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On-floor associates can make or break a customer’s experience. As companies reevaluate the number of stores they keep open, and how those stores will look and operate, a greater focus on the front line is essential to a successful retail strategy. But a solid training program that focuses only on the sales associate’s day-to-day responsibilities without a forward-looking focus is not enough. Companies are missing valuable opportunities to grow passionate associates into leadership positions in areas where those individuals excel or show promise.

These are individuals who are passionate about a brand and approach training with enthusiasm, yet often do not have a meaningful conversation about their future within the company. Their special abilities, areas of interest, and even dislikes are not considered as a place to find future rising talent. In many cases, the person is thought of in their silo as to what they do day in and day out, and not what they can offer as a passionate, capable and loyal employee within the next year or even five years from now.

Leadership needs to give a reason for associates to stay and grow. This begins with the field managers who have the ability to train associates quickly and mentor deeply. They are best able to help associates exercise the valuable knowledge that they have learned, grow in their positions and feel confident as part of a winning team. With the aid of technology, the challenge to support sales associates in their lifelong career are fewer.

Today’s mobile technology can empower both field managers and associates, creating an environment for coaching, mentoring, education and conversations that have impact both in the short term and long term. A reverse pyramid is the new model that starts at the top with the front line, and moves down to manageable groups of associates, led by field managers with the right tools and data to drive corporate strategies.

As the industry talks about metrics, measures, KPIs and technologies that spit those numbers out, managers often struggle with using that data more effectively to really impact associate engagements and better influence associate-to-customer interactions. Store leadership needs easy to access, ongoing real-time data that allows them to connect with individual associates, or groups of them, on a daily basis to lead and mentor. With easier access, sales associates can be shown a path to grow their future with a company that has already made the investment in them.

Sales associates are always encouraged to take an active role in reaching their career goals, but the organization needs to help facilitate the process by providing the expectations and the opportunity: One of the most effective ways for this to happen is through data and dialogue.

Using the data, not the technology, is the competitive advantage that brings field managers’ influence to a new level. A new work process pivots on getting better information faster, and having more time to mix their knowledge with real-time data to engage quickly and directly with associates daily — not via store visits every other week — to assess quiz results, individual and store performance, answer questions and coach. Whether the data is positive or red-flagged, it is the human interaction between manager and associate, based on real data, that associates most appreciate.

With real-time results of associate quizzes looping back to managers, the field can quickly react to the data in a way that continuously drives engagement and performance. This feedback loop of data, which the field now understands how to use to its best advantage, allows managers not only to verify and assess associate participation and identify opportunities to celebrate and mentor, but to confirm and communicate knowledge transfer. Managers can react proactively to data received to continually build an associate’s skill set; this only happens with a continuous loop, not one-way line.

The competitive ability to instantly view performance data and confirm knowledge transfer, provides field managers the ability to continually help associates expand their knowledge, grow in their positions and reach new levels of confidence and success out on the sales floor and beyond.

A Mobile Associate Communications Platform, such as the one that has been discussed so far, validates a best practice used in higher education: Give students (i.e., store associates) the tools and information they need to perform at their best and brightest, and if they are engaged, quizzed and mentored, they will be successful. If you treat the student (or store associate) who has an average IQ as if they were the top of their university class (“here’s a sophisticated training platform we know you can master”), most will become more self-assured, motivated and will perform much better.

Ultimately, showing associates that you care about them as individuals and are committed to helping them grow in their retail positions goes a long way to encourage performance and longevity. Retail, in particular, attracts a younger generation of workers, who are often looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to feel appreciated, valued, recognized for their efforts and treated fairly. They also want to feel that someone is listening to them so that they can make a meaningful contribution to the organization.

Without the tools and data to open the conversation, small but very meaningful changes could be missed. For example, an associate could feel stressed because their shift doesn’t allow for enough time to get to a class they’re taking, or [perhaps] they have a particular talent in helping a certain type of customer. [In these cases], simple adjustments can be made to help the employee become more effective, [but if it is] left alone, the lack of acknowledgment can lead to higher turn-over. When a field manager has the right tools, they have more time and more knowledge to open important and possibly hidden conversations within their team.

Using real performance data — and not just checkmarks — plays a valuable role in attracting and retaining the best associates, keeping them engaged and productive. It is an important yet often overlooked way to maximize investments in sales associates and build a long-term successful future.

Jodi Harouche is the chief creative officer and president at Multimedia Plus.

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