Managing the workforce in a retail environment is challenging because of the unique conditions in this sector. Regardless of the technological advances that have been introduced to aid store operations, this sector remains a labor-intensive, resource-dependent sector. Retail is a highly competitive industry, and experts point to customer service as the primary factor that determines if a store or chain survives the competition. Achieving customer service goals means making sure that the workforce is adequate, trained in the appropriate skills and motivated to deliver exemplary service. The HR manager is faced with ensuring that these goals are met in spite of other issues endemic in this sector such as high turnover, low wages relative to other occupations and the practice of scheduling part-time hours to skirt mandatory benefits for full-time workers. Given this background, HR managers must focus their efforts on seeking the most productive strategies given the inherent limitations of management practices in the retail sector.
1. Work with store operations to understand their HR needs.
The key players in retail are the front line employees. These are the people who are in direct contact with customers. They are the public face of the company and must be molded into the desired corporate image. As the HR manager, take the time to visit the stores or showrooms. Meet with the managers and listen to their staffing concerns because if you don’t, you will end up running in place and doing the same things over.
2. Develop an HR process that defines recruitment goals and strategies, talent development and retention programs.
Define the goals of your department and develop the appropriate strategies that will guide the process of hiring, onboarding, training and firing if necessary. Make sure to train others to lead the process in your absence should you become unavailable. Establish the system so that you can step away to handle other functions or go on vacation without the department imploding in your absence. Train someone so that you can delegate effectively, and smarter not harder.
3. Develop and recommend an incentive program to motivate employees.
Employee retention is a big issue in the retail sector. A combination of factors cited above encourage high turnover with better skilled workers often leading the charge as they find job openings with higher wages, better benefits and more stable work schedules. As the HR manager, it is part of your job to identify these highly desirable workers and provide incentives for them to stay. You may not have the authority to offer higher wages, but you may be given some latitude when it comes to offering incentives such as cross-training for other store positions or making a lateral move beneficial for the employee due to proximity to their home or school.
4. Encourage feedback from store managers and their team.
Reality resides in the front line operations. Your store managers and the crew can be a rich source of information about what works, what doesn’t and what seems to encourage customers to come back for more. Support an open-door policy to make sure that feedback is not filtered by supervisory overreach, but do not encourage gossip and back-office maneuvers that support favoritism.
5. Insist on cross-training all employees.
Cross-train to expand individual capabilities, explore personal interests and identify the star workers who are worth developing and retaining. When you cross-train the crew, you are ensuring that someone will be able to assume a key function when the need is critical, and the main person assigned to the job becomes unavailable. Cross-training and rotating positions and store locations is also a security measure in retail stores because no one can hog a position and cover any misdeeds for too long.
The HR manager in retail deals with a work cycle that loops more frequently than in other industries because of high turnover and the need for quick responses to changes in sales and marketing initiatives. Needless to say, you need to be energetic, organized and focused to thrive in the pressure-cooker environment of HR management in the retail sector.