Getting Workforce Management Right

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Getting Workforce Management Right


Retail operations face challenges every day from the pressure to increase conversion rates to grow revenue but when it comes to deploying a workforce management solution globally, they’re tasked with one of their most complex challenges. And the truth is that retailers today are expanding globally more than ever before, and increasingly these retailers are deploying their workforce management solution across the world. 

They are doing so out of a recognition that labor isn’t just a cost and that workforce management solutions are key to ensuring a happier and more productive workforce. In some case, advanced workforce management solutions such as mobile applications act as recruitment and retention differentiators. As retailers are now reaping employee engagement benefits leading to improved productivity and customer satisfaction, the question arises, “What is the best way to approach global workforce management implementations?”  

There are essentially two schools of thought.  Generally if the question is coming from corporate, the bias is toward standardization.  The thinking is standardization promotes efficiencies and global visibility.  For the head office, differences are only a matter of degree, and bending regional practices to focus on commonalities is a small price to pay for a globally maintainable system.  If however, the regions are asking the question, localization trumps standardization.  Regional operators will claim work practices vary significantly from country to country and cannot be standardized.  These folks will argue language differences are just the tip of the iceberg; back office systems such as workforce management must be customized to accommodate the unique needs of the region.  Who is right?  What works?  

In practice, the best implementations are a blend both of standardization and localization.  I have seen a number of companies get this right and in all cases, communication is the key to success. A working, successful implementation in any country around the world is a tremendously good place to start.  Standardization around technology choices, HR infrastructure, basic people-related policies, and nomenclature provide a firm foundation for a global deployment.  Often regions are surprised at how much of the foundation is reusable.  What regions don’t often realize is:  while the regional details need to be configured, the underlying structure can remain the same.  It is also true that some first generation implementations aren’t designed for multi-national roll outs and are therefore are not sufficient.  They need to be rethought before taking them global.  But in nearly all cases, it makes sense to have an implementation approach where 60 percent to 70 percent of the implementation is a standard foundation for a global workforce management system.

What corporate doesn’t often realize is individual countries can have extremely challenging and unique pay and scheduling practices.  For instance, Brazil has the “night zone bonus” where under certain circumstances, associates are paid an extra minute for every seven minutes they work.  And Hong Kong has the 418 rule whereby casual workers working more than four consecutive weeks of 18 hours or more automatically transition to full time status.  By global standards, Australia has extremely complex pay awards that together with employment contracts make getting workforce management right a tricky business. Unfortunately there is no such thing as the Global Pay Rule Handbook.  It seems each country has its own quirks to trip up the uninitiated. Long term experience in-country seems to be the only way to proactively get this right.

Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And nowhere is this truer than with global workforce management deployments.  Not only do these projects face the typical corporate vs. region culture clashes, but in addition workforce management as a function is often “a man without a country” – living somewhere among IT, HR, Operations, and Finance.  Without strong alignment to a strong function, and strong communication, these projects can go adrift and lose their way.  

Another important aspect – it’s not just about ensuring that you have an implementation success plan but also think ahead about how to prevent failures. Be sure to address unique local challenges by partnering with regional partners and finally, an excellent IT infrastructure is crucial as any outage, large or small, can cause costly delays. 

Ultimately, those considering global workforce management projects should not despair.  Over the years many an iconic retail brand has done an excellent job of rolling out to scores of countries.  They have figured it out and properly implementing workforce management is no more daunting than acquiring locations and providing utilities.  As with most complex projects the keys are leadership, vision, planning, and communication.

Charlie DeWitt is vice president of business development with Kronos.