Six Elements of a Successful Retail Labor Scheduling Implementation

As brick and mortar retailers evolve to adapt in a competitive online marketplace, the need for an engaged, properly trained, and effectively scheduled workforce has never been more critical. Despite today’s wide range of retail-focused technology and its role in an organization’s growth, a retailer’s workforce is still its biggest asset in the effort to differentiate the brand, drive customer satisfaction and boost conversion. In order to best utilize such an asset, many retailers are moving toward investing in robust labor scheduling software applications to optimize scheduling.

Many retailers invest millions of dollars in a chosen system. Unfortunately, without the right support to guide them through the system implementation and optimization process, some organizations fail to properly implement or to complete the implementation at all. And many who implement successfully aren’t fully utilizing the system in ways that truly meet the goals of the organization, so are not realizing projected ROI and ongoing labor cost savings. Workforce Insight’s Jim Malafronte, Principal, Retail & Consumer Services, talks about ways in which to avoid these scenarios, and reviews critical areas necessary to consider to bring about a smooth retail labor scheduling implementation.


1. Know Who to Involve

A labor scheduling implementation touches so many functional areas of a retail business: stores, field management, corporate store ops support, IT, HR, finance, legal, loss prevention, and marketing are all examples of business units impacted by an implementation. IT should work in cooperation with these and other major departments comprising the business to define the goals and objectives of the solution to create detailed technical requirements prior to initiating the process of selecting a workforce management system. “Many retailers fail to ever create this cross-functional project team, or do so too late in the process and often omit critical stakeholders, which can be detrimental to the project’s success,” says Malafronte. “This cross-functional team needs to be built at the very start of the implementation initiative, beginning with requirements definition, progressing with vendor selection, and remaining throughout design, testing, pilot, and rollout.”

One of the most important areas of the business that should be represented as part of the endeavor to implement a scheduling solution is Store Ops. In addition to owning business requirements as part of vendor selection, the Store Ops perspective on the new system’s potential effects in relation to day-to-day operations is a must-have. “As the ones to implement and utilize the solution, Store Ops should have a strong voice throughout the entire implementation journey and beyond,” says Malafronte. “They are the ultimate end users and are critical to the engagement for their store-level perspective on concerns that should be addressed and on what will have a major impact on running the business.”


 2. Labor Standards

For a labor scheduling application to be effective and meet workload demand by time of day, it must have the ability to accurately forecast how much workload will be created. As a prerequisite to implementing a labor scheduling solution, a retailer must have labor standards that reflect all activity that occurs within a store, along with determined workload values for these activities.

Typically retailers create an “activity dictionary”, classifying activities as either fixed or variable, and documenting frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.).  One common challenge retailers face is striking the right balance between fixed and variable activities.  When too many activities are defined as variable, the added complexity makes it difficult to accurately forecast workload.    If an activity is classified as variable, a labor driver must be identified for the scheduling solution to forecast effectively.  Examples may include time needed to unload and stock a truck, which will be based on the number of cartons or units received or cashier hours which will be determined based on the number of transactions.   Projecting retail workload is not a precise science and the quest to achieve precision can limit success when implementing labor scheduling solutions.

If labor standards are in place already, retailers should determine the need for updates. Business processes may have changed since the labor standards were originally created, or the introduction of new equipment or technology may have since affected the time it takes for an activity to occur.


3. Operational Readiness

Operational readiness refers to the non-systematic processes that a retailer must execute. These should be quantified and addressed to ensure projected ROI and ongoing benefits to the company from the implementation of the new scheduling system. Examples include:

  • Schedule adherence (Are resources working the posted schedules?)
  • Associate availability (How flexible is your workforce to address peak and slow business periods by day of week and time of day?)
  • Full-time/part-time ratio (High full-time ratios create a very restrictive environment for an optimized labor scheduling solution to create an effective schedule that meets workload forecasts)
  • Cross-training (Have you invested in training your team to perform multiple functions within the store and is this training documented in a system of record?)

The above cannot be addressed by even the most sophisticated software, but each of these can affect the ability to maximize the full functionality of the scheduling system. “As part of a successful labor scheduling implementation, you must consider these factors,” says Malafronte. “Develop a baseline, quantitative score of where your organization stands currently, and develop an action plan to improve in all areas prior to full implementation.”


4. Change Management

Often, for both managers and associates, the concept of change resulting from a new scheduling implementation can spur stress and anxiety, which may end up creating resistance to the new system and negatively impacting user adoption. The best way for retail organizations to maximize chances of success, mitigate worry, and smoothly introduce users to the change a new system can bring is by having a proactive change management plan in place from the project’s onset. “One of the most common themes that arises when retailers talk about their implementation experiences centers around change management,” says Malafronte. “Many retailers underestimate the impact of change throughout the organization. A strong change management plan that aligns with project goals and that involves a well-timed and thoughtfully-executed communication plan can greatly reduce resistance and help ensure the success of the project as a whole.”

The impact on changing schedules for hourly associates, even slightly, can be dramatic, stressful, and highly emotional. Proven change management strategies and expertise must be built into the labor scheduling deployment, embedding stakeholder risk analysis, communication planning, executive alignment and clearly defining goals (cost reduction, productivity improvement, increasing sales, improving customer experience, etc.).  Regretfully, labor scheduling projects have become primarily associated with cost reduction, when in many cases goals center on improving staff engagement and customer experience.

It’s essential that direct and transparent messaging and risk mitigation is executed in tandem with the scheduling solution deployment.   In addition, retailers should evaluate how aggressively they seek to balance migration from associate-centric schedules to customer-centric schedules.   For example, Saturdays and Sundays may be the highest days for customer traffic, but what’s the impact to full-time associates working every weekend?   Developing an effective change management plan ensures that employee needs are considered when determining how new scheduling rules apply (i.e. whether long tenured, loyal associates are allowed to maintain current schedules).


5. Analytics

As a retail organization embarks upon the journey a labor scheduling implementation entails, now is the time to determine analytics strategy and requirements. Many organizations have fragmented reporting and KPIs across the organization. This is an opportunity to evaluate and determine what are the true metrics that will be utilized to ensure desired targets are achieved in critical areas such as productivity, cost control, conversion, and customer satisfaction.

As the result of a scheduling implementation, most organizations will have access to data that was previously not available. Evaluate the benefits and downside of developing custom reports above and beyond the “canned” reporting provided by your software solution partner. Also, consider the benefits of leveraging the expertise of an outside firm that can provide the tools to view and analyze workforce management software data in combination with information from other data points such as HR, point of sale (POS), traffic counters, and customer feedback reporting to drive actionable results.


6.  Establish a Workforce Management-focused Culture

The journey doesn’t end after the last store goes live on the new application. Rather than just settling for meeting payroll budget, the focus of the organization’s culture must shift in order to realize the ongoing benefit from a scheduling implementation. Retailers must continually follow up and audit stores to ensure compliance. The organization’s leadership team must be trained on how to manage with new metrics. “Now that quantitative scores for scheduling effectiveness have been established, the goal should be to partner with store managers to find the root causes of low scores and provide coaching and guidance on how to improve,” says Malafronte.  “Having the right person in the right place at the right time, and doing the right thing, will ultimately help drive a great customer experience that cannot be duplicated online.”

Because a retail organization’s workforce has become the key differentiator in effectively competing in an omnichannel retail environment, the benefits of a successful labor scheduling implementation are significant. However, without careful, comprehensive planning and the right partner and advisor to lead an organization through the process, the risk can be great and consequences of a failed implementation are severe. Is your organization considering implementing a scheduling system, or upgrading the system already in place? Workforce Insight can help. Learn more about our long history of success helping large retail organizations smoothly implement and optimize their workforce management systems.