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Retail operation is, regardless of the category or vertical, a complex ecosystem comprising a number of different layers and components. From location, product assortment, and pricing to merchandising, marketing, and inventory management, each cog in the retail wheel needs to be functioning at a near-optimal level in order to contribute toward the overall success of any organization. 

But  efforts made by retailers within these areas wouldn’t be possible without its people. According to Kevin Graff, retail training and development expert and Founder and President of business management consulting firm Graff Retail, the current talent shortage blighting the industry should make retailers take notice of the value and differentiating potential inherent in providing strong employee training and development for their employees.

“If you expect your employees to remain within your organization, it has to be about more than just showing up to work,” Graff says. 

“It’s death just waiting to happen if employees are turning up for shifts for the sake of working shifts. What opportunities are you providing for them to learn, collaborate, share ideas, grow and develop? People have always wanted these opportunities. But today, there seems to be a growing expectation of them. If an employee isn’t happy within their job, there are about ten other jobs they can get tomorrow. So, why are they going to continue working within their current jobs? If the retailer isn’t going to nurture their employees and help them grow as individuals, they’re going to need to pay them lots of money and offer phenomenal benefits. But, that’s a short-lived game because eventually someone else comes along and offers more money and better benefits.”

Graff goes on to underscore the importance of providing retail employees with training and development opportunities, stressing the significance in doing so toward satisfying their needs and improving the experience enjoyed by today’s workforce. 

In fact, his notion is supported by findings within a recent LinkedIn Workforce Learning Report which reveals that an astounding 94% of employees say that the provision of learning and development opportunities would be a strong enticement for them to remain in their current jobs. And, the increasing demand for learning is especially true among younger generations, with more than a quarter (27%) of the Millennial and Gen Z cohorts stating that a lack of training represents the number one reason they’d consider leaving their jobs.

Given this growing sentiment around training and development, it seems clear that offering employees the right learning opportunities will help merchants and businesses significantly decrease turnover. However, Graff says that employee training isn’t just a powerful tool that can be leveraged to retain talent within the organization. There are numerous other benefits that can enhance the business and the employee experience, not to mention differentiate the brand from competitors:

1. Increased employee engagement

One of the most compelling and meaningful benefits that results from providing employees with opportunities to grow, says Graff, is their increased engagement with the brand and its objectives.

“How do you, as a business owner, get your employees to care as much about the business as you do? By providing your employees with the right opportunities to learn and grow, they start to understand and connect to the vision of the business, which then supports their ability to execute on the brand promise and work toward its overarching objectives.”

2. Greater clarity concerning roles

Along with increased engagement, Graff points out that by building employee learning and development processes, retailers also help define expectations within the organization, creating a basis for employee success.

“Effective training and development go a long way toward clarifying roles for employees, reinforcing through this type of investment the fact that they’re incredibly important to the business. It defines expectations from a behavior perspective and helps employees better understand how they’re contributing to the success of the business and their colleagues.”

3. Enhanced collaboration and performance

A greater understanding of their individual roles and the roles of their colleagues, explains Graff, then results in increased collaboration and performance. In fact, according to recent Gartner research, employees who have received adequate development opportunities within their organizations are 44% more likely to be high performers than those who have not been offered the same or similar formalized training.

“It just makes sense that an engaged employee who understands their role within the company will be more able and willing to execute at high levels. And when you put your employees in this kind of position, you’ll see a consistent rise in average basket size, conversion rates and ultimately sales.”

4. Sparking creativity and innovation

In addition to increased employee output, another layer of performance that’s positively impacted by the implementation of employee training and development is the levels of creativity and innovation within the organizations offering it.

“An employee who feels valued and important with respect to the overall goals and objectives of the business is an employee who wants to share ideas and insights,” says Graff. 

“It’s as simple as that. And when your entire staff feel this way, collaborating and contributing toward the success of the business, everyone wins.”

5. Improved employee and customer experience

Despite the many benefits that result from providing employees with learning and growth opportunities, Graff insists that the greatest payoff is in the enhanced experience that customers of the brand receive. After all, he says, providing exceptional service is what retail’s all about.

“As a result of a recent decrease in foot traffic to physical brick-and-mortar stores, interaction with the consumer is more important today than ever before. Store managers don’t often control the product selection, price, store design, or really much of anything else within the store. But where they do have impact is in the performance of their staff. How you hire, train, manage, coach and lead your employees is directly correlated to the levels of staff knowledge and quality of service that’s provided and, as a result, satisfaction among consumers.”

Considering the current talent shortage faced by retailers across the industry, a shortage that’s presenting significant challenges with respect to staffing frontline customer-facing positions, Graff suggests that the time is now for organizations that are looking to develop or enhance their training for frontline staff.

“For retailers that don’t have an employee training program within their business, they have to get started on building internally today, and they have to move fast.”

However, he adds that as important as the creation of a training and development regimen is, so, too, is the consistent review and analysis of the needs of the business and employees, as well as the effectiveness of the employee training offered.

“Training and development programs should be constantly evolving. They’ve got to align with the changing needs of the business, the expectations of employees and evolving consumer behaviour, tastes and preferences. If you’re not doing a top to bottom review and analysis of your training programs on an annual basis in the least, it’s like having a binder in the cupboard that nobody looks at. The implementation and execution of training and development programs are important. But the reinforcement strategy is equally critical in keeping the program alive and functioning optimally.”

As the world moves collectively toward a resumption of ‘normal’ activity and people in communities everywhere begin to venture out more in search of experiences, increasing physical retail footfall, it’s clear that the quality of in-store service and interaction is going to be paramount in determining success and failure. As a result, it will be the employees on the retail frontlines who will be responsible for delivering these outcomes, rendering the investment in the training, growth and development of their skills the most important for retailers to make going forward.