Mar 16, 2016

Three Ways to Drive Associate Engagement Through Improved Communication

It’s a tough time to run a retail business. Competition is strong, margins are tight, consumers are holding businesses to stratospheric standards, and store employees are increasingly vocal about their workplace expectations.

Under this compounded pressure, retail business leaders – like their counterparts in so many other industries – are beginning to acknowledge that pleasing buyers and boosting revenues start with an engaged workforce. Recent Gallup research shows that nurturing an internal culture of employee engagement can yield 18 percent higher revenues per worker.

In a retail setting, the concept of hourly employee engagement is the sum of multiple components: solid manager-staff relationships, predictability and flexibility over your schedule, robust training, development, and career path, and a connection to the employer’s core values. Despite this mix of variables, there is a common denominator that supports them all: cross-company communication.

Whether you operate a regional chain or a global brand, the right communication methods and technology can go a long way toward immersing hourly staff into your company culture and creating a truly engaging work environment.

Three ways stronger internal communication translates to engaged staff

Many retailers still rely on outdated, analog or otherwise ineffective processes for communicating with hourly workers. By embedding more modern mobile and web communication applications into daily practices, retailers can improve training, empower employees and ultimately encourage happier, more motivated staff.

Nurture a more informed workforce
Pieces of Information that reflect retailers’ corporate culture and brand – such as product announcements, company updates and community events – are typically designed to be shared with consumers and the media, not internally. Without corporate email addresses, and when beholden to getting updates from managers or limited POS systems, hourly workers often miss out on key company messages. Clearly, there’s an opportunity for retailers to bring their front line associates in the loop.

By implementing a platform that delivers company, brand and product updates across locations and hierarchies, retail associates can feel that they’re part of the big picture. Today, employees may only perceive their roles within the context of their individual store; tuning them into what’s going on at the corporate and regional levels shows how far their value extends. Armed with this information, hourly staff members are more likely to become your brand ambassadors, sharing news about your philanthropic efforts, mission and promotions with their own personal networks. This grassroots word-of-mouth can bolster your reputation and, eventually, have a direct impact on revenues.

Improve the delivery and experience of associate training
For decades, in-person shadowing, paper manuals and binders have accounted for the bulk of retail employees’ training curriculum. These methods do a poor job of getting knowledge to “stick” and make it difficult for employers to ensure learning is consistent, accurate and timely across locations.

With digital communication channels that help head offices communicate directly to hourly associates, retailers can easily standardize training materials and disseminate the right instructions quickly across their organizations. A tech-based approach also lets brands break free from static training materials in favor of short video clips and other multimedia (which often get the point across more effectively than jargon-heavy manuals). The ability to communicate timely information throughout your ranks is invaluable, especially when prepping for promotional events or dealing with the aftermath of a crisis.

Go for the personal touch
Organizations don’t communicate, people do. Rather than treat head offices as faceless entities, or speak to employees as a homogenized group, retailers should strive to personalize the messages they share and the recognition they give. “Employee of the month” awards and other big wins don’t need to stop at getting your picture up in the breakroom. Using the right communication methods, brands can reward and recognize associates in ways that are more impactful such as featuring individual associate achievements in front of a wider audience.

Advances in employee communication technology have also made it possible for corporate staff to create and share all types of content targeted to specific employee groups, locations, roles, and job functions (e.g., cashier, inventory, customer service). This capability enables brands, no matter how large or sprawling their workforce may be, to move away from generic internal messages to more personalized and meaningful communication.

Before long, retail leaders will have to recognize that investing in clearer, inclusive company communication methods is more than a way to appease hourly workers. Happier employees deliver better customer service and reflect positively on your brand; satisfied customers, in turn, pay dividends in profitability. The way retailers manage each aspect of communication with their front lines directly contributes to their level of engagement. Powerful communication elevates all of these factors, as well as their outcomes.

Joshua Ostrega / Apparel Magazine

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