Task execution at store level is a challenge for most retailers. An effective task management system drives store execution, participation and engagement to new heights.
A common mistake retailers make is trying to manage tasks over email. It is next to impossible to keep on top of complex programs and many moving parts through email – who has and hasn’t done what, where, and when.
That is why we have put together this comprehensive guide to task management for retailers. Actionable ideas to improve your task management system and become a master at multi-unit operations execution.
|What is Retail Task Management?|
|What is a Task?|
|Why Task Execution Fails|
|How to Improve Task Management|
|Assign a Task or Conduct an Inspection|
What is Retail Task Management?
Retail task management is the process of managing tasks including priority, due date, granular distribution to selected recipients (typically store management), tracking and reporting. Task management helps retail brands achieve specific goals through the distribution of actionable and trackable requests.
What is as Task?
In retail there are two types of tasks: recurring operational tasks and ad-hoc response tasks.
Recurring tasks are the tasks that keep the retail business running smoothly. This includes regular inventory counts, budgeting, and scheduling. This type of task also encompasses daily responsibilities such as restocking, cleaning, etc. That is, the types of task usually incorporated into a checklist.
Ad-hoc tasks are a one-time call to action. For instance, setting up a specialized merchandising display, implementing a policy change, assigning additional training, or recalling a product. These tasks can be urgent and, if not completed on time, may bring essential business processes to a halt or harm a brand’s reputation.
Both recurring and ad-hoc tasks can also be broken down into single-action and multi-action tasks.
Single-action tasks are simple tasks usually completed in a single step. For instance, placing updated sale signage, replacing burnt out bulbs on a store sign, or updating the sandwich board with today’s specials. These types of tasks can be overlooked or simply forgotten in the busy day-to-day world of retail.
Multi-action tasks are more complex and consist of multiple action steps and sub-tasks. Steps may need to be completed in a specified order. This type of task may include the nightly cleaning of complex kitchen equipment, processing new product deliveries, or onboarding a new employee.
When it comes to these tasks, it can be easy to skip steps or partially complete the task. For instance, this is why store employees only execute displays as planned 37% of the time.
Why Task Execution Fails
Before we discuss implementing tools to improve task management in stores, it is helpful to consider the causes for the lack of task completion in retail.
It’s not unusual for retail employees to feel like they are being pulled in a dozen different directions every day. Sometimes the tasks that get attention are not the most important or essential to operations, but those that are the most disruptive or noticeable. For instance, the endless emails constantly pinging from a store manager’s phone.
Store managers and district managers can be particularly susceptible to distraction. Between customers needing attention, employee questions, training, it is all too easy to lose track of essential tasks.
Confusion about priorities
Teams may have different inclinations and priorities based on their own experience and sensibilities. While there is nothing wrong with that, brands need to ensure the execution of core tasks and programs that form the backbone of their strategy.
Without setting priorities for tasks, employees can also exhibit what the Harvard Business Review terms “task completion bias.” A 2017 study argues that as the number of tasks increase for an employee, the employee may choose to complete easier tasks first as a way to check off their list, feel a sense of accomplishment, and ease their workload.
While this boosts performance in the short-term, eventually task completion bias has a negative effect on employee learning and negatively impacts the long-term performance of the organization as more difficult and time consuming task continue to be put off.
According to a recent Gallup poll, only half of 2.2 million employees surveyed say they understand what is expected of them at work. This same study found that as few as 12% of employees strongly agree that their manager helps them set work priorities.
How to Improve Task Management
Success in retail comes down to execution.
“There’s a direct link between your bottom line and your staff’s productivity; if you’re looking to raise your revenues, you need to start with your employees,” argues retail expert Francesca Nicasio.
She continues, “Give them tools to do their jobs better to maximize staff productivity.” If you want to improve task execution in retail stores, begin with the right tools.
Use the Right Tools
The right retail task management tool makes all the difference. Many think a paper checklist and email or programs like Google Keeps or Apple Notes is enough to boost execution in store. But none of those options give retailers a centralized place for all tasks. Nor do they allow for tracking task completion across all stores.
“Technology can make or break your ability to run a smooth retail operation, ” says retail thought leader Jasmine Glasheen. She notes that trying to keep track of all the moving parts manually “can lead to a number of human errors that cost your bottom line.”
Instead, choose a solution wherein you can assign tasks to specific recipients for any store need. Most importantly, find a solution that helps your team do their jobs and puts all the information they need in one place to execute faster: directives, photos, and supporting documents.
Because retail teams are on the move, your solution should be able to run on all devices so no matter where your employees are, they can still engage. Last, there is no point in assigning a task if you can’t track completion rates easily and in real-time. Doing so ensures issues don’t fall through the cracks.
Implementing new tools
It can be daunting to think about integrating new technology into your retail stores. How long will it take to train employees? Will employees adopt the new tool?
Keep in mind tools that improve efficiency and organization engage employees. In fact, 80% of retail workers believe their job satisfaction would improve if their store functioned more efficiently.
Choose a platform that is intuitive and made for your industry, like Compliant IA. While you may need to invest in some training upfront, by simply eliminating the time spent tracing issues through email and manual follow-up, you will still be ahead on time commitment. Additionally, take advantage of vendor offered training to save on costs and free trials so you can see the platform at work in your stores.
If you are unsure about how to integrate new technology into your stores, see our blog: How to Implement New Technologies in Your Retail Business.
Set Due Dates
Due dates help employees prioritize. This is about more than completing a task to make a deadline; due dates also help employees know what is not an immediate priority.
Without due dates, it can feel like everything is due immediately. This can lead to staff feeling overwhelmed and can trigger the process that leads to the “task completion bias” mentioned above.
Set dues dates based on importance and in line with your company’s unique calendar. For instance, it’s not a good idea for a floral company to task employees with inventory counts or training during the busy months of December, February, and May. However, assigning a task for turning over POS displays with holiday appropriate merchandise is appropriate.
Due dates are a real part of retail. Consider that a properly executed POP display can deliver as much as a 45.5% sales lift when set up properly and on time.
Making deadlines, completing restocks, and executing marketing plans can raise same store sales by 3.7%. Failure to execute retail tasks on time means thousands of dollars left on the table.
Stores do best with clear, detailed directives. The task should be straightforward and unequivocal.
Don’t just say, “Recall all romaine lettuce.” Give instructions on how to safely remove and dispose of the lettuce. If you are using a solution like Compliant IA, you can attach literature that informs employees about the product recall and how they can answer customer questions. Provide a planogram and photos so employees know exactly how to fill the now empty lettuce space.
You may want to consider breaking down projects with multiple steps into smaller single tasks for the sake of clarity. With Compliant IA, you can link tasks to one another so employees can complete them in the order required to ensure no steps are missed.
Make sure you are able to track completion rates and easily follow-up on overdue tasks. With Compliant IA, you can run reports or monitor completion rates with color coding from the task’s page.
Once scheduled, task notifications are sent automatically, put on the employee’s dashboard and in their calendar. All include clickable links so employees can easily navigate to the task. Employees can comment on the task or let the task creator know about any issues. They can demonstrate completion by attaching photos.
As retail anthropologists Kizer & Bender observe, “What gets measured tends to get done.” Staying on top of completion rates can also help you identify patterns of lateness and better understand where coaching is required.
Assign a Task or Use a Checklist?
There can be some confusion in the retail industry over the term “task.” Some retailers think of an employee’s tasks as “what they need to accomplish during their shift.” Technically, any assignment you give to a team member could be called a “task,” including daily opening or closing duties, conducting a loss prevention audit, or updating their safety training.
It can be a challenge to figure out what tool is best suited to assign and follow-up on all these “tasks.” Here’s our recommendations for features and tools to help execute recurring, ad-hoc, single-action, and multi-action tasks.
Recurring tasks are generally best handled by a checklist. Use a platform that allows you to create as many types of checklists as you need for daily responsibilities, loss prevention audits, or health and safety inspections. Use clear and concise language for each item on the checklist.
As with any task, illustrations are helpful so include best practice photos. Optimize the workflow by attaching supporting documents directly to the item or questions. This way employees do not have to step away from the task to look up information; it’s already there.
Need to be certain employees fill out a particular checklist? Use Compliant IA to “Request an inspection” or schedule the inspection in the users calendar. Run a simple report to see when users have completed the inspection and wich locations are missing an inspection.
Ad-hoc tasks are usually time sensitive (product recalls, POP displays, etc.). You can use Compliant IA’s task module to assign these tasks in seconds, attach photos and documentation, and even require mandatory photos for task completion.
It is not uncommon for issues to be found while employees are conducting an inspection or audit. When this happens, users can use the task module to assign an issue in real time. Additionally, the inspector can assign an action plan, that is, a corrective action with a due date. Action plans can be assigned while inspections are in progress or once completed.
With easy to run reports, head office can verify task and action plan completion from anywhere. Users receive follow-up reminders when tasks or action plans are overdue so nothing falls through the cracks or risks the brand’s reputation.
Single-action tasks could be combined to create a checklist. Such as restocking various shelves through the store. Using Compliant IA’s task management module, you can also assign single-action tasks in bulk by role as needed or to specific users.
Multi-action tasks can be combined to create a numbered step by step checklist. It is also possible to create a series of linked tasks with Compliant IA, requiring the first task to be complete before the next is available.
Moving Forward with Task Management
Task management can look different depending on your retail vertical. Implementing a task management program comes down to finding out what your productivity pain points are and implementing an approach from the top down to mitigate those pain points. It is estimated that the cost of non-compliance is 3.5 times higher than the cost to invest in programs that promote organizational compliance and task completion.
The only way to know if stores are really executing merchandising, operations, or loss prevention tasks is to have a tool in place that allows for easy, real-time follow-up. Using the right tool will help keep everyone, at every level, on the same page and focused.
About the Author:
Chelica Hiltunen is the Director of Operations at Compliant IA. Compliant IA is a store communication and execution platform. It combines task management, social collaboration, smart checklists with action plans and photo verification to ensure merchandising programs are executed in time, in full, in all locations.