CSD: Train to Retain

Discussion
Jan 06, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

Employee exit interview surveys tell us the main reason outstanding employees quit is because they think they aren’t well managed. In other words, they joined the company but leave the manager.

Convenience store operators need to thoroughly understand the key areas where managers and employees interact and share what has been proven to work, starting with training.

When left to our own devices, most of us tend to deliver training in the way we prefer to receive it. This creates problems because different people have different learning styles. Some learn best by reading written instructions; some by hearing or seeing the task performed; and others learn by doing it themselves. Managers who don’t allow for each of these learning styles create unnecessary frustration for the trainee as well as themselves and are often perceived as "bad teachers." The best way to train and keep good people on board is to incorporate all methods of instruction so they naturally reinforce each other.

The three keys to an overall training philosophy are to:

  1. Set clear expectations: Employees perform better if they know exactly what you want them to do. This includes communicating the consequences. Let employees know the impact their work will have on the organization or its customers if they do it right, do it wrong or don’t do it at all.
  2. Provide necessary skills/knowledge: Once they know what you want them to do and why, they need to know how to do it.
  3. Remove obstacles: Think about the task at hand and ask yourself, "What might prevent a person from succeeding?" Faulty or wrong equipment, cramped or crowded working conditions are examples of obstacles that can hurt employee performance.

While you have a picture of how the task should be done in your head, nobody else, least of all your new hire, can read your mind. Communicate your expectations every chance you get. Ask trainees to read the written instructions and ask them why they think it should be done that way or if they have any ideas about how it might be done better. Regularly review expectations like reliability, dependability and honesty in staff meetings.

When you accommodate different learning styles in a supportive environment, you communicate that you want to help your people be successful. The happy — and profitable — result is that your trainees are more productive and much more likely to stick around.

Discussion Questions: What are some regular mistakes or misconceptions around training strategies at retail? What have you found to be the most effective training methods?

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14 Comments on "CSD: Train to Retain"

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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Trainers are chosen because they are frequently perceived as the best employees, which does not make a great trainer. Also training is still seen as an imposition to the rest of the staff and trainer — no one wants to get stuck with the ugly new kid.

The training philosophy is fine as far as it goes but the bigger issue is about who is given the task of onboarding and their own personal feelings about doing it.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
5 years 8 months ago

The three items in Mel’s list are key. I would add the following:

Rigorous testing to ensure understanding of both expectations and how to execute them. Having a new associate watch a video or read a manual is not enough. Do they understand it? Can they do it?

Connecting performance goals and reward systems to the successful execution of the procedures/expectations. In other words, what’s in it for the associate if they follow these procedures? This also forces the company to continuously assess what they want their associates to do and whether it adds value.

The most important factor is making sure that management at all levels is not only aware, but signed up for what you’re asking the associate to do. New associates will follow the procedures right up to the point where a manager says “Don’t do it that way, do it this way.” At that point, the training is forgotten. After all, who writes the associate’s review?

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
5 years 8 months ago

For customers to voluntarily return to any store they must feel like they are really wanted in a store. Let that be the first tenet in a training program strategy.

In reflecting upon the effects of dozens of chains and stores’ trading programs, I suggest that whatever Trader Joe’s training program is, follow it.

Robert DiPietro
BrainTrust

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen at retail is “one and done.” You hold a session and think everyone is ready for customer contact and retained the knowledge and have the comfort level to perform.

The most effective method I’ve seen is the ‘buddy system’. A good example is the consumer electronic space; once the associate passes the product test, it doesn’t mean they are ready to interact with customers and help them make purchase decisions. The buddy system allows a new associate to watch a more experienced associate, then ask questions after the transaction. It’s a three step process for new hire 1) observe only 2) tag team the conversation with customer 3) fly solo and be observed.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
5 years 8 months ago

“Training strategies at retail” is a very broad topic and quite different than training strategies in C-Stores. And that’s what this discussion is about, right? C-Stores? Not the Gap or Macy’s?

As I’ve pointed out previously in these spaces, the average tenure of a C-Store clerk is 34 days. I know this from 7-Eleven experience as a clerk, store manager, and national advertising manager. The most common way to lose a clerk is pilferage. The second-most common way is that they’re just passing through on their way to something better.

Clerks in family-owned franchises tend to stay much longer because they are family members.

How do you train a C-Store clerk if you have some pie-in-the-sky, long-term vision for their employment future? They’re not there for the long haul. And who’s doing the “training?” A burned-out middle manager who just wants to collect a paycheck and go home at night? The best you can do with a C-Store clerk is to show them how to make regular cash drops in the safe and how to sell money orders. Everything else is selling gasoline, beer, and cigarettes. Not much training needed for that.

Caitlin Kelly
Guest
Caitlin Kelly
5 years 8 months ago

During my time working as an associate for The North Face, we were given a lot of ongoing training, both in the form of quizzes and written tests on paper and online tests we had to take until we passed it; i.e. met a bar of product knowledge.

Frankly, this kept corporate happy but about 85% of my customers never asked anything about the products or their technical capabilities (the focus of the training.) They just didn’t care — so there was a significant disconnect between what management considered essential and what customers, consistently, cared about: service, sizes, colors. i.e. inventory.

After a very brief role-play in our very first sessions after being hired (we opened the store as a team of 15, trained all together), we never got any more training or coaching in how to sell or connect effectively and authentically with shoppers. That came from our innate talents, or did not.

Doug Fleener
Guest

I agree with Mel’s list, and I would add coaching and consistent feedback from managers. Training is usually a one-time or a couple-time event, but employees need input and feedback on how they’re doing compared to their manager’s expectations.

I think one mistake a lot of retailers make is adapting a training strategy that doesn’t work in the real world of retail. I can’t tell you how many companies we’ve worked with that have a training strategy that’s taught but never used on the floor.

David Zahn
Guest

I would add to Mel’s great list the idea of “evaluation or measurement.” Communicate the methods used to assess performance.

Phil Masiello
Guest
Phil Masiello
5 years 8 months ago

The biggest mistake around training at retail is over complication and lack of focus. The single area that will make a dramatic impact on the business from a customer perspective is customer service. There are so many systems today that can streamline the supply chain processes and tasks, yet I would venture that most of the training elements focus on tasks that mean very little to the customer. Management needs to develop a system to train customer service to the staff, eliminate the extraneous information and make sure that everyone trains the same way. Deviations at the store level should never be acceptable in retail because that is where the brand is entrenched in the customers mind. The customer experience in store A should be the same as B, C and Z. The old deflection of “my store is different” needs to be rooted out. This is where the real frustration lies with store level associates.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

What are some regular mistakes or misconceptions around training strategies at retail?

Not having any.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I completely agree with Gene Hoffman! A retailer need not reinvent the wheel. If you find a store, even an individual location of a larger chain, talk to that store manager and find the key elements of the training AND ongoing store culture that contribute to the successful employment programs.

Mark Price
BrainTrust

The most common mistakes that occur with retail training are based on the assumption that the most important information that an associate needs is operational-how to run the register, stack and merchandise the shelves and clean the store. While this information is important, it really represents only the cost of entry for retailers determined to differentiate based on customer experience.

Interestingly enough, the most important pieces of retail training revolve around the values of the organization and how those values are transmitted through interactions with customers on a daily basis. Associates must engage with customers in a way that supports the brand and clearly differentiates the store from competition.

Consumers expect a clean, well-merchandised store with Associates who can run the register. That is the cost of doing business. However, what they don’t expect is what they usually don’t receive: caring empowered service designed to make their lives easier. And that is what makes all the difference.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Great goals! Smart goals. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based goals manage the employees expectations and help clearly communicate these between management and employees. This is critical in great training and a part of the training feedback loop.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
5 years 8 months ago

All of the comments are obvious and point to easy, actionable steps which are clearly effective as the research has proven. So why doesn’t it happen? The senior leaders at most retail organizations say the right things about valuing employees and being focused on providing best in class training supported by leadership excellence. The reality is that it usually ends with the talk. The real priorities of short term financial metrics win the battle for investment and management focus in most cases. Only those retailers led by CEOs and other senior leaders who passionately believe in both the customer and employee experience, and ensure the funding is in place to deliver against those expectations, are delivering on the promise.

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