Training is the most important element of the foundation on which to build a retail business. Everything you want to accomplish in retail revolves around training. I firmly believe that good salespeople are born, but great retailers are developed. It takes consistency and repetition to create a retail culture that enhances the customer experience.
Of course, training takes place in all parts of a company or organization. Accounting people need to be trained. Marketing people need to be trained. Store personnel need to be trained. All of this training needs to be interrelated so that one section feeds off another. This is truly a case where the sum is greater than the parts.
What do you need to focus on when you create a training program?
Although I am going to use store operations as an example, I think the following ideas are applicable for any type of training that takes place within your organization.
Training is about communication. It’s not just about knowing what words to say and how to speak well. It is about how to tell a story that resonates with your audience.
A good trainer must have experience in the areas in which they are training. They have to know the battles that will be fought, the problems that will arise, and the various psychological components of the tasks to be done. Sending out a trainer who does not have experience in the subject matter is like sending a fireman to fight a house fire with a water pistol. It’s going to be ineffective and it will not be respected.
The first step is finding a person with the requisite experience who can tell a good story. That person will be able to command the attention and, more importantly, the respect of the trainees. Ultimately, the role of the trainer is to become a mentor. The trainer will be someone who gives advice, listens to problems, and is there to help spot flaws and inconsistencies in your organizational program.
Once you have someone who can tell a knowledgeable story, they need to convey the context as to why the employee is here. What is the purpose of their job? How do they fit into the organization? What are the expectations? How can they improve? How do they report mistakes and errors? Clear business objectives and organizational structure will help the employee to find his or her place in the company and feel more at home.
All of this leads to what I think is the most important part of a training program — helping the trainee gain a sense of place and purpose. It is not about the mechanical or administrative skills that need to be done on a daily basis; it’s about how the trainee fits in as a member of the overall team. In my experience, the most successful team members are those who feel as if they belong to something that is larger than themselves and know how their position impacts the greater group.
Here, we start getting into more of the nuts and bolts of the training. We’ve found a good trainer and our trainee understands their place in the overall structure. Now, the job is to tell them how to do the task at-hand. To do that, you must have something to train them with. The same way that you would have a map (or, these days, GPS) when you are going on a trip, you need to provide your trainee with a route through the training requirements.
Everyone can put together the basis of a training program. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you may need to spend some time. To build a training program, you need to think about each specific job, how that job is performed, and what you want the outcome of that performance to be. At its most basic, it can start off as the equivalent of a job description for the position.
When someone understands their job duties and their objectives, job satisfaction and retention rates go up. It is important that an employee knows what she can and cannot do and the limit of their authority to make decisions. The more definition that is given to the granting of the employee’s decision-making power, the more confident the employee is in handling customer complaints, providing enhanced customer service, and doing those things that the customer feels is above and beyond what was expected.
The simplest way to create training materials is to make a paper version of your training program and requirements. Put the job description together with a list of objectives and expectations, add a checklist to show that the trainee demonstrated their knowledge of the tasks, and make sure that when you read it out loud, it makes sense.
Hey presto, you will have a basic training program for that position.
Of course, you can spend the money to develop or buy online training programs with more sophisticated parts and pieces. However, when you buy an off-the-shelf training program, it lacks the special features and uniqueness that define your company and what makes it special. Remember what I said at the beginning of this article — the most important thing about training is conveying your company philosophy and ideas to your employees.
An element that we have found very successful in our business is having the completion of the training program linked to a person’s progress within the company. For example, once a team member has completed the Customer Service Representative training section (our equivalent to the person who runs the cash register and interacts the most with our customers), they are then eligible to move on to the training program that provides them with the next level of skills. That could be training in foodservice or some other special program you have in your business.
Completing that training may make them eligible to be trained as an assistant manager. And once the assistant manager training is completed, they can move up to the store manager training. This provides a path that the employee can see, and they know what they need to do to advance their career.
Training keeps the employee involved and it helps them see what their career path is. It is human nature for someone to want to know what they are working toward, and this gives them a set of objectives. An engaged employee is a motivated employee, and a bonus to any business.
Once the training has been completed, we feel it is very important to have refresher courses conducted periodically after the initial training section is done. For example, when somebody completes a training program, we may go back in 30 days and do a refresher course to remind the employee of what they have done, and reinforce what they have learned. This also allows the employee to give you feedback based upon what they have experienced in trying to implement the information gained during the training program to what actually happens in the job.
Which leads us to the next element of a successful training program: the feedback loop. It makes no sense to train somebody in a program that doesn’t work. Therefore, you need to solicit feedback and suggestions from your employees and from your customers. Your customers are the best evaluators of how successful your training programs are.
Take all of the feedback and comments seriously and see what can be done to modify or change the training program to reflect the reality of the situation. Are you training people to do something that doesn’t actually work in real life? Or that no one actually does? Or that doesn’t meet your customers’ demands?
The last key element is consistency. All of these components need to be implemented the same way every time the training program takes place. In our business, it’s important that everyone is trained the same way every time so that if we move a team member from one store to another, even if it is across the country, they can slide effortlessly into the routine because it feels familiar due to the fact that our training is the same and everybody is doing the same thing the same way.
Consistency is how great stores are created. Even if you have one store, every employee knows what to do because they’ve all been part of the same training program.
Story. Context. Map. Advancement. Refresh. Feedback. Consistency. Remember SCMARFC! Actually, that is a really silly acronym. Don’t use that. But what is important is that your employees know what they need to do and how they can be successful working in your store.
If you remember that, you will be on the right path.
Originally published at Convenience Store News.