You know that improving employee awareness is essential to reducing risk, and yet getting started with a training program can feel overwhelming. Relax, taking the first steps need not be difficult if you keep the following points in mind.
Start with an easy topic
Build a solid foundation by starting out with topics that can be easily grasped by the least experienced associate in your team. For example, if the ultimate goal is for staff to understand inventory results, and how each employee can help to reduce merchandise losses, don’t begin by requiring them to memorize the store’s shrink percentage. A shrink percentage may be consequential to an experienced retailer, but practically meaningless to someone who is new to the business. It’s also a pointless statistic regardless of tenure unless additional context accompanies it, such as sales volume, financial goals, historical results, and overall company averages.
Consider instead discussing the meaning of the word “shrink” (losses) and what are its most common causes (internal theft, external theft, vendor theft, and paperwork errors).
Other introductory topics could include:
When building a new awareness program, resist the temptation to begin with a complex topic even if it’s an important one. It’s best to start at the logical beginning and progressively build to more difficult ideas so that your team can connect the dots without getting lost.
Answer the 5 W’s and 1 H
It amazes me how often I see bright and otherwise strategic retail professionals providing training without explaining WHAT team members are supposed to do, HOW they are supposed to do it, WHO exactly is responsible or impacted, as well as WHEN and WHERE a specific task must be performed. Don’t expect an organization to embrace your idea if it fails to understand the purpose of the initiative, how it adds value, and its impact to the overall business (the WHY).
Many years ago, while working for a large retailer, I was asked to help communicate a change in policy requiring all product damages to be logged with a lot more detail than the team was used to. The new process required logging both the SKU and item number. It also mandated that damages should be processed out of inventory on a daily basis rather than weekly as had been previously done. This shift away from the old way of doing things was met with immediate resistance. Most associates perceived logging both the SKU and item number as unnecessarily redundant since merchandise could be identified through either one. Increasing the processing frequency to daily also added unwanted work to closing shift managers who had become used to processing damages on a weekly basis.
As a new District LP Manager, I struggled with getting my market to execute on this policy. At first, in my infinite rookie wisdom, I tried being the tough guy on a conference call and even threatened disciplinary action. Oh boy, you can imagine how many managers that won over. Eventually a kind soul told me what everyone was feeling “Glen, they’re not doing it because it’s extra work, and they don’t see any benefit”. Duh, of course.
Following good advice from a mentor, I created a simple information campaign explaining how inventory losses had increased by 30 percent due to lost or illegible damage logs under the old system. I was astounded that compliance improved in days. We also explained that by using both SKU and item numbers, and processing damages daily, the odds of losing a log before damages were processed, or not being able to identify the product on the log decreased to almost 0. Finally, we reminded stores that inventory shrink represented a percentage of the store’s bonus, and that the new process helped stores make bonus. This last step seemed to turn intransigent rebels into well-oiled, damage logging and processing machines.
In closing, if you have to ask someone to push a button, tell them which button, when and how to push it, and why the button is so damn important. Otherwise you can count on them forgetting, or instead finding another button to push instead of yours. Conversely, if you are clear in your direction and take time to explain it fully, including clarifying how a process helps the business and what’s in it for the employee who has to do it, you will find associates much more likely to embrace the change you propose.
Deliver information through multiple channels
Creating a Loss Prevention poster or a board can be a great place to start, but any one way of providing LP topics to associates should represent only part of a larger information delivery strategy. You need Asset Protection to have a small part at every morning huddle, mid-shift TB, DM visit, and end of day reporting of sales. There are endless opportunities to deliver
LP information, some of the more obvious ones are bulleted below but don’t be restricted by the list:
LP training should have two primary objectives. One is to increase associate knowledge, the other is to change the team’s attitude about the specific risk, procedure or behavior about which you are trying to raise awareness. For example, if your goal is to reduce instances of internal theft and to increase calls to the company’s anonymous hotline, then the communication and training has to effectively teach associates to recognize behaviors that are commonly associated with internal theft while also appealing to the employee’s sense of personal ethics/morality. This way, associates are encouraged to act ethically and call the ethics line when someone else is not acting honestly. Yes obviously your training has to provide the Ethics Line number, but is also has to shift their attitudes so that it inspires a culture of honesty. Although the knowledge piece is very important, the attitude change is also essential.
Keeping the aforementioned points in mind, consider that different delivery methods lend themselves better to providing information while others do a better job of leveraging a team’s attitude. By alternating your delivery strategy, you are ensuring that both the “knowledge” as well as the “attitude” objectives reach the intended audience. When rolling out a new initiative or revisiting an existing policy, I often find myself communicating through conference calls, these are usually call-to-arms that are meant to provide basic information, and a lot of attitude, emotion, focusing on why rather than details. Eventually, store management and associates will also receive e-mails with policy documents, along with details and explanations. If it’s a critical enough point, we may also create flyers or permanent posters. In some cases, we have even tried quick how-to videos so that the teams have all the information they need.
By the time it’s said and done, store associates have received the training through different channels, from written (policy documents and written instructions), to lecture forms (large conference calls), discussions (smaller calls or in-store meetings), and even e-learning if I have access to webinar/video technology. This variety gives the LP professional the best shot at delivering information that will be easily digested and well accepted.
Link the LP Topic to broad business priorities
If you like being the center of attention, don’t become an LP professional. This may sound harsh but it is the truth, and the quicker you understand it, the better your LP career will be. Here’s another tough reality check, most of your sales partners don’t share your sense of urgency about Loss Prevention. Of course no one wants theft or shrink. But sales executives and managers have one major priority, which is to accomplish a sales goal. Unfortunately Loss Prevention (and anything else standing in the way) is seen as an unnecessary distraction rather than a 911. With some effort, your LP topic may be upgraded from unnecessary to necessary distraction, but never as the main focus of the business, and nor should it be.
Well, then how do you get the business’s attention long enough to get your message across? The key is to link the LP theme to broad business and sales priorities, this way when you’re talking about sales, you’re in fact also covering Loss Prevention and vice versa. It’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Below are a few examples of LP to Business Links:
When I enter a store to do a visit, my first questions are never about LP, and yours should not be either. After greetings and basic formalities, we talk about the business, about traffic, and sales goals and customer turnover. We discuss the team’s performance metrics, their level of motivation, and anything that is top-of-mind for the store. This is not just something that is covered quickly before moving to LP. It's not a nicety, it's critical to the visit. These questions help me connect my priorities to the team because otherwise the LP message is dead in the water before it even begins. Then and only then, once the business is discussed and understood, do I begin to incorporate some LP questions or provide observations on opportunities I may be noticing.
If I learn that the team is struggling with making bonus, my goal is to find ways to show how LP standards can help provide that extra push to make bonus. If customer service is an issue that troubles the DM, then we'll work hard to connect external theft awareness to that service discussion. This also means that if a missed opportunity to increase sales is noticed, I’m going to partner with the leadership team and explain my thoughts even if the observation has no direct connection to protecting assets. This is what a well-rounded LP partner tries to do. Approach the job from the perspective of you being a business partner with an expertise in Loss Prevention, not an LP partner who only cares about LP. The business always comes first. LP incorporates itself into it, not the other way around. As any other good habit, it takes time to develop it and will improve with practice.
The next time you’re visiting a store, don’t forget to Link Shrink to Sales and Sales to Shrink. You’ll be glad you did and will be better remembered for it.
Reinforce / Recurring Training
Effective LP is a process, not an event. Associates remain aware only if the topics are reinforced to the point of becoming second nature. A subject that is discussed daily and executed consistently is much more effective than a one-time webinar, meeting or training class, regardless of how strategic the topic or skilled the facilitator. A bag check done daily deters internal theft temptation. On the other hand, one done once per week does not accomplish much of anything even if thoroughly completed.
Whichever awareness initiatives you begin, be sure to stick with them, go back to them, find ways of reinforcing them. Feel free to tweak, improve, and shift gears as the business evolves, but avoid periods of information darkness. An easy way of “sticking with it” is to create an events calendar with reminders, outlining topics you would like to cover during future weeks, months, quarters and even years. Ensure that the calendar has recurring training, only for the purpose of reinforcing.
Let’s use a real life example, years ago I created an awareness training to teach associates how to handle fraudulent phone calls. This followed a rash of calls consisting of callers asking associates to provide Gift Card numbers over the phone which would result in those cards becoming compromised. It was an elaborate fraud and its details are not important for this writing. The point is that after the initial training was rolled out, our team created a schedule so that the same training would go out 3 times per year. This helped to overcome simple employment turnover at the store level, this way newly hired employees were bound to receive the training at most within a few months of being hired. It also provided reinforcement for all associates, even those who had gone through the training before but still benefited from a refresher.
If your business has major events scheduled throughout the year, such as recurring promotions, it’s also a good idea to add loss prevention trainings that link to these topics (link to sales) so that an LP message is delivered in conjunction with these cyclical business priorities. Let’s say you are aware that a Double Your Employee Discount promotion will occur in 3 months. A strategic LP leader will ensure that LP Awareness Training is rolled out right before the promotion begins, focusing on deterring discount abuse and clarifying who is entitled to receive the employee discount (and who is not). Sure you can think short term and add a few cases to your stats, or you can provide the right information so that your team makes good decisions. Which one adds more value?
Starting an awareness initiative can be intimidating especially when you don’t have a lot of experience rolling out training programs. The truth is that we often bring much of the stress upon ourselves by over complicating the task in our mind.
Once you identify that raising awareness on a certain area is important, jump right in and remember the basic points we have covered. If you keep things simple, explain the task in detail (W’s and H), use different delivery channels, make an effort to link the topics to business priorities, and take time in the future the reinforce the information, you are on your way to a successful Loss Prevention awareness campaign and will be rewarded with a team that is aligned, aware and helping to minimize risk.
Want to learn more about becoming a Loss Prevention Officer? Check out The Store Detective Training Manual. A Practical Reference for Current and Aspiring Loss Prevention Officers.
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