Why are retail employees going around company systems?

Discussion
Dec 14, 2016
Nikki Baird

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a few talks about the future of the store, and every time the part about workforce transitions arrived, I got heads nodding about how Gen Z is even more likely than Millennials to be impatient with your old, lame technology.

An easy example is how some employees at a store might set up a group on Slack or Facebook to communicate with each other about schedules and shifts to swap.

Retail executives always get a grim look on their faces when I bring up that example, mostly because they know that those Slack or Facebook groups already exist in their company, and there’s pretty much nothing they can do about it.

But rather than feel queasy about it, why aren’t more retailers moving to enable these kinds of communication? Employees want it. They feel it’s important enough to go around your feeble systems to get it — even when the retailer protests.

The problem is that companies (and this is not exclusive to retailers) have become more concerned about making employees do it the way they think it should be done rather than spending the time to help them do the things that employees need to do. It’s a classic technology implementation mistake — not understanding the processes you’re impacting before you try to implement technology to enable the process. But it’s also emblematic of how far away retailers have gotten from trying to enable employees vs. controlling costs — control the employee, and you therefore control the cost.

Well, costs are about to get out of control for retailers, as minimum wages rise. If you can’t control the cost to the degree you like, maybe you’ll find that you can unlock even more employee productivity by helping them, rather than forcing them to do things in an old, lame, unhelpful way just because “we’ve always done it that way.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is it okay that store employees collaborate through Slack or Facebook groups where the retailer is not invited or has no visibility? What should retailers do about these forms of unauthorized communication?

Braintrust
"This unauthorized activity may actually be benefiting the company and it behooves executives to understand it and perhaps even leverage it."
"Employees will always have some beefs about their job, and the way they speak to each other has evolved to online..."
"It’s not a question of what’s okay, but what’s best."

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8 Comments on "Why are retail employees going around company systems?"

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Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

In developing and measuring new in-store shopping experiences for a DIY retailer, it became apparent that several sales associates had gone rogue. These sales associates truly cared about their customers and started their own Pinterest sites to help their customers visualize projects. They proactively developed this program on their own because they could not readily access the retailer’s own library of “how to” videos as needed. This is another example to support Nikki’s point — it’s a classic technology implementation mistake, not understanding the processes you’re impacting before you try to implement technology to enable the process. The retailer is willing to invest in developing technology based on shopper experiences without further leveraging and enabling the invaluable resources they already have — people. The human interaction you can have in a physical environment is the most valuable differentiator from the online world.
Stop trying to put Pandora’s imps back in the box! They’re out and thriving!

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is both an opportunity and a challenge. It’s understandable that executives want to ensure that communication is controlled to some extent to protect trade secrets, plans, business results and other internal information. However, the ability to control this, as noted in Nikki’s article, is virtually impossible today. Therein lies the challenge.

The opportunity is in better understanding why store employees are using these unauthorized forms of communication in the first place. There very well may be good reasons why employees are working around the system. Instead of creating even more rigid policies against using them, executives should solicit input from these employees to understand what they use and why — this unauthorized activity may actually be benefiting the company and it behooves executives to understand it and perhaps even leverage it.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Retail management needs to embrace some chaos or run the risk of alienating employees. Employees will set up their own networks because it’s so easy to do and because they have a better handle on technology than older managers. Management can’t know it all.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

It’s not a question of what’s okay, but what’s best. If employees are using alternative tech/communications to be more effective at work, it’s a big wake-up call to a retailer to get with the plan quickly.

I see this so often, especially with customer-facing technology. Some salesperson hits a home run making a big tech sale to a retailer, installing equipment that is either partly outdated at its onset, has a very short future or has an impossible real-world ROI. The retailer gets locked in and can’t admit a mistake and customers and even employees lose.

So if the people that are on your front lines have better alternatives to systems that management thinks is best, embrace them or at least test them and be willing to take the hit for outmoded systems. It will likely still be more net profitable in the long-run.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

This has been going on forever. Employees will always have some beefs about their job, and the way they speak to each other has evolved to online, when years back it was a bar stool or a telephone. Bottom line is that we as owners of a business must address these issues, and yes we have to make a stand on our employees trying to circumvent our way of doing things.

I have the occasional meetings with my department folks and I get an earful on some employees who simply do not want to work well with others, and we deal with it one-on-one.

Engage often with your staff, work beside them when they are short of help, and always allow them to discuss work-related issues, as you may learn something.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

The larger story here is the starving of IT shops in retail. Retail companies that dole out incremental funding increases once a year are resigning themselves to an incremental future in an age of massive, revolutionary change. Technology is the future, and it’s time for retail to fully embrace it.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Life (and business) is all about agility. The world has changed. And it’s still changing, and won’t stop anytime soon. Any business needs to be flexible in order to adopt technologies, evolving cultures and anything else that doesn’t stay the same. The challenge is that “change” is happening faster than ever. And younger generations are being born into advanced technologies that Baby Boomers running most retail organizations have to adopt, learn and leverage across their businesses. That last piece simply isn’t happening fast enough … especially not fast enough for the most tech-savvy generation.

PJ Walker
Guest
Cathy Hotka is on the right track — I’ve provided digital consulting for almost all of Fortune 20 retailers and we run into the same issues every time; they allocate a certain dollar amount to IT with little to no regard as to how their new process/product will be adapted by their workforce. I started out on the sales floor and we adopted any means available to make our jobs easier (and in the area of commission sales, increase sales). We were collecting phone numbers and email addresses ahead of our employers and would spend time notifying our “preferred customers” when the item that they’ve been eyeing in the store was going on sale (in their size, color). With access to free consumer engagement apps, every new generation of sales associate will leverage them to increase their value to their employer as well as their own paycheck. Isn’t this what retailers want? Outgoing and engaged employees who are up- and cross-selling? Smart retailers should pay attention and incorporate employee-supportive technologies like Slack, Pinterest, etc. and make sure that it is easy for their sales associates to use but monitored to protect them from the tiny percentage of employees who may… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"This unauthorized activity may actually be benefiting the company and it behooves executives to understand it and perhaps even leverage it."
"Employees will always have some beefs about their job, and the way they speak to each other has evolved to online..."
"It’s not a question of what’s okay, but what’s best."

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