The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Why Your Employees Go Around Your Systems

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A couple of weeks ago I gave a few talks about the future of the store, and every time I got to the part about the transition from Millennials to Gen Z in the workforce, I got a lot of heads nodding about how Gen Z is even more likely than Millennials to be impatient with your old, lame technology.

An easy example is how some employees at a store might set up a group on Slack or Facebook to communicate with each other about schedules and shifts to swap. Some even have an arrangement that when the work schedule is posted, the first person to see it will immediately post it to the group so that people don’t have to keep coming in to see whether the next week’s schedule is out yet.

Retail executives always get a grim look on their faces when I bring up that example, mostly because they know that those Slack or Facebook groups already exist in their company, and pretty much there’s nothing they can do about it. They can’t stamp it out. And they have no visibility into what’s really going on in those groups.

But rather than feel queasy about it, why aren’t more retailers moving to enable these kinds of communication? Employees want it, they feel it’s important enough to go around your feeble systems to get it, and they get enough value out of it that they keep on using it even when the retailer protests or tries to put a stop to it.

The problem is that companies (and this is not exclusive to retailers) have become more concerned about making employees do it the way they think it should be done, rather than spending the time helping them do the things that employees need to do. It’s a classic technology implementation mistake – not understanding the processes you’re impacting before you try to implement technology to enable the process. But it’s also emblematic of the how far away retailers have gotten from trying to help and enable employees vs. control costs – control the employee, and you therefore control the cost.

Well, costs are about to get out of control for retailers, as the minimum wage rises, as the mandate impacting exempt employees winds its way through the courts. If you can’t control the cost to the degree you like, maybe you’ll find that you can unlock even more employee productivity by helping them, rather than forcing them to do things in an old, lame, unhelpful way just because “we’ve always done it that way”.

I can say, Gen Z won’t really wait around for you to figure it out. They’re born hackers – they’ll just go around you in a heartbeat to get what they need for their own definition of “productive”. You can get with the times, or you can get run over or left behind!

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Articles & Opinions December 6, 2016
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