, such as Jackie Norbury’s ‘Big Breakfast’ combining educational engagement and a healthy breakfast and as a region volunteering went from strength to strength – last year we delivered over 113 charity volunteer days. Without doubt our regional highlight was our store manager charity volunteer day which supported three charities – Tendring Hospice in Clacton, Welcome Centre in Ilford and the Paradise Wildlife Park.

Our plans continue to grow, driven by our business values (integrity, in-touch, inspiration and innovation). Our Plan A Store Champions come together annually to make sure they get the chance to input on the plan and have the right knowledge to move this forward. They are also connected on Yammer to share success and support each other.

On the 22nd September we were privileged to attend the Pride of M&S Awards 2016.  The evening was a fantastic celebration of the work that goes on around the business in making a difference for our customers.

We were honoured that the Essex region was recognised, and won an award for Outstanding Contribution to Plan A. Here’s to an even better year next year!

Inside M&S
6 October, 2016

More from Naomi

Naomi has worked for M&S since she was 17. Today, she is a Trainee Commercial Manager focusing on Foods and Finance and Operations in our Haverfordwest store in West Wales. She line manages three managers and is working as the Store Manager’s number two. 

I was ecstatic when I got the call telling me I’d been accepted onto the programme. I remember it so well. They called in the morning and I realised all the hard work and interviews had really paid off. I text my line manager at the time to thank her for everything she had done for me during my development plan. Then I went to work at 12pm. 

I’ve always been career driven. Starting with M&S aged at 17 has helped my career and personal development massively. I developed strong people skills from a young age and made sure my line manager knew what my aspirations were. So I was able to get the support I needed to realise them – and here I am.

When I began the programme, I was in our Cardiff store. Everyone was so welcoming and we knew from our attachment day which department we’d be starting out on and who our mentors would be. 
I spent most of my first day trying to get to know everyone.  In my first two weeks, I worked in a different department every day to get to know that area and the people working there.

The programme equips you with all kinds of valuable skills and experience. For me, there’s no substitute for on-the-job experience; you get to learn in the moment. The classroom alone can’t prepare you for retail. You have to learn how to react when things may not be going your way and to be proactive. This happens through experiencing it first hand and being able to make improvements straight away.  

Working here has made me really confident too. I know what I’m doing and where I’m going. I’ve also benefitted from working alongside subject area experts. Learning from them has enabled me to bring new skills and a different perspective to my day-to-day work. 

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is about leadership. Different people respond better to different styles. They may be competitive, like me, and driven by a winning mentality or they may have other motivations; they may simply like being around people. Whatever our motivations, we’re all here to provide great customer service. My job, as a leader and manager, is to bring everyone on that journey.

To be successful here, I’d say you to need to be a great networker. You’ll meet lots of people, so build relationships with them; you may need their help along the way. It’s important, also, to understand where the business is going. You’ll need to articulate this to your team in a way they understand. This calls for excellent communication skills. My last tip is: be organised! Have a structure to your day and use a diary. Make sure your team understands this too.

I’m really proud to say I work for M&S. We’re a company built on heritage but with a clear vision of where we’re going. Whenever I tell someone I work here, their instant response is ‘they’re a good employer to work for’. In my experience, that’s 100% true. 

Can you see yourself joining Naomi on our Level 4 Apprenticeship Scheme for School Leavers? Click here.

Inside M&S
6 October, 2016

Getting to know... Naomi

Tell us about your biggest ambition:
I’ve recently taken up running so to finish my first half marathon would be a great achievement. Workwise, I’d like explore areas within Head Office to see what it’s like out beyond a store environment and how their decisions influence how we work.

Who was your favourite teacher at school and how did they inspire you? 
My hockey coach gifted me the chance to captain my college hockey side through the BCS championships. This allowed me to test my leadership skills early on. You learn that certain people respond differently to your leadership so, sometimes, you have to tailor it to bring the best out in people. 

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
I’ve always studied sport and had aspirations to work alongside athletes through the sport psychology sector. Working with people is what makes me happiest and being able to support them through to success. 

What do you see as your major strength?  
I’m a great listener. This is really important when getting to know your team. I believe you should show an interest in people’s lives beyond M&S. Working here has made me a more confident communicator too. Having struggled with speaking in front of big groups when I was younger, I feel I’ve developed to a point where, now, I actually enjoy it. 

What is your proudest moment – in work and outside of work?
Progressing from Customer Assistant to Commercial Manager. I always found it really inspiring when I saw people move onto new jobs and fulfilled their aspirations. It gave me more confidence that I would achieve mine. Outside of work, representing both my school and college hockey teams as captain, and leading a team through all those competitions, makes me feel proud. 

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Who gave it and how have you put it to good use:
‘You are nothing without your people’.  My mum always told me this from the start of my career with M&S. It is not humanly possible to complete all the day to day tasks required alone. To do this, you have to have a strong working relationship with your team to achieve what is expected. 

Tell us something unexpected about you:
I play guitar and have done so since I was 14. I absolutely love it. It’s changed my outlook on what good music is by exploring different styles. My friends used to joke that if someone picked up my iPod by mistake they would think it belonged to someone much older than me. I love everything from Johnny Cash to The Stone Roses. 

What makes you tick?
I’m very competitive. I like to win and drive results. I think, coming from a sporting background, winning makes you feel great. That’s why I love working in a team. There’s no point in you just seeing the results, it’s important to share and celebrate them with your team. 

What would you be doing now if you hadn’t made it onto the School Leaver Programme?
I’d definitely be working in the sports sector. I love to watch and play sport. I loved studying Sport Psychology. You learn about all the different coping methods athletes use to be the best and perform consistently. I find athletes inspiring. Muhammad Ali used to say “I’m the greatest”, and he was. 

Which M&S value – Innovative, Inspiration, In Touch, Integrity – do you most identify with and why? 
May I have 2? Probably Innovation and In Touch. Why? Because I like to think outside the box for ideas. I use movie making software to make videos to engage staff on M&S messages. I respond better to visual messages and this is my motivation to spend time making the movies to deliver a message a bit differently. It’s cool to put some funky music into it as well. 

What motto do you live your life by?
Steve Jobs said: ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do’. Who can argue with that?

You’re cast adrift on a desert island: choose one song to inspire you in your solitude; one personal possession to console you in it; and one M&S product that you simply couldn’t do without:
The song to inspire me would be ‘One day like this’ by Elbow. It’s a song that resonates with success. It features on adverts for the Olympics and RBS 6 nations. Personal possession would be my guitar and phone to listen to Spotify. I’d also take the nectarine and berries fruit pot from Food on the Move. 

Think you've got what it takes to join our former school leavers? Take a look at our Level 4 Appreniceship for School Leavers here.

Inside M&S
29 September, 2016

Danielle, a worthy winner

When Danielle split with her partner, her life went into a downward spiral.

But through Gingerbread, the charity for single parents, she got a work placement with us, which led to a full-time job, and a better life for her and her son.

Read more about the great work of Gingerbread, and our other employment partnerships, here.

Inside M&S
19 September, 2016

Mulberry Walk. As sweet as it sounds.

At the north end of Sutton Coldfield, well-to-do Mere Green is every bit as green and pleasant as the name suggests. And yet, despite being one of the West Midlands’ wealthiest enclaves, the area has been poorly served for shops, restaurants and hospitality for years. Until now, that is.

The glittering new Mulberry Walk development is regenerating retail in Mere Green, plain and simple. Replacing an unloved local eyesore, the development is bringing together a diverse collection of high-street names, with a 16,000 sq ft M&S Food Hall at its heart.

We’ll be lavishing locals with a large Food Hall selling our best food offerings, plus a fresh in-store bakery and Coffee To Go service, complete with indoor seating. Following the stellar performance of our nearby Sutton Coldfield and Princess Park stores, we’re excited and eager to open up in Mere Green; no one more so than new Store Manager, Greg.

“I cannot wait to open the new store! I know the Sutton Coldfield area well, having worked in both the High Street and Princess Park stores. So I’m well aware of customer expectations and conscious of the role M&S continues to play in the local community. Mulberry Park will really boost the commercial centre of this beautiful part of Sutton Coldfield and give local people the retail experience they deserve.”

What’s more, our new store opening isn’t just great news for local shoppers. With a range of part-time and full-time Food, Operations and Hospitality Customer Assistant roles available, M&S at Mulberry Park could be your next career destination too. 

Luckily, you’re in the right place to find out more and apply! Click here to discover our opportunities

Inside M&S
16 September, 2016

History in the making

Supporting school leavers has long been a tradition at M&S. Since the 1950s, we’ve nurtured and developed this valuable source of young talent. This year, the scheme evolves into our Retail Management Apprenticeship for School Leavers (Level 4). As we take this next step in our journey, here’s a look back on how we got to where we are today.

In the fifties, gender roles were far more defined than they are today. Back then, M&S targeted ‘final year’ girls from secondary moderns – the forerunners of today’s comprehensive schools. Some stores forged strong links with their local communities, throwing open their doors to welcome pupils three times a year. Each party of girls would get to see all parts of the store and end their day with tea and chocolate biscuits over an informal talk with the store manager. Senior staff would get involved and local authorities would be keen to include an M&S store visit as part of their curriculum.

While this may seem a very old-fashioned approach today it was typical of the times. By the 1970s, however, the relationships with our school leaver audience was maturing and we were taking a much more inclusive view.

In 1971, we took our next steps in reaching out to school leavers. This was the year when we started attending our first careers fairs and exhibitions. Our aim was to encourage 15 and 16 years olds to build their careers with us when they left school. Another sign of the changing times was a 1973 poster aimed at developing our existing in-store talent: ‘Women who like to leave the management to men need not apply’. A bold message for the times.

In the early 80s, tougher economic times called for action and it was as part the much-publicised Youth Training Scheme that our school leaver’s programme began to take shape. This offered 50 places in the Teeside and Manchester areas. It was designed to offer varied and comprehensive work experience together with formal training. This was offered in conjunction with other retailers and involved trainees spending eight weeks with us in the first six months of their training.

By the time the 90s were in full swing, we’d established our own Young Managers Programme. School leavers joined us as retail generalists in their first year before going on to specialise in HR, Finance or Commercial in their second. This later evolved into the A-level programme. Finally, in the late 90s, the Management Training Scheme came into being, offering a fast track into management for around 30 people each year. This was advertising telling potential candidates to forget about where they saw themselves in five years’ time; M&S would equip them to become managers in less than two.

And so the programme continued until today; offering the brightest school leaver talent the opportunity to immerse themselves in all the complexities of retail with a high street icon.

The next stage in the evolution of the programme, as in the 80s, has been influenced by a government initiative. The focus on the value and importance of Apprenticeships as a way for young people to enter the world of work has been gathering pace in recent years. M&S stands fully behind this. We firmly believe that combining our expertise in providing exemplary training with the opportunity to achieve a recognised qualification is a great step forward in our long-standing relationship with school leavers. Exciting times lie ahead. Could you be next to make history on this remarkable scheme? Click here for more info and to apply.

Inside M&S
16 September, 2016

Fun can generate some serious lessons

Everywhere, from our busy streets to restaurants and city parks, the last few months have seen people roaming around with their phones held up in front of their faces. They have been plugging into external batteries, searching, hatching, gathering potions and Poké Balls from Pokéstops, and battling for control of gyms. 

When launched, Pokémon GO sparked a revolution, not least among our own Digital team. But as well as being avid players, they also learned some valuable UX lessons from the craze.

Firstly, that augmented reality is the future. It may just well be that Pokémon GO will go down in history as one of the trailblazers for this revolutionary technology. It’s the big idea that counts and our Digital team is constantly searching for the next innovation to enhance the digital experience of our 32 million customers and over 82,000 colleagues.

Pokémon GO also proves that the user experience doesn’t have to be perfect at launch. Indeed, it’s far from the finished article – bugs, slowdowns and crashes show that. But creating the perfect product should be a journey of continued refinement that responds to the needs of the user. Everything we do is focused on the needs, wants and behaviour of our customers. They inspire us and tell us when we're on the right track, and when we're not. It’s part of our dot.com DNA.

Enthusiasts should not just feel they’re playing the game – they should feel they are part of the game. It’s about getting closer to what people want, keeping it honest and putting yourself in the user’s shoes. And just as immersion is a vital ingredient of a successful game, and always considered great user experience, it’s also key in the digital retail world: people want to be feel part of the shopping experience. Ultimately, our goal is to make the experience of interacting with M&S as pleasant, easy and satisfying as possible. 

So we strive to customise the user experience – the consensus is that Pokémon GO offers some customisable options but there’s room for more. The overarching lesson here is that giving users control, choice and options to make their experience uniquely their own is the key to keeping them invested long term in M&S. 

And finally, the UX must be as convenient and simple as possible. If anything, Pokémon Go has reinforced that users have high expectations and any interface should be intuitive, quick and simple.

It’s no surprise to the rest of us at M&S that our designers, developers, UX researchers, product managers and data scientists have been so passionate about Pokémon GO. They have their fingers on the pulse for the latest tech innovation. Key when you’re tasked with creating incredible digital products and experiences for our external and internal customers.

Inside M&S


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