Scheduling is a strategic imperative for retailers

Discussion
Aug 28, 2015
Doug Fleener

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of the Dynamic Experiences Group.

When, where and how to use our people is one of the more critical decisions a manager or owner makes. I’ll admit that for years I saw scheduling more as an item on my to-do list than as strategic decision-making, but looking back I see how much better I could have used my staff.

Let me share a few best practices to consider:

1. Bring scheduling into the digital age. There are some terrific websites that make scheduling and managing schedules easier and some include free smartphone apps for the staff.

My favorite is When I Work (wheniwork.com). It uses drag and drop for writing schedules, helps you manage your payroll budget and manages staff availability and requests. The staff can use the app to switch/cover days, and you can text and email schedules to the staff. The monthly fee starts at $15 a month for up to 12 employees, with other plans for larger staffs.

2. Help your staff balance work and life. Happier people in the workplace make for a better work experiences and that directly impacts the customer experience. That’s why I’ve always tried my best to be accommodating about switching schedules, giving requested days off, etc.

I have a simple rule: I’ll do whatever I can as long as it doesn’t impact the customer or store performance. Does it sometimes create extra work for me? Sure, but I need to find and keep great people. I’d rather have to accommodate great employees than not have to do anything for mediocre ones.

When I Work app

Source: When I Work

3. Schedule at least three weeks out. For a time I didn’t use to do this because the staff were always looking to change their shifts, days off, etc. Then I realized — that’s exactly why to do it.

Plenty of advance knowledge of one’s schedule puts the responsibility on the person to either do a better job of scheduling her/his life, or to find someone else to switch shifts with. I also believe it is more fair to the employees so they can plan when they have to work an event, cover a vacation, etc.

4. Schedule your best at peak times. Write the schedule for your top performers first, and then fill in the rest. It’s a delicate balance to make everyone happy, but first and foremost we want to make sure the customer is happy and the register is ringing.

So let me ask, how well are you making strategic decisions with your scheduling? You might also want to discuss this article with your management team, and come up with one or two ways you can improve how you can better schedule and maximize your people.

Which of the scheduling suggestions identified in the article do retail managers most often overlook? What tips would you add?

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Braintrust
"For many retailers, the success of the store is dependent upon the effective use and scheduling of part-time staff. For some of the larger big box stores, as many as 60 percent of the staff are part-time, and that number escalates dramatically during the holiday season."

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8 Comments on "Scheduling is a strategic imperative for retailers"


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David Livingston
Guest
4 years 1 month ago

If a store’s labor force were like robots where you could rely on a consistent performance scheduling would be easy. You would know what to expect from both your top performers and mediocre workers. Then an app would be great for scheduling. In reality scheduling is like handicapping a sporting event. The human factor keep scheduling from going as planned. Sometimes a manager’s gut feel will work better than a computerized app. In Wisconsin, that app might not factor in that if the Packers lose on Sunday, people will call in sick on Monday.

JD Miller
Guest
JD Miller
4 years 1 month ago

This is a great conversation to be having. I believe that many retailers have the opportunity to create schedules that balance the work preferences of employees, customer traffic/demand and business profitability goals.

In addition to the topics mentioned here, I’d suggest a great scheduling solution also ensures compliance with break rules and mandates like the Retail Workers Bill of Rights. Also, helping employers accurately forecast demand — on regular days as well as special holidays or promotional days — is critically important to avoid over-reliance on on-call (which is in the news a lot lately).

Last month on LinkedIn, I posted nine ways to make a retail schedule smarter, which included variations of these four ideas. One national retailer who followed the advice saw turnover drop 80 percent, while conversions grew 7 percent. You can check it out here.

Thanks for raising this really interesting topic, Doug!

Gordon Arnold
Guest
4 years 1 month ago
Workforce scheduling is, as the discussion article implies, an underestimated opportunity to improve customer and employee experience and satisfaction. Store management must realize the ramifications of misplacing the level of importance this function owns as a part of the company’s overall success. Executives and human resource departments need to review the patterns of those charged with this decision making process and determine a means to measure success and identify misuse of the responsibility. The probability of scheduling being the highest weighing factor for employee decisions to leave the company and/or the business is increasingly evident when looking at the departure of those working in the stores at higher pay levels. Step one for a move to success might be to allow stores to schedule floor time for needed skill levels. Off-site programming of employees with random selections of schedule placement coordinators would reduce opportunities for favoritism and ensure the company was paying for the intended level of the tasks at hand. It may be a good idea for retail executives to participate in job cost… Read more »
Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
4 years 1 month ago
Effective and efficient staff scheduling is one of those hidden critical success factors for retail that is even more important in today’s environment. For many retailers, the success of the store is dependent upon the effective use and scheduling of part-time staff. For some of the larger big box stores, as many as 60 percent of the staff are part-time, and that number escalates dramatically during the holiday season. As the article mentions, a good scheduling program that is visible to everyone is the first key. Scheduling at least three weeks out is a minimum, further out in peak periods. An interactive process to work with staff can be a positive, but employees must have room in the rescheduling process for trading shifts. There is a new dimension not specifically addressed in this article which will have an impact on more effective scheduling. The use of beacons and location tracking of consumers not only enables more precise mapping of peak traffic, but also where that traffic goes in the store. This data can be of… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
4 years 1 month ago

Too often, managers don’t consider the needs of their staff. Too often it becomes “this is what I need and you are going to do it.” Managers need to walk in their employees’ shoes once to get a sense of the problems they face in their daily work life. Can this be done and effectively staff for the hours needed? Yes, but it takes a manager with the skill and expertise to handle staffing far enough in advance so others can make plans or get someone to cover for them.

Michael Greenberg
Guest
Michael Greenberg
4 years 1 month ago

If you haven’t had to explain face to face why someone has to work Saturday night, you won’t really understand why scheduling is so incredibly hard to do well. People are not automatons, and training new employees has huge opportunity cost.

Modern tools are a huge help to reduce the time overhead to managing schedules, but as a manager you have to optimize for revenue, retention, and sales volume per hour worked.

By giving:

a) a lot of lead time (3 weeks is good, more is better)

b) digital tools for employees to interact directly with schedules (most important)

c) freedom for your employees to iterate/trade so they can self-optimize their schedules given their work/life needs, THEN you have something that just might fix everything.

vic gallese
Guest
4 years 1 month ago

#4) schedule your best at peak times.

While this is contradictory to even some of the other 3 suggestions, it is something most managers miss, due in part to not knowing who their best performers are!

Writing a customer centric schedule takes time and cooperation from the store associates. Most managers can’t/won’t take the time to dig into the business needs and ask employees to be even more flexible.

mihkel@parim.co.uk
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

Especially important for a temporary workforce, which includes a lot of Millennials, is an up-to-date mobile software application enabling employees to arrange, manage and switch their shifts on the go. Also for the managers to see all clock in/out times, arrange shift patterns in advance and easily manage holiday leaves and keep an eye on absenteeism.

Issues with scheduling can create a lot of friction in the team which will transfer into worse customer service, so it’s quite essential to make the process as easy as possible for all and concentrate on bigger things.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"For many retailers, the success of the store is dependent upon the effective use and scheduling of part-time staff. For some of the larger big box stores, as many as 60 percent of the staff are part-time, and that number escalates dramatically during the holiday season."

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