How to Avoid Pencil Whipping and Drive Retail Compliance

Marie Merien
Written by Marie Merien
retail manager using mobile devices

Retail employees are expected to manage many different tasks, and the demands can sometimes lead to pencil whipping. When employees heedlessly fill out forms, management doesn’t have an accurate understanding of on-the-ground operations, retail sales and customer service suffer, and compliance issues can even arise in certain situations.

Pencil whipping is a problem across industries, contributing to maintenance issues in construction, underwriting inaccuracies in insurance, foodborne illness outbreaks in foodservice, OSHA-reported accidents -- and possibly even the 2008 mortgage crisis. As forms are filled out inaccurately and not checked problems arise no matter what field a business is in. That's true in retail too.

Retail management isn’t without means of addressing this issue, however. Through changes to company culture and implementation of technology, companies can effectively reduce and potentially entirely eliminate pencil whipping by employees.

Pencil Whipping and the Associated Costs

retail employee doing an inventory checklist

Pencil whipping occurs when employees automatically fill out forms without doing the associated work. Employees simply “whip” their pencil across a checklist, table or other document.

The costs of pencil whipping are multifold, although exactly what the consequence is depends on the specifics of a situation:

  • Rushing inventory counts can lead to incorrect orders, which may result in overstock at a location or not having enough product to sell
  • Automatically filling out cleaning forms can result in customer areas and other parts of a store not being kept safe, presentable and generally clean 
  • Failing to check refrigerator and freezer temperatures jeopardizes compliance in food service settings, and could be an issue if food poisoning occurs

These are just a few of many examples that may have negative effects on everything from customer experience to litigation. In many situations, operations become less efficient and sales suffer when employees don’t actually check details before completing forms.

The reasons for employee pencil whipping can range from sheer laziness and lack of consequences to prioritization on more important tasks. Understanding these motivations is essential to knowing how this issue can be effectively addressed.

Changing Company Culture and Expectations

retail employee empowered with retail tech

Addressing pencil whipping begins by examining your company culture, in order to see whether any changes can be made that will alter employee behavior. 

Changes can look like different things in different companies. For example, you may want to:

  • Increase accountability by developing direct consequences for not properly attending to forms
  • Save employees time by eliminating forms and documents that aren’t truly necessary
  • Clarify how tasks are to be completed by detailing specific steps for each item on a form
  • Promote a culture where questions are welcome, so employees who need help have safe access to it

There are many other changes that might be appropriate in your company’s situation.

Implementing Streamlined Technology

retail employees using retail technology

No matter what the company culture and expectations are, technology can certainly help reduce pencil whipping -- and it does so in multiple ways. The ideal solution will be app-based, work across computers and mobile devices, and provide both efficiency and accountability.

At SimpliField, we’ve developed a technological solution specifically to address pencil whipping. The solution has several features that make it more effective than other solutions (including other apps):

  • Centralized Tools: SimpliField brings forms and documents into one place, along with communications and other features. This eliminates the need for one-off tools that only do single jobs and spreadsheets that only show limited data. Transferring between tasks is efficient, and analytics can spread across multiple items.

  • Short Reports: We narrowed and shortened the reports that employees must complete, which is especially important to store and field employees. Shorter reports are much easier to navigate on mobile devices than long documents are, and most store employees are using a phone or tablet when on the floor.

  • Photo Integration: Whenever possible, the use of photos rather than forms is preferable. Photos provide accountability because they can’t quickly be checked off, and they can give insight far beyond what a written document will. Our platform allows for the widespread use of photos.

  • Direct Communications: SimpliField makes emails obsolete as it allows direct communication at all levels, between managers, store employees and teams. This not only ensures access to communications for in-field employees who might not have email at hand, but it also enables integration between communications and analytics. When analytics and engagement data are built into a communications system, everyone can more easily identify what’s working and what needs to be changed.

  • Built-In Notifications: Built-in notifications let store and field employees spend more time looking at their store and less time at their device. Rather than constantly checking their phone or tablet, they can simply wait for a notification to show when there’s a response.

  • Newsfeed Option: A company-wide Newsfeed can be set up in SimpliField. Posting regular updates can be a good way to disseminate information throughout a division or the entire company.

  • Customizable Setup: We made sure to design SimpliFied with a customizable setup, because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for form and document use. The platform can be both tailored to your company’s particular needs and made to resemble current practices. Mimicking current practices improves the implementation process, as it reduces the training that employees must go through to familiarize themselves with the new solution.

Implement SimpliField to Reduce Pencil Whipping

beauty retail employee smiling at client

If like 130+ retailers and brands, you also want to see up to 30% increase in compliance, contact us for a custom demo today. Our Customer Success team will be happy to explore how our features could better ensure that your company’s forms and documents are properly filled out to drive retail compliance.

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