I have met HR professionals to whom talent management meant managing a few high-potentials and nothing beyond that. Most organizations take a broader view of talent management but still tend to focus on white collar workers. This mindset overlooks the fact that the biggest part of the workforce is hourly workers. Getting the most value from the hourly workforce is a great opportunity for HR. At a recent Kronos Inc. event in Boston, I had the chance to meet two leaders who are doing great things with their front-line staff.
Puma, a global sportswear manufacturer, has over 90 retail outlets in North America. A key talent management fact for this business is that there are significant differences in performance between store employees; some are much better at sales and customer service than others. Puma’s insight is that it makes sense to allocate as many hours as possible to the best employees. Rather than having scheduling done at the whim of a store manager, Puma wanted to ensure that it had the best people possible on the floor, as frequently as possible.
Achieving this goal required work on several dimensions. In recruiting, hiring employees with good availability (i.e. they could work many hours in a week) became important. If a good employee is only available Monday and Thursday mornings then there is limited opportunity to leverage their skills and they are not the ideal employee for the business. Performance measurement is another dimension. If you are going to give more hours to the good employees you need to be sure who those good employees are. Finally, Puma needed to automate workforce management, in this case by using Kronos, to make it practical for managers to easily schedule while considering these multiple availability, performance, and skill inputs.
The result of recruiting employees with high availability, accurately identifying high performers, and then scheduling those high performers to best leverage their skills helped Puma survive the downturn and even set the stage for expansion of its store network. It’s an example of understanding how more effective management of the hourly workforce can create competitive advantage.
Hannaford is a grocery chain with over 170 stores in the US. They have worked hard to align their talent with their merchandising strategy. To understand this it’s helpful to consider the cycle of operations in a store. There are boxes to be received, shelves to be stocked, cash tills to be manned, and bread to be baked—to name just a few activities. Activities should not be done when it suits an employee’s mood, but when it meshes with the merchandizing strategy. At the busy times they need to have many cashiers, in the late afternoon they want bread being baked to suffuse the store with the welcoming smell of bread, after that they want pies being freshly made. Some employees can do many jobs, but not all employees can do all jobs. How do you schedule the mix of employees in an efficient way so that they are doing the right things at the right times?
As in the Puma case there are several elements that need to be put in place. First HR needs to work with the merchandising department to understand their plans. They need to have good information on the skills of each employee so that, for example, only people with cashier training are scheduled to go on cash. Finally Hannaford needs powerful workforce scheduling software to manage the whole process.
Having got those elements in place, Hannaford has turned the scheduling of employees from a casual activity to a highly efficient process that fully aligns with the goals of the merchandizing function. It’s another example of the leverage that comes from taking the front line workforce seriously and applying some intelligence and technology to make the stores run more effectively.
Talent management for the hourly workforce is often different from talent management for salaried workers. Puma started with the fact that performance varies significantly between workers—that is the same for all jobs—but what’s different is that many hourly workers are part-timers so there is a lot of flexibility around scheduling that doesn’t normally exist in the white collar workforce. Scheduling to take best advantage of the good workers was a smart move. At Hannaford, the insight was recognizing how to pair up merchandizing plans with workforce plans. It is a great way to leverage the efficiency of the workforce and, again, one that does not have an obvious analogue in white collar talent management.
What both these organizations have in common is they treat workforce management seriously and have invested in the technology and analytical skill to leverage their workforce in new ways. Any HR leaders looking for a way to make an impact ought to spend some time seeking ways to better leverage their hourly workers and take inspiration from organizations like Puma and Hannaford that have already done so.
David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing writing, research and speaking on human-capital management. He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in Canada, the U.S., Japan, Europe and China. Mr. Creelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org