Seismic Shift – Waking Up to the Strategic Value of Workforce Management

Originally Posted by my colleague Joyce Maroney at the Workforce Institute:

mall-shopper-173x300Today’s guest post is by our board member,  Mark Wales.  Mark is an expert in workforce management for the retail industry.  Here he shares his perspective on how retailers and services providers are looking to their workforce as a strategic asset and not just an expense to be minimised.

Recently at an International Workforce Management Summit I witnessed the seismic shift in how workforce management is perceived and how it has grown in strategic importance to retailers and service providers. Ten years ago it was IT and HR who attended these events, now it was exclusively Operations. Why the dramatic change and what does it mean for the workforce?

The reason for the change is the rising strategic value of employees. While many retailers and service providers may see labour as the largest controllable cost, many have turned the corner and realized that their brand, their business model, and their profitability depend on how wisely they invest in their employees.

It is essential to pay your employees in a timely and accurate manner with appropriate controls and visibility. That, however, is not enough. It does not maximise the full potential of your employees, your customers, or your profitability. You will fail to recognise the value of many facets of employee experience, customer experience and productivity. To raise the strategic importance of workforce management you must draw a direct link between investing in the employee, impacting the customer experience and driving profitability.

Forward thinking retailers and service providers are building a new generation Operations discipline.  They envision a holistic multidisciplinary approach to workforce management that is centred on productivity and optimisation of both the employee and customer experience. You will see this impacting hiring, training, team management, service design, organisational responsibilities, and decision making. The changes may seem subtle and evolutionary at first, but they have the potential to radically impact company performance over time.

The Workforce Institute

Further reading:

Aberdeen Group: The State of the Workforce in Retail – Taking A Global View


What Have Retailers Got In Store For Customers In 2014? Report from Retail’s BIG Show

My friend and colleague, Andrew Busby has just returned from New York, buzzing with all the latest gossip from Retail’s BIG Show. As I know we all shop…I thought I would share his experience with you. This year customer experience, in-store experience and customer-centric retailing were all key themes from the show, which is great news for shoppers.

NRF, The BIG Show, New York
NRF, The BIG Show, New York

2014 was the biggest and best NRF Show so far (well it would be!) with more than could be absorbed in the time available. However some key themes emerged which are both exciting and significant for retailers worldwide. Here is a personal summary of my 3 days at NRF 2014.

You can follow Andrew @andrewbusby on Twitter and follow his blog Retail Storm here

Customer Service? What Customer Service?

Customer ServiceI recently read an article in that stated half of shop workers know less about the products they sell than the customers. It reminded me of an incident some years ago, in a now out of business white goods retailer, where when asked what was the difference between two tumble dryers, the assistant’s response was fifteen quid mate!

These days, this kind of situation is almost certainly compounded by customers having access to incredible amounts of in-depth product information for their planned purchases.  When customers walk into a store with such an in-depth knowledge of the products they want to purchase, it becomes quite difficult for retailers to ensure that all their staff have the necessary depth of training and information to be able to address customer queries intelligently.

In order to retain customers or grow market share retailers must keep customers engaged instore once they are there. To do this they need to give their employees sufficient tools and knowledge to ensure that they can answer queries from customers. If an employee has to lie or pass customers on to their colleagues – there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

The obvious solution is to make sure that employee training is sufficient and timely, but it is also crucial that the most knowledgeable employees who have the best skills to engage customers with the appropriate knowledge are scheduled to be available at the busiest times in order to optimise sales. Mobile devices (Tablets such as the ipad) can also be useful; giving access to product information ‘on the go’ that will give staff the same access to information that the customer has, should they need it. A workforce management solution can make scheduling the right employee, with the right skills at the right time simpler for managers and having a mobile-enabled workforce ultimately gives both employees and customers a better in store experience.

What do you think of the levels or customer service in UK retailers today? Could it be improved? If so what measures do you think should be taken?



How Mature Are You? Part 4

There are many organisations that have evolved through the first three phases of the workforce management maturity curve*, from seeing their workforce as an expense they now see them as a resource and a flexible asset.

Best-in-class organisations that have moved into the fourth phase, The Innovate Phase now view their workforce as an absolute competitive advantage. For them, their employees are their most critical asset who, when given the right tools, training and support enable these organisations to achieve great results that their customers’ value and their peers and competitors envy.

Workforce Maturity Curve 4Organisations in the Innovate phase are embracing Big Data initiatives to identify triggers that influence growth, profitability, brand reputation, and operational excellence, as well as organisational transparency and accountability.

In the Innovate phase, organisations incorporate labour metrics into their Big Data strategies, to transform their workforce into a network of individuals all working together to achieve a desired result.

The correlation of workforce data with operational measurements of inputs & outcomes can yield powerful insight into the impact of your people on business growth, brand perception and ultimately shareholder value. Big Data strategy will enable business innovation and continuous improvement. Lack of understanding of how to use analytics to improve the business is the biggest obstacle in achieving success with big data. Organisations must move the analysis from an IT function to a business operations function – combining measurements, analytics and business intelligence tools with visibility and controls for business leaders to understand and act on.

When workforce analytics is combined successfully with operational data, actionable information will lead to operational comparisons and adjustments. Initial tracking of labour metrics like absenteeism, turnover and overtime can evolve into industry-specific trends and analysis. Retail stores can see the impact in increased operating margins, profit per employee and a stronger brand reputation. Manufacturing and Contract Services organisations can achieve operational excellence lean labour principles. The Supply chain can manage in the moment in warehouses and distribution channels and Healthcare providers provide better patient care and outcomes.

When your workforce evolves from a cost of doing business into a competitive advantage, your organisation can make that leap from good to great!

If you have any questions or comments please post them and I will be happy to respond.

The workforce management maturity curve was first discussed in detail in my US Kronos colleagues’ blog It’s About Time


How Mature Are You? Part 3

Throughout this series of articles we have looked at how automation and planning can help your organisation streamline the common processes of scheduling and paying your workforce accurately and efficiently to keep costs down while improving service levels.

Workforce Management Maturity Curve - ExecuteThe third phase of workforce management maturity curve* is The Execute Phase. This phase is about ensuring all that planning you have done is carried through in the real world. It involves managing the workforce in real time and adapting to changing conditions quickly to maintain a high level of productivity.

Organisations that have evolved to the execute phase view their workforce as a flexible asset – a group of skilled workers with the tools they need to consistently produce for you and can adapt to different tasks or roles in real-time. At this stage, the workforce understands and executes key tactics that have a direct impact on key operational measurements: revenue, service, quality, responsiveness, throughput, productivity.

In every industry, your labour plans are impacted every day. Weather, illness, customers, equipment failure, materials, contracts, accidents, funding issues, large orders, even a successful campaign or promotion can impact plans for better or worse. How a manager reacts to these constantly changing conditions has a direct impact on your business.

Workforce management solutions have evolved to enable managers to ‘manage in the moment’, with technology that works in real time. Imagine your managers with mobile access through a tablet that understands where it is and presents detail about the labour in that area. Staffing management allow managers to see who is present at any given moment and which areas may be understaffed or overstaffed. Real-time adjustments can be made to address the areas that need help, while back-office adjustments to labour tracking, job costing and payroll systems happen automatically, without delays or errors. Labour activity tracking provides line managers with real-time visibility into what is going on in the business right now and ‘managing in the moment’ the things that make a real difference such as customer service, quality and labour utilisation to maximise output and productivity goals.

Here are a couple of questions for you:
• Are your employees and managers capable of being agile on the job?
• Do they have real-time viability into service levels, quality, output?
• Can they react to changing conditions and maintain high levels of productivity?

With cloud-based workforce management on demand organisations of any size can leverage and benefit from enterprise-class technology at a fraction of the cost and resource requirements.

In part four we will take a look at the next phase of workforce management maturity – Innovate. Don’t forget to sign up to my blog so you won’t miss it and if you have any questions or comments please post them and I will be happy to respond!

*The workforce management maturity curve was first discussed in detail in my US Kronos colleagues’ blog It’s About Time.


How Mature Are You? Part 2

So, you have automated your workforce management processes and are capturing absence and employees’ time automatically, providing data to your managers and supervisors and feeding data into your payroll and/or HR systems. What’s next?

Maturity Curve Phase 2 - PlanningThe second phase of workforce management maturity curve* is The Planning Phase.This phase is about aligning your labour with business demand by understanding what in your business drives the need for labour and matching that need with the pool of employees you have.

Once you have automated many of the manual processes that are obstacles for your workforce, the focus should turn to deploying the right person, in the right place at the right time – or in other words providing structure to the important business process of matching your people to demand. Organisations that are in the Planning phase see the value of their workforce as beyond an expense, and more of a resource – your people have particular skills that you won’t want to lose. Similar to an asset like equipment or materials, the workforce is an important component of the business with skills and capabilities that need to be deployed the right way in order to meet your business objective. Whilst at the same time ensuring the work is stimulating and engaging for the employee.

Mature organisations typically have workforce management solutions that provide accurate forecasts of what drives labour demand, standards that convert those forecasts to skills required in each area of the business, and schedule optimisation capabilities that take the ideal requirement and match it to the labour in the organisation. The solution will take into further consideration: preferences, availability, time worked and local legislation, providing complete visibility and control to where the workforce is deployed.

By eliminating manual scheduling processes organisations will reduce excess labour costs from over-scheduling and the quality or service level impacts of under-scheduling. Overtime and supplemental labour usage is reduced and balanced schedules greatly improve staffing. Moreover, employees are much happier and engaged when they feel that they are adding value to the business. The time and effort required in manual scheduling processes is eliminated, and schedules automatically adhere to rules, requests, skills, certifications, availability and experience. So here are a few questions for you:

• How does your workforce know when they are scheduled to work next?
• How is the right level of coverage for each shift or activity determined?
• Are employee shift requests and preferences taken into account when a schedule is created?
• Are there any seasonal or external influences that could impact demand on your business?

With cloud-based workforce management on demand, organisations of any size can now benefit from enterprise-class technology at a fraction of the cost and resource requirements.

In part three we will take a look at the next phase of workforce management maturity – Execute. Don’t forget to sign up to my blog so you won’t miss it and if you have any questions or comments please post them and I will be happy to respond.

*The workforce management maturity curve was first discussed in detail in my US Kronos colleagues’ blog It’s About Time.


Theatre Emotions

EvitaThis ‘theatrical’ guest blog is from Andrew Busby, (colleague, motorsport lover and retail expert).

I love going to the theatre, I tend to fall asleep if I go to the cinema. It must have something to do with the live shared experience which the theatre provides and which exists between the performers and the audience. It engages you on an emotional level.

Nothing is quite like it; I still recall the last night of Evita with Elaine Paige and the goosebumps at the final curtain call; not because I’m a particular fan but because of the intimate shared experience which it provided. I witnessed it…..I was there.

I was fortunate enough to attend the National Retail Federation’s annual convention in New York in January – otherwise known as Retails BIG Show. And for good reason; 2 whole floors of exhibitors from the big names such as IBM, SAP and Microsoft down to the smallest of niche players. 26,000 delegates over 3 days from all over the globe made this a truly remarkable event. But what was most memorable to me were the number of sessions and exhibitors covering one aspect or another of the in-store customer experience. Bricks & mortar stores aren’t where the investment is being made, right? Wrong! Online sales maybe booming so why have a large store estate? Well from the interest shown at NRF it is clear that whilst online will continue to grow, the store estate will remain. Perhaps in a different guise but the importance of the store and therefore the in-store experience has never been as important or relevant as it is today.

One of the sessions at NRF discussed best of breed retailers and what struck me was what they had in common. Virtually all focused obsessively on the in-store customer experience – the retail theatre which they created for their customers. If you have ever been to the Burberry store in London’s Regents Street you’ll know what I mean; if you haven’t – GO! It must be one of the truly memorable experiences on the high street and I would argue one which rivals the West End theatre for spectacle. I half expected that at any moment, Gloria Swanson would sweep down the wonderful curving staircase as if in a scene from Sunset Boulevard.

As more and more retailers embrace the in-store experience as a way not only to entice customers into the store but to stay there and purchase, it becomes a key differentiator in the fight for survival. Some, like Apple achieve this in a very simple straightforward way – no frills when you look at the store, just rows and rows of tactile ‘iSomethings’ to touch, feel and try out. Others like Burberry follow a different route but both are engaging their customers at an emotional level and this is rapidly growing in importance amongst retailers. This is the retail theatre and long may it continue.

Next time I shall explore how store colleagues are the cast and how crucial it is to fully engage them if the ‘Show’ is to be a success.

Posted 19 hours ago as a guest blog by Richard Shorney