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Three essential elements to implement retail training

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People often assume that big brands like Starbucks have everything figured out. It’s true, in many ways, Starbucks is a leader in how they onboard and train new retail employees. But getting to that place wasn’t easy. It took effort and required learning from mistakes. After more than a decade of implementing retail training at Starbucks, I learned three essential elements to make training a success.

1. Align retail training with your mission.

Retail training programs are most effective when the content is directly connected to the company’s mission. Of course, how to make a delicious beverage is easy to connect to Starbucks’ purpose. But other topics—like compliance, supervisory skills, or food safety—also had to align with our mission. The exercise of ensuring that retail training aligns with your purpose provides a necessary gut-check. If you can’t align retail training with your company’s purpose, ask yourself: Is that training vital to your mission?

Tie training to company mission and employee purpose.

Throughout design, development, and implementation you must demonstrate that your retail training is tied to the company’s mission and the employees’ role in supporting that mission. When you emphasize how your training aligns with the company mission, you demonstrate that the training matters—for leaders and employees alike. Alignment with the company’s mission also makes it easier to find leaders who will serve as important advocates for your training.

Likewise, identifying the connection between the company, the training content, and the individual employee’s purpose makes it easier to get people to make time for the training. In 2018, making time for training was the top challenge for talent development. That reluctance to make time is likely due to competing priorities, as well as a lack of understanding around why it matters. For a successful implementation you need to make it evident how the training directly impacts the company’s mission and how it relates to the employee’s sense of purpose as someone supporting that mission.

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2. Implement retail training that engages all employees.

When designing and implementing retail training, it’s also important to understand employees’ core needs, drives, and motivations. Early in my Starbucks career, our training teams made it a priority to address the needs of all learners. Some prefer to learn through visual means. Others learn best through auditory methods. Some learners require a kinesthetic, hands-on approach. With learner engagement as a top priority, we built retail training that incorporated all styles of learning.

Make it a priority to understand what will engage your learners. Use a behavioral assessment to obtain data about your people and what drives them. What are the different personality types? What are their needs based on those types? In what format do they learn most effectively? Take the insight from that data and put it to use for training development. Design programs based on what drives your learners to engage and perform. When you have insight regarding what your learners need and how they want to receive information, your training implementation is more likely to succeed.

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3. Focus on feedback.

Once you’ve designed an effective training program that aligns with your purpose and engages employees, plan a pilot to gather input before full implementation. This may feel like an unnecessary pause in the momentum you’ve gained. It’s not. Conducting a pilot and gathering essential feedback from the learner’s experience will help you see what otherwise might’ve been overlooked.

For almost every program we release at Starbucks, we conduct a pilot. Given short timelines and limited labor hours, taking the time to pause for a pilot isn’t easy. “Is this necessary?” is often a question. My vote is a resounding yes.

Valuable feedback isn’t difficult to obtain.

Pilots don’t have to be an intense, colossal effort. Sometimes they’re the opposite. A pilot may involve paying a few employees for extra hours to test how an online module works in the retail environment. It might require asking a district manager to pilot a supervisory skills training topic during a store team meeting. What’s essential is that a pilot may uncover a glitch or an error that needs to be fixed before launch. Or it might identify a process gap that should be included as part of the overall design.

But pilots don’t just deliver the bad and ugly news; they also uncover things to celebrate. They highlight what works well and what pilot participants value the most about this new retail training. Capture those positive insights and put them to use in the marketing and communication plan for your training launch. Having all the information possible before launch is critical to the overall effectiveness of the training. Conducting a pilot as part of retail training implementation can save hours of post-launch frustration, as well as your team’s reputation.

Commit to company and employee success.

To make your retail training implementation successful, align with your company’s purpose, deliver content that engages all employees, and focus on feedback. When you provide training for employees, you’re creating an opportunity for them to benefit from what the training delivers. It’s a chance to engage in their career and with your company in a meaningful way. From the initial concept to the final implementation, let your conviction and commitment to company and employee success drive the retail training you deliver.

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