Canadian Retailer Magazine | Human Resources

Transforming retail HR through new technology

January 17, 2017
Transforming retail HR through new technology

Successful retailers are increasingly using cuttingedge technologies to improve human resources processes and organizational efficiencies.

BY RANDY SCOTLAND

WHEN it comes to embracing new technology, retail HR professionals are like tardy guests at a party—late to arrive, but eager to make up for lost time. While other departments (think marketing and sales) have long adopted advanced tech solutions to enhance efficiency and performance, HR has lagged behind. Part of that is because of budgetary considerations, and part is due to legacy systems and protocols.

“I see lots of HR departments that are sort of sitting on the sidelines waiting to get their marching orders, if you will, from the C-Suite, and they don’t have a seat at the table,” observes Lisa Hutcheson, Senior Advisor, Innovation and Non-traditional Retail at J.C. Williams Group.

“But if they understand that an HR strategy that’s robust with technology is seen as part of the strategy for success for the retailer, I think that’s how they can get these things implemented.”

Mobile revolution

Key to making that happen is having an affinity to move with the mobile times, notes Phil Hendrickson, Chief Talent Strategist at candidate engagement software provider Qwalify who recognizes that much of the impetus is coming from the tech-savvy Millennial and Gen Z cohorts.

“These guys have grown up digital. To not be using technology to engage them, or actually to start at the recruitment phase, would be a mistake,” says Hutcheson, adding: “It’s really understanding that technology is a huge factor in terms of attracting candidates these days. Even people who are applying for jobs are time-starved. We have to embrace these technologies.

“So getting the message out and really utilizing social media is vital. I mean, it’s a great thing that they’re hiring and it’s a great story that they do have opportunities in an era when there are closures and so on. There are retailers who are very successful out there, and they should be telling that story and should be using social media to attract people all year round.”

Hendrickson agrees. “A lot of how you engage Millennials as a retailer from a recruiting perspective,” he explains, “has to do with talking about things that aren’t necessarily ‘just the job’. People aren’t motivated to respond to just job advertisements. They want to learn about your brand, they want to understand what your brand stands for in the community.”

He adds: “The most successful companies are leading with their brand, talking about how their employees contribute to their local communities and to charities that matter. Because people want to feel that where they go to work every day is not just about a paycheque, but they are contributing to a company that is doing good locally and on a larger scale.

“Social media happens to be a good vehicle for pushing out these kinds of messages, these themes. In the past, companies relied on ‘everyone needs to come to our website’, and websites were digitized brochures.

“Today your candidates—your next employees—might not ever be reading your website. They might be engaging with your brand on their smart device, following you on Facebook. They might be chatting on Twitter with one of your recruiters.”

“THESE GUYS [MILLENNIALS] HAVE GROWN UP DIGITAL. TO NOT BE USING TECHNOLOGY TO ENGAGE THEM, OR ACTUALLY TO START AT THE RECRUITMENT PHASE, WOULD BE A MISTAKE.”

LISA HUTCHESON
J.C. Williams Group

Abundant resources

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of resources that HR professionals can turn to for support, says Jeff Waldman, an industry consultant and influencer (through his blog jeffwaldman.ca).

“The technology that’s available is rapidly growing in the HR technology space,” he says. “Every facet of HR, from coding to performance management, recognition, talent management and everything else.”

He adds: “There are a lot of companies that are building really easy-to-use software that is used to manage candidate flow and engage with candidates externally. They also have the ability to manage employee referrals, which is the biggest source of hire nowadays. It’s not posting jobs, it’s actually getting current employees to refer people in their networks to their company’s job postings.

“THE MOST SUCCESSFUL COMPANIES ARE LEADING WITH THEIR BRAND, TALKING ABOUT HOW THEIR EMPLOYEES CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR LOCAL COMMUNITIES AND TO CHARITIES THAT MATTER. BECAUSE PEOPLE WANT TO FEEL THAT WHERE THEY GO TO WORK EVERY DAY IS NOT JUST ABOUT A PAYCHEQUE…”

PHIL HENDRICKSON
QWalify

“This software is mostly cloudbased, and they can all be used on a smartphone or tablet.”

As a quick Google search shows, there are a plethora of providers crowding the HR software field, each staking out territory with claims of proprietary technology. A few of the more familiar names include:

  • Avanti Software, Rise – all-in-one payroll and benefits systems
  • Greenhouse, Lever – applicant tracking systems
  • BambooHR – consolidates employee data from multiple locations into a single view for easy access and analysis
  • Litmos by CallidusCloud – cloud-based learning management systems
  • SAP, Oracle – enterprise management systems

“The interesting thing about these platforms now is that they integrate seamlessly with other solutions,” says Waldman, who works with software firms on content marketing strategy, business development and product development, and with corporate HR teams on how to integrate social media and technology into HR strategy.

“They have open APIs (Application Programming Interface, facilitating software-to-software communication). For example, Bamboo HR is well known for their chart system, but they’re not very well known for their applicant tracking system. So they have a partnership with Greenhouse. Greenhouse is very rich coding software.

“So what you do is you can use both, and the data seamlessly flows back and forth from Greenhouse into BambooHR.”

Tech’s big advantage

The important thing to remember is why you want to invest in HR technology in the first place.

“It’s not meant to replace manpower or peoplepower—it’s meant to make it easier. It’s also meant to reduce the amount of time that HR practitioners spend on administrative tasks,” says Waldman. The goal, he adds, is to free up space for practitioners to do the things that have a bigger payback, like spending time meeting and building relationships with candidates.

Using technology to provide a platform for employee feedback can pay dividends, says Hendrickson.

“There’s a lot of employee engagement technology out there—at Starbucks we used Yammer (Microsoft’s enterprise social networking service)—but there are a number of others. And it just allows people to feel like they have a voice, that the chief technology officer or the chief marketing officer is just a text away.

Indeed, the ability to spend more time and effort on higher-value tasks while minimizing paperwork is the real benefit of technology to HR professionals today. Tasks like pulling reports related to turnover or the number of hires made in the past six months are now done digitally. This streamlines not only HR, but the entire retail business from A through Z, giving time back to departments that can now look at the deeper metrics, and understand better how they can provide information to their executives to make better decisions.

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