All is not equal when it comes to workforce management for retail

shopping bagsIn more than 25 years in the workforce management business and having worked with many retailers over the years, I have to say all is not equal when it comes to retail workforce management solutions. I have seen many projects fail over that time and they usually fail for one of two reasons; poor change management or poor choice of technology.

Today I will focus on selecting the right technology and cover change management another day.

Unfortunately, with the tools available today the “barrier to entry” to create an attractive-looking application is pretty low, and means “buyer beware!” Any retailer selecting and deploying an effective workforce management solution must do their due diligence well. It is far too common to be drawn in by the claim that all you need is something simple. “Something simple” often translates to “beauty only being skin deep”

“If it looks too good to be true it probably is” should be the byword when selecting workforce management technology. Whilst of course any such technology should be intuitive and easy to use at the sharp end, i.e. in the stores. It must have the depth and substance behind it to allow for the sophisticated forecasting, labour standards and scheduling algorithms required to be successful in our new Omni-channel world. For instance if all the solution does is forecast and schedule to a simple standard such as labour cost as a percentage of sale, then guess what, that’s exactly what it will do, and continue to do, even as underlying sales fall.

Today’s rapidly changing retail world requires sophisticated forecasting engines capable of accurately forecasting multiple drivers for labour; footfall by store area, sales by article group, queue length, deliveries and more. The application should then be capable of using those drivers and associated granular labour standards and the variety of store operating models to create the ideal staffing plan. Taking that ideal plan through to delivering practical schedules accommodating employee flexibility, availability, preferences, skills, hours worked, legislation, collective bargaining agreements and a host of other attributes is key to quality operational delivery.

The solution must then ensure managers and associates execute against that ideal schedule, guiding store managers so they can deal efficiently with the realities of life, such as sickness, lateness and unexpected events like emergency road works right there on the shop floor in real-time. After all what is the point of the best schedule in the world unless it plays through to reality?

Finally, the solution needs to aggregate all that data, analyse it and suggest areas for improvement, identifying best practice whilst comparing channels against best in class operations.

Workforce management done well has one of the fastest returns on investment of any technology deployment. It creates genuine competitive advantage for retailers; increasing basket size, improving conversion, customer service, product availability, employee engagement, sales and revenue.

All is most definitely not equal when it comes to workforce management, remember “beauty is often only skin deep”.

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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.

Elf and Safety! A Cautionary Word…

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It’s that time of year again, the season of good will to all and we all want our staff to have a happy and enjoyable festive season. Still there are a few things that can cause headaches for managers and co-workers at this time of year that you should think about before you relax and enjoy the Christmas and New Year festivities. So here’s a cautionary word from me.

With people taking holidays and working odd days – are you and your managers able to quickly review schedules to see who’s in and who’s out and sort out replacements with the right skills and certifications? And can you ensure that your staff are working the hours they should, taking adequate breaks and have taken adequate holidays? If you can’t – you may be putting your staff, customers and organisation at  risk. In the New Year I look forward to sharing more tips on workforce management to help ensure that you minimise the risks to your organisation, your staff, productivity and customer service.

Meanwhile I would like to thank everyone who takes time out to read my blog and wish you all the very best for a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and successful New Year.

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Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

Zdnet.com published a piece this week discussing the findings of the recent report – Business Cloud: The State of Play Shifts Rapidly commissioned by Capgemini. The report was based on a survey of 460 global companies and gives new insights into Cloud adoption trends.

One of the more interesting findings was that decisions on Cloud uptake are more often than not being taken by non-IT decision-makers. This would indicate decisions regarding Cloud adoption are being driven by strategic business factors – far more so than technology, in fact the survey found that UK business units made the decision 44% of the time and third parties 11%. Often we see strategic business solutions being held back by an unfortunately over-stretched IT department. It is good to see that the Cloud is now seen as a perfectly acceptable and sensible way to deploy strategic business solutions.

The reason for this shift also becomes apparent when one reads that the companies in the survey cited the economic climate as a key reason for Cloud adoption, citing moving into emerging markets and territories (53%) and deploying new applications (23%) as the two main drivers.

According to the report human capital management is one of the major functional applications that are being moved to the Cloud. And with a Cloud services uptake of 76%, on average, globally, workforce management in the Cloud is certainly something many organisations should and will be adopting.

Moving workforce management functions; forecasting demand, scheduling to that demand, managing attendance, absence, activity and accurate pay, to the Cloud allows organisations to focus on improvements in cost control, productivity and margin. Organisation can focus on the workforce management functions, while a workforce management provider, like Kronos, ensures the application is running efficiently and cost-effectively in the Cloud.

Team GB triumphs but is it business as usual for GB businesses?

‘Don’t make me angry’ said British sailor, Ben Ainslie, before he went on to win his 4th consecutive Olympiad and became the most successful Olympic sailor of all time. His tactical strategy played an enormous part when it came to beating his opponents but it also took determination and focus to achieve great things. And, boy, team GB has achieved great things over the past week. We have streaked past our goal of getting more medals than we did at Beijing – Team GB are currently standing proud with 16 gold medals, and still counting.  We have witnessed amazing personal achievements and a level of excitement about our country’s success not witnessed for many years – our team is delivering again and again and we are standing behind them and willing them on with every new victory.

As well as euphoria and excitement, the Olympics have also caused their fair share of controversy. There has been criticism that retailers and other tourist attractions across London have lost out on business due to the Games and that productivity has suffered more than usual. There’s always two sides to a story but whatever effect the Olympics has had, what can organisations learn from this unique event? Can we harness the wave of euphoria, hope and national pride to help push British manufacturers, retailers and service organisations across the winning line and get us out of the stagnant economic mire many businesses find themselves in?

Organisations rely on good leadership and high levels of employee engagement to become successful. Employee engagement can be achieved many ways, but a fair, equitable, workplace where great performance is rewarded and all employees are supported so that high performance becomes achievable for all, is a very sound foundation.  Managers can help achieve this if their time is freed from unnecessary manual processes by automation so they can focus on developing their teams and achieving their organisational aims. Workforce Management solutions can help in so many ways. They can help to support absence strategies that treat every employee in a fair and equitable way and will reduce employee absence, ensure employees are paid accurately and on time and that managers can schedule best-fit employees effectively and efficiently, so that the correct number of employees, with the correct skills and certifications are deployed when and where they are needed. They support flexible working practices and even allow shift swaps between similarly skilled employees at the click of a mouse.

Perhaps British businesses will harness some long-term benefits from the Olympic experience. Despite having a significantly smaller population than the two countries ahead of us on the medal table, China & the United States, Great Britain rules the waves, the rivers, the men’s tennis court, the velodrome and even the women’s heptathlon so why shouldn’t we be the leaders on the board of economic recovery? – It seems what we need most of all is the passion and the will.

Olympic fever and employee engagement – what’s the secret?

Well the wait is over and the Olympic Games have finally begun in the UK.  Last week I was in Boston, actually dreading my return on Thursday morning, the busiest day at Heathrow leading up to the Olympics. Imagine my surprise; I was off the plane and through immigration and customs in 15 minutes, too early for my taxi!  So the message is when we want to, we can do things really well, congratulations to Heathrow and all who work there.

Just walking through the office this morning, I heard conversations about the Games taking place everywhere. I caught snippets of conversation about the opening ceremony, the cycling, volleyball and weight-lifting; the Olympic buzz has given Monday morning a real boost.  People are chatting about their experiences either watching the event or attending in person and everyone has an opinion about what works and what doesn’t, why winning teams won or why a particular sportsperson lost.

Enthusiasm and excitement are not qualities that are often associated with the British, we are generally seen as a cynical and reserved nation but as the opening ceremony showed, we do have a cultural and economic history to be proud of – and it seems to have struck a chord with many of us and brought everyone together around a common interest.

So what does it take to get the people in your organisation as excited, enthusiastic and engaged with their working life? Setting realistic and achievable goals, paying them fairly and on time? Allowing as much flexibility in their work as possible so that work-life balance is taken into consideration? Perhaps ensuring that everyone knows what they are trying to achieve and giving them the training and development to ensure they are successful – and make sure that working practices are fair and equitable for all. Of course if the management team are positive and enthusiastic – that also goes a long way too!

There are many tools out there to support organisations in their aim to engage their employees positively and a workforce management solution is one. It enables organisations to automate their people processes and pay people accurately and on time so there are fewer pay queries. It enables managers to plan and schedule people with the right skills at the right time in the right place and in the most cost-effective way. It can enable organisations to undertake more flexible working practices and make sure that the processes to support this are fair and equitable across the organisation. So if the Olympics can engage a nation of cynics, what could a fully engaged workforce do for your organisation?