The Secret to Retaining your Frontline Employees

For many years now the employee-culture has shifted and workers are no longer trading job security for job loyalty.  For the apparel industry from manufacturing to technology to retail, the new generations entering the workforce view their job opportunities as a way to gather a portfolio of experiences to make them more marketable as they move through organizations acquiring different skills.

So how can an employer in this new employee culture engage and motivate their talent so they will stay longer and provide exceptional experiences for their customers?  It may sound counter intuitive to invest in talent that may view your business as a “stepping stone.” However, offering advanced skills development and enabling them with improved decision-making abilities will make them stay longer (if not forever).  Plus, being enabled will allow your workers to provide exceptional service during the time they are with you.  Here’s why.

When frontline employees are enabled through learning and development, they will be energized and engaged.  The result creates better experiences for everyone they have contact with both internally and externally, from vendors and suppliers to purchasers and customers.  Quite simply, frontline workers are critical to the success of the apparel and retail industries.  The reason is clear.  When your frontline workers feel recognized and valued, they will reflect that feeling in their attitude and approach toward all communications.  But for them to feel empowered they must first be enabled.

The key to enabling frontline workers is to foster a culture of learning and development.  In order to motivate your frontline employees, it is imperative they feel their role has a higher purpose and trajectory. For that to happen companies must make sure they provide continuous learning, recognition and personalized feedback in order to keep employees energized and enabled to serve customers.  When employees are properly developed and given authority to make smart, on-the-spot decisions on behalf of the company, they are thinking and acting like owners and will put the best interest of the company first.

Below are the four keys to success when enabling employees to act like owners.

Share the truth with your employees. Too many companies approach executive-employee communications on a “need to know basis” but that doesn’t allow your teams be part of the solution. Instead, share the truth about where the organization is going, how it makes and loses money, and how each individual can contribute, get ahead and be recognized in the organization. It is especially important to share the truth, even if things are not going well (frontline workers usually know this before the C-suite does!)  Share the truth about the big picture view so they can offer insights and new direction from their perspective.

Make learning and development a priority for your employees. The purest path to intense enablement to set the groundwork for engagement and empowerment is providing a pathway for advanced skill development. Some companies get stuck in the mindset that if they teach and develop their staff, they will be making them more marketable and promotable to go elsewhere.  The truth is, they might, but, they could leave anyway and it is much more likely — after you make the investment and demonstrate your commitment to their growth — that they will want to grow inside your company and not start over with another.

Encourage high performance and reward initiative. When given the choice, most people would rather be great than just ordinary.  Provide your frontline teams with instruction and direction and when both are executed the right way at the right time, recognize them. Employees want to excel and when they are enabled they will do just that. Give them the tools and the motivations to serve the customer and create exceptional experiences for them, which will keep employees focused, and keep the customers coming back, buying more and positively referring others.  Communicate clearly with your employees as to how they can positively impact the organization, and how they can advance.

Instill accountability in your employees.  While low to average performers shy away from accountability, high performers thrive on it.  Providing accountability about how you are going to recognize and reward those who achieve high levels of performance, from those who do not, is critically important.  You can’t pollute the winner’s circle with low performers.  Giving a gold star to employees just for showing up will not help to motivate them to high levels of achievement. When you make them accountable to act like owners, achieve high performance, and deliver ROI for the company — and they are recognized and rewarded for it — they will be motivated to continue this success.

When you do these four things, your apparel, manufacturing, technology and retail employees will deliver.  Your investment in them will convert to their commitment to you.  Employees with next-level learning and development will feel fortunate to have acquired skills that make them more marketable. Plus, when they feel appreciated and valued, they will perform optimally and positively influence your internal and external customer relationships.  Enablement translates into energy, motivation, and exceptional experiences for your customers and more money towards your bottom line.

Pete Psichogios is president of CSI International Performance Group, whose mission is to help companies create engaging employee and customer experiences. He is author of the ground-breaking business book, Leading from the Front Line.  He is reachable at [email protected].

Originally published in Apparel Magazine.

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