How Connected is Your Company’s Leadership with the Workforce?

Jason Shipe
Manager of Industrial Engineering Services

Every company sets their vision and mission statement. Whether the strategy is customer experience, lowest price or differentiated goods and services, it is intended to define the company and how it will operate. Most companies spend a lot of effort defining themselves and outlining how to archive their desired outcomes. All too often, however, these statements and strategies are created without thorough circulation to the entire organization. How many retailers can you walk into and ask an associate for her employer’s mission statement without getting a blank stare?

Why is it important for the entire workforce to know the company’s mission? Isn’t it enough for people to just show up and “do their job”? If the workforce doesn’t know what is most important or how to focus their effort, they can spend a lot of time focusing on non-value-added activities that aren’t as important to the overall company objectives.

I once worked with a retailer who defined a new sales model that focused on customer experience and cross-selling high-margin products. Although employees had been trained on the new model, little attention was given to it. It ended up as another poster in the backroom with a catchy phrase. Upon observing store operations, I noticed associates were focused on helping customers find their product quickly and getting them out the door as fast as possible. From the associates’ perspective, they were doing a great job—customers were promptly buying product and the store wasn’t spending more labor than needed. This was top-of-mind because the company cut labor several times during the past few years. Nonetheless, the associates weren’t supporting the mission of an enhanced customer experience by cross-selling.

As important as it is for company leadership to establish objectives and strategies, it’s even more important for the workforce to be aware of these and take ownership of their installation. Although this retailer provided associate training and backroom posters, the workforce overlooked it as the latest fad. Also, corporate leadership expected associates to spend more time with customers without providing more labor hours to the store—a common gap between leadership’s expectations and associates’ reality.

Imagine how much more impactful this prior strategy would have been if, in addition to training, the retailer modeled the effort required for an enhanced customer experience while providing labor hours to each store. Then, imagine how incentives based on such cross-sales could add even more value. This, of course, is easier said than done or every retailer would get it right the first time. Below are some thoughts on solving this complex issue by answering a couple common questions using the sales program example.

How do you design and implement training programs?
Thoughtful training design considers associates’ needs at each phase during implementation. This process begins with questions like: what are the backgrounds, roles, skill-levels and struggles of the associates? What are the desired outcomes after training? Answering these questions leads to effective training strategy. Let’s consider an example training schedule. Maybe the first phase includes a face-to-face lesson for store managers detailing the “why,” “what” and “how” of the program. Perhaps the second phase kicks off the roll-out to associates. Every store is given access to an e-learning course (with additional labor hours) and an online quiz to measure retention. The third phase could be an in-store training for associates led by store managers to model expectations and review KPIs. The last phase might include a program trial with incentives, evaluations and marketing for all involved.

How do you provide recognition and rewards during and after the program?
Research on human behavior shows that positive feedback can increase the motivation to achieve. This supports using rewards systems in training implementation. To increase associate ownership, leadership can provide opportunities to celebrate associates when they apply their new skills. Examples of recognizing employees must come across as authentic and well-timed. In the sales program model, leadership could offer a tiered reward system based on performance indicators (e.g., customers engaged, coupons distributed, management observations, etc.) for customer experience and cross-selling.

How do you track and evaluate the training during implementation? How do you quantify success at its end?
Evaluating the training gives store managers feedback to course-correct associates during the pilot. At the same time, it offers leadership data to develop better programs in the future. Tracking must be simple to use on-the-fly for store managers and associates. Technology providers offer mobile solutions for task-management and tracking, which can be incorporated to measuring adherence to the trial’s KPIs. Thinking about the sales program, associates could complete daily checklists on mobile devices to update KPIs which are rolled-up by department and store. Program success might be meeting leadership’s KPI goals by the end of the trial.

How do you create an internal and external brand-awareness campaign for the program?
Brand awareness is important for customer-facing programs. If customers are going to be affected, they will benefit from knowing about the new sales program. They might wonder why they are being approached more often by associates with coupons. In this case, maybe the retailer wants its customers to know how valued they are. Sharing this message internally with associates (using training and reinforcement) and externally with customers (using signs, slogans, etc.) unifies the parties involved.