Bad Habits Undermine Retail Growth –10 Specific Countermoves

Employee Engagement

Following the popular article on 12 invisible barriers to retail execution, I would like to share some real-life findings on the effect of sales training with you.

I have done training in retail for 17 years. I love it. It is fun, and everybody says they are getting tons out of it.

The problem with training nobody talks about

When I called or visited retail chains a month or two after a training to find out how much their behaviour had actually changed; almost everyone was back to old habits. Do you recognise this?

Spaced practice – practising numerous times over a time period can counter this. But the spaced practice is challenging to get done in real life. So when staff is gathered, or a trainer/coach is in the store – training is intensive to get as much out of it as possible. But then this happens – Information overload!

And then…the forgetting process sets in…

(Caveat: The above is illustrative. The jury is out on how much is actually forgotten and how fast. But the fact is, it is a lot – quickly!)

So what actually happens after training often looks like this:

Add to that group dynamics and social pressure to ‘blend in’ – and changing behaviour in the store becomes even more difficult to the store staff.
I found the above pattern repeated over and over again – and have also tried it personally. I would appreciate hearing if you have tried it yourself? Can you confirm/disconfirm this from a personal experience?

The real challenge is how to give staff new habits

Did you know that staff behaviour is actually not influenced mostly by what your staff know or can do…

…But by habits.

Actually, habits control the majority of human behaviour – including behaviour at work. And in stores, where many customers look and act the same – habits reign. And if you have tried changing a habit yourself – you know it is tough and doesn’t happen just because you want it to.

You should not rely on training to get behaviour change and increase sales because:

  1. Training is expensive: Typically it will cost €150-265.000 to train retail staff in 100 shops with 4 people in each store, for just 2 days!. (Depending on salary levels, internal or external training, etc.)
  2. Your staff will forget almost everything within 4 weeks. That is why you experience the peaks and subsequent fallbacks in performance.
  3. Habits run the show. Even if they do remember, their actual behaviour is habit-based. And changing habits require a different approach than ‘normal’ training.

So training is a very cost-ineffective way of changing behaviour. I am not saying it is not working. It is just costly and ineffective.

Hold your horses’ amigo… We have a great e-learning solution in our academy!

E-learning (or M-learning) can be an ok solution, but only if it aims to create behaviour and not “distribute information”. Typical problems with E/M-learning are:

  1. It focuses on learning through information giving and mental exercises.
  2. The body and emotions are not involved, and the situation is artificial. Staff is not facing real customers.
  3. It is focused on giving knowledge – not inspiring action.
  4. Modules are typically too long (more than 3 minutes), and the moment staff turns to real customers, they can’t remember much because the learning situation was at a PC/mobile.
  5. E/M-learning embeds the wrong behaviour triggers. The information and ‘new’ thinking are anchored in the learning situation at a PC (or mobile), not with customers or products.

But hey, it is cheap – and who knows, it might work?

You can also do competitions to influence behaviour and increase sales, which does work short term but creates 3 bigger problems.

  1. You will demotivate more people than you actually motivate. (Have you noticed it is typically the same group of people who win the competitions?)
  2. You activate the ‘over justification effect’. By rewarding people for doing good work, you undermine their intrinsic motivation to perform well. They will subconsciously move towards thinking that they do the specific behaviour because they are rewarded – not because they want to. And when you remove the reward – they stop performing well.
  3. Competition saturation. Not another one…

Competitions do work, to some extent, but they have to be used moderately and integrated with the other activities in the chain. However, it is a motivational mechanism and not a reliable behaviour change tool.

Back to training, behaviour change, and increasing sales. What can you do instead of training – how can you change staff behaviour in an effective way?

10 ingredients in effective behaviour change to increase sales
  1. Think operations instead of training. New behaviour should be practised in-store, on the sales floor, with real customers. Embedded in work routines.
  2. Respect that habits control most store staff behaviour. Focus on the most important habits first.
  3. Go for results first, then changing habits. Not the other way around. When we get your staff to do a new behaviour, you get the results you want – and because it works and is fun, staff will repeat and adopt new habits. Customer focus and results become a culture.
  4. Use a spaced practice approach. Many small repetitions over time.
  5. Make it easy to do the behaviour you want to see. That is easier than increasing motivation for doing the behaviour.
  6. Make it fun and interesting. Involve staff in developing each other’s behaviour and show them how they improve.
  7. Use competitions to start and boost behaviour change initiatives.
  8. Follow-up on and give feedback on behaviour change – this will help sustain momentum.
  9. Align the behaviour change effort with the commercial calendar, campaigns, KPI reports, checklists, etc.
  10. Re-define the training department’s role. Training departments are key in this and should be enabled to drive real behaviour change and results.

If you are responsible for training or results, you now know that you have the opportunity to drive this change that is happening all around us. Digital engagement, coaching, and follow-up tools are the future in behaviour change and increased sales.

By reading this, you have already started down the path of easy behaviour change. You have stepped in front – you are helping to create the Result Revolution in Retail.

If you found this a worthwhile read, make yourself heard. Share or let me know your thoughts.

Jan Dahl Andersen,