For a lot of eCommerce content studio employees, the thought of an added emphasis on metrics carries a negative connotation. Just more stats that company higher-ups can use to tell us we're not doing enough, right? But it doesn't have to be that way.
Todd Schweikert, Vice President of Studio Production at Rue Gilt Groupe, has worked to change his team's perception of metrics. With a company that operates on a flash sale model (meaning a lot of short-order work that needs to be created quickly!), it'd be easy for the eCommerce studio to have the hustling production feel of an old-school manufacturing line, with metrics leveraged as a fear tactic to rush weary workers. But that's not how Todd manages his team. He uses metrics, in conjunction with merchant communication, to advocate for healthy workloads on his team.
This refreshing approach to metrics was enough for host Daniel Jester to bring Todd to The Creative Operations Podcast. Todd and Daniel delved into healthy uses of metrics, and the full chat is available on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website. It's worth your while. For our purposes here, though, we'll get into just a few ways metrics and merchant relationships are interrelated, and how effective management of both can help you make your studio team happy.
Use Metrics to Measure Job Satisfaction
To recap our prelude, the refreshing thing about Todd's perspective is that he sees metrics serving a studio in two ways, one of which is a relatively unconventional way to perceive value in the numbers game.
"When we talk about studio metrics, there are two elements," he says. "One is how are we working and producing for the benefit of the business? How are we producing for the benefit of our members, and what are the metrics we need to look at to accomplish those?"
But numbers aren't about merely measuring performance. They're helpful for measuring prosperity within the team.
"The other side of metrics is, How are we working within our metrics to support our associates, support their capabilities, support their ambition, to push the envelope, while at the same time, anticipate schedule shifts and factor that in while our schedules are in the process of shifting?" he says.
A fan of this premise, Daniel sees this framing of metrics as a "sort of logical step of performance as a reflection of people's satisfaction in their work or the amount of work they have available to them to do."
Tell Your Team to See Metrics as the Staunch Defender of a Work-Life Balance
When a studio doesn't use metrics, it opens up the possibility for greater unpredictability — lengthy days, workers going into overtime, and disruptions to work-life balance. Todd has seen plenty of it in the past, and when the demand has exceeded standard availability, he's tried to compensate by letting people come in later on other days, but that can further exacerbate unpredictability.
"On the flip side, we'd have that same issue—maybe the day would wrap a half day early," Todd says. When a project didn't take as long as expected, freelancers were paid but underutilized. There wasn't enough forethought to prepare another set for shooting, so other projects would need to wait until the next day. It was time wasted.
"If we knew that photo set was only going to be half a day, we could have implemented a project for that team to work on," Todd says. "But because they worked through the product much quicker than anticipated, it would leave the project a bit up in the air. And as a studio, that affects our innovation and affects our ability to have some personal projects accomplished as well."
This is the pain point you can emphasize with your team when you push metrics in the studio. With the right metrics in place, your team can know that they'll have relatively consistent schedules.
How Low Can You Go with Your Subcategories?
Todd's passion for categorizing metrics could be described as zealous and unrelenting. "We start at a high level," he says, "We start measuring at accessories, handbags, footwear. And then from there, you start to break it into categories. Well, what type of footwear? What brands of footwear? We started to really get down to a more granular level. And for business reporting, we report at a higher level. We report at that [level of] accessories, footwear, handbag. But for our—what I would call associate satisfaction—that granular reporting became really important for that team."
A benefit of all this categorization—Todd has taken his studio from categorizing in 12 ways to sorting in 3,600—is that it helps predict workflow. It "seems a bit intense," he concedes, "but it's given us the ability to truly measure a set to say this set should take a team eight hours."
Use Team Feedback to Improve Metrics
If you know us, you know we bemoan numbers for the sake of numbers. If you ask us, it's always worth inspecting whether a stat tells the full story or if there's a different measurement that will tell the tale more truthfully. For Todd, one way to hold metrics accountable is by soliciting feedback from the team, to make sure all variables are factored into a dashboard's assessment of their work.
"It wouldn't work without their feedback," Todd says. "This is not a top-down approach. This is something that absolutely requires their feedback, their perspective. And when they have feedback on the process and they're made aware of why it's happening—here's how it works—they become part owners in the process and then they care about it as well, especially when they start to see the benefit, the feeling of, 'Wow we just worked through a lot of stuff today,' as well as the feeling of, 'I didn't have to spend an extra two hours to get that done.'"
The team's feedback is the driver of continuous improvement, helping Todd see what should be measured and how. "You start to have the individuals come to you and say, 'I know we have metrics for this category. And we know we have metrics for this brand, but the styling has changed. We're seeing more swimwear with items that have to be tied whereas last season that wasn't the case. Maybe we should adjust this to be more effective.'"
Manage Merch's Expectations Using Your Trusted Metrics
Todd likes to meet with merchandising teams to get their perspective on what needs to be shown through the studio's content. Sometimes the scope of that work requires more investment from the studio, and thus the merchant, so Todd communicates that.
"If we're going to spend more time, we're doing that to make something better," he says. "So if there's an investment, we share that with them. If something's going to take longer."
But it's not always an upsell, Todd points out. "On the flip side, when they come to us with some ideas, we may come back and say, 'Or we could work this way if you're happy with this result. This actually is a more effective, efficient way for the studio.'"
This management of expectations works in tandem with the metrics emphasis to ensure team happiness. How's that? Todd gives the example of getting a massive last-minute request. "In some cases, there are scenarios where we'll say, OK, well, we're going to have to add two or three more sets," he says. "We're not going to try to get it out of one person."
By analyzing metrics to anticipate peak volumes and by communicating with merch teams, Todd's studio is able to give people a relatively stable lifestyle of eight-hour days, rather than one six-hour day followed by a 10-hour one.
What impresses Daniel here is the ground-up nature of this system—starting with studio team concerns and responding to their feedback.
"Your teams are involved in passing up this information, and it's even before somebody needs to step out and say, 'We have to do some load balancing here,'" Daniel says. "You've already got people who have identified the bottleneck and are operating to clear it. I think that's very exciting and it's very satisfying to have built a team and a system of metrics that enables people to respond proactively to something, as opposed to being siloed and focused on their own thing. Very satisfying."
With this team-first perspective on metrics, you're ready to give your team a fresh attitude on the numbers game within your studio. But for even more intel on how to reframe metrics and merchant relationships, listen to the full episode of The Creative Operations Podcast on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.