Convenience Store Chain Royal Farms Automates HR 24/7

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Talent management isn’t just the realm of hot tech companies, pro sports franchises, and tony investment banks. A chain of convenience stores on the US East Coast has turned to modern HR systems to recruit, onboard, and train its people, among other functions, in part to manage employee attrition that has hovered at almost 80% a year.

Royal Farms, a family-owned company that operates more than 160 stores in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and most recently New Jersey, employs about 4,000 people. But that number doesn’t adequately represent the scale of its talent challenge.

Courtesy of Royal Farms

Given its high employee turnover, typical among 24/7 convenience store chains, “that 4,000 that we have today is not the same 4,000 we will have next week,” notes Christopher Kiessling, the Baltimore-based company’s HRIS manager.[/caption]

For years, Royal Farms used an old on-premises software suite called Abra to manage HR and payroll. But that system, surrounded by mostly paper-based processes, couldn’t keep up with the company’s growth, Kiessling says.

For example, when an employee walked into any Royal Farms store to apply for a job, he/she filled out a paper application, which the store leader would mail to the HR department for review. HR would then do a criminal background check on a public website, and if the candidate passed muster, HR would send another paper form to the candidate to take to a drug testing lab. If the candidate passed that test, only then would HR contact the store leader to give permission to set up an interview and potentially hire the person.

That and other key HR processes took way too long, required lots of inefficient data entry and re-entry, and didn’t lend themselves to ongoing data reporting and analysis. But with the recent implementation of Oracle HCM Cloud’s core HR, talent acquisition/management, payroll, benefits, performance management, absences, and goals modules, Royal Farms is automating and tying together its HR processes.

Now, for example, almost all job seekers apply on the Oracle Taleo module accessed from the employment section of Royal Farms’ website. From there, the company eliminates about half the applicants via a third-party software package’s assessment tests, before initiating the background and drug tests for those who made the cut.

“We redesigned our recruiting process to try to give the store leaders the best candidates,” Kiessling says. “Before, when candidates walked in, the store managers had no clue who they were.”

The Oracle applications are also giving Royal Farms more centralized control and views of its people data. For example, from within the Oracle payroll application Kiessling is producing reports that show overtime hours and related expenses for individual stores. The Royal Farms operations department is analyzing that data to decide where it would make more business sense to hire additional people rather than pay lots of overtime.

“You can’t argue with data,” Kiessling says. “Before, they never were able to pull out data. They had a good feeling about the turnover rate, but now I can say here is your turnover rate. Before, they had a feeling about how many people took training modules, but now we can say this store down to this person took it.”

‘Flow to the Technology’

Kiessling, who was hired to manage the Oracle implementation, partnering with integrator Drivestream, says he had to convince the Royal Farms leadership team that it needed to change certain business practices. “If this was going to be successful,” he says, “we had to really flow to the technology rather than customize the applications to the existing business processes.”

For example, Royal Farms used to use a JDA Software application to manage employees’ time and attendance. If an employee didn’t enter his or her time into the system, the store manager would just send a piece of paper to the payroll team, asking them to record the employee’s hours. “Now with the new system, you can’t have payroll taking 4,000 pieces of paper and inputting them,” Kiessling says. “So we had to enforce the system’s processes, which is far more accurate and efficient way of doing things.”

For one thing, the cloud system forced users to enter data consistently. “What you think is clean data is not what Oracle thinks is clean data,” he says.

Millennial Surprise

How well have employees adjusted to those new processes? Kiessling says the store managers, the front-line users of the cloud-based HR systems, weren’t as proficient with computers as he had thought they would be, so getting them up to speed required some training.

“You always hear that everybody who’s a millennial knows how to use a computer,” he says. “Well, no. They know how to use iPhones and Androids and all that, but nobody ever teaches them the basic skills of how to work computer software.”

A pleasant surprise, however, was just how easy it is for employees to use the Oracle system’s learning module to upload and access training videos on everything from how to operate a cash register to how to prepare the company’s renowned pressure-cooked chicken, Kiessling says.

Say the company introduces a new wrap. An employee can shoot a short video from his smartphone on how to prepare the wrap, and then upload the video to the system. “It doesn’t have to be a huge production,” he says. “If we need to change it, or if we need to attach a test to the end of it, it can be done almost immediately.”

Cloud the Logical Choice

Royal Farms’ leadership team had decided to go cloud before it recruited Kiessling to oversee the Oracle implementation, but Kiessling, a former Air Force senior master sergeant who was responsible for hardware and software development for personnel and war-planning systems, confirmed that decision.

“Coming from where I came from within the military, building out a system for 50 states and 50,000 employees, I said to Royal Farms, ‘You guys are going to have to get more servers, and then you’ll have to have maintenance on those servers and the contracts.’ I said, ‘Let’s just push straight to the cloud.’ The cloud is the future.”

Rob Preston is editorial director in Oracle’s Content Central organization.

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