While there are literally thousands of different metrics that describe a typical retailer’s workforce behavior, status and performance, all of these can be reduced to the goal of aligning an engaged workforce with the demands of a store. After analyzing how retailers including grocery, specialty and big box, flex their workforce to accommodate demand it was no surprise to me that people behave the same way they do at work as they do in their personal lives.
We are creatures of habit, informed by the environment around us. Most of us take the same way to work each day. Out of necessity we may break that habit due to congestion or construction but later return to what we perceive as the easiest, cheapest, and fastest route. Managing the success of a store is somewhat similar, there are regular rhythms and occasional disruptions and store managers become efficient as they gain experience.
The underlying data supports this story. However, the data has also yielded a second insight. Based on culture, policies, and the nature of an organization’s business what these managers do to become efficient varies significantly. Aligning labor to demand means flexing the workforce. And how the workforce is flexed is often stable within a store, but across different stores it can vary dramatically. There are many techniques for both short term and seasonal flexing including part-time and full-time blends, overtime, mid-shift transfers, store-to-store sharing and asking employees to stay longer than scheduled or sending them home early.
What occurs is that as store managers become experienced, they begin to get comfortable with a smaller subset of flexing techniques than that which is truly available to them. It makes sense, as their efficiency in staffing is improved. What they miss however is that sometimes what is most efficient for them causes the company to incur excess cost and has a large impact on their employees when it comes to their personal lives.
When this happens, stores miss out on the peaks of revenue during holiday seasons as their limited flexing techniques often miss the peaks of demand which also correlate to a store’s most profitable sales. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Some brands are now experimenting with new models such as providing more hours to part timers versus hiring seasonal employees in a tight labor market or incentivizing employees because they know bursts of high productivity are available during high demand periods when the workforce is engaged.
For the rest, the limitations in their flexibility is evident in their data. I often find a few techniques used regularly while others are completely ignored. When I speak with store managers, they explain that sometimes it’s because they don’t have the awareness that other techniques could have been applied, or sometimes the way jobs are designed preclude them from applying those techniques.
In these situations, I prescribe Yoga for the Workforce. What I mean is that a retailer needs to begin new stretching exercises that allow it to flex the workforce in new ways. And just like Yoga, at first it is difficult and sometimes even painful. But after practice, it begins to feel good and your spirits are lifted through the day.
-Gregg Gordon, vice president, data science practice group, Kronos