Training methods that will reach everyone

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From time to time I must summarize, in a neat paragraph, the value of my past experience.  And, like many consultants, I have been gifted with a varied and valuable work history.

Merchandising Matters focuses on tasks related to the education and training of sales staff and all forms of communication that revolve around this.  The two largest contributors to my success in this arena involve my work as a preschool special needs teachers aide, and my years writing feature stories, op-ed and local columns for Metrowest Daily News

What I learned through working with special needs children is that everyone can be reached in some way providing we speak their language.  Some people do best with pictures or visual direction, others with the written word, and still others require hands-on experience before they feel confidence in their role.  Most do best with a combination of all of the above.  I was extremely fortunate while employed with REI to be chosen as a visual leader at numerous store openings where I had an opportunity to put into play all I had learned as an educator. I had to lead staff I had never met before, and also be effective communicating to staff that would work while I was not there.

My experience as a writer taught me the power of the written word and created an awareness in the varieties of ways readers interpret what is written because of one simple fact:  Every reader brings their own personal background and experience into the equation.  Good writers do not take that for granted.

The education and training of staff is an important investment to the future of any retail organization.  A solid training program guides employee development and communicates key elements of company policies.  Retailers want to be sure employees have product knowledge, awareness of key procedures and an ability to put into play merchandising standards.  When training is done well, strong teams are created. 

Human beings all have different learning styles; some are visual learners, some are experiential and some are best reached through written policies and procedures.  Because of these inevitable differences in learning styles, putting a training program together isn’t enough to be successful.  To be certain training is hitting its mark and communication is clear, the trainer must utilize a variety of tools to create a goal-oriented training program and make learning accessible to everyone.

Consider utilizing the following methods and tools for your employee training:

Visual tools, or pictures
Visual details can be sophisticated or simple, so long as visual examples of what is required is being clearly portrayed.  For example, a planogram might be sketched on graph paper with key elements spotlighted, or a photograph might be taken of the way merchandise should look while on a fixture or wall.  Computer programs (like Illustrator) can also be used to provide a visual example.

Verbal communication
Try not to do all your training in one session if you rely heavily on verbal communication.  The human brain can only absorb so much at a time.

Opportunities to put learning into action 
Role playing, opportunities to dress mannequins or dress a window as well as the organization of product on a gondola.  Encourage staff to touch the product; hands on training is the best learning tool!

Check in timetable to evaluate questions once employees have had a chance to try out what they have learned 
Remember that training is on-going, and the best training programs, in my opinion, have formal check in points and additional training.

Provide an environment where experimentation is encouraged and falling short of the mark becomes a teachable moment 
Mistakes are often necessary on the path to becoming proficient at any skill.

Talk about adaptation and be sure your standards are clear in the arena 
For example, if you do not have the merchandise called for in your planogram, how much creativity is allowed?  Adapting from company directives is a learned skill, involve your staff in these problem solving exercises.

Revisit your employee training process periodically
Evaluate everything from your training delivery methods to the actual standards.  Involve your employees in this process. 

These methods will cement skills and grow confidence in your employees and are fun!  Confident and well-informed staff are the backbone of any business; don’t skimp on the training!

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