A Little Time and Investment Goes a Long Way

Tomas Alvarez
Industrial Engineering Analyst

In the past, I worked with retailers to measure associate productivity and performance. During these engagements, I realized that associates spend a lot of time on idle activities throughout their day. Idle time not only increases retailers’ labor expenses but also negatively impacts sales. If a retailer desires to grow its business, its leadership must ensure that associates are maximizing their productivity in every area. Associates are a retailer’s biggest asset. Therefore, they are imperative to its success. It’s important to actively listen to associates and consider ways to encourage them toward productivity. Today, retailers are giving customers a more personalized experience, requiring workforce transformation. Improving how associates view their job and its requirements directly impacts turnover, productivity, satisfaction and sales. Below, I outline a few ways that a retailer can directly and economically boost associate productivity.

Training and Education
Leadership can maintain a development mindset toward associates’ experiences from the moment they are hired. If a company invests in its associates through training and education, it showcases that leadership cares about their growth. For larger corporations, the possibility of upward mobility starting with entry level roles is a must. However, internal competition can be balanced with collaboration, ultimately benefiting the retailer through increased in-store teamwork. This creates an atmosphere of informal education. There are several ways in which a company can educationally invest in its associates, such as providing seminars, utilizing mentors and subsidizing training.

In-Store Execution
Associates who understand task expectations are better able to execute them. In other words, associates who know what they need to do and when can be held accountable. Over time, new-hires who meet expectations are retained. Retailers simultaneously add value to their associates through this process. Those who understand expectations can shape their job responsibilities to include meaningful activities like customer engagement. Organizational psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski of the Yale School of Management calls this “job crafting.” She stated that helping associates find meaning in their work allows them to lead more satisfying careers and lives; coincidentally, they also become more passionate about their job.

Rewarding Associates
Rewarding associates is a classic behavioral tool for investing in one’s workforce, but many retailers fear this will be costly. Most reward structures are based on budgetary restrictions. However, if investing in associates is important to company leaders, it will become important to store managers. Simple rewards, such as verbal recognition and genuine conversation, cost nothing and make a big difference. Associates desires to be more than objects used to increase company sales. One economical way to reward associates is during new program roll-outs, at which time leadership can highlight top performers in front of other associates. If this is done justly, it can reap dividends. Higher-tiered and cost-effective rewards can include store discounts or additional PTO. The possibilities in this category are many.

Performance Reviews
Finally, keeping track of performance while holding associates accountable is a great way to increase productivity and earn promotions. Once regular performance reviews are established, retailers can schedule intermittent check-ins to track associate satisfaction and progress toward their goals. Understanding an associate’s desired growth trajectory is important. Helping him move along this path illustrates that leadership cares. Also, on accountability, current research on employee development showcased that even negative feedback from supervisors in a constructive, authentic way can empower associates. In summary, figuring out how to motivate associates will be unique by retailer. Different things work for different companies. Retailers will benefit from adapting the aforementioned tools to their own culture and style. Feel the freedom to be creative!