In Seven Habits, Stephen Covey told us to “look at the lens before looking through it”. With all the advances in human capital management and related technologies, we are approaching the high noon on workforce management. It’s time to trim away any deficiencies in our approach, time to look at the lens!

The largest problem with analytics is that there is too much of it. The constant talk and repeated mention of labor cost savings, productivity and ROI has made us retail analysts a paranoid lot. Somehow, we want to quantify and improve everything about the store workforce. I call it The Great Multiplier Syndrome. We locate a tiniest potential improvement in the store operations, put a unit cost to it, multiply it by 365 days and multiply again by several hundred stores. Result is a multi-million dollar ‘inefficiency’. Next leadership meeting will be all about how we can save millions of dollars by improving the way our labor force breaths or walks. Before anyone notices, out comes another batch of SOPs and KPIs that help us track the new found absurdity.

So retail IT and business teams are nicely caught up in a rut. We make IT get us data for analysis. Then we make some near-sighted decisions using the data. And then we make IT get us even more data to evaluate our decisions. To worsen the matters, pundits all over the retail world are convinced that this is the ‘nature of the beast’.

A more pragmatic approach would be to make a long list of all the KPIs that we usually feast upon and reason each of them out to be in Santa’s good or naughty list. But for the moment, these are a few random thoughts on the subject of analyzing workforce performance.

  1. Firstly, measurement and management control is not a universal need. All profit centers do not need to be measured. And the once that do, won’t need it in equal proportions.
  2. In two decades of careering in human capital management systems, if I have learned many things, the most important learning of them all is that there are no absolutes. There is no good performing store and bad performing store in an absolute sense. It’s all a matter of degrees and time. In the course of time stores performance will relatively improve or worsen. The time when you measure a store to be a bad performer might be the time when the store is just out of the trenches and performing relatively better, compared to it’s own past. The last thing you want to do is to hand out SOPs and dampen the spirit.
  3. Constant observing, measuring, finding ‘opportunities’ for improvements and asking stores to take steps is a nuisance, however flowery the language may be.
  4. Stores are profit centers, while me and my corporate flowery language friends are a cost center. Stores know how to make profits better than us at the corporate office. Think deep thoughts before complaining about store’s productivity!
  5. Whenever a store is not ‘performing’ on a metric, give store the first benefit of the doubt and look upon your metric with a suspicious eye. Possibly your measurement does not factor in some real life scenario. Look at the lens! More often than not, store managers face variables that a cubicle in corporate headquarters may never even dream about.
  6. All enterprises need a Corporate KPI Recycle Center, a governance body to keep a critical eye on use of the measurements
  7. It is relatively easy to find a problem. It is tough to find a solution. It is tougher to implement it. And, it is toughest to measure the success of a solution.
  8. We ought to stop using green, orange and red colors on reports to call out deviation from expected standard value of a KPI. These colors, when put together, play with the emotions of the evaluator. We naturally think Red is bad. But in the world of metrics and measurements, it should take a lot more than a mere ‘deviation from mean’ to callout a store as a bad performer.
  9. Corporate office has the single greatest advantage of being able to look at the whole chess board. We ought to work upon a more street smart model of measuring a store. Our model should incorporate outputs from all the individual metrics to arrive at a net effect.
  10. We are, thankfully, coming out of the world full of dark suites and black ties into a world with more social, friendlier software variants. Apply a fresh coat of paint on all your reports. Make them nifty.
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