Fundamentals for Building an Effective Training Program

Fundamentals For Building Effective #Retail Training Program

When I speak to other Retail Culture or Training & Development leaders I can almost hear them (or see them) cringe when I explain that our Training Program is an 8-12 months investment in our new hires and our employees. But then, I am able to help them understand through our retention, profits, and employee engagement results how effective our program is.

In 2012 when I created our training program I, literally, had to start from scratch. Even though I had worked in retail for 16 years, at that point, I’d never really experienced great training as a new hire and I had NEVER been developed (other than my personal passion to self-develop). Training, typically, revolved around how to read reports, how to work the company email, how to fill out the (incredibly boring and ineffective [but I digress]) Store Visit forms or department assessments. That is it. As a matter of fact, in one specific week long “training”, I remember, teaching my “trainer” about reading reports and how to impact metrics by finding the two or three reports that are most relevant to moving the needle on their business and providing guidance to them for their market.

So…I committed to create a program that was engaging, had a balance between learning and OTJ training, that gave people the opportunity to learn about areas of the business they were unfamiliar with, and that would show how committed we are to investing in their future.

An Effective #Retail Training Program Needs To Have the Following Components:

(1) Develop Meaningful and Motivational Goals
(2) Improve And Elevate Employee Performance
(3) Retain, Up-skill, Grow Talent
(4) Reward Top Performers
(5) Offer Path To Continued Development
(6) Track Skills, Competencies, And Productivity Of Employees
(7) Measure Retention, Customer Service Results, And Engagement

These were the key points that I wanted to be able to impact with a training program. I also wanted the employees to:

(1) Learn in their style for the greatest engagement and comprehension
Here is a great infographic by Katie Lepi from Edudemic on the learning styles of individuals. At a glance – here are the various styles:
(a) Spatial (Visual) – this person prefers visual learning through images
(b) Intrapersonal (Solitary Learning) – this person prefers to self-study
(c) Auditory – this person prefers using sound or music
(d) Interpersonal – this person prefers studying/learning in a group setting
(e) Linguistic (Verbal) – this person prefers the written word verbal interaction
(f) Kinesthetic (Hand’s On) – this person by doing
(g) Logical – this person learns through reasoning and systematic process

I needed to build a program catered to the variety of learning styles so I focused on the top three (1) Auditory/Listening, (2) Spatial/Seeing, and (3) Kinesthetic/Touch and created versions of the program that would support these styles.

(2) Develop skills around what they know to focus on improving competencies and learning new competencies that are relevant to our business model and customer experience expectation
We have an onboarding dialogue on the day we receive the signed offer letter back from our employees. This time is compensated and we review areas on the on-boarding program we cover – a scale based system of feedback from the new hire – for example:
(a) On a scale of 1-10 – 10 being extremely proficient how comfortable are you with Outlook?
(i) if they say 1-5 we highlight that area for their training and will work through different scenarios as training during their on-boarding program
(ii) if they 6-8 we will half the training time of the minimal comfort level but work through scenarios
(iii) if they are 8-10 we will allocated a one-time review of the process and program to it
(b) There is nothing worse than making someone sit through a module or training program that is unnecessary to them
(i) it give new employees the impression that we don’t care about their specific goals and objectives
(ii) it is mind-numbing and can negatively effect engagement
(iii) no two people are created the same – we hire diverse, unique, innovative talent into companies and we need to structure programs to the individuals we hire

(3) To keep pace with the employees learning curve
Some people learn faster, others slower – I ensure that we let the employees know there is no right/wrong way or pace in which to process information. For this training program – we solicit employee feedback, frequently, to ensure that we are keeping the employee engaged and that the training process is setting them up for success.
(a) The employees spend time in the field and in the corporate office during their training
(b) The program takes into account people that are happy to travel and those that prefer not to can stay local to their home store
(c) I have bi-weekly status calls with my new hires/promotes through their 3rd month to ensure that we are maintaining the proper program outline for our new employees
(i) if not – it is easy to adjust for more of/less of what they need
(b) For the 4th and 5th month I will speak with them monthly regarding next steps in training and what they would like to be developed in and put together a 90 day program for this portion of their on-boarding that is specfic to their goals and interests

We place a tremendous amount of value on the diversity of our team members. Not only from an HR point of view but from an experience point of view. We, as most retailers [hopefully] do, look for the right fit for a role and employees who are very high-potential. People who possess the personality to fit into and contribute the culture of our workplace; AND people who are a fit to fulfill the job description responsibilities. Our employees are not “cookie cutter” so our training program isn’t either.

Here is a link a previous post of mine titled “Developing Talent In Retail” which provides some additional detail on my training program that are in place to further grow and up-skill the competency level of our team members. In early 2013 I was able to begin tracking and measuring the performance results of the training program and other programs I’d instituted and was thrilled to see that our company results in the following areas all performed significantly better than industry average:

-Our Customer Service – 22% improvement YOY
-Customer Service Industry Average – 14% improvement YOY
-Our Employee Turnover in the first 45 days – 4%
-Employee Turnover Average in the first 45 days – 22%
-Our Employee Unschedule Absenteeism Costs – $1233 per employee per year [2014]
-Employee Unscheduled Absenteeism Costs Average – roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried employees: Forbes)
-Employee Engagement in company of 87%
-Employee Engagement Average in Retail Industry – 51%
-Our Average PT Employee Turnover – 35%
-Industry Average PT Employee Turnover – 67%

Training and development isn’t a one size fits all program and it is infinitely more than checking boxes for compliance. It is more than a three or four page document to follow. It is about engagment, immersion into the culture, building partnership and work relationships with other employees, having fun, investing in the future of each employee and developing them to help them achieve their career objectives in retail – this is the type of program that benefits everyone in the long term.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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