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Masters of Workforce: Greene King on the value of convincing not cajoling when it comes to tech

By Barry Lane|Oct 30, 2023|4:49 pm GMT

Director of Deployments at Greene King, Andy Incles, is passionate about technology. He and his team have responsibility for the systems, processes and behaviours that ensure the pub chain’s 40,000 strong workforce are in the right place, at the right time.

“Technology can be a huge help rather than a hindrance to teams and customers,”

“Technology can be a huge help rather than a hindrance to teams and customers,” he told Fourth’s Barry Lane on episode one of our latest webinar series, Masters of Workforce Management. “Used in the right way, it can make a huge difference.” Which is critically important now as the hospitality industry continues to battle its way through challenge after challenge.

“No industry has had it easy over the last few years,” Andy agrees. “But hospitality has been knocked for six, first with pandemic disruption, then Brexit and more recently economic challenges. Changes to how people want to work, a lack of workers from the European Union, and the rising cost of living have all had a huge impact on workforce management.”

Attracting and retaining staff

So, how has the UK’s largest managed pub company addressed some of the issues it faces when attracting and retaining staff? It’s not alone in this challenge, it’s one the entire industry is grappling with. “This isn’t a problem that can be solved.” Says Andy, “There is no silver bullet. As an industry, the nature of the workforce is fluid and transient. We need to embrace that, lean into it, and find ways to work with it – while pushing for a fair deal for the industry.

‘There are positives to that flexibility that we tend to overlook. That level of movement can help in tough times when we need to realise the benefit of operational efficiencies or cut labour costs, we can do so without having to go through redundancies or hour reductions.”

Andy recommends that operators consider three areas when it comes to managing workforce challenges in difficult times. “We want to get to a stable workforce, rather than a static one. That means embracing fluidity in a way that is manageable and doesn’t cause short-term shocks and surprises.” Greene King’s strategy focuses on:

1. Pay and benefits

What employers are offering to attract talent and ensure people feel rewarded for the work they do.

2. Tech and processes

Making sure the experience for staff is as slick as possible and that pain points that can be removed are. “No one likes cleaning fryers at 11pm at night,” explains Andy. “So, we think about how we can use technology and innovation to take out elements of the job that put people off or encourage them to look elsewhere.”

3. Behaviours

This includes the environment established at the corporate level, as well as the local culture within individual pubs themselves. Andy highlights the importance of managers on this front. Afterall, people work for managers, not companies.

Managers as a critical factor

The importance of managers is something we’ve talked a lot about at Fourth recently. These are pivotal roles that not only have a significant impact on productivity and staff engagement, but also act as a repository for organisational information.

How do management teams set about ensuring managers at the local level are empowered and supported? “Compliance is really important, and will always be a key aspect of the manager’s role,” says Andy. “But there are other tasks that have to be done and could be done much quicker and easier. Workforce management is a clear example, particularly how much time managers spend making schedules and changing them. We’re never going to replace the manager’s role in scheduling completely – and it’s important not to – but we should be looking at how tech can take some of the heavy lifting out of it.

“At Greene King, we don’t replace a manager’s judgement around workforce management, what we do is enhance it. Give them a solid platform to build from, so they spend less time managing the admin of the teams and more time managing the teams themselves.”

Leveraging technology for success

Forecasting is the first stage in that approach. “Workforce management starts with a good forecast,” explains Andy. “It really is rubbish in, rubbish out. If we put a bad forecast in, we have bad schedules or schedules that have to be constantly moved. Scheduling is something we measure in our employee engagement surveys, so we know it’s a big issue for people and a real annoyance when schedules move. We want to limit that as much as possible by getting the schedule right the first time, and that means an accurate forecast.”

But managers aren’t always receptive to forecasts and automatic scheduling. “During the pandemic and when we were gradually re-opening, we were telling our managers to ignore the system forecast, it couldn’t anticipate what we were going through. Now, we have to encourage them to unlearn that and move back to using a system to help guide them. And that’s been a real challenge.”

But Andy and the team are slowly overcoming that hesitancy. “The great thing about working with Fourth has been seeing that next gen forecasting solution come out. We implemented it earlier this year,” he says, “so we are able to draw data from that and really convince rather than cajole our managers that the system can in most cases do a better job of getting that forecast right than management teams do. We can put that data side-by-side and prove that, giving managers the confidence to build their schedules on really robust data so all they’re doing in the intervening weeks is tweaking it rather than having to move it around.”

Introducing Intelligent Scheduling from Fourth. Intelligent Scheduling is your new superpower. Coming soon.

Any other innovations on the workforce management side that has the team hot under the collar? “We’re excited about Shift Pooling,” says Andy. Fourth’s Shift Pooling feature will be launched later this month, and Greene King has had early access to help with testing. “We have both the opportunity and challenge within our business. We often need shifts filled at the last minute, or in more rural locations. We also have a huge workforce with people that want to pick up extra shifts, or shifts in different locations.

‘What we’ve not had until recently is the right technology to bring together the opportunities for the people that want them. It’s something we’re working on with Fourth, making finding and accepting shifts in different locations as frictionales as possible for staff that do want to pick up extra work, and for managers that need to fill those schedules. So managers can get their schedules properly filled and optimised, ideally two to three weeks out but at a few hours notice if we need to.”

The result is better service for customers because the team is properly resourced. Shift Pooling also reduces incidence of understaffing, which leads to a better experience for employees, too.

Looking ahead

Thinking about the next year, what is Andy’s biggest fear and hope for the industry? “I’m worried things will get worse before they get better,” he says, candidly. “And that we’ll see some permanent damage to the UK pub sector and the loss of great players.”

Ever the optimist, Andy has two hopes for the next twelve months, “That innovation and technology will stay one step ahead of the market, and there will always be something coming in that can help us to address new challenges head on… and that England win the Rugby World Cup.”

He was in conversation with a Scotsman, who couldn’t quite meet his level of enthusiasm for the last one.

Watch the full conversation, and stay tuned for more episodes in our Masters of Workforce series.

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