The associate is a retailer’s biggest investment. Whether nurtured and valued or overlooked, employees can mean either big success or big failure for retailers.
According to the Quantum Workforce 2015 Employee Engagement Trends Report, there is “a direct link between engagement and profit. In organizations that showed a profit increase, 69% of employees were engaged, compared to 56% employee engagement in organizations where profits decreased.”
This is significant. A slight jump in satisfaction can be the difference between profit and stagnation. So how do we engage employees? Mobile technology is totally disrupting the way the retail employee gets engaged and empowered, and this article will explore the benefits and best practices of this essential tool.
The Retail Employee Engagement Problem
In the Mega-Retailer, big box store environment, it is a unique challenge to keep your employees engaged. How do you keep 350 employees in a 70,000 square foot store informed, connected, productive, and delighted? The utter volume of employees and the space they inhabit provides a less than conducive environment for connectivity. How does the associate in grocery connect with the associate in automotive, and how do these individuals collaboratively contribute to the culture and success of the organization without too much disruption in their day to day?
The answer is already in the pocket of every associate.
As an associate, Instead of having to walk the 70,000 square feet to the grocery department to share ideas, feedback, reports, or maybe just chat about the weather or my favorite tv show, I can now do that in seconds on my mobile device, making me feel instantly connected and actively engaged in the large environment I work in.
According to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, "Workers who say their employers use mobile technology well are typically more productive, creative, satisfied and loyal." Mobile technology is changing the landscape of what’s possible for the employee of a mega-retailer.
Now that we know mobile technology is an obvious solution to enhancing employee empowerment, the next challenge comes with how to most effectively employ this tool. At RevUnit we’ve discovered five key areas of employee empowerment and the unique potency of each.
In retail corporations with large numbers of employees located in geographically disparate areas, keeping communication open and consistent is one of the largest challenges for store leadership.
It can be difficult to connect every employee in one store, and an even greater task when these employees are spread across different states and countries. With mobile technology, today’s big box store manager has the ability to stay simultaneously connected with every employee in the store, no matter the location of the associates. This allows management to be constantly apprised of activities currently happening in the store, and to assign tasks and manage completion in real time, all without taking the extra time for face to face communication.
In our recent survey of a major retail client’s store managers who have been using a custom mobile task assignment app we built, every store manager polled reported a marked improvement in employee communication after using the app. Managers also reported improvements in associate productivity, task clarity, process execution, and visibility to work happening in the store. These improvements are just the beginning of what is possible through mobile disruption on the retail floor, and communication is just one bucket of retail employee empowerment set to be unleashed with mobile tools.
The literature stressing the importance of employee engagement, and proving its value, is seemingly endless. Employers that ignore this research do so to their inevitable detriment.
Alex Edmans, in a paper in the Academy of Management Perspectives, “studied 28 years of data and found that firms with high employee satisfaction outperform their peers by 2.3% to 3.8% per year in long-run stock returns – 89% to 184% cumulative – even after controlling for other factors that drive returns.” Engaged employees are retained employees, and this can translate directly into improved performance and returns for the business.
Achieving and maintaining effective engagement can be difficult as research also consistently shows that employee engagement steadily declines as organization size increases. Big Box retailers can’t afford to ignore this, and they may be left behind if they don’t explore innovative solutions. The avenues for mobile engagement technology are abundant, and can come in the form of internal social platforms, badging software that allows employees to recognize each other for a job well done, or real-time pulse survey technology allowing the employee to submit valuable feedback.
Mobile applications can also effectively increase productivity and help employees to improve on KPI’s, allowing them to be empowered to more quickly complete tasks and excel at their jobs.With one productivity application introduced to the retail floor, a major retail client ‘s store managers report an average of 25 man hours saved per store, per day, or 1 hour saved per department manager that uses the mobile application.
This spike in productivity and time savings allows the associate to get more done in a day, and can mean big savings for the company. Further, the speed of in-store execution on key tasks increased by 100% after about six months of app usage.
The possibilities for apps that have the potential to increase productivity are endless. An added benefit of implementing mobile technology is these applications can be constantly iterated and improved upon based on the changing retail climate and needs of the users. An investment in mobile technology could mean lasting savings for retailers, and has already been proven to do so with examples from some of the world’s biggest retail giants.
The goal of this mobile movement for associates is to empower them with the technology they are already accustomed to using in everyday life, and this can come in the way of tools, as well as quicker access to information.
Providing employees with access to the information they need to do their jobs effectively can be tricky as many employers struggle with finding the balance of how much information to give, and what the right information is.
There is one school of thought which believes there is no such thing as over-sharing information, and the more employees know, the more they can see the organization’s bigger picture, making them feel more invested and confident in their individual place and purpose. “Open Book Management” is a term coined in the 1980’s for a philosophy of business in which key financial information is shared with all employees. This gives the employees context for financial decisions made by the company, and fosters an investment on the part of the employees, as they feel they are more involved in the bigger picture.
Jack Stack was the first to implement open-book management in a struggling engine remanufacturing plant, and after sharing financials and teaching the employees what they meant, Stack grew revenue in the company from 16 million to 83 million within ten years.
Stack’s is just one example of many organizations who firmly believe that an open book philosophy is a key to employee engagement and organizational success. Spreitzer and Porath of the Harvard Business Review write, “if you let people make decisions but give them incomplete information...they’ll suffer rather than thrive." Allowing someone to be in a position of authority, but not giving that individual the proper knowledge to make the most effective decisions is essentially setting your associate up for failure.
In a world of open communication and information sharing, today’s employee knows when he or she is in the dark, and will feel undervalued and disengaged as a result. Following the notion of information sharing is training, which is an essential part of an employee's initial and ongoing success, and should not be ignored in the mobile technology movement.
Training is an essential part of the onboarding process and is among the first impressions an employee gets of how a company will work, and how much it values its people.
Many of today’s retailers rely on outdated tech and legacy systems to deliver training materials and leave much to be improved upon in this essential process. Employees won’t be excited or interested sitting in front of a tv and watching a training DVD from years ago, or sitting through computer modules that have not been updated to keep up with today’s tech-sophisticated world.
Liz Bark of Mindflash writes:
“Mobile learning is a way to develop learning, utilizing the evolution in technology to create a more dynamic experience...The key to m-Learning is that it can be done anywhere, whether it is done on the commute to and from work, in bed or even in the bath. The personal aspect also being enhanced by the idea that people will learn more effectively on a device that they are familiar with, and made as interesting as their favorite app.”
Equipping employees with an engaging learning experience and dynamic interface provides them with the freedom of mobility and is the future of training in today’s evolving retail environment.
Among the many benefits of mobile learning, Susmitha Reddy lists convenience and relevance, good use of spare time, collaborative learning, wider access, and cost-effectiveness, as mobile platforms can be quickly stood up with a leaner budget.
With mobile devices having permeated the modern culture and become part of our everyday lives, it becomes imperative we incorporate these into the work environment, as it is how today’s employee knows best how to communicate, and to receive and manage information.
RevUnit is an agency specializing in digital disruption, with a unique focus on the employee of the mega-retailer. We provide solutions for major retailers and are in the business of delivering world class digital solutions with a keen focus on what the employee needs to remain engaged and delighted. We empower retail employees to be happier & more productive through our mobile tools.