Q&A: Helen Armstrong, Founder & CEO, Silver Cloud
Helen Armstrong is the CEO & Founder of Silver Cloud HR, a global HR and payroll technology consultancy which specialises in helping retailers review, select and implement their people and payroll software.
Helen has over 15 years of HR and HRIS experience. She founded Silver Cloud HR in 2009 after seeing a demand in the market for a more boutique people technology consultancy to rival the Big Four, provided by consultants who have hands-on experience within the HR and payroll industry.
Since then, Silver Cloud has gone on to support UK and global companies to transform their people and pay functions – growing to a team of 60+ across the UK, Mauritius, Spain and Cyprus.
Passionate about building a work environment that is inclusive, professional and enjoyable place to work, Helen spearheaded the concept of remote-working long before the pandemic, creating a work culture that, in 2023, earned Silver Cloud the accolade of a Great Place to Work.
Helen, what is your background?
I have spent my entire HR career focused on transformation. I started my first HR role in shared services – driving efficiencies, cost savings and improving customer service, before going into consulting, working with clients such as Ericsson to transform their HR systems.
I started Silver Cloud in 2009 after seeing a gap in the market for tech skills within the HR and payroll market, more than this however, I saw a real opportunity to do things differently.
Today, Silver Cloud is a multi-million pound business employing over 60 people spread across the UK, Europe and Mauritius working with customers such as Roadchef, Urban Outfitters, SOHO House, SnowFox group and many more.
What are some of the challenges retailers are facing in the current economic climate?
There are plenty of challenges (and opportunities!) facing retailers at the moment.
Something we encounter time and time again are challenges around resource allocation and talent retention – many retailers struggle to manage, train and develop their workforce efficiently or retain the staff they have with their current people technology.
Inefficient resource allocation can lead to increased staffing costs, overstaffing during slow periods or understaffing during busy times, which ultimately results in higher labour expenses.
In an industry with one of the highest turnover rates, it’s essential to ensure the right resource is in the right place at the right time – and with the right level of skill to perform their tasks.
Retailers are used to leveraging data in order to predict demand, optimise stock levels and track customer behaviour for example, and the right workforce management software can do the same when it comes to resourcing their people.
Managing a diverse workforce and meeting their needs is another challenge for retailers. More people are seeking flexible work arrangements alongside opportunities for career development. This, on top of compliance with labour laws such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and discrimination gives retail people leaders a lot to think about!
How does Silver Cloud plan to address and solve these challenges for retailers? Having the right people technology in place will undoubtedly help to reduce resourcing challenges. Retailers can use historical data, external data points like weather forecast and event platforms alongside predictive analytics to forecast demand more accurately, allowing for better staffing and resource management.
Creating flexible staffing models that can adapt to changing demand, using part-time or seasonal staff, fixed-term staff, hourly paid staff, or flexible contracts will all help to reduce the risk.
Investing in training programmes to enhance employee skills and knowledge and ensure they are equipped to handle their tasks efficiently should also be factored in and having somewhere to capture these skills and being able to incorporate in the staffing demand and forecasting software is key.
There is also staff wellbeing to consider – particularly during peak periods – and lots of tools available on the market focused on this area.
We take a holistic approach when working with our retail clients to support them in sourcing solutions that can enable all of the above. Helping them to pinpoint where their current solutions fall down and build a roadmap for transformation – including identifying the ‘quick wins’ to solve the problems of today.
Being whole-of-market, we have experience of a huge range of systems and lots of experience in working with retail-centric solutions, so are well placed to advise.
How does Silver Cloud’s services help retailers and brands operating in the retail sector?
Selecting and implementing a new people management solution is a big undertaking that needs meticulous planning and is not something that can be done alongside ‘the day job’. Often projects are put at risk where the right resources are not put in place throughout the project lifecycle.
The costs of getting it wrong can be far-reaching, and we’ve seen this first hand with many organisations, not just in retail. Depending on their starting point, we work with clients to review their current HR tech stack, map out current processes and identify any gaps before helping them to determine the right way forward – whether this means remedial work to improve the functionality of their current systems or sourcing a new one.
We also work with retailers to implement their chosen system – supporting them with all aspects of the process from data migration to testing, change management and user adoption. For most of our clients, the biggest win is to finally have that single source of truth for their people data – one that can give them the insights they need to tackle today’s challenges as well as plan for the future real time.
Most of our clients have limited project resources available to implement a project of this scale, we can provide a project lead whose sole purpose is to bring their expertise to the project and ensure the project runs on time and within budget. In addition, the Silver Cloud team can also design and deliver an end-user training programme to frontline store managers, via a blended approach of onsite workshops, user manual, videos and e-learning.
What challenges and opportunities do you see in retail for 2023?
The main challenge for retail is to focus on growth and how they can stay competitive by not only attracting new talent but retaining and upskilling their workforce, ultimately becoming a destination employer.
One opportunity that can help with this is earned wage access – retailers are increasingly adopting Earned Waged Access (EWA) as a benefit to employees. This is fast becoming a ‘must have’ for companies looking for a way in which to stand out and attract talent in a competitive market.
AI is also providing a huge opportunity to enhance the people management function – just as it is with the consumer journey. From supporting talent acquisition and onboarding, to resolving employee queries, developing training programmes, supporting resource capacity planning and more – AI isn’t something that is ‘in the future’ but available now and many vendors in the market are already putting in place.
Considering the high turnover rate within the retail and hospitality sector, it’s crucial to implement tech that gives you the ability to monitor employee sentiment, the latest tech has AI-driven tools that can analyse communication channels, send surveys, and get feedback from employees.
This can help free up valuable time for your HR team to design a unique support system to maintain employee productivity and ensure they are engaged and help improve the organisation’s ENPS. Too many retailers are using outdated people tech that is very manual and leaves room for error, starting the journey to a digital solution could help your retailers make better informed crucial decisions and increase resilience and agility in tougher times.
What’s special about your services and your approach?
We are really passionate about the work that we do and our ultimate aim is to ensure that our clients feel supported throughout every aspect of their HR transformation journeys. Clients tend to come to us when they have a problem to solve and are often at a loss as to which direction to go in.
We developed our own digital HR maturity model to help clients benchmark where they currently stand in terms of their HR functions and capabilities. This is the starting point for creating a clear roadmap for the future and designing an HRIS ecosystem that will enable them to address both their current and future challenges.
We are HR people first and foremost, giving us a unique perspective on our clients’ challenges. Working with HR, payroll and WFM software providers that are at the top of their game and with access to the whole of the market, we’re able to help clients determine the best ‘fit’ for their needs – offering unbiased, strategic advice on HRIS and payroll selection alongside client-side project management, software implementation and ongoing support to maximise their investment.
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