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Up & Coming: Stand Out

What is it all about?

Back in October the Shop Direct Talent and Development team sent out an application for anyone that was not in the leadership team, to apply for their new Stand Out programme. A programme where the main focus was on driving Shop Direct into the future of innovation in the digital mobile space, whilst also nurturing, and bringing to the fore, the existing talent within Shop Direct. The brief was vague but intriguing. We knew that the programme would last six months and we would be expected to produce something tangible at the end of the term. We also were told that this would be on top of our day jobs and to be prepared for a lot of extra work! To apply we would have to answer the following three questions and would be able to present them in any format we so desired, this could be a simple PDF, a creative video, or even (in one person’s case) a mobile game:

  1. Tell us about a company that has super impressed you with their mobile experience or an app you use. Why are you impressed?
  2. What more can we do to make digital the DNA of our culture?
  3. Why is Up & Coming: Stand Out good for you and how can it help you be the very best you can be?

The applications would be reviewed by a panel of 4 people that included the Talent Partner, who had set up the programme; the Talent Director, the Ecommerce Director and the CEO of Shop Direct. As you can imagine, this was not an opportunity to be missed and I jumped right on it!

The applications

Now the seed had been sown, it was time for the panel to wait for the applications to come rolling in. However, none came. The panel waited longer, but still, none came. Then about two weeks before the deadline, there came some hope. One application. Then two applications. Then… no more. Could it be that the programme was never going to take off? Surely not! Do not fret dear reader, as with all good stories, there is a happy ending. In the final week, just before the deadline, a deluge of more than 90 applications flooded in and the panel dutifully took to processing each and every one of them.

In your wildest dreams you can not imagine the marvelous SURPRISES that await YOU – Willy Wonka

The applications came in all shapes and sizes. There was one in which the application mimicked Buzz Feed’s site by answering the questions in lists of ten; there was another in which the applicant went above and beyond the call of duty, when researching the current and best mobile apps, by digitally applying make-up to himself through the L’Oreal app; and finally, one of the applicants created a mobile game app where the panel would have to get to a certain amount of points to unlock the answers to the questions. The panel had their work cut out to whittle these applications down to just 20 that would be accepted. This proved too difficult in the end and the panel decided that they would take 24 due to the quality and effort put in by everyone. I am pleased to say that I was one of the lucky applicants, and just like Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate factory, I was very excited about having a ‘golden ticket’ to a new adventure.

Golden ticket

Kicking off the programme

The programme officially started on the 14th Jan and we all met each other in one of the converted warehouses in the up & coming Baltic Triangle area of Liverpool. The full day event involved meeting the successful applicants, being told what exciting things awaited us and being given an overview on how we can succeed. This was a gathering of likeminded individuals who want to make a difference at Shop Direct, and the excitement in the room was palpable.

As the programme was sent out to every employee across Shop Direct, we had a broad range of people in the room; from marketing to sales & trading, IT engineering to customer services, and from warehouse operations to financial services. In amongst this eclectic mix was the talent and development director, the ecommerce director, the credit risk & operations director, the group merchandising director,  the CIO, the head of user experience and the talent partner, who set up the programme. The applicants didn’t know what to expect when they woke up that morning, but it was like waking up on Christmas day and seeing that Santa had been, and had left a stocking full of gifts.

After the sociable meet and great over coffee in the morning, we were taken through the programme, what we should expect and what the end goal will be. We were told that there would be four work streams and that the delegates would be split into teams of 6 and given a team lead (one of the directors in the room or the CIO) and also a team coach. The four workstreams are as follows:

  1. Bring ’em on board: how do we look to the future of acquiring new credit customers?
  2. APPovation: what is the future of transactional app development and how do we get there?
  3. The category challenge: how can we improve our home & furniture offering and experience on mobile and tablet?
  4. Help yourself: how does mobile become the way which we help more customers self-serve more easily?

As you may have guessed from the URL, I am part of the Appovation team. The five other colleagues in the team are shown below and our team lead is Andy Wolfe, the CIO of Shop Direct.

APPovation Team

The APPovation team: (top row) Euan Macdonald, Vicky Bolam, Tom Lilliston; (bottom row) Matt Arnold, Melissa Theobald, Seb Carss

The next piece of information we received was that we would all be going on a trip to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona! This would help us to compound our research and open our eyes to the future of technology in the mobile space. As you can imagine I was pretty giddy by this point. A trip to Barcelona to get a look at future tech, this was a geeky dream come true!

Mobile is Everything – Theme of Mobile World Congress 2016

We were also told there would be a Mobile First Week during the course of the programme where we would be given one day to engage with everyone across Shop Direct and to communicate what digital is and what it means for them. This could be a demonstration in ‘The Street’ of Skyways House of the new technology that is coming out; a video explaining digital and the digital revolution that we are currently in; or a Q&A Yammer session (i.e. a Yam Jam). You may be thinking this sounds like a lot of work, but wait, there’s more.

The next thing we were told was that we would be a digital mentor for a director during Stand Out. We were all assigned a mentee and we would have to setup a meeting with them and bring them up to speed on all things digital. The idea behind this is that us, so called, Millenials, who have never known life without the internet or adult life without a mobile phone, use technology differently to the older generation and therefore, for Shop Direct to accomplish its task of becoming a world class digital retailer, the directors would need to understand how Generation Y tick.

We were then told that the culmination of all of this hard work would result in a 2 hour long presentation to the board and the CEO, Alex Baldock. These would be spread out throughout June and the APPovation team have the luck of being first up to present on the 1st June. Ok, so we’ve got less than 6 months to research, design and present a game changer for Shop Direct!

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower – Steve Jobs

Finally, we were told all of the work above has to be done on top of our normal day jobs. That’s a lot of work! This was no easy task and it would stress and strain us throughout the 6 months. How are we going to achieve all of this? No one really knows, but, no one will disagree when I say, we are going to do it and we are going to do it well. Watch this space.


Shop Direct’s Up & Coming: Stand Out programme