Learning can be a positive and rewarding experience, yet it is not always so in the workplace. Organisational learning is a contributing factor in the achievement of organisational goals and objectives, the retention of key staff, staff engagement, morale and discretionary effort. It is often undervalued due the difficulties in evaluating development related return on investment but can be a defining catalyst for business success.
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Establishing a learning need
The implementation of training and development initiatives in the workplace are always motivated by the need to meet organisational outcomes. Although it can be difficult to measure the return on investment of learning initiatives with any accuracy, every dollar spent on the development of people is motivated by the belief that the investment will be beneficial to the sustainability and/or profitability of the business. It is therefore essential to be able to clearly explain the objectives and scope of learning initiatives to any relevant stakeholders in order to gain their endorsement and commitment for the strategy.
Many factors can trigger the need for training and development in the workplace. In retail businesses there are several commonalities, all of which while differing in the detail depending upon the retailer have the same underlying intention, to boost profitability and business sustainability.
Factors triggering learning needs in retail include:
- Introduction of new technology
- New products or services
- New service model or selling ceremony
- New organisational direction
- New position, job roles, and responsibilities
- Legislative compliance including OHS
- Management and leadership
- New staff induction and promotion
- Addressing identified skills gaps
A proactive mindset toward identifying training and development needs allows retailers to be prepared for change and view it as an opportunity that requires a considered response rather than a challenge that requires a rapid reaction.
Define learning objectives
A learning need has been established. It may be tempting to find a fast fix to look as though action is being taken. Often the fast fix is only partially successful, as time has not been given to clarifying the learning objectives and truly understanding the needs of learners and the specific context of the workplace learning environment.
To define learning objectives it is important to understand the learning need in detail and how the need is tied to organisational objectives. Only then can learning objectives be developed in alignment to those of the organisation.
Although many business thinkers use alternate models of goal development particularly when it comes to setting individual and team goals, there is still a strong following for the SMART method. It is straightforward and simple to use for the development of learning objectives:
S – Specific: define exactly what the learning objective is
M – Measurable: define the benchmarks that will denote success
A – Achievable: ensure the goal is possible
R – Relevant: ensure the goal is aligned to organisational objectives
T – Timely: establish the timeframe
The goal or objective is encapsulated in a single SMART sentence. A retail example of a SMART learning objective for a learning need of introducing a new product range to store staff may be:
To ensure all permanent staff in our Australian department store concessions attend an hour training session with the regional merchandising manager on our Spring Summer shoe collection and how to introduce it to clients within two weeks of product arrival in store.
It is important that learning objectives do not remain hidden from the learners. Although they are initially developed with a view to clarifying the initiative and ensuring targeted investment of training time and resources, sharing the learning objectives of a session is an absolutely essential part of adult learning.
Map current work practices
Conducting an analysis of current work practices has twofold benefits. Firstly it can be used to identify the training and development requirements for new staff induction. Secondly, it can help to determine the effect standard operational practices have upon the ability of an organisation to meet established learning objectives. To put it simply, work practices and routines can either help or hinder effective work based learning.
Common operational factors that impact effective work based learning in retail include:
- Opening hours and staff rosters
- Performance expectations
- Responsibilities and duties per role
- Operational guidelines and systems
- OHS guidelines, systems and safeguards
- Award and EBA conditions
- English language, literacy and numeracy (LLN)
The above list is not exhaustive and findings will differ from retailer to retailer. Of most importance is that they take the time to investigate work practices as the resulting changes to the implementation of learning initiatives they inspire can significantly increase the likelihood of meeting learning objectives.
Compare with established learning objectives
With a comprehensive list of current work practices it is then possible to consider their potential impact upon learning objectives. Using the example of new staff induction, prior to mapping current practices it may be that induction training was scheduled as follows:
- 5 full days off the floor comprising
- 5 full days in store buddied with store supervisor
With the insights gained from research into current work practices it may be possible to identify factors that both help and hinder the achievement of learning objectives such as:
- Experienced store staff are better placed than the training team to deliver POS / RMS training due to their level of current knowledge
- It is only viable to host 5 full days of training off the floor in summer as the recruitment volume across the rest of the year does not justify the time of the training team
- New staff begin on a rolling 4 days on 2 days off roster so it is challenging to schedule 5 full days off the floor in a row
- Store supervisors have extensive reporting responsibilities off the floor so rarely have the time to consistently spend with new staff.
About ARA Retail Institute
ARA Retail Institute is Australia’s leading retail training provider for both accredited and non-accredited learning programs. For more information, please visit: www.retailinstitute.org.au