What are some of the major challenges and trends that have been impacting the HR industry lately?

Christmas Tree Shops operates in the retail sector. The HR challenges impacting the retail industry today are caused by a macroeconomic climate that includes a return to “normal” post pandemic, a war in Ukraine, and inflation.

First, let’s break this down. There is debate if we can state that we are post pandemic. While recruitment challenges in the essential worker sector have eased a bit, we have seen a trend that indicates that many individuals who would have previously chosen retail as a career choice are looking at the gig economy to pay the bills while making their own schedule. From restaurant and grocery delivery to Amazon gig scheduling, individuals have more choices than ever to leverage technology to log on and pick up work when the time is right for them. These challenges are different than that of our corporate offices, where the pandemic changed the rules of working from home. We surveyed our corporate employees to learn that they wanted a return to the office plan that continued to support work from home. We are currently maneuvering the waters of onboarding, engaging and developing a team that is operating in a hybrid environment of work from home and the office.

Second, we weathered the impact of the pandemic on the supply chain and customer shopping patterns (online vs brick and mortar), only to emerge with a war in Ukraine, inflation and record gas prices. This Spring we have seen report after report of the impact on the retail industry. Customer traffic and spending is down. Christmas Tree Shops is a value priced retailer and we have not been impacted to the degree of others, however that kind of market volatility makes it difficult to maintain consistency in planning and scheduling to have the right resources in the right places when our customers need them. From a scheduling standpoint, we have operated leaner and gotten very granular to leverage availability by employee to flex up and down as needed with minimal impact to employee total hours. From a corporate perspective, it requires our team to be agile and diplomatic with vendors to adjust to purchases orders and review supply chain timing and demands. We have found that continuous communication is required to acknowledge and thank our teams for the hard work and flexibility required in a tough economic market.

Can you tell us about the latest project that you have been working on and what are some of the technological and process elements that you leveraged to make the project successful?

In November of 2020 Christmas Tree Shops was purchased from Bed Bath and Beyond by Handil Holdings, owned by Pam and Marc Salkovitz. The task was herculean, as we had 1 year to stand on our own requiring us to stand up three areas that were formerly shared services (HR, IT and Finance), while implementing or converting ALL new operating systems, and establishing a new culture for the organization. This was all done remotely as the pandemic and lock down was in full swing at the time of the purchase and vaccinations had not yet been rolled out. For HR it required a coordinated hiring plan that lined up with the timing and responsibility for implementing new systems, ensuring our systemic work eliminated manual efforts to allow us to operate more efficiently, all while maintaining a lens on the cultural impact the changes were having on the organization as a whole. This required consistent communication and alignment with the organization. Our field leadership teams were present in our Stores and DC, listening and responding to the impact of the pandemic as well as any changes resulting from the change of ownership. Corporately we metweekly to provide updates on the progress of the work in our areas and gather feedback on how changes may be impacting the organization. We conducted surveys and listened to feedback. When we could, we made adjustments to better meet the needs of our team or enhanced communication to give our team more information around changes that were necessary for our transition and success. On our one-year anniversary, we had hired over 90 new corporate players, implemented new or transitioned systems, and were operating independently as anew privately owned business. This was all done while delivering one of the most profitable years in Christmas Tree Shops recent history.

"We have been focused on compliance, gamification, and a platform that allows individuals to focus on specific areas of development."

Specifically in HR, we implemented Workday as our HCM, ATS, Payroll, Absence, Scheduling and Timekeeping system. This required us to review and often rewrite our policies and procedures (like paid time off, leave management, and payroll practices) to align with our cultural vision while ensuring our system were able to conduct the tasks at hand and eliminate manual workload. We also had to ensure 3rd party integrations (like our benefits providers, payroll processors, and 401k) were operational to effectively handle payroll transfers, payments and deductions.In the end, the success of this project was driven by talent. From newly hired HR leaders driving separate arms of the Workday project to the expertise of consultants selected for fit and experience, it was this talented team that collaborated inside and outside of HR to bring this project home.

Which are some of the technological trends which excite you for the future of the HR industry?

Following the purchase of the company, we took on the components of Workday that were critical to stand on our own and operate efficiently. Our next steps will be to implement a Learning and Talent platform to continue to support our strategic vision of investing in the development of our team. We have been conducting RFPs and have been looking into solutions that meet the needs of 4500 non-exempt and 300 professional team members. We have been focused on compliance, gamification, and a platform that allows individuals to focus on specific areas of development.