To get and keep “A” players, retailers must become an employer of choice. This doesn’t always mean paying more money, but it does mean understanding that the way employees treat customers reflects the way their employers treat them.
By Mel Kleiman, Contributing Editor.
Do you ever wonder why no one ever trains us for life’s most important roles? Did you get any training in what it takes to be a parent? A manager? A business owner? Probably not.
In our professional lives this is unfortunate because 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.
You Get What You Expect
The three keys to an overall training philosophy are to:
1Set 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.
3Remove 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. If your policy manual includes a statement about employee standards or expectations, have everyone reread and initial a copy at least once every three months.
The Four Steps to Success
To train for a specific task, you need to take the trainee through four distinct steps:
3. Trial Run
The overview helps the trainee understand what’s required and why. Give them written instructions and briefly describe the task in your own words. Let them know what other people (if any) are involved; tell them about—and show them—any equipment or supplies they will need. You’ll also want to explain how this task relates to other tasks and the process you will use to teach this task.
As adult learners, we want to know what’s ahead in order to understand how we will be expected to participate. When the trainer outlines what‘s coming up, the learner doesn’t have to worry about any surprises and can listen more closely to the instructions. Finally, explain why this task is important, the benefits of doing this task right and the consequences if it isn’t done well, such as having unhappy customers, lost sales and a reduction in repeat business.
Once the employee has this overall perspective, the next step is to demonstrate how it’s done. Do the entire task step-by-step. Before you actually perform each step, explain what you are going to do and why. Once finished with the task, ask and allow questions. Try to ask open-ended questions to verify the trainee’s understanding of the position’s responsibilities. The answer to a close-ended question like: “Do you understand?” doesn‘t really tell you anything because trainees can say “yes” even if they don’t have a clue. Watch for non-verbal cues like facial expressions that indicate confusion or loss of attention.
In the trial run, trainees go through the process themselves for the very first time. The trainer explains what to do and how to do it for each step and then the trainee does it. Caution the trainee not to rush. The focus should only be on doing the task correctly, not on speed. Speed will come naturally with practice. As necessary, encourage and correct for each step. If you correct something, let the person practice that step before moving on.
When you do correct the mistakes as they happen, the learner is able to understand what has gone wrong. Imagine the frustration of getting the second step wrong, but having your manager wait until you have completed the 14th and final step before saying: “Not bad, but you messed up the second step.” Also, make positive feedback specific. Instead of “good job,” say something like, “That was great how you upsold candy while also referencing frozen beverages.” Keep going through the process until the employee completes all the steps successfully.
The performance step is the trainee’s opportunity to demonstrate on their own what they have learned. The employee explains each step as it is being done. Be mindful to correct mistakes gently. Never embarrass or talk down to anyone. Simply say something like, “I must not have been clear, what I meant was…” and give them the opportunity to perform correctly. Offer encouragement with phrases such as “I know you can do this.”
Only give instruction when necessary. Give them a chance to get it right and be patient and compliment success. Don’t rush in to help because of a momentary hesitation. Continue this process until the employee can perform the entire task without instruction or correction. By giving feedback and encouragement along the way, you build the employee’s confidence.
Using this process tells the employee that learning a new task is not a frightening experience and that it’s OK to make mistakes as we learn. By removing the fear of failure, we encourage our employees to take on new challenges and responsibilities.
Practice Makes Perfect
If we follow these four steps, will it guarantee our trainees will be instantly proficient on the job? Not really. We’ve only dealt with performing the task in an uninterrupted setting. The true test is when the employee tries to do this task and everything else that needs doing at once. There’s a big difference between learning tasks one at a time and trying to handle them all, in order of priority, in a busy store. This will take real world practice reinforced by constant coaching from you.
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.