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Staff in retail and services sector

A CEO’s view of HR challenges in the retail and service sector

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Growing from one to more than 40 stores across the island, Newstead Technologies faced its share of teething problems.

Read how CEO Mindy Tan’s experience, coupled with some trial-and-error, helped to develop a company the employees are now proud to work in.

I remember back in 1999 when we were just a single store in Funan DigitaLife Mall. We used punch cards for attendance, and every leave application form and payslip had to be written and approved manually.

As we expanded, I knew we had to find scalable and efficient solutions for HR. But the transition wasn’t easy.

Implementing new systems was a challenge due to the nature of the retail industry.

We couldn’t just do one training session and call it a day. Our staff are stationed at different branches, worked different time shifts, and the stores still had to operate normally.

We planned our implementations carefully, taking extra note of staff adaptation and data migration.

Today we sit at over 40 stores with over 300 staff. Punch cards have been replaced with thumb scanners and time attendance software, payslips and leave spreadsheets have been succeeded by a comprehensive HRMS.

It may not have been an easy transition but looking ahead, scaling HR systems is definitely not the biggest challenge for organisations.

A new generation of employees – the millennials 

There’s a golden time in retail and service – the weekends and public holidays. For the general public, it’s the time for rest and relaxation. For everyone in the retail business, it’s the time that we are the busiest. It’s prime time.

This unusual timing makes attracting and retaining talent a challenge. It was a small challenge the industry faced years ago.

We can’t just do one training session and call it a day. Our staff was at different branches, worked different time shifts, and the stores had to operate normally.

With Millennials hitting the workforce, to say this challenge has grown would be an understatement.

Junior retail staff are now far more independent and astute. It’s not uncommon for them to switch jobs for a minor salary increase.

We have to create an environment for them to thrive but how do we do that?

The paradox of training

In the retail and service industry, many HR professionals have a love-hate affair with training. On the one hand, it’s a crucial route to uplift an organisation’s overall competency. For continued success, it’s absolutely important for training to be a core strategy, not an afterthought.

On the other hand, we face the issues of limited manpower and high turnover rates more so than other industries. The same staff that you have just better equipped is now worth more in the market and to your competitors.

Leaders hold the key to employee engagement

In Aon Hewitt’s 2014 Global Employee Engagement report, companies with higher employee engagement and strong leadership outperformed average companies on revenue growth, operating margin, and shareholder return.

And companies that excel at engaging their employees keep getting better; they are widening the employee engagement gap from their average counterparts.

Leaders are the key here. They make the decisions on policies, performance goals, communication, and work processes that will have a multiplier effect in the company.

Junior retail staff are now far more independent and astute. It’s not uncommon for them to switch jobs for a minor salary increase.

Since Newstead’s inception, I have always strived to create a culture of engagement.

Crafting a strong brand culture, recognising and awarding innovation, and ultimately having a good understanding of your employees (including Millennials) are key elements that have allowed Newstead to grow.

On the retail side, Newstead remains flexible with staff off days during weekdays. Flexibility is also key in training, where we’ve modelled our training arrangements to become modular and concise so scheduling is flexible.

As Newstead has grown, we’ve been mindful that our lines of communication remain open, keeping our ears to the ground.

An open door policy means my staff can readily approach me. We also recognise newer forms of communication like WhatsApp as an integral part of their work lives as it is in their personal life.

It is critical to create an environment that our employees are proud to be in. We should think about what the company stands for, and how employees can relate to it.

It’s not the bottom line that motivates your staff, it’s whether they see themselves having a role in your brand’s narrative.



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