Forget The Labor Crisis. Retailers Need To Focus On Operational Readiness.

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As retailers across the country navigate a post-COVID reality, they’re combatting the worst labor crisis in 30 years. Retail leaders are citing “The Great Resignation” as the biggest challenge facing their organizations today. But there’s an even bigger concern facing retailers than the challenges of finding, hiring and onboarding associates: understanding whether your existing staff is prepared.

Whether retailers are understaffed or not (though I know most are), the real focus right now needs to be on surviving in the face of disruption and rapid change. That means staying agile to evolving consumer expectations, changing safety protocols, you name it. And that starts with operational readiness.

In this article I’ll explore the concept of operational readiness, and how retailers can leverage this valuable tool to prepare for the next big campaign — and see positive business outcomes as a result.

What is Operational Readiness?

Let’s say you have a major product promo coming up. You’ve shared details with your floor managers — but do your associates know the promo inside and out? Is everyone executing tasks around the promo in a consistent way? Is the in-store experience aligned with the online experience? In short: is your staff prepared? That’s what operational readiness is all about — even if you’re understaffed, operational readiness can ensure that you’re doing more with less, and executing every key event to perfection. And spoiler alert: most organizations aren’t achieving operational readiness — and are losing out on revenue and return customers as a result.


How to Prioritize Operational Readiness

Using workforce analytics and other key indicators, retailers can help seasoned and new staff alike prepare for the next big campaign, a new key initiative, or company-wide change — and see positive business outcomes as a result. Here is my four-step plan for prioritizing operational readiness:

1. Share information effectively.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a critical first step in properly preparing your associates for a promo or launch: share the right information. And if possible, share it directly with your frontline staff. The more managers your information goes through, the more chances for broken telephone — and that leads to inefficiencies. 

2. Identify gaps and concerns.

Once you’re sharing information effectively, you need to check that your associates have consumed and retained the information the way you hoped. You can do this through knowledge testing and surveys. This is an important gut check — and in my experience, this is where many organizations are shocked by how many knowledge gaps arise. You can also identify concerns with your staff by outright asking them — asking, “How confident are you with our upcoming campaign?” can elicit some very telling responses, and from there you can get additional feedback on why they’re not ready, or confident, whether it’s missing signage, confusing training material or another concern.

3. Address and re-educate.

The next step is addressing the knowledge gaps and concerns that you’ve unearthed. That might mean re-sharing information in a different format or using clearer language. Or it might mean focusing in on certain regions or locations that in particular seem to be struggling with the information. After you’ve addressed knowledge gaps, you’ll likely want to circle back to step two to check in one more time with your staff.

4. Monitor campaign effectiveness to learn and scale.

The final step in operational readiness is leveraging robust workplace analytics to monitor the impact that the above steps had on the success of the campaign. This will help you learn and scale your communication efforts in the future — and avoid programs that fall short.

The best line of defense against The Great Resignation is for retailers to shift their focus back onto the staff they do have. Leveraging operational readiness allows retailers to do more with less, focusing on agility and performance and driving better business outcomes as a result. 

Jordan Ekers is Co-founder and COO of Nudge, a leading communications platform for frontline employees. He’s worked with many of North America’s leading retail, foodservice and hospitality brands to design transformative approaches for executing the brand promise and empowering frontline teams. Ekers is a Forbes Council Member and has been a speaker and conference chair at major industry events, such as NRF’s Big Show and the Future Stores series, as well as a guest on BNN Bloomberg.

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