The effectiveness of a retailer’s training is tested every day in how staff manage conflicts with customers, the form they use when lifting heavy boxes, or whether they click on an unknown email attachment. It’s not possible to ensure associates will always remember their training—or achieve their 100 percent compliance with directives—but are there ways to better your odds?
Kroger is trying to do that by delivering shorter, more frequent instruction and injecting it with a bit of fun, hoping it translates into better engagement. The program, Fresh Start, utilizes a platform from training company Axonify, which allows associates to access personalized training via an app. Using gamification, instruction is tailored to an individual associate’s needs and knowledge gaps and takes only five minutes per shift.
Senchal Murphy, Kroger’s senior director of training and onboarding, said Kroger’s goal is to “deliver a more personalized, digital experience for associates through purposeful, bite-sized training that enables them to learn and grow in a fun and engaging way.” The on-demand, role-specific training and resources is supplemented with training in leadership and career advancement and about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Carol Leaman, Axonify cofounder and CEO, said the platform allows companies to shift “from a one-size-fits-all training approach to a continuous, personalized model focused on providing associates the knowledge to succeed in their current and future roles.”
Kroger’s new training initiative is a key element in a larger investment in frontline workers, which the company says is designed to help them “feel more knowledgeable and connected to goals of the organization and to create an environment where they can thrive and advance.”
Training is a critical part of creating engaged employees, and experts say that no matter how it’s delivered—via technology or in-person—content needs to be developed with an obvious but often-forgotten truth in mind that LP staff and retail associates aren’t children.
Training children and adults are two very different disciplines, according to training experts. Security presentations may occasionally want to follow the principles of educating children—when teaching a completely new concept to LP staff, for example—but it is typically smarter to employ andragogy, which refers to methods and principles used in adult education. Compare how the methods differ in five core ways:
- Need to know. In the traditional educational model, the teacher decides what the leaner needs to know and the learner typically takes it on faith that they do. In the adult world, learners are more critical and wonder: “Why do I need to know?”
- Self-concept. In the traditional educational model, the teacher’s knowledge and experience are the source of success. When teaching adults, the fact that learners do not come to training as a “blank page” is equally important.
- Experience. First-time learners come with fewer barriers to the leaning process, but in adult instruction, workers’ past school experience colors their approach to their current training. A security officer who had trouble in school may apprehensively approach security training following traditional pedagogy.
- Readiness to learn. With children, teachers can tell students what they must learn. With adults, learners need to recognize that learning is to their benefit.
- Motivation. External motivation is successful with younger learners, but internal motivation is typically the only way to get adults to learn to their full capabilities.
Best Practices from Training Experts
The differences were frequently pointed out at a Best Practices in Safety Education, Training, and Communication conference. One keynote speaker said workers have a “backpack of knowledge” that needs accommodation. Another referred to it less enthusiastically as “baggage.” Whatever you call it, training loss prevention staff—or general associates on security issues—requires appreciation for what workers bring with them to the training.
Training experts had several suggestions. Chief among them was to make workers’ existing knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs the very foundation of whatever training program a retailer develops. “Use your audience to guide your training” was the conference mantra.
Any organization that trains adult workers needs to move beyond the teacher-student dynamic in training presentations, and this still applies when the information is “for their own good” or is an explanation of hard-and-fast rules, warned training experts.
Security issues often leave no room for debate—a security policy is a security policy, after all. Nonetheless, security education can’t simply be a laundry list of dos and don’ts in the traditional education mode. Even in these cases, adults will tune out unless training follows principles for adult instruction.
Case in point—workplace violence training. Managers could give store associates a 30-minute lecture on what to look for, what to do in an emergency, and recite policies and procedures to follow, and then test at the end to see if they learned the lesson. But following this education model—instruction based solely on telling workers what they need to know—has inherent problems. Experts say it would be more meaningful to also get associates to share their own experiences, to develop role-playing exercises, and to explain how each security procedure will make them more secure in the workplace.
Put into Practice
How can a retailer better align training programs with adult education principles to improve the effectiveness of training? Here are suggestions from six presentations by safety training researchers at the best practices conference:
- Create a “need to know” and make the training seem applicable, not theoretical. Adults have little patience for “learning for learning’s sake.” Show workers at every stage of the training process how the information you are giving them applies to them in their daily job duties and how it can impact them. In cybersecurity awareness instruction, for example, retail horror stories of how information security breaches have led to lay-offs might help workers see the connection.
- Demonstrate respect for the knowledge workers have and incorporate their diversity of knowledge in training. For example, in refresher training of store LP officers on handling shoplifting incidents, ask officers to share their own experiences, and then develop solutions as a group on handling them in the very best way possible.
- Respect that some staff probably did not have positive school experiences. Announcing that learning will be judged in post-instruction testing can stunt learning for officers or staff who had trouble in school. Instead, training should have multiple means for assessing whether employees understand the material, through games, role play, oral questioning, or other means.
- Incorporate new technology. Training doesn’t need bells-and-whistles to be effective, say trainers, but training should reflect new tools as they come available. It’s not unheard of for training programs to be put on autopilot, resulting in the same sexual harassment video being shown for decades, warn experts.
- Reflect cultural and demographic changes. Compared to a decade ago, employees today speak differently, respond to different images, and have different cultural references. Any security education needs occasional updating to reflect those changes to remain meaningful.
- Take the time to learn about your target audiences. What are their personal beliefs? What are the barriers to changing their behavior? Then target your security awareness activities considering these norms and beliefs.
- Don’t train solely with employees’ “actions” in mind. You can have positive results with training focused on changing workers’ actions, but those improvements are typically “elastic,” said experts. For example, admonishing employees for failing to wear ID badges can lift compliance but it’s often temporary. Training can instill more permanent change when it is designed to affect workers’ customs and work culture. When security is ingrained in this way, ID badge compliance can continuously improve rather than dip after an emphasis program ends.
- Use logical arguments wherever possible. Security teams can try to affect unwanted behavior—such as allowing piggybacking into restricted areas—in a variety of ways, including bribery, threats, or emotional appeals. But logical arguments have proven in research studies to be more robust over time, say experts. If workers accept the logic for a certain behavior, they will be more likely to still be exhibiting it six months from now. Coerce workers through rewards or the threat of punishment and the bad behavior is likely to return in time.