Why COVID-19 Is Shining a Spotlight on Training

Retailers need to set aside adequate time to train teams when they return to stores post-COVID-19.

A battle is raging in this country around opening back up the economy. More than two-thirds of respondents to a recent Pew Research Center poll said they were more concerned about state governments reopening their economies too quickly vs. them taking too long. 

As a result, the retailers that open their businesses will face incredible pressure to ensure new cleanliness and safety standards are being followed in observance of local laws. With shoppers even more conscientious than before, retailers need to make customers and employees feel safe by following local laws and CDC guidelines and taking extra precautionary measures.

One of the ways you can help customers and employees feel safe is by ensuring that all team members are trained to know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. With effective training, employees should understand why it’s so important to get cleanliness right (the context) and quickly apply new cleaning and sanitation standards to their jobs (the instructions).

While this sounds easy in practice, training was already difficult in retail, pre-COVID-19. It can be costly, hard to measure success, difficult to facilitate and schedule. Today, those challenges still exist, but now it’s also a matter of life or death and a potential legal nightmare, as customers begin suing businesses that allow the virus to spread. 

What Can Retailers Do?

Retailers need to set aside adequate time to train teams when they return to stores. That training needs to happen before allowing customers back to shop. Many retailers argue that they don’t have the time to train associates when they’re fighting to recoup lost revenue, but you can’t afford to skimp on training. The hard reality is that if customers don’t have confidence shopping in your stores, you may no longer have a store for those customers to shop in.

The most effective training uses video and images to show examples of what “good” looks like, wherever possible. These assets don’t have to be fancy—a smartphone and editing apps go a long way—but they help paint a clear picture around what’s expected. As humans, we process visual information 60,000 times faster than written, which can help retailers save time for other activities in the long run. It can be easy for associates to interpret words differently, but videos and images help provide context where words can’t. This ensures everyone is on the same page.

When rolling out new learning modules, be crystal clear on expectations for both associates and leaders. No one should ever wonder, “Is that part of my job?” Leaders should have guides on how to coach and what to inspect for. Use checklists and audits to help support your leaders as they get comfortable coaching and know what to look out for.

Your employees are already under a ton of stress, and learning something new such as updated standard operating procedures or safety standards can take some time to adjust to. Support them in this effort and be patient in the process. Break learning up into digestible pieces (microlearning), so it becomes a part of the culture and not just a one-time thing. Provide regular feedback on what’s working and what’s not, and reinforce expectations so good habits can form.

Alaina Dexheimer is the Best Practices and Change manager at Retail Zipline, a leading communication and execution platform for retailers. She has 10-plus years of experience managing complex projects and change initiatives within the retail industry. For more information, e-mail her at: alaina@retailzipline.com or visit: www.retailzipline.com.