Last week, Axsium Group held our fourth annual, invitation-only Retail Workforce Management Forum. I want to share key takeaways from the day.

This year’s event was held at Warwick Castle (for my North American readers that is about an hour north of London and was home to the infamous Earls of Warwick).

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The forum is designed to bring retailers together for an informal day of learning and networking. The agenda was driven by current trends in the industry and highlighted with four unique retail case studies, told by the retailers in their own words.

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Dixons Carphone, Europe’s biggest electronics and mobile phone retailer, was the first customer case study and focused on the challenge of justifying replacing its old WFM system with a new one.  This can be hard to do because there is a perception that, since WFM was already automated, there is no more benefit to be gained. Of course, perception is not reality.

Led by Dixons Head of Workforce Management, Liam Burke, the presentation challenged attendees to be “truthful to the point of obsession” when reviewing existing solution abilities and the new vendor’s capabilities. Mr. Burke also highlighted the importance of considering how advances in technology, namely self-service and mobile applications, can assist with in-store adoption and organisational change. In his conclusion, Mr. Burke examined the importance of keeping tight control of the selection process, ensuring that requirements were understood and clearly demonstrated by the vendors.

Next, Jason Francis, Project Manager from Ralph Lauren, spoke to challenges of WFM across Europe.   Balancing each countries’ cultural and regulatory requirements while getting the “right people, right place, right time, and demonstrating the right behaviours” is challenging.

Jason stressed the importance of collaborating with key internal stakeholders and business partners during the implementation process. Significant support from the wider business team was key to a successful rollout of Kronos. He concluded the session by illustrating that their initiative is ongoing with iterative training and refinement being pivotal to the larger European rollout.

In keeping with the Medieval Castle venue, Phil Richardson from Homebase presented “Laying Siege to WFM”. Richardson led the audience through DIY-retailer Homebase’s journey with WFM and how those lessons learned have shaped their current holistic approach.

To have true transformation, an organisation should not look to “pick off” certain elements of the WFM process as they are likely to come up short and fail to deliver real value. According to Mr Richardson, it is best to link the implementation of WFM to a business process change programme, and then the benefits and change in behaviour can truly be realized.

Finally, Donna Stephenson, Labour Programme Manager at UK grocer Sainsbury’s, examined how her organisation is simplifying their labour standards and labour model in order to support a WFM system implementation later this year.

Labour standards seemed to be a topic that piqued the interest of everyone in attendance, which led to a lively discussion about how to best manage this critical part of the WFM process.  Central to that conversation was the age old dilemma for retailers: is it better to allow for a bottom-up labour forecast, letting the WFM software limit labor spend to budget, or a top-down labour forecast based on payroll percent or sales per labour hour to forecast labour as that is what the finance team is ultimately driving towards?

The debate fell on the side of having a bottom-up forecast. With a top-down calculation, a retailer never knows what its true labour needs are. A bottoms-up solution gives visibility into sacrifices, allowing store operations to manage accordingly.

Thank you to everyone that attended the event and a very special thank you to our outstanding speakers. We look forward to seeing you in 2016!