Workforce Management Planning


Employees are not machines; they are human beings with different needs. The cashier is grateful if she can switch her shift on short notice because of her child. It’s the same further up in the hierarchical ladder, when a young category manager has the feeling that “the people at the top“ evaluate his skills fairly. Both stay loyal to their company. Besides that, a great work atmosphere is also good for your image – and this is getting more and more important, because good people are ever harder to find.

In early January more than six million television viewers watched a show called the ”Lidl-Check“ on Germany’s ARD television network. The German magazine “Der Spiegel“ referred to the response as a “sensational ratings triumph” for a documentary television series. During prime time, immediately after the 8 o’clock daily news (“Tagesschau”), the ARD channel dedicated its series called ”Markencheck“ (loosely translated as brand-name check) to the market leaders in German retail: Lidl, McDonald's, H&M and Media-Markt. The four check criteria for each of the stores varied depending on the business sector, but one criteria that was always included: fairness, usually towards employees or otherwise towards manufacturers in the Third World. The results were also similar for previous shows aired on the WDR channel for retailers IKEA (with an 11.7 percent viewing rate), Ferrero and Aldi. The show’s producers reported extensively about the time pressure and obstructions in union organizing. The rating: the way many large retailers deal with their employees “needs improvement“.

The public takes notice of how fair a company is. Although fair shopping and being fair to employees is important to consumers, only few of them want to pay more for this. Nevertheless, retailers should not have their way with employees. How important image can be, is something the German discount drugstore chain Schlecker had to find out. One reason – among many others – for the demise of the discounter is certainly also the persistent public criticism of the employer Schlecker. The media always reported extensively if somewhere a branch office was closed over night and then reopened with a slightly changed logo and a new corporate name – with new employment contracts at lower wages. This is also something that’s criticized by trade unionist. Regardless of the truth content: if consumers search on the Web, they can find out more about a company than those companies would sometimes like us to find out. And what’s more: the Web never forgets anything, because nowhere else can contents also still be found if they are deleted on the original page.

Job applicants soon have a wide range of choices

Job market experts are warning more and more: the next few decades will strengthen the position of employees – simply because there will be fewer and fewer of them and because they can choose between many job offers. Due to an aging society several industry sectors are already lacking qualified young employees. In our interview on this focal topic, Dr. Kristine Heilmann from the consulting company ITB in Bonn, Germany, emphasizes: companies will have to increasingly court their executive managers so they won’t walk away. To some degree this also applies to store employees. Although intelligent POS systems, electronic shelf labels and store-specific planograms can simplify certain jobs in the store, no store can run with just unskilled workers.

Interview with Dr. Kristine Heilmann, Managing Partner ITB Consulting, Bonn, Germany

In times of skills shortage, retailers should not just look in their own company for “high potentials“. “More than ever it is crucial to keep your eye on all employees, to discover their specific potential and to cultivate it – and don’t just view development in terms of a vertical career ladder.“ This is what personnel consultant Dr. Kristine Heilmann recommends in our EuroCIS interview. The psychologist with an MBA degree has worked for ITB Consulting in Bonn for the past 13 years.

You provide expert advice to retailers and other industry sectors. What are the differences in other sectors – and what could the retail market learn from this?

Retail is one of the most fascinating industry sectors that ITB serves. Retail is characterized by the fact that it needs to very quickly respond to market shifts and the results of such shifts oftentimes show immediately, for instance in the form of a product line that was rearranged over night and the subsequent daily sales figures. Retail can and has to change over many things very quickly. In light of this, the corporate culture is oftentimes more pragmatic and – to put it more bluntly – somewhat more ”hands on“ than it is for instance in research-driven industry sectors like the automotive industry for example or the pharmaceutical sector. The “corporate culture” however, does not tell you anything about the quality of staff development. I found that its quality is primarily determined by the respective people in charge.

How do you recognize great managers?

Based on a differentiated competency model, on the one hand a routine and systematic potential assessment can by introduced by the respective supervisors and on the other hand, additional “diagnostic” methods can be developed with which employee potential can be recognized. This could be structured interviews, test procedures or also assessment centers where different everyday situations are being simulated. ITB Consulting for instance has developed and introduced so-called “Development Centers” for several companies, in which the strengths and need for more education of participants is determined and a detailed development plan for each person is being designed. Based on this, a systematic development of future leaders coming from your own ranks is then possible.

Who has what it takes to become a manager?

We believe it is very important, also at the lower levels, to look for potential management candidates early – after all, that’s where the future leaders of tomorrow are working today. If they are not being discovered and promoted, they will quickly walk away to other companies with better development opportunities. Meanwhile in times of skills shortage you shouldn’t just look for “high potentials”; more than ever it’s crucial to keep an eye on all employees, discover their specific potential and to cultivate it – and don’t just view development in terms of a vertical career ladder. Among the different departments and areas of operations, there should also be permeability as much as possible. And last but not least, to ensure sustainable staff development you need a central function where the development of each individual is being “sustained”.

Rethinking in companies should already happen when employees are first hired: if I want to have high potentials for future executive functions in my corporation, I should not hire employees for just one particular job, but I need to analyze the applicant’s potential and develop him/her towards a certain position – or sometimes even adapt a position.

Management development has a motivating effect on up-and-comers. How do you avoid frustrating the other employees?

Not every employee in your company can become a manager. You also always need specialists who inject especially valuable expertise, project managers, administrators and associates who keep administrative functions going. It is important that “career” is not solely equated with “management career“, but that there are also other career paths.

Interview with Volker Dieckmann, Account Manager at Ethalon

Volker Dieckmann can name many advantages specialized workforce management software (PEP, short for Personaleinsatzplanung in German) offers large and also smaller retailers. Automated demand assessment thus reduces planning demands, decreases personnel expenditures and factors in employees' wishes. Another topic is E-learning: Dieckmann recommends short lessons combined with classroom instruction.

At the EuroShop 2011, Ethalon and Torex announced collaboration in terms of PEP. Are there some interesting new customers?

Yes, our Argos software was supplemented with proven functions by Torex Workforce Management. Argos is geared to be used by small and larger retail sellers. In 2011 we were able to significantly expand our clientele. Among them are several leading companies in the retail industry. They include among others Rossmann, Görtz, Deichmann SE, Snipes Textil, RAG Handels GmbH and TD Autoservice with its TOTAL gas stations.

What are the benefits of using PEP software?

There are many advantages: faster and clearer planning, simple preparing of analyses as well as meaningful reporting for payroll accounting. In addition, payroll accounting happens at the push of a button, so duplicate data entries and transcription errors are now a thing of the past. Retailers can avoid expensive overtime hours and unproductive slow times by using PEP software.

Is PEP software only a topic for the big fish? When does it pay off to changeover from Excel or using tons of paper?

You cannot make blanket statements like ”the use of PEP software pays off if you have x-number of employees“. This always depends on the level of organization and objective targets of a company. Our experience shows that the use of PEP software can definitely also make sense for smaller retailers. The advantages also fully have an effect for them. A simple Excel spreadsheet is no longer enough to obtain an optimal solution. And the need and qualifications based use of employees has positive effects on the quality of the work done and motivation. Conversely, customer service also benefits from this.

Which functions does such a smaller retailer definitely need?

Manual demand planning and workforce planning oftentimes are already sufficient for smaller retailers. What’s important is that legal and wage conditions as well as qualifications and wishes of employees are automatically being checked and factored in during the planning process. Factors such as vacation time and bonuses are also included.

If a retailer decides to introduce a time tracking system, coming and going can be recorded in Argos via an integrated time recording screen by entering the personnel number or by scanning the employee ID card. The retailer can therefore dispense with external time tracking terminals. Functions such as direct entry correction mode and analysis journals save a lot of time. All recorded work hours can centrally be transmitted via an interface to payroll accounting or exported as an Excel data file and passed on to the tax accountant. Ethalon also offers Argos to retailers who don’t operate their own data processing center using software as a service (SaaS). The retailer only pays a monthly fee for use during a contract period.

During the EuroCIS you are going to introduce the new version of your PEP software Argos for the first time. What is new there?

In collaboration with our customers we analyzed planning processes, concentrating on ways to increase productivity. In doing so, implementation of an automated demand assessment as well as an automated planning feature has emerged. Customers also wanted a comprehensive reporting system that’s integrated into Argos. We are now able to offer a system to meet all of these requirements to our customers with the new version of Argos. Thanks to our cooperation with the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences we were able to incorporate valuable findings on the usability of software systems into Argos and thus further improved the user-friendliness of Argos.

How does automated demand assessment work?

Automated demand assessment reduces planning efforts. Based on previous values such as turnover figures, check-out data or visitor frequency as well as respective targets for sales and productivity, it calculates the necessary manpower requirements. Within the scope of parameterization, the user individually prioritizes the emphasis with which the demand drivers are incorporated into the calculation. Based on the automated demand assessment, subsequently the actual workforce planning per functional area takes place – sales, checkout, warehouse etc. In the end, PEP-Software has to chart the difference between demand and personnel placement, so that overruns and shortfalls can be immediately spotted.

Your daughter company IAM is once again with you at your booth. The Interactive Media Institute offers learning concepts. Where in retail is E-learning possible? When is actual classroom instruction better?

Both types of schooling have their advantages. At the touch of a button, E-learning puts training contents on a broad plane to an unlimited number of participants. In addition, during an E-learning class, every participant has the chance to acquire contents at his/her own pace with any number of repetitions. The multimedia format can also turn the training course into a real adventure. During classroom instruction, personal contact and exchange are being promoted. Communication situations in particular can be practiced well in this setting – much better than can be done with E-learning. I think you can achieve the best results by using a targeted combination of both methods: so-called blended learning. That’s why the IAM offers both.

E-learning can be done anywhere in retail and is particularly suited for teaching factual knowledge. Learning how to operate systems like checkout counters, PEP and WWS also lends itself to this. Needless to say, how the training at the computer is supposed to happen, needs to be resolved. Where? When? What hardware should be used? Large business groups gain some great experience by having their associates learn from home – and the duration of training could by all means be counted as working time! E-learning works in retail just as well as for instance in the insurance sector, even if the number of computer jobs by its very nature is higher in this area – which makes its application somewhat easier.

What mistakes should you definitely avoid in E-learning?

Let me reverse your question and talk about what you absolutely need to pay attention to: the courses should not be too long, since one hour is actually already too long. Short chapters as much as possible that take no longer than five minutes. You should be able to interrupt the course after each chapter to be able to continue at a later point. And of course you should at all costs meet the language and environment setting of the target group. Authenticity is an absolute must. Lots of interaction and variety are also a part of a great E-learning experience.

Can you use the cash register for E-learning? Wouldn’t you be more successful studying in peace and quiet on the computer in the back office?

Technically you can certainly use the cash register for E-learning. Normally though this doesn’t make much sense due to the heavy customer traffic. That’s with the exception of performance support elements that also rank high among E-Learning by some users, but whose only purpose is to show the right solution in case of a problem. Learning, as in knowledge building and job training, is best done unhurriedly on a school computer in a lounge, the back office or actually at home.

How do you address the fear of unauthorized disclosure by employees while E-learning? After all, every click can be stored away and evaluated.

An employment agreement for handling training courses can officially provide safety. However, with the purpose of learning in mind, you also have to note that it would make absolutely no sense for an employer to monitor all clicks during job training. What counts in the end is the result: becoming proficient at the cash register or any other system, happy customers and not too much need for support services. So far, a fear like this has never been an issue for the training participants of our customers.

Interview by René Schellbach,