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15 Jan

Workforce Transformation – A Force For Good, For All

Multiple Workforce

Right person, right place, right time. How many times have you heard that said when it comes to managing your workforce? However, this approach has become commonplace and therefore less competitive. And, due to a range of social, economic and technological factors, employees and retailers want more. 

Workforce management (WFM) and workforce transformation (WFT) solutions offer retailers a way to regain a competitive edge..

These platforms position businesses to adjust and capitalise on the significant employment and digital changes already under way. And they have the potential to balance human happiness with a healthier bottom line while driving social transformation. As we discuss with Chris Love, REPL’s workforce transformation managing partner.

Chris Love
Chris Love, Managing Partner – Workforce Transformation

It’s often said that change comes in cycles. Yet, when it comes to technology, new solutions provide a better way of achieving similar or improved results. Less cycle, more spiral. 

For example, WFM and WFT systems both help organisations manage their workforce, each with a slightly different emphasis But let’s rewind for a second and define exactly what these two systems provide:

  • WFM is the process of determining the jobs people need to do, how many people are needed to fulfil the work, which individuals fit best with which roles, the automatic creation of schedules and the accurate payment of employees. Specific WFM software elements – like time and attendance – can be added to WFM solutions to meet organisational needs.
  • WFT is a much broader approach to managing workers. It covers every aspect of people management, from hire to retire, including recruitment, on-boarding and off-boarding, talent management, training, performance management, compensation and benefits and more. Systems manage HR processes and provide detailed, joined-up data and insights.

Both systems are typically cloud-based and provided via SAAS offerings and, as Chris notes WFM and WFT systems have historically worked closely together: “… with WFT platforms providing the core HR data – like job, pay rate, bank details, address – to inform elements of the WFM system. Some organisations, like Kronos and Ceridian, have both WFM and WFT modules.” This has blurred the boundaries between WFM and WFT prompting the question, how do these approaches differ?

WFT – The Big Picture View

Technology tends to move forward in iterations rather than clean breaks and big bang change. WFT is no different. 

HR management moved from paper to computers to online software, like WFM, to manage staff more effectively and efficiently. However, organisations ended up with multiple systems to organise their workforces. And each had its own fields, data requirements and reporting functions. 

Joining up the information to create a people management overview meant running reports, exporting them into Excel and manipulating the data to create offline dashboards. Which ate into the productivity savings promised by these systems.

With data becoming more joined up in other business areas, it was time for people data to catch up. As Chris notes: “People processes have become more tightly coupled and software has changed to reflect that.” 

As a result, WFT systems evolved to offer organisations a more coherent picture of their entire workforce. Software that helps businesses recruit and retain the right people. To better connect with and engage employees, making them happier and more productive. And developing them to broaden their skills and scope of work. All with comprehensive reporting that breaks down data barriers and prevents people from working in silos.

Depending where retailers are on the digital and people management journeys impacts which solution is right for them. Those playing catch up might decide to evolve their operations by moving towards a WFM system. Those who have embedded such systems are more likely to move beyond  solutions that simply schedule and pay people correctly and towards WFT. 

“Imagine trying to identify which employees were at risk of leaving your organisation,” Chris challenges. “In the past this information was based in different systems or even people’s heads. With WFT the data you need to ask and answer these types of questions is all in one place.”   

Advanced Systems for Challenging Times

So, what’s driving the push towards WFT systems? In Chris’ view it’s because people management is now more complicated than it’s ever been with four main factors posing a challenge for retailers:

  1. The world is more employee-centric – people are placing more demands on employers making it harder to recruit and retain. Interviewees have many options and they want to know why they should work for you.
  2. Retail has changed – once a stack it high sell it cheap model where cost was all that mattered , retailers now seek to provide a service/experience offering requiring employees to be more knowledgeable and customer centric than ever before.
  3. Demographic shifts – younger generations are more demanding; they move jobs quicker, they’re looking for purpose and they want control over how they work. The use of consumer-grade, modern tech – like mobile, voice, wearables – becomes increasingly important in providing the same experience in work that employees have at home. Employers that provide high quality technology appear forward-looking and more attractive to younger people who can see a future with them. 
  4. The fourth industrial revolution – AI, ML, the IoT and robotics are predicted to move a certain percentage of jobs (depending on what you read) from people to machines. This is a double edged sword as it frees people up to undertake more creative jobs. Yet it’s also likely to have a greater impact on the most vulnerable like younger people and women with part-time jobs who shoulder caring responsibilities. The risks and rewards inherent in these technological changes will have an impact on wider society. And governments, employers or both will need to take a hard look at their response.

To be able to adjust to all these challenges, retailers require comprehensive technical systems to support them. And it’s WFT software that offers a more comprehensive way forward in this challenging new world. One that brings employees and employers together to produce better workplace outcomes for everyone.

How WFT Systems Provide Personalised Optimisation At Scale

Traditionally WFT and WFM tools have been one-size-fits-all. Employees were segmented and placed into different boxes so the platform could operate. However, people don’t fit neatly into boxes, as Chris explains: “Despite falling into the same demographic, a millennial with a family will have completely different work requirements to one without.

“Using ML and AI, WFT systems are more advanced. They no longer need to group people together because the technology recognises individuals’ needs and adapts to them. This empowers leaders to manage their teams – no matter the size – on a case-by-case basis rather than trying to apply a one-size-fits-no-one approach.” 

WFT software creates schedules for individuals, not groups of individuals, empowering retailers to keep everyone happy resulting in a more engaged workforce.

WFT enables organisations to achieve personalised optimisation at scale.

And it’s not just scheduling that employers are empowered to tackle with WFT. 

Placing Human Need Before Profit Delivers A Better Bottom Line

WFM has mainly been concerned with workforce optimisation, with a focus on squeezing maximum output from employees in pursuit of profit. This might be right for your business if there’s a lot of fat that can be cut without impacting service and engagement levels. However, if you’ve already been through this process and operate a lean organisation, WFT software offers the potential to optimise output by including individuals’ needs in the equation. 

Unhappy worker

“WFM can get the right people with the right skills to the right job and place at the right time,” says Chris. “But if those employees are unhappy with their shift, missing their child’s sports day or concerned about a parent who needs care, they’re unlikely to be giving their best.

“We’ve long known that happy, engaged employees make for contented customers and more profit,” says Chris. “By considering employees’ quality of life when scheduling, employers will have happier, more engaged staff providing a better service to customers who will spend more and become more loyal.” 

WFT systems provide a way to achieve this at scale. Solving the customer experience challenge and meeting the additional demands employees are placing on their employers. 

Where Could WFT Take Retailers Next?

One of the major trends impacting employers and employees is the rise of AI and ML. Research from the CIPD shows that many low-skilled jobs, like some of those in retail, are being replaced by AI and automation. 

However, the new jobs tend to be higher skilled. 61% of employers who introduced AI and robotics reported that affected staff needed more skills and knowledge as a result. As Chris notes: “lifelong learning will be required for people in roles that might not traditionally have been required to adapt, grow and learn.” 

If employers invest in their staff and give them the right skills, people can spend less time doing repetitive jobs and more time doing challenging, creative work. With customers seeking a more experience-focussed retail experience, the emphasis is likely to be on in-depth knowledge to provide enhanced service.

Chris believes that: “happier staff offering better service and improved productivity will lead to better profits and loyalty. Employees might not have to work five days a week but could still take home the same pay.”

Where retailers will choose to put the extra profit – into shareholders’ pockets or back into staff development and shorter working weeks – will be up for debate. Of course some will put the pounds to the bottom line. But those that choose to go the other way would become employers of choice. And, by recruiting the cream of the crop, would solidify their position in terms of people, performance and profit.

Where we decide to take the future of work is up for debate. Are these challenges for governments to sort out rather than employers? Or should organisations adapt to change, listen to people’s demands and find new ways to deliver better outcomes for their people in the knowledge that profit will follow? 

“These changes and the questions they bring to the surface form a tricky path for retailers to navigate,” says Chris.  “Working with a technology partner that raises these kinds of issues will challenge your business to consider what you’ll do to help groups disadvantaged by change. Or how you’ll convince a 50-year-old who’s done the same job for 20 years to do something new.” 

Only by thinking beyond the technology will retailers be ready for the major transformation society’s facing. 

REPL’s Vision of the Future

It’s 2030. US retailers are no longer the kings of service – every retailer that uses WFT systems offers a high-quality customer experience provided by well-trained, knowledgeable staff. 

Robot in a shop

AI and ML support robotics to carry out the more repetitive tasks like checkout work and shelf stacking. Staff have been re-trained and up-skilled and spend less time doing mundane work. 

Workforce transformation systems balance individuals’ needs with optimal scheduling at scale resulting in highly engaged workforces. As a result, productivity has increased and the average person is paid more to work a four-day week than they were for five days. The environment is improving as it’s considered in scheduling and fewer days travelling to work means lower emissions. 

Employees are happier and healthier and it shows. They take fewer sick days and they’re more engaged at work because they’re in control of their own schedules with the flexibility to achieve the work-life balance they want. They’re also better rested and ready to solve problems, suggest new ways of working and provide even better service with a genuine smile.

Instead of spending evenings looking for a better job with another organisation, they can see their future clearly mapped out with their current employer. Why would they leave when they’ve got it so good?

Technology has changed the retail environment too. People have online appointments with personal shoppers using VR to try on new clothes. With personal attention they buy more and stick with their preferred brands who provide an amazing retail experience.

Thanks to happier customers who spend more and remain loyal, profits have rocketed. It’s not only the employees who feel happier. The board sleeps easier too knowing the move to new technology that enabled all this happen was the right choice.

This could be the future of work. But only if retailers have the technology and expert advice to support human happiness, greater productivity and manage change effectively.

To transform your retail business with WFT technology, contact REPL, the retail technology specialists on +44 808 200 7375.

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