Sears Canada: The inside story

On cusp of closure, iconic retailer has worked hard to help employees transition
By Jennifer Pierce
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/02/2018

This year, Sears Canada will close its doors after serving Canada for more than six decades. From our roots as a catalogue mail-order house with our iconic Wish Book to a coast-to-coast retailer with over 400 locations at its peak, Sears Canada has been a part of the Canadian landscape for multiple generations.

And while Sears Canada has had some intense media coverage over the last few months as it began to wind down operations, we’d like to tell a different side of the story.

As the saying goes, the story on the outside is not always the story on the inside. This has never been truer than with Sears Canada.

For us insiders, it has been a tale of two journeys — the incubator business and the legacy business.

For the past several years and, most earnestly, the past two, our 16,000 employees have been on a mission to reinvent a Canadian icon. We were determined to wow our customers, our communities and each other. We were #WowNation and we truly felt this was our time.

And we made some serious traction. For the first time in 11 quarters, same-store sales were up in the third quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017. Our brand reinvention was getting noticed, as evidenced by winning multiple marketing awards with campaigns such as WTS? (What the Sears?) and #weveCHANGED. 

But on June 22, 2017, we sadly ran out of runway. The incubator business was simply not enough to offset the legacy business constraints.

Our greatest collective disappointment is that customers did not get to see all that we had imagined we could bring to them.

Taking care of employees

Sears has a culture rooted in community and family. The associates care deeply for customers and for one another. It is one of the most caring cultures I’ve had the privilege to be a part of.

Once it was determined the company would be liquidated, we channelled our focus from reinventing a Canadian icon to doing everything possible to helping employees transition into their next roles.

We had a goal — regardless of level or employment status (part-time, full-time or contract), we wanted to create and implement a best-in-class career transition support program.

We knew the offerings needed to be accessible to as many people as possible. Whether associates worked in a major city or a small town, whether they were experts on the computer or a step above “Is it on?” we were driven to create a program that was user-friendly, practical and helpful.

Our offerings needed to include in-person, digital, employer outreach, government agency support, individual-needs assessment, as well as school and professional information.

So, we got to work.

Career transition support

As we started down the path of creating the programs, our sole mission was to make some really tough questions — “What will I do next? Where do I start?” — a little less overwhelming.

We wanted to create a space, a community, where anyone looking for their next opportunity felt confident they had the best possible information and job search tools at their fingertips.

We recognize that people learn in different ways, so we took our offerings and created an omni approach — digital, in-person workshops, webinars and one-to-one offerings.

Associates were given access to coaching labs, practical career support tools, direct links to the most used job-search sites, more than 100 company career sites and a series of videos that spoke to the future of work that provide inspiration on a grey day.

In addition to delivering career transition support in a group environment, one-to-one career coaching support was offered to all associates. In these sessions, expertise was provided on resumé writing, interviewing and networking.

We even got to relive our youth with a picture day — having internal photographers take LinkedIn headshots, complete with blowing fans, professional lighting and Photoshop at the ready.

Employer, government outreach

Throughout this process, we have been overwhelmed by Canadian kindness.

Companies from various industries have come forward wanting to help. Strangers and friends have reached out via LinkedIn, direct calls or emails offering their assistance.

They recognize the talent we have at Sears and offered to provide a fast track to interview for their open roles. From these generous messages, our employer outreach program was created.

Where possible, we have had dozens of employers come to our stores, distribution and call centres as well as our head office locations to interview our associates. We have had other employers provide our associates with a direct line to their recruiters. We have had recruiting companies come on-site and give our associates inside tips on hot skills in the market, as well as the inside scoop on how to do an interview with recruiters.

To expedite the introductions across Canada, we created an internal website as well as two LinkedIn groups (Talent@Sears Canada and Field Talent@Sears Canada) to promote Sears talent to employers across the country.

We have also seen the best of Canadian government agencies. Service Canada, Emploi Québec and a host of other local agencies were quick to get in touch with us to let us know they could help.

We have hosted any and all agencies interested in helping us in our stores, distribution and call centres. The agencies have provided in-person information sessions on resumé writing, employment insurance, job banks and how to manage the career transition.

Leadership and communication

Every leader at Sears truly believes their work will only be finished when every one of their associates has found alternate work.

Our leaders are working tirelessly to communicate our career transition support services to employees, and taking time to work with them individually to ask them how their search is progressing, lend an ear, provide a reference, or simply say thank you.

It’s been quite a ride, and I couldn’t be more proud of our employees. Their resilience, determination, agility and teamwork have left me speechless on multiple occasions.

So, the next time you come across someone who worked at Sears Canada, give them a high-five and ask them to tell you their story of our mission to reinvent a Canadian icon.

I think you’ll find their stories to be filled with anticipation, determination and accomplishment for how far we got — regardless of the outcome.

We sign off with gratitude and appreciation on behalf of the entire Sears leadership team from coast to coast.

Jennifer (JP) Pierce is the senior vice-president of human resources at Sears Canada.

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