How Retail Employees can Feel Safe to Learn Without Risk to Personal Brand


With so many shifts in the market, the pressure is on to upskill your workforce. However, there is a balance between getting employees up to speed quickly and effectively while also fostering open communication and confidence. The retail industry can benefit from adopting new ways of allowing employees to train safely, creating a path to progress without the risks to the learner, those who are evaluating them or the brand. With a secure learning foundation, the performance progress possible for employees directly translates to benefits for the business — increases in customer satisfaction ratings and sales as well as productivity and retention.

I have seen it everywhere, from my time as a retail and hospitality business owner to working with some of the best operators in the industry. The core component to development in retail is solving the problem of how to fail without damaging the learner or the customer. With the latest advances in AI-powered simulation learning, you can solve current and future learning barriers while supporting the psyche of the employee and protecting the integrity of the brand.

Where Traditional Learning Falls Down

To create a safe space to learn, you must examine current training methodology. Most programs are comprised of traditional learning methods — things like static courses, paper manuals, the occasional PDF, videos and one-to-one training or workshops. Most of these approaches are passive learning examples, very heavily focused on priming knowledge, not on application. That type of approach cannot lend itself to building confidence.

A step above these tools would be in-person training. While in-person learning does have the benefit of immediate feedback, it is inconsistent. Each trainer carries their own bias, so you simply can’t guarantee the same knowledge delivery for every session.


The group also carries its own bias, with those who are more vocal and confident in social settings benefiting, leaving those who might be insecure or uncertain to shy away from crucial forums for questioning and role-play scenarios. This doesn’t guarantee there is an open dialogue or safe space for feedback. Plus, it’s very challenging to actually measure this type of training against goals, and that is before we analyze the cost at scale. 

Another aspect of on-the-job-style training is job shadowing. This method is dangerous to the psyche of both the person learning and the customer. Failure in front of both a trainer and customer can cause much discomfort for all parties and even discourage the learner from similar future encounters, or worse, leaving the job altogether. Failure in front of the customer also creates uncertainty in the integrity of the brand itself, harming the customer’s experience.

These avoidable failures are going to hit businesses especially hard in the coming years. As CNBC’s article “Future of Retail” predicts, brands are doubling down on customer experience. As commerce moves away from transactional models, providing the ultimate impression and service excellence will be of utmost importance. How you utilize tech to optimize your employee’s training experience will be in relation to brand survival. Luckily, with AI tools, you can support employee training and development with powerful content that can help draw a direct line to exceptional customer service and experience.

Perhaps the most ineffective is e-learning. You’ve seen it and probably deployed it — PDFs that rarely get updated, an embedded video, 40-minute courses with static tick box questions. Where videos may be able to elicit an emotion, they don’t provide the neural stimulation for problem solving.

Because of this, these methods are the ultimate void, with learners left to their own interpretation of a program. Exempt of social context and the action-oriented benefit of job practice, the learner doesn’t develop problem-solving skills  nor the ability to deploy application of knowledge in an effective way, as you can through simulated scenarios.

With e-learning there is typically no prompt for repetition, a core component to knowledge retention, or practice through failure. This style of learning often creates anxiety and disconnection in the employee and uncertainty about performance capabilities from the employer. The metrics for success remain undefined, the distance between theory and application uncertain.

Space to Fail Equals Path to Progress

The most effective way to harness psychological safety for your employees is to foster a safe space for them to practice and learn. Here is where digital immersive-style training is highly effective, especially with advancements in AI. In fact, the more immersive the better — modern game mechanics and gaming are hugely powerful in being able to immerse an individual in a familiar world and actively engage them, stimulate problem-solving and emotionally reward them for overcoming challenges, all in a safe-to-fail space.

Incorporating simulation and gaming as a vehicle for knowledge delivery and practice creates impactful learning by triggering the intrinsic motivation key to creating behavioral change. This style of training solution allows for just enough cushion where the learner can receive in-the-moment feedback and process what they are learning. It fosters mastery and growth.

Once this safe, stimulating learning environment is established, the learner can develop confidence in a much deeper way, and it also facilitates a more productive and efficient leader-employee relationship. Having established confidence, coaching sessions are much more focused, allowing space for any remaining gaps to be addressed and productive learning to continue taking place. This creates a healthy dynamic where both employer and employee are free to focus strictly on the things that will have the biggest impact on the learner and the business.

Bridging the Gap Between Failure and Impact

The power of learning comes firstly in being able to fail. For many, the idea of failure is uncomfortable, sometimes psychologically detrimental, and can halt learning or progress altogether. By building upon experience and data, the ultimate environment for impactful learning can be achieved through AI-driven solutions.

With intrinsic motivation having now been stimulated, the concept of fail/repeat becomes part of the mastery journey that will begin to take place independently of leadership. That allows a much more strategic micro view on training initiatives that will truly drive behavioral change and improve core business metrics — and it is all measurable. With job mastery, we see improved business metrics such as increased customer service ratings, improved accuracy, sales increases and higher retention. 

There is an immense value-add to creating a safe space for your team. You create impact that has a ripple effect from the individual to the organization. I believe you build the brand by building the individual.

Greg Hull is Managing Director, Retail & Hospitality, for Attensi in the U.S. He originally joined Attensi in London in 2019 to help lead Attensi’s international growth. In this role he worked closely with existing and prospective clients such as Starbucks, Circle K, BSH, Panera, Lidl, Mercedes Benz and the YMCA to ensure that Attensi innovates and delivers exceptional value. He has a background in commercial strategy working closely with SAP and Microsoft to build commercial partner organizations, and then founding and building his own consumer business across the UK and Europe.

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