Kathleen O’Reilly, Training Specialist
The past year has been unpredictable to say the least, and retailers’ internal agility—the ability to flexibly and nimbly manage employees—has been challenged and changed. Retailers have had to reflect on and adapt their approaches to employee utilization and training. We are seeing increasingly that the talent agility—a manager’s ability to deploy employees across the organization—and employee skill development are two sides of the same coin.
Employees deliver customer service along with the product offerings. Employees support the brand’s promise. The brand, in turn, needs to support the employees so they can deliver on the brand’s promise. The investment of time to teach the skills to provide exceptional customer service is a huge commitment, as is the investment in resources, but when done properly can provide a significant return on that investment.
“Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react and reinvent.” – Bill Gates
Imagine if employees were truly engaged and looking forward to their work day because they knew what to do and how to do it well! The employee, the customer and the business all benefit. It’s a recipe for a win-win-win!
Agility and a skilled workforce
Particularly considering recent events, agility and ability to understand and move employees with knowledge and skills around the organization have become paramount to a retailer’s ongoing success. This means first having a complete understanding of the required knowledge and skills, as well as having a system or model flexible enough to allow all involved to identify and take advantage of the information.
Many leaders are finding the skills-type model to be more sustainable and easily schedulable. When time has been invested into breaking down tasks to identify the needed skills and then codifying, the results can be analyzed and used to inform business decisions. This helps the business and employees understand what skills are needed to develop for both current and future roles. The approach is more agile while providing opportunity for workers to become better skilled, grow and advance. And, as importantly, the retailer is much better positioned to move skilled workers around and address specific circumstances.
Skill acquisition: Face-to-face vs. virtual and online
So how can skills be developed? What happens when a person must be taken away from their regular work to acquire a new skill? It’s a challenge for all involved. The traditional away from regular work face-to-face-classroom experience may no longer serve the individual or the business as the best alternative. Today’s businesses and their workforces now, more than ever, need learning content and information that is easily accessible and quickly digestible when convenient to the employee and employer. Conducting virtual online sessions, providing up-to-date information and things like recorded webinars all help to develop skill sets while keeping everyone’s health and safety in check.
The business’ goal is to teach employees what they need to know to perform their on-the-job tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. An advantage that an online curation and delivery process provides is one of consistent content messaging that can span across the business’ universe and not just for a single department. Corporate, warehouse, on the floor—it doesn’t matter. Employees’ ability to access online content 24/7 on any device provides a clear competitive edge.
Technology, when used effectively can realize great benefits. Concepts can be disseminated online as a means of an introductory warm-up, but practical application and hands-on demonstrations and practice sessions can be carried out in person. To learn, people need clearly defined expectations, to be shown how to complete a process and then be given the opportunity to practice, make mistakes and ask questions. Mentors are best positioned to help guide and expedite the apprentice learning process.
A multi-skilled workforce is more important than ever to give retailers maximum agility. A resilient mindset, coupled with the tools and methods used to support an agile approach to workforce management, are key to ongoing and future success.