The short answer is an emphatic … yes! Possessing accurate up-to-date written store procedures for any function within retail seems to be a rarity these days. Updated procedures require time and effort to establish and maintain – and even more work to implement when training associates on new operating techniques. It is no exaggeration that over 90% of retailers do not have current written procedures – an unfortunate fact borne out by personal observation.
Accurate store operating procedures are important for a number of reasons. A smooth-running store is but one of them. Operating methodologies need to reflect best practices for each key task in the store that consumes measurable labor. Once established, new best practices need to be documented with accurate, understandable labor standards. An example of this point would be a task standard for receiving incoming goods. If I knew, for example, that I had a truck coming with 600 cartons on it and my receiving standard (assume dock prep, unload, pre-sort, move to hold-areas) was 200 cartons per man-hour, then I can expect to need 3 man-hours to perform the unload. This concept is applicable to all key store tasks, each with its own unique labor standard.
In addition to being able to plan labor assignments by task during the day, store management should make sure that accurate labor standards are reflected in the staffing algorithm employed to schedule associates. A staffing algorithm that schedules 8 hours for a task, when the store actually needs 24 spells disaster. These are the types of errors that manifest themselves in poorly stocked shelves and un-recovered aisles.
Often the retailer assumes that updated procedures should reflect “current” (versus best practice) operating routines. The big miss here is that industry Best Practice improvements are typically not reflected in “current routines” and potential productivity improvements can be overlooked. When left unsupervised, most operational teams find ways to slowly morph toward inefficient techniques. I attribute this to the thought that many people do not possess a strong aptitude for efficiency. This is not to say that they are poor workers, but that many individuals need guidance to find the best ways to perform operational tasks with multiple components.
Industry Best Practice suggests that effective written store procedures will provide a strong resource to aid operational management in achieving smoothly running stores. Best practice procedures typically require that key operating routines (processes) be reviewed and benchmarked against industry norms approximately every five years. Most retailers wait long beyond that mark and incur significant expense to identify and implement all the improvement changes that they will need to make. More frequent process reviews tend to mean fewer changes (to realize an improvement in productivity) need to be made and that productivity gains will occur more frequently, translating to lower overall operating expense.
The less discussed result of a procedure update effort is what you do with the newly updated and improved operating guides. Associate training is the answer. To make the new procedures investment worthwhile you need to employ them. A thoughtfully planned update effort will include the planning for an appropriate training effort and some form of business metric to monitor the improvement and guide future productivity for each key task.
There are various forms of training delivery available and the retailer should be aware of the pros and cons of each. Currently most retail organizations do not employ training departments as they once did. The current norm for operational training is on-line, self-directed training. While this method is quite cost effective and easily changed as required, it has proven to be less effective at behavior modification. Since most retailers will employ this means, we do suggest that they have a method to monitor productivity before and after training has occurred and appropriately respond if newly minted operating procedures do not seem to be working. Should this occur, the new procedures are typically not the problem – we suggest you review how well your associates were trained.
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