Training & Awareness: Do Your Employees Know What to Do?

At this year’s RILA conference in Orlando, I presented a general session where we talked about the various performance “levers” that exist and how they can be used more effectively. There is a tendency for managers to push on the same one or two levers over and over again, even if they are not the ones that will have the most impact on performance.

One of the first levers we discussed was task clarification. This simply means, “Do our employees know what we want them to do?” Now, this may seem like a silly question to you. You may be saying to yourself, “Well, of course they know what we want them to do!” But, I suspect we have all used task clarification on a regular basis.

For instance, have you ever been in a meeting where you have been discussing a performance issue and the resolution of the meeting was that someone said, “We’ll send out a memo on this!” That, my friends, is task clarification.

Task clarification can be very effective if the problem is, in fact, that employees are unclear on what you want them to do or don’t understand your performance expectations. However, one of the points in my presentation is that task clarification will have little impact if your employees already know what you want them to do but don’t have the incentives, the proper tools or systems, or the capacity to complete the task.

In this post, I’d like to explore task clarification a little more closely and make sure that we use it in a way that is effective in changing the behavior of our employees. Isn’t that the goal of our training and awareness programs?

Effective task clarification has the following characteristics:

 It is specific to the task at-hand.
 It communicates to employees what you want them to actually do
 It identifies what model performance looks like
 It clearly communicates what is not acceptable

Let’s look at some of the training and awareness messages that companies use in terms of these four characteristics. For example, probably all of us have evangelized on the phrase, “The best deterrent to shoplifting is customer service.” This mantra has been communicated in training meetings, on posters, in videos, and on conference calls. Like many corporate mission statements, there is nothing there that you can argue with, but is it an effective training message?

Assuming an hourly associate gets that message, does it tell them what you want them to do? If they see a customer who looks “suspicious,” what are they supposed to do? If they see a woman stick a blouse in her purse, what are they supposed to do? If a customer comes out of the fitting room with fewer items than they entered with, what are they supposed to do?

And, just as importantly, especially in our business, what are they not supposed to do?

Here’s another example…many organizations have spent significant effort and time to get their employees to know their most recent shrink result and the goal for the current inventory period. Executives from the corporate office visit the store and ask employees, “Do you know your most recent inventory shrinkage number?” If the employee responds correctly, the executives are pleased, they tell the Store Manager and DLPM, “Great job!” and look forward to great results from the upcoming physical inventory.

But, is it possible that all those employees have committed the number to memory but have no idea what they are supposed to do to make the number lower? Is it possible that, left to their own, well-intentioned efforts, they might actually do things that you don’t want them to do?

When designing and implementing your training & awareness programs, focus on the behavior outcomes you want from your employees and make sure your communication has the four characteristics listed above and you stand a good chance to improving results.

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