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The top ten initiatives we are hearing from retail CHROs

Authored by Kayla Flint and Jeff Haynes

Increased competition in an e-commerce driven market, rapid technological advances, and historically high turnover rates are just a few of the challenges elevating the expectations from Human Resources departments in the retail sector. Human resources departments must focus their efforts on finding new ways to grow and remain relevant in one of the most competitive industries in the world.

The difference between companies that are able to survive the ever-changing momentum in the retail industry and the ones that are not is their ability to anticipate and adapt.1 In this new year, these are the top 10 initiatives we are hearing from retail CHROs.

1) Retail strategy diversification

Diversifying offerings allows retailers to find new profit lines and hedge their bets against business risk. Diversification cannot only mean additions to in-store offerings, but also acquisitions to enter new markets or a shift in the way the retailers reach their customers. Major retailers have successfully demonstrated diversified offerings with seasonal pop-up shops, early-access member sales, online personal shopping, and in-store donut kiosks.

2) Manage merger integration

As e-commerce continues to strengthen brick-and-mortar companies are looking for growth opportunities through industry consolidation. Mergers and acquisitions in retail will require a more thoughtful approach than in years’ past as retailers continue to feel pressure to grow revenue and profits while battling declining sales, store closures, and bankruptcies. Major retailers have diversified through acquisition of online platforms to reach new audiences.

3) Understand and adhere to compliance requirements

With changes to strategy, processes, and associated technology, retail organizations are being forced to revisit compliance requirements and internal controls. This becomes increasingly important when the human resources processes and systems intersect with financials.

4) Develop a workforce plan

The retail industry is being forced to move to more service-based, online business models. They require nimble and efficient modeling/scenarios. It is critical for the human resources function to build internal processes that allow for continuous, on-the-fly improvements to the workforce model and the associated human resources service delivery approach.

5) Manage the employee value proposition

Employees have to know, identify with and understand a company’s brand in order to be passionate about working for the organization and carrying the brand forward into the marketplace. They expect the culture, leadership, work environment, and tools of the company to be in alignment with the brand they know as a consumer. Perception plays a large role in this high-turnover workforce, like retail. This perception can fade fast, and employers must find new ways to continually engage and develop their employees in order to avoid the high cost of turnover.

6) Manage human resources operations and service delivery

To efficiently and effectively serve the needs of retailers, human resources must operate in a way that focuses just as equally inward on the employee as it does outward on the customer. Human resources must deliver services that are timely and respond to the unique needs of retail, distribution, and corporate settings. The need for strong, integrated, consumer grade human resources technology is critical in order for retailers to have a clear picture of their organization. Understanding human resources operations holistically means understanding the impact the workforce is having on the organization, and having the agility to turn management’s attention to the areas that need additional focus.

7) Develop leaders and successors across the enterprise

As organizations diversify and expand, the need for talent analytics grows stronger in order to understand the makeup of the workforce. Top performers and high potentials need to be identified from within the organization. Investment needs to be made in their development to prepare them and the organization for the future. This same group should be included in targeted employee referral programs – as opposed to mass referral blasts. Building a network of high performing, qualified candidates will not only decrease turnover but also strengthen the brand. 

8) Manage organizational development amid training challenges

The retail workforce demographic is increasingly choosing their employer by the types of development and growth opportunities they provide. A well-defined, modern, technology-enabled learning platform that is aligned with career development creates a culture and environment that appeals to this demographic. It can also increase retention and enable the workforce to better service the customer. Unique factors such as in-store access, mobile and social learning are all areas of focus for retailers to deliver quick and consistent training.

9) Manage change

In order to facilitate dialog that will reach the entire organization, thoughtful planning and conversations around alignment and readiness need to be had to support the shift in the business model and strategy. Once those considerations are understood, the CHRO can manage change from a workforce perspective by designing a strategy and executing on it.

10) Build and utilize analytics

Equipped with key insights, real-time dashboards and meaningful analytics, retailers can improve the customer and employee experience and provide a brand equipped to react to continuous changes in the retail industry. Meaningful analytics are not something that can happen all at once. Retailers are in the unique position of having marketing departments who have been running these analytics on consumers for years.  Now, it’s time for human resources to take a lesson from marketing – learn how to understand employees, the same way marketing understands your customers.


Source: Why Retailers Must Restructure In 2016,

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