The Motivated Workforce

The retail space is presently abuzz with talk of the coming wave of optimized scheduling initiatives. To date, scheduling systems have come in many different forms and typically consist of a mix of commercially available products and home-grown solutions, some more high-tech than others. Relative to scheduling, many retailers are looking to new technology to help them go beyond the limitations of their current environment, whatever that may be. Whatever type of system is in use, the challenges faced by retailers center around the general ineffectiveness of the current solution. Why is that? Well, it is not unusual to find that operators lack the ability to truly hold folks accountable to the system because the system is either known, or thought to be, flawed. When members of the organization perceive that the system is not fair and equitable, whether that perception is accurate or not, it becomes difficult to effectively manage performance. Nonetheless, the global economy shows no mercy, and across all channels competition has intensified, heightening the need for improved workforce performance. This leaves many retail industry executives asking the question, 'Will the next wave of workforce management systems prove to be a real step forward, or simply more of the same?'

We believe that the new technology holds much promise. Like many retailers across the U.S., we are anxiously waiting to see more successful deployments of the tools in the field. Based on some of the work that is currently in process, it seems likely that we will begin to see wins in this area. So, yes, these tools have great potential to deliver results. But what should your expectations be?

Backbone for Operations
Ideally, technology in this context serves as a backbone for operations departments to drive discipline and accountability. But what is it that actually makes the workforce more disciplined? What causes individuals to feel that they are accountable? Not a new server or IT platform. The real key to workforce management success and its ability to drive business operations is cultural in nature. Organization discipline and accountability are derived from a credible approach to performance management. Key components of such a system include setting standards, communicating expectations, establishing conditions for success, providing timely and useful feedback through management measures and reports and, lastly, by management taking action and documenting steps for continuous improvement. Fully implemented, such a system will drive individuals to be proactive - thinking ahead and working together to take action and solve problems. Too often workforce management projects are looked upon by associates purely as cost cutting measures. Frequently, this is exactly how the initiative is presented to them. We believe that the focus should be on working together to create a continuous improvement culture that seeks out and eliminates waste in all forms. The resulting improvements in safety, morale, workforce discipline, and job satisfaction will contribute additional savings, beyond those that are possible simply by creating and putting new methods and standards in place. Focusing on conditions for success allows management teams to show their associates that they are truly interested in being a resource for them, partnering in improvement and providing the road map they need to be successful.

No Silver Bullet
With engineered standards packages in place, retailers will be able to put more emphasis on providing conditions for success, and driving the kind of cultural changes that will really make a difference in their day-to-day operations, resulting in real, substantive improvements. The bottom line is that there is no silver bullet that addresses workforce performance issues. It takes an organizational vision which includes the right mix of technology, disciplined management, engineered measures and metrics, and a culture focused on standard work and conditions for success. For those retailers willing to make the commitment to developing their vision and following through on the plan, the rewards are substantial and will certainly provide them with a competitive advantage, including lower costs, an improved and more consistent work environment, and a workforce motivated to deliver exceptional customer service.

John Minnich is a vice president with H. B. Maynard and Company, a consulting, software and training business specializing in workforce performance improvement.

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