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Retail Workforce Surges to Handle Holiday Traffic

Retail Workforce Surges to Handle Holiday Traffic

How do you train 10,000 new employees on 100,000 new products?

We are now in the most scrutinized period of retail each year. The “holiday season” is upon us. Just a few years ago this period didn’t start until “Black Friday” but in today’s world it starts the minute you put away the spider webs and pumpkins of Halloween. And for retail HR and training teams it actually starts as early as September. This is when they start hiring the extra staff to handle the holiday business rush. Large retailers (those with more than 100,000 employees) will surge as much as 40-50% in the hourly associates they employee during the holidays. This is good for the economy and helps a lot of people. But it is full of challenges too.

 Think about your own workplace – when a new person starts, they have to learn the systems you use, the practices and policies you follow and where the washroom is located. What if you suddenly had 50 new co-workers all starting the same day?

In addition to the volume of new hires, the typical large retail location has more than 100,000 different product SKUs. Training on policies, systems and the product mix are all important to associate success. This is what our friends in retail are faced with each year.

Most retailers have a conundrum to face – they could give the new hire a large binder of information and direct them to read the information. But in the hourly workforce, you need to pay people when they are doing work related activities. It is difficult and not practical to send people home to learn and have to track hours. So new hires need to undertake this learning in the store. And forget about giving a millennial new hire a notebook to read. This is not how they learn. They learn by viewing and experiencing. You need to provide a way for these new team members to “watch their way to knowledge.”

I submit that the successful retailers will use this as an opportunity to build engagement within their entire workforce, not just the seasonal hires. The successful retailer will create a practice where new hires are given a place to view information in an “on-demand” fashion. They can take the time they need to watch and re-watch content until they feel they have achieved mastery. Then go out on the show floor with a “mentor” and experience what they have learned. By giving the new hire a chance to watch some material in advance, they turn the time with a mentor into a workshop experience rather than just a knowledge transfer. The retailer can provide consistent instruction at all locations by using recorded videos from the home office. Then the local mentors can work with the new hire to talk about how local variances help achieve greater success. This mentoring relationship will build engagement within the workforce and provide a greater level of energy and improved customer service.

The next time you are in your favorite retailer and one of their associates is helping you find something or helping you check out. Ask them about their experience as they joined the team at that store. Judge for yourself whether they are engaged and ready to support a Culture of Success.