On Football and Workforce Management

by | Aug 8, 2011

With my beloved Chicago Cubs closer to last place than first place, I have turned my attention from baseball to football and to my Chicago Bears. To get in the mood, I picked up Sports Illustrated Blood, Sweat and Chalk.  The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today’s Game by Tim Layden. The book focuses on collections of plays, referred to as systems, that have revolutionized football over the years and the coaches that made those systems famous.  And, as with many things, I quickly saw a connection to retail workforce management.


Early in the book, the author talks of visiting Duke University in 2008 and spending time with their head coach David Cutcliffe.  At the time, Cutcliffe had just taken over the football program at Duke and was installing his system of football.  Layden writes:


Cutcliffe asks what systems will be covered [in the book].  Names are exchanged: West Coast offense, zone blitz, wishbone and many others.  From a small notepad of Duke football stationery, he snatches three pages and begins drawing up zone blitzes, having seized on that scheme.  He scribbles furiously narrating.  This is something all coaches are inclined to do.  The he stops suddenly.  “You know what?”  he says in that deep voice, straight out of Birmingham.  “Here’s what a system does:  It tries to put players in position to succeed.  That’s what it is.”


You know what?  That’s what a WFM system does too.  It tries to put associates in position to succeed.  That’s a subtle but significant change from how WFM has been traditionally described.


For as long as I’ve been in the industry, WFM systems – specifically, retail scheduling systems – are said to put the right person at the right place at the right time doing the right things.  This is an accurate statement.  WFM systems align customer demand with labor supply to maximize opportunity.  I think we can all agree that this is a good thing.  However, implicit in that description is one of control rather than empowerment.


Why is empowerment important?


Earlier this year, Brian Kilcourse of Retail Systems Research published Enterprise Workforce Management: Redefining the Boundaries of Customer-Centric Retailing.  This research showed that Retail Winners emphasize different things than Laggards in regards to WFM.


“Retail Winners,” Kilcourse wrote, “have moved on from productivity improvements and are more likely to emphasize tools that help empower employees… Winners understand that retail is fundamentally a relationship business, and so are more interested in retaining the right employees. Laggards definitely are most interested in control.”


Applying this to Cutcliffe’s statement, Retail Winners empower their associates with WFM systems that put them in a position to succeed.


The difference between this statement and the right-person-right-place-right-time statement does not change the functionality of the system.  It changes the intent of its use and how it is perceived by its users.


Rather than confining managers to corporate mandates, WFM enables effective store-level decision making. Rather than dictating associates schedules, WFM supports their work-life balance as well as the company’s goals.  Put yourself in their shoes, would you rather be controlled or empowered?  And how would that attitude affect your performance?


As the head coach of your workforce, this gives you a new play in your playbook.  If your stores are resisting adoption because they feel like they are losing control, talk about how the system will empower them. If you’re struggling to get buy-in on the premise that WFM puts the right person at the right place at the right time doing the right things, tell them about how WFM is putting them in position to succeed. And by doing that, you’re putting your company in a position to win.

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