Build a resilient frontline with reimagined training: 5 lessons learned

Emerging stronger post COVID-19

No extra time. Hundreds of locations. Limited digital access. The frontline has always been difficult to reach with timely, engaging training.

The global health and economic crisis has made two things very clear. First, business runs through the frontline. Without these essential workers, our communities would be at a standstill. Second, traditional training practices cannot keep up with the pace of disruption. Managers are struggling to keep their people safe and productive. Retailers are reboarding large chunks of their workforce after weeks of inactivity. New health and safety regulations are on the horizon.

Businesses will need their frontlines prepared if they hope to move forward and thrive in their next normal. This will require a rapid reimagination of what it means to support the frontline.

Here are 5 lessons learned from retailers that are successfully building resilient frontline workforces.

#1: Open the lines of communication

Some retailers have been working nonstop to provide essential services during the pandemic. Others have been limited to online sales or shut down entirely. Preparing your employees for what comes next will be critical in all cases. Policies will keep changing. Regulations will vary by region. Standard practices, such as product handling and customer interactions, will look very different. 

Frontline preparedness begins with timely, consistent communication. Traditional tactics, such as bulletin boards and pre-shift meetings, have always been a problem.  Now, they are woefully inadequate. Forward-thinking retailers are rapidly adopting digital communication to overcome these limitations. They’re keeping their communications simple and straightforward. New digital tools are accelerating their ability to reach any frontline employee with timely messages. They’re also helping organizations keep track of who is (and is not) consuming important information.

#2: Focus on what matters

Frontline training is often overloaded with information. Stakeholders want people to know everything they possibly can about the company’s products and services, so L&D builds courses stuffed with extra details. The problem: no one learns that way. Essential retailers quickly figured out that you can get people into the operation a lot faster if you focus on just what people need to know to do their job safely and productively. The rest can wait.

Others must adopt this lesson as they adapt their frontline training strategies. Onboarding new employees in less than an hour to meet unprecedented customer demand cannot become the norm. However, you shouldn’t go back to spending days in a classroom training associates for that same job. Work with your stakeholders to separate the need to know from the nice to know. Provide targeted training on just the essentials to get people going. Provide on-demand resources for everything else. 

#3: Activate personal devices

Frontline employees need information fast to keep up with workplace changes. However, you cannot do anything fast if people have to be scheduled for training, leave their work areas and access a shared computer in a back room.

Luckily, most of your frontline employees are already carrying training tools: smartphones. Mobile adoption is skyrocketing right now, and a lot of this digital traffic is coming from personal devices. Employees already know how to use them. They keep them clean. They don’t have to leave their work area to get to them. They can even access them from home in the case of major workplace disruption. 

Until now, many retailers have balked at the idea of a bring your own device policy (BYOD) due to legal or security considerations. Disruption is now forcing them to think differently and apply simple tactics, such as user agreements, network gates and integrations, to rapidly expand frontline access to information.  

#4: Make training stick

People will not do their jobs differently just because you tellthem to. They’ve developed their job habits over months or years of doing things a certain way. Now, you’re telling them the old ways, such as how to interact with customers, are incorrect (and potentially dangerous). Plus, you’re adding new job tasks, such as sanitization, to the mix. Employees need your help to quickly break old habits and build new ones. Otherwise, inconsistent performance will add more risk to your business.

Retailers are using practice and reinforcement activities to make sure training sticks and develops into on-the-job behavior. Employees are answering a few scenario-based questions at the start of each shift. Managers are coaching their teams on high-priority job tasks. These activities take just a few minutes but are having a big impact on frontline performance.

#5: Go beyond checking boxes

Many companies have understandably put compliance training on the backburner during the pandemic. Unfortunately, it's starting to pile up. Plus, new regulations are coming. That means even more compliance training for your frontline. If you try to check these boxes the old way, you’ll spend all of your resources chasing people down to complete boring, irrelevant training. 

Retailers are adapting their compliance training strategies to balance regulation and frontline preparedness. L&D is working with their legal partners to clarify the actual compliance requirement. That allows L&D to build targeted solutions that fit into the daily workflow. Retailers are then leveraging daily reinforcement to make sure compliance training sticks. After all, there’s a reason your employees are required to complete this training. Boxes still need to be checked, but employees must also be knowledgeable and confident so they can make the right decisions on the job.

The disruption is far from over. Your frontline workforce will play a critical role in moving your business forward. They need your help to develop the knowledge and skill to prepare for what comes next. Retailers around the world are learning quickly and closing gaps in their frontline communication and training strategies in order to improve their overall business resilience. 

What have you learned so far?
Be safe. Be well. And be kind to the frontline.