retail training reinforcement

We work with retail managers and leaders who often have been in the industry for a long time — sometimes ten, twenty, or even thirty years. If the group I’m training is more senior, I’ll start the session by asking that very question: “Raise your hand if you’ve been in the industry for five years, ten…etc.” Then I ask, “Why are you here in a training session? Aren’t you done learning yet?”

When does learning end?

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t end. The reasons participants — even those with lots of experience — give for being in training are the ones that keep retailers innovating, changing, and evolving: the ongoing disruption that’s occurring in retail, new competitors edging in from all sides, rising customer expectations and demands, the role of emerging technologies and new shopping trends, and so on.

These are all reasons that drive the need to learn every single day. And yet, many of them — and us — still use the same approach and leadership behaviors that we have for many years, even after attending a training session. Getting someone to learn something or get insights from a training session is fairly straightforward. Getting that person to actually use what they learn after the training is far more challenging and complex.

Training = Change

When a retailer is embarking on a major initiative that requires training, it’s important to remember that training is change. And we all know how much participants like change. Since there will be a new expectation, a new norm for performance, and/or method to performing their job, reinforcing that new norm even before managers come to the training is essential. Level one assessments at the end of the training give you a sense of how confident or relevant the training was. It doesn’t tell you if they’re going to use it.

Ultimately, learning is a journey and a process, and training is just the beginning. In order to receive a full return on the investment of time, money, effort, and time away from the field, it’s critical to have planned follow-up and reinforcement. And this starts with senior managers. Retail managers at all levels often look to their supervisor’s behavior to set their own priorities. Do they really want me to use what I learned? Is it really as important as they said? Will anybody notice if I don’t change to the new norm?

The senior retail manager’s role is to ensure that what was trained actually gets used. It’s the best way to maximize the productivity of the training.

A 5-Step Retail Training Follow-Up Strategy

Here is a specific follow-up strategy for senior managers to reinforce any training you do. This is a sequenced strategy that needs to be done in order.

  1. Discuss the importance of strengthening (skills/tools/behaviors from the training) and the impact on business results. This step emphasizes the need to strengthen use versus waiting until it’s a problem that needs to be corrected. Look for reinforcement opportunities often.
  2. Ask the person to review any commitments made during the training for using what was presented. Many training programs have commitments built in to the material. Start here before adding more actions.
  3. Ask the person to share results created so far with what they learned and what additional support they need from you. The intention of providing any kind of retail training is to create a positive impact on the business and relationships.
  4. Ask them to summarize next steps and come to agreement on what each of you will do to make it a priority for them to keep applying new skills, tools, and behaviors. You should hear their “voice” more than yours. Let them think through next steps to create more ownership.
  5. Reinforce their willingness to grow and apply new learning; set a date for follow-up. Much of what they may have learned is new. It will take time to make it their own. Encourage even small steps in the right direction.

Research has shown that when someone has a follow-up conversation with an employee about training they recently attended, the likelihood of that training being used is increased significantly. Just the fact that they are asked about it, not even tested or required to prove competency, is enough to encourage them to begin to apply what they learned. When training sessions end, the facilitator’s work may be finished, but the participants’ work has just begun. The end of a session is the beginning of new behaviors and use of new tools and skills learned.

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About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.