In today’s economy, cutbacks, downsizing, and store closings have become a common means to streamline the bottom line of today’s retailers. Nowhere more than Kmart has this held true as the retail giant fights to maintain market share through its financial hardship. “Do more with less” seems to be everyone’s motto, and, in most cases, it is more easily said than done. One exception for us at Kmart was with loss prevention training.
With 1,830 locations worldwide, training is a struggle on many levels, not the least of which is delivering consistent communication to the loss prevention fieldorganization. We reexamined our training efforts and created and implemented a new e-learning strategy that not only enhanced our training efforts, but saved money as well.
Training Is a Two-Way Street
Communication in training is critical in both directions. First, the message has to go out from the corporate office and reach the designated audience within the stores. Then feedback and results must be communicated back to the corporate office.
The Kmart Corporation had previously taken the step to implement store broadcasts that were used for transmitting corporate directives for general sales andoperations directives. Television monitors were set up in each location to receive theKmart Video Network broadcasts.
The loss prevention department participates in a monthly shortage and safety update that is broadcast to all locations. However, the audience is mostly store management and the medium is neither effective nor available for individual training. In addition, the video network only flows in one direction, leaving it a flawed solution for obtaining information back from the stores, such as who was trained as well as specific results and feedback.
Reevaluating the Existing Training Strategy
The previous solution for training loss prevention associates relied on a paperbased training strategy. Kmart invested heavily in training manuals, booklets, andreview tests that were shipped to the stores for use by loss prevention associates. Training was provided at the direction of the store loss prevention manager and theLP district manager (LPDM). In most cases, new employees were charged with completing the training on their own, left in an office to review a large manual, andcomplete a paper quiz. Once complete, the tests were signed off by the store LP manager, who in turn would forward them to the LP district manager for his or herreview. Once signed, the LPDM would either forward the results through the LP regional manager or directly to the corporate office. Once received by the corporate office, results were collected by the corporate manager of training, who prepared a spreadsheet of all locations and calculated compliance to the training standards. By its very design, this system allowed for a significant margin of error.
In addition, the paper training was supported by on-the-job training that, although usually handled by the store or district LP manager, was often left to fellow associates to teach the new associate “the ropes” and get them acclimated to store policy and procedure. Corporate directives were initiated by the vice president of loss prevention and communicated through the corporate manager of training, who delivered the message, the policy, procedure, and necessary training materials to the stores. Of course, this always meant more paper and delivery costs to ensure current materials were on-hand at each location at all times.
Identifying the Flaws
The training strategy that Kmart had been using was, at the time, more or less the industry standard. With the exception of adding a few specialized regional seminars, which were also provided from time to time, this type of paper-based and on-the-job training was the norm within most retailers across the U.S. Kmart did not allocate a large budget for a corporate training staff and instead relied on the experience on the people hired at the store and district levels to provide the proper guidance and training for new associates.
In comparison, some retailers would rely on a specific group funded as corporate trainers to provide support to regions and individual stores for classroom and seminar training. Although neither being a perfect solution, Kmart preferred the more immediate access to training support provided within the store rather than relying on the limited availability of regional or corporate trainers. This was also a means to avoid the scheduling difficulties and costs associated with arranging the training, securing facilities to hold the training, scheduling attendees, and paying for travel expense.
The problems with the system were on several levels. The use of a training manual and paper test alone introduces a margin of error based on interpretation. Written procedures are subject to the interpretation and level of understanding of the reader. If not properly explained or demonstrated, this in itself may lead to a misunderstanding and failure in communication. This failure then leads to improper execution of the directive…a mistake that could cost the associate his or her job and the company a large sum of money.
The use of store and district managers as trainers leaves another opportunity for inconsistency, both in the varying levels of experience, the existence of pre-existing habits in approach to loss prevention, and the interpretation of company policy. This process also relies on the training skills of the managers, which may not always be the best.
The testing process also assumed that the tests would make it through the maze of people and reach the corporate office. Carelessness and turnover would often play a huge role as obstacles in the process, resulting in test results falling through the cracks and never making it back to the corporate office.
Once received, the update of data to measure compliance to training standards and overall scores was always at least three months behind just due to the nature of the delivery process. Therefore, the results were never truly accurate or up-to-date.
All in all, the system was managed to the best of its ability, but it left major concerns in the areas of consistency, liability, and accountability.
Developing a New Strategy
In an effort to improve the training strategy, Kmart partnered with Learn it Solutions, the training division of RuMe Interactive Corporation. Learn it Solutions specializes in the development of scenario-based interactive e-learning for loss prevention. Their process is extremely visual and utilizes dynamic video scenarios to teach and train by visual example. Additional scenarios are utilized to test the comprehension and retention of the training material. Incorporating this patented technology would provide great benefits in those areas recognized as weaknesses in the current strategy.
After careful evaluation of the process and the opportunities for implementation, Kmart designed and structured a loss prevention curriculum to maximize the effectiveness of delivery as well as individual performance. Nine courses were identified for development that would provide a thorough training solution for the LP audience. These courses included:
- Loss Prevention Orientation,
- LP Comprehensive,
- LP Administrative Forms,
- Use of Force,
- Sensitivity Training for LP,
- LP Investigations,
- Physical Security,
- EAS Procedures, and
- The Wicklander-Zulawski Interviewand Interrogation AccusatoryInterview Review.
Loss Prevention Orientation is designed as an introduction to LP at Kmart. It includes Kmart’s guiding principles as well as standards and expectations for personnel. The coursebegins with an overview of the need for loss prevention and the effects of loss prevention initiatives on both store and company performance. The program also includes specific reference to Kmart’s Code of Conduct, sexual harassment, and other critical policies that are distributed via this interactive medium. The student acknowledges the policy on screen and a record is maintained, documenting that they were provided with the current policy and that the associates acknowledges receipt and understanding of the policy. Corporate policy and directive are communicated effectively throughout the curriculum using this process and is a key reference tool for administrative action when needed.
Loss Prevention Comprehensive introduces the student to the world of loss prevention. The course is designed for the retail store associate or new loss prevention associate who may be less familiar with general loss prevention terms and concepts. Subject matter includes observation skills and a variety of theft situations portrayed in video example. The student is introduced to common terminology and practices and educated on proper response and approach. The program illustrates external and internal theft situations and demonstrates the expected response so there is no question or misinterpretation of the corporate directive. The Kmart six-step apprehension policy is communicated effectively with multiple scenarios dedicated to the proper physical and verbal approach in a detention situation.
Loss Prevention Forms and Reports. One of Kmart’s biggest challenges was educating on the proper completion and execution of loss prevention documentation and forms. The varying degree of understanding and direction at store level left ample opportunity for incomplete case reports and error in completing supporting paperwork. This course is designed to introduce LP personnel to the forms and reports utilized by Kmart for various loss initiatives. The course shows examples of the different forms and reports, demonstrates proper use, as well as the proper method of completion.
Sensitivity Training. In today’s multicultural society, a need existed for a heightened awareness and sensitivity to cultural perception and bias. Recognizing the issues increases the ability to adapt one’s approach to promote and ensure consistency in professionalism and respect. Any action taken should be done regardless of race, gender, age, status, or appearance, whether dealing with an internal or external customer and regardless of circumstances. Awareness must be accompanied by skill development to encourage transfer of skills from the program to the workplace. This course is designed to increase self-awareness and skill development in maintaining respect in human relations and professionalism in loss prevention.
Use of Force. A major source of liability for any retailer lies in the detention and apprehension process. This program applies use-of-force principles in detainment situations.Students are presented with scenarios that depict varying levels of resistance to apprehension and the appropriate level of physical force expected. It focuses on alternatives to physical force, but also demonstrates what is reasonable force, what is excessive, and what is expected when force is necessary.
EAS Procedures. This course is designed to explain and demonstrate the proper procedures in responding to and tracking EAS system activation alarms. The course includes an overview of the components of an EAS system as well asKmart’s expectations for the proper use and maintenance of both the system and the data generated by the system.
Physical Security. Illustrating the proper procedures and expectations for securing the assets at each Kmart location, this course demonstrates the role of loss prevention in general store operation and in emergency situations. The course focuses on the daily routine for physical security of the building and company assets, including opening and closing the facility, alarm response and alarm panel operation, CCTV operation and video tape review, and merchandise exposure standards.
Loss Prevention Investigations includes a comprehensive review of external theft and supporting investigations. The program touches lightly once again on the mportance of the Kmart six steps necessary for an apprehension and includes a detailed illustration of theft opportunities with the new Kmart Self-Checkout or SCOT registers. The main focus, however, is on internal investigations. This program stresses confidentiality in handling information and demonstrates the proper approach to surveillance. Examples include common employee theft and fraud scenarios, as well as Kmart-specific situations including Kmart cash card theft, Western Union money order fraud, pharmacy theft, and layaway theft.
WZ Accusatory Interview Review. Kmart managers are encouraged to participate in the seminar training offered by Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates for interview and interrogation techniques. Supporting the seminars, WZ has developed several interactive courses, which are available for further skill development. Inclusion of this program in the curriculum is essential to provide additional reference and review to Kmart store and district LPMs beyond attendance at the seminar. The program models the accusatory interview process, breaking it down into its fundamental components and skills sets. This program is designed as review only and does not have a final exam or post-test section.
Development, Delivery, and Implementation
Several of the courses were developed using existing material from the Learn it Solutions library of courses. This provided a significant benefit in development because we had only to customize graphics and scenarios to provide an end product that reflects the Kmart image and culture and has the appearance of exclusivity.
The total design and development time spanned approximately six months for the entire nine-course curriculum and was implemented in phases. The first three courses in the sequence were rolled out as phase one in the early part of 2002. Phase one included the Loss Prevention Orientation, Loss Prevention Comprehensive, and the LP Forms and Reports courses. The remaining courses were rolled out in stages over the following months.
All loss prevention associates were mandated to take each of the courses in the curriculum order over the course of the rollout. This established a benchmark for loss prevention standards that was universal and unprecedented in Kmart’s history. New associates take the first three courses during their orientation with Kmart. The Sensitivity and Use of Force courses are required prior to obtaining apprehension privileges. The remaining courses are scheduled over the associates first ninetydays with the company, with the Wicklander-Zulawski program exclusive to management.
Student progress and course results are all maintained via the Kmart University on-line learning management system accessible through the Kmart intranet. The loss prevention courses were an addition to an existing library of courses designed for customer service and register training.
Each store is equipped with a PC that accesses the learning management facility and delivers the training. Associates utilize the PC with an accompanying video CD for the course while taking the training. The use of the video CD allows for the effectiveness of the video without any impact on network bandwidth. There are no downloading or buffering delays. The video appears instantly and is television quality.
As the students navigate through the courses, their progress is saved to a database within the learning management system. Each response given within the course can be tracked and maintained as well. Test results are delivered immediately to the user and stored for review by management. All results are available on-line at any time and are accessible through the learning management system to system administrators. This allows for immediate and real-time access to test scores and to compliance statistics.
Benefits of the InteractiveTraining Strategy
Key benefits in the implementation of this technology were noted on a broad spectrum. First and foremost was an immediate cost savings realized from just the elimination of the paper-based system. Kmart allocated an enormous amount of money and resources to initiate, maintain, and update the paper training manuals within the stores and the paper tests taken by the associates. Considering this, combined with the amount of postage and shipping costs associated with communicating results back to the corporate office, the return on investment for implementing the interactive strategy was realized within the first year. Further savings were achieved in the elimination of travel and facilities costs associated with seminar and classroom training.
Among the more intangible savings were critical areas of availability, consistency, liability, and accountability. Utilizing a computer-based curriculum allowed for access to training seven days a week on a schedule that was convenient to the associate, to the department, and to the store. Training could now be scheduled around the associate rather than the associate around the training.
Consistency is virtually guaranteed as the same message is seen and heard by each associate in exactly the same way… every time. Relying on multiple perspectives from store and district managers could often lead to an inconsistent approach to training. When twelve different people go into twelve different rooms to teach the same material, it is still always presented with some degree of inconsistency based simply on individual style and presentation. It also affords the opportunity for omission and the chance for an individual to claim “they didn’t cover that in my training class.”
Results are tracked and every answer can be documented for review or for administrative action. This implies a higher degree of accountability as it is now possible to hold people accountable for their actions and be able to back it up with actual data to prove that an individual was provided with the proper training and current policy and procedure.
Liability is reduced not only on the basis that better trained associates will make fewer mistakes, but the method of training itself creates a virtual environment that is litigation free. When an associate is taking the training and presented with a particular scenario, if they respond poorly, they are not going to be served with legal papers and sued. Instead, it is an opportunity for management to identify areas of weakness and correct them before placing that person out on the sales floor, approved to make detentions.
The final benefit offers both a tangible and intangible savings of money and of time in the collection and analysis of training progress and results. Where Kmart had always been at least three months behind in statistical data availability, now results are instant. As the courses are completed throughout the company, individual training results are updated immediately within the system. This allows for corporate review and analysis of data at the click of a button with a real-time response and a real-time perspective on training compliance. Results can be measured on a particular individual or a comparison may be made between compliance results and adherence to company standards within districts or regions. This not only provides better tracking of progress and results, but better productivity and performance of the training objective. This allows focus on key areas of concern, individual weaknesses, career development, and the development of additional training programs.
Implementing this interactive curriculum was not meant to replace, but enhance the current training strategy, improving the impact of the people and their performance on corporate profitability. Associates are better trained, management is more productive, and corporate is better focused on key issues and training objectives.
Future Training Steps
Looking to tomorrow, Kmart sees even brighter days ahead. Although the announcement of additional store closings made in January was unfortunate, it is a key step to our successful emergence from bankruptcy planned for this spring. As Kmart continues to streamline and focus its financial and operational objectives, the loss prevention department looks to further enhance its training strategy to include courses geared towards both the loss prevention manager as well as the district manager.
The LPDM programs planned for 2003 are a perfect add-on to further compliment the initiative taken with the store LP associates. These new courses will focus on district roles, responsibilities, and expectations.
In addition, we are planning to include the operations audience, targeting the store managers and district store managers with one or more programs. These programs will help to include them as part of the overall loss prevention initiative and will educate, demonstrate, and provide guidance in loss prevention principles, policies, and procedures.
Also on the table are several programs designed to target the store associate. These courses would help to communicate the loss prevention message and encourage participation in loss prevention programs, delivering an increased awareness to shortage opportunities as well as an awareness of the associate’s role in decreasing these opportunities and improving company profitability.