Retailers can wring savings by building on technology of back-room processes

Paystubs can help make HR portal ‘jar of honey’ for retail employees
By Karim Kurji
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/08/2013

At the checkout counter at my grocery store, a floor supervisor recently came up to my cashier, handed her a form, told her to read it, sign it and make sure she handed the document in by the end of the week.

The supervisor then apologized for making me wait an extra 45 seconds and moved on to the next cashier.

Think about that one form. Head office decided it was necessary to have a signed copy. It needed to convey the message to the local stores, ship the document and hope the message between head office, store managers and employees wasn’t diluted.

The store manager then held a meeting with supervisors who, in turn, met with their staff. Once they had all the information back, the forms would end up at head office.

Retailers have perfected the science of customer operations and made it an art. Keeping the cost of products low is their business. Most larger retailers have phenomenal logistical solutions that are innovative and, in many respects, industry-leading. But they could be missing a huge potential for savings.

The $80,000 form

Conservatively, for each employee, each step of that process will take one minute of somebody’s time to have the form created, distributed, delivered, filled out, collected, sent to head office and finally transposed into a spreadsheet for someone to process the information.

That’s at least five minutes of effort for the HR person, per form. Any idea what that costs?

• Five forms multiplied by five minutes’ effort per form equals 25 minutes of effort.

• For 1,000 employees, that’s 25,000 minutes of collective effort — or 417 hours — that could be used more efficiently.

• At $20 per hour for the average HR staffer, that’s $8,340 begging to be reclaimed.

Scale that to a company with a national workforce of 10,000 and it equates to an annual spend of about $80,000. And that’s not including the logistical costs of shipping or postage.

Making each dollar work harder

New competition from huge retailers, such as Target entering the Canadian market, means traditional players have been spending months beefing up plans to keep new foes at bay. Even before the new competition, the regulars were merging, divesting, rebranding — basically doing everything to hang on to their turf.

But shareholders are always demanding more with less and employers need to tighten up internal processes.

Now that most large retailers have adopted back-end technology for HR operations, such as PeopleSoft or SAP, the next challenge is to build on that technology to make sure every dollar spent is being productive and returning a profit.

But retail HR professionals face very special barriers to improving back-office productivity. Automated processes, intranets and infrastructure help, but are still underused.

Employees often have no access to corporate intranets (to complete online forms, for example) while they’re at work. It’s difficult to attract retail associates to Internet sites. Many don’t even have corporate email accounts and, with the typical retail churn, it’s hard to keep track of everyone who needs to be communicated with.

4 steps to success

There are four steps to wringing every ounce of productivity from HR processes.

Get employees to use the technology: The way we work and communicate is changing, and even what we do for a living is changing. Many organizations underestimate how wired and mobile employees are. The one thing that will keep employees coming back to an HR portal in a typical retail scenario is a paystub — it’s like an open jar of honey.

The paystub is the draw — every payday, these employees will have a reason to come and check they were paid for the hours they worked.

So make it electronic and available on an accessible portal and, if possible, mobile-ready for any platform. Don’t be roped into building operating system-specific solutions — you will erode your savings.

Put the information they want online: Nothing is more compelling than having information that’s personal to us, reflects who we are and knows our preferences, our individual situation and, to some extent, why we’re looking for certain information.

Through a self-registration process, make employees register with a personal email address, get all the necessary compliance out of the way and, presto, you now have a funnel directing employees to a common place.

Make every use of online technology to reduce paperwork: Figure out the processes that consume most of HR’s time. Using a smartphone-ready portal, HR can deliver forms, training and all the other processes that involve communicating with employees, online. This step can be bolstered with a solid communication plan. A well-thought-out plan will yield a high adoption rate, resulting in stellar return on investment numbers, so don’t skimp here.

Bankroll your investment in technology to more and more purposes: Come up with a plan to roll out additional forms, statements or services every few months. This will allow you to implement new processes in bite-size pieces using the savings from one phase to bankroll the next. It will also make sure HR resources are not consumed in a massive project for months on end.

Karim Kurji is Toronto-based director of technology solutions at HR benefits consulting services firm Buck Consultants, a Xerox company. For more information, visit www.buckconsultants.ca.

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