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The human face of retail's HR department

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Job enrichment and job rotation are regular functions of the Human Resource (HR) department at Indus League Clothing Ltd. What is exciting is that they provide extraordinary opportunities to employees to acquire new set of skills in their interested areas. With retail industry undergoing a massive change, the HR function needs to be well-versed with thorough knowledge of the structure of every work-system in an organization.
“Earlier, retail sector was only driven by the right product at the right time and the right place strategy. Today it is essential to have the right people to facilitate the same in a competitive scenario,” feels Rajeev Gopalakrishnan, Group Managing Director – South Asia, Bata India Limited. “In the Indian retail scenario, consumers are pampered and spoilt for choice. Unlike western markets, where consumers can scout, explore and purchase products themselves using technology, Indians require and desire plenty of help and assistance from the store managers, sales executives and sales associates. And hence HR department or personnel play a pivotal role in shaping these executives,” says Anupam Bansal, Executive Director, Liberty Shoes.
“We have piloted a “mood meter” which enables store managers to get a quick pulse check of how employees are feeling and then initiate activities that can enhance the mood if required,” says Rajnarayan, Senior Vice President and CHRO.
Not only the role of HR has changed within the organization structure per se but HR department has also undergone overhauling in terms of their functioning, treating employees, addressing grievances, understanding human behavior etc. “Employees are not known anymore via their number or ID cards, neither are they restricted to lunch in the common hall with the management team, instead its equality and humanity which defines HR departments today,” says Rohit Ahuja, Independent HR consultant.
HR departments are moving away from the mundane age old tricks of engaging employees. Companies are perking up the incentive systems, compensation packages, recruitment processes, development processes to create value among employees. “Most retail companies are in the process of developing a robust PMS. Some companies take advantage by adopting the parent group’s PMS, while some operate through balanced scorecard or an online PMS. However, measuring individual contribution at the store level is still a challenge,” says Sajimol Mathews, HR Consultant and Strategist at Sparkles.
However, with higher thrust on talent building, HR department at Lacoste has linked PMS outcomes to appraisals and variable pay for sales force also, to bring into perspective a holistic performance review which includes an analysis of potential as well.
Challenges with HR
With growth, the challenges have also grown to the next level for retail companies. It is no longer implementing systems processes or people etc., instead calculating their impact on business.
With the millennials beginning to enter the workforce and the increasing use of technology the work environment is undergoing a change. Some of the critical challenges are tracking ROI effectiveness, calculating individual performances at store level, culture, learning technologies for employees etc. “Organizations are constantly being challenged to redefine, reorganize and re-skill their employees to promote efficiency and lessen attrition. Given the nature and requirement from the customer facing roles involved, one of the challenges is to design initiatives to motivate the workforce on the front-line to invest in themselves enough in order to effectively communicate each brand’s story to customers,” says Rajnarayan.
One of the critical challenges faced by companies is to objectively measure individual contribution especially at the store level. KRAs are set for all corporate employees, however only 58 per cent of the employees at the store level have unique KRAs set for them. The main reason identified is the inability to differentiate between individual and store performance at that level.
“The focus now has shifted to developing the talent in-house and building their capabilities to match the ever-increasing demands of business communication. The challenge really is not only to create and manage a highly productive workforce; but to look beyond and develop a holistic approach to train and retain the talent,” says Gopalakrishnan.
“The biggest and most prominent challenge we face in our work environment is how to break the monotony and boredom in the organization along with handling human beings belonging to diverse cultures, backgrounds, educational levels and aspirations,” says Bansal.
On the corporate level, various training sessions and inter departmental meetings are organized, idea sharing conventions on new technologies and market insights etc. On the store level, the staffs is provided with persistent inducement sessions which motivate them, arouse their passions towards work, and improve their approach and attitude towards work along with intriguing story telling sessions.
“One of the primary challenges in retail employment is the issue of retention. In order to address ongoing challenges of retention, HR needs to continue to deploy effective on boarding programs, engagement initiatives, regular review and constant motivation. It is important to measure effectiveness of existing programs and improvise them as needed to ensure goals are consistently being met,” believes Saji.
The average attrition rate in the retail industry stands close to 25 to 35 per cent. “Employers will have to accept that staff turnover will be there, but the real challenge is to minimize it and reduce the impact on the business,” says Ahuja. What companies need to do is retain them through by a lot of engagement activities to maintain their work-life balance, constant support in resolving the employee grievances, emphasizing fun at work culture, creating a friendly atmosphere among peers and the management.
Engaging Diverse Cultures
Strong diversity of people and thought is essential for any organization to grow and evolve. Diversity can thrive only when there is respect and acceptance of differences. Engaging the diverse workforce at the shop floor is surely challenging but it gives organizations like BATA a competitive edge across different markets. “All the new joiners undergo a specific training program known as “Passion to Serve” along with on the job training. Apart from this, we run a Management Trainee Program to tap the potential of India’s young workforce and to infuse fresh ideas and enthusiasm.
As part of our campus engagement program, we participate in campus hiring and recruit these young and talented minds post a rigorous selection procedure. On joining, the management trainees undergo an extensive training of one year which equips them with in-depth knowledge of product, processes and operations. “The work environment at Titan is built on a strong foundation of openness, trust, care, concern and empowerment believes Rajnarayan. He further adds that “we have both formal and informal interaction and communication opportunities for employees to enable them to showcase innovative ideas, exchange information easily and embed common practices into the value system of the organization.
The company also has various listening posts for employees to voice their concerns like open houses, focus group discussions, grievance redressal portal, help lines and so on encouraging an open and informal culture where the senior/top management is very approachable”.
The HR department at Liberty tactfully and efficiently managers diverse workforce by encouraging continuous flow of ideas and suggestions, meetings in interludes (channel meets, internal reviewing meetings etc.) to track the region wise performance, shortcomings, discussion on augmentation of retail experience, product discussion, inculcation of new technologies and recommendations/feedback/ suggestions straight from the store levels. Senior officials frequently visit stores to keep a check on their performance and providing them with the needful inspiration.
Tools used by HR function
Recruitment is usually a race against time with an urgency to get the candidate on board as soon as possible so they can begin to transition start adding value to the bottom line. Hiring is done on attributes like leadership qualities, motivation and high performance which provide the company with individuals who manage their own tasks.
“We ensure a proper reference check is done, which is the most critical tools in the recruitment and selection process, to find out the candidate’s previous accomplishments at work, quality of performance, leadership skills and collaboration with co-workers,” says a recruiter at wellness retail stores. Companies have also started doing extensive campus recruitment from those institutes which provide retail specific education. Institutes try to match available competence with the organization’s need and place candidates accordingly.
At Indus league only recruit permanent staff, rather than temporary to build a direct connect with the employees and make better use of experience and home-grown skills. “Apart from the above, hiring at BATA is based on competencies like integrity, taking initiative, self-confidence, result orientation, qualities such as high energy, enthusiasm, a go getter and service attitude in candidates” says Gopalakrishnan.
Training and Development
Training and development are becoming increasingly important; as managers seek to up-skill the competency of their employees, improve their work processes, and raise efficiency so that they can perform better in their area of function. These skill programs other than bridging the competency gaps also enhance staff morale, thereby boosting retention and productivity. At BATA, the endeavour has always been to provide a favourable work environment and ample opportunities for the employees to grow in the organization, with appropriate employee connect initiatives and training interventions taken by their in-house Retail Training Academy.
“For the front-line sales staff we have initiated rotating shifts to help them maintain their work-life balance, dealing with sales pressures through continuous counseling, employee engagement initiatives and regular training sessions on product, selling techniques and store operations to name a few,” says Gopalakrishnan.
Many retail companies like the Future Group have started their own training academies for undertaking skill development of its people. For a planogram or back dock controller or systems auditor roles, skills are developed in-house. It is an important act to concentrate on the learning’s and self actualization of the staff for their growth, development and progression in long run. “Apart from the basics like experience and education, there is a lot more that we need to look for. On the shop floor, our workforce needs to be motivated, well-spoken, well-groomed, customer focused and with an innate understanding of each of our brand stories,” says Rajnarayan.
With the incorporation of RASCI, recognized by Government of India, companies are giving their employees opportunity to get certified thus paving the way for qualification based approach in the retail sector.
There is a constant need to update and change curricula and learning delivery methods due to the ever-changing trend of the business. “We at Liberty; develop a connection and relationship with all our employees focusing on their learning’s, actualization, training and their progression in long run which is quite beneficial for their retention in the company” says Bansal.
At Lacoste they ensure periodic training for all our front end staff to be confident, innate friendliness, fl exile, able to multi-task, respectful, proactive and positive, etc.
Matching Compensation and Perks
Monetary incentives are sometimes not sufficient to retain the staff and enhancing their productivity. “We understand their needs, desires, aspirations and backgrounds and focus on providing them with both, the monetary incentives and the non-monetary incentives which comprises of rewards, recognition, appraisals, appreciation and applauding them for our their outstanding and splendid performances.
One of the retail companies has increased wages in the food and grocery section as the company was facing a huge challenge in that section and thus strengthened the rewards and recognition program.
At Indus League simply providing long-term employment contracts, healthcare packages and pension funds is expected by the employees to remain in the same company for long. Not only does this HR function emphasize on developing better succession planning to ensure teams are fit for the purpose, particularly in the future. Hence a lot of stress is laid on identifying and placing internal employees rather than external replacement.
There are companies who also expect and help their employees make definite goal sheets from time to time in order to make them understand the organizational objectives which they are supposed to deliver. “Though we strive to pay our employees better than the competition, but as an organization philosophy, we don’t delve much on the compensation factor,” says Gopalakrishnan.
Managing Shop Floor Employees
Refining shop floor staff rosters to ensure there is minimal over-staffing, while ensuring there are sufficient assistants to match levels of service to customer demand.
HR employees conduct mystery shopping visits to get a real picture of the challenges faced by the front line and it also serves as a key input for training needs identification. Each month, there is a day on the floors of Lacoste stores when all the staff in the boutique appreciates the talent who has made a contribution that is worth a mention! This reward and recognition program is not always linked to sales but is connected to softer aspects such as customer service, VM, store operations etc.
People will always be the key differentiator for organizations. Predictive analytical tools will help mangers and HR to make better decisions going forward. “All transactions are not going to be automated at the shop floor, so the capabilities that HR will need are going to be very different and an in-depth understanding of business and the customer and understanding how people can differentiate and give a competitive edge, will become critical to succeed in HR,” believes Rajnarayan.
HR and Technology
In the coming years, as the trend being observed, organizations are paying prominence role over machines and IT developments in order to replace humans partially. Technology would be a key enabler to ensure that interventions reach the masses at breakthrough speeds. Bata engages the gen Y workforce by leveraging technology and making their performance details available to them in real time even on hourly basis and can plan their work accordingly. “Also, we are working on building a collaborative platform that will enable us to connect with employees and share product knowledge and updates instantly,” says Gopalakrishnan.
Liberty focuses on a conglomerated approach of human and digital. The company has incorporated certain technologies at the shops to measure the performance of the staff and distinguish between performers and non performers. “Hence, online
attendance, real time data feeding, analysis of the store wise performance and performance of every individual working at store across are all seconds away now,” says Bansal.
HR in 2020
With the upsurge of e-retailing, customers have lots of options available at a click today. The only factor that would keep bringing the customers back to the brick and mortar stores is the “connect” they will experience which entirely depends on great customer service delivered by customer champions. “HR’s role hence would be to create such customer champions across the organization through innovative hiring and various developmental interventions at regular intervals. The challenge would be to create and sustain a culture of innovation and passion that reflects itself in the product range and customer dealings,” says Gopalakrishnan.
In the coming years, the HR of Liberty would be trained aggressively in order to provide their customers with the best products at affordable prices with the best services. In the coming years, Liberty is expanding exponentially with an objective of launching 100 stores per fiscal year which in turn requires for the expertise staff, sales associates and more members in the HR department.
The HR department would require more educated, competent and intellectual members who would tactfully, judiciously and discerningly take the appropriate decisions and work for the welfare of all. The candidates would be judged not only on their intelligent quotient but also on their emotional quotient and intellect. Maintenance and constant motivation of the HR of an organization is the biggest and toughest task.
Therefore, Liberty is persistently working towards the enhancement and betterment of this department. As long as an employer can align and realize the different needs and aspirations of its staff, young and old, to the overall business objectives, ‘loyalty’ to stay and grow with the organization will come naturally, Hence, it is more important for the organization to analyze what and how it can adapt to the changing needs of the workforce than trying to grapple with the biased perception of staff disloyalty.

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