The decades-long trend of eating more meals at restaurants and prepared food from grocery stores continues unabated. Restaurant and grocery store managers work in fast-paced, high-risk environments with significant employee turnover. They have multiple overlapping demands on their time, which makes developing employees a daily challenge. To safeguard food, prevent workplace injuries, and protect thin profit margins, their employees require consistent training and reinforcement.
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Explore This IssueFebruary/March 2016
According to a recent “Mind of the Food Worker” study conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPP), food workers prefer digital training methods over traditional instructor led training. The study showed that food workers respond better to more frequent training communication—a need that may be answered through digital technologies. Some of the new approaches to learning include gamification, internal social media networks, digital signage, and augmented reality. Let’s take a look at these emerging technologies and how they are helping overcome some of the unique challenges that retail and food service managers face.
Improving Retention and Engagement with Gamification
Leading food service and retail companies are turning to gamified learning to improve employee retention and engagement. Gamified learning includes interactive exercises, video-game style simulations, virtual rewards, and other means to chart engagement and friendly competition. The Association for Psychological Science confirms that competition keeps learners engaged, driving retention and higher test scores.
Food service and retail establishments entice users to perform by offering rewards to “players” who accomplish desired competency. Aside from incentives, rewards may include points, levelling up, and/or achievement badges. To maximize the success of the program, the rewards achieved should be visible to peers by use of leader boards.
Additionally, gamification enables companies to track incidents related to actual operating processes. For example, if targeted learning concepts are related to a safety incident, companies should measure the recordable incident data before and after the games are implemented so they can assess the delta. By looking into these metrics, companies may make sophisticated decisions regarding the impact of training on safety and profitability.
Gamified learning also enables companies to track employee progress. The number of attempts it takes employees to correctly answer questions helps to identify whether the lessons are effective, and uncover learning gaps. Tracking by region or location can show specific locations that may be falling behind in overall performance. One large quick service restaurant chain added gamification to training and drove a 42 percent increase in knowledge retention year over year.
Leveraging Company-Wide Social Media to Fill Knowledge Gaps
Retail and food service chains are continuously introducing new products, in-store promotions, and updating equipment and procedures. Ensuring that all employees across the company have timely and consistent answers to their operational questions can be a daunting task. Formal training can cover the basics, but cannot address all the likely scenarios or knowledge gaps that may arise. This is where private, company-wide, social media networks can help.
According to CRPP’s study across all age groups, over 80 percent of food industry employees regularly use public social media like Facebook and LinkedIn. Leading companies are leveraging the power of social media by creating private, secure social media networks for their employees.
These networks enable employees to engage in up-to-the-minute, interactive knowledge forums providing a continuous learning path. Employers can add and answer questions in the forum regarding official processes and procedures. Employees, in turn, are given the ability to share their experiences and expertise.
Social networks build camaraderie, and help develop a sense of belonging and loyalty to the company. One major food company using this approach has seen employee questions grow from 3,000 in the first year to over 15,000 questions the next. That’s 18,000 questions that might not have been answered with traditional training or supervisory coaching. Imagine the impact this kind of engagement can have on overall operations and employee effectiveness.
Digital Signage Provides 24/7 Messaging
A recent study by the National Center for Biotechnology found that the average attention span for adults is now less than eight seconds. With that in mind, retailers and food service establishments are leveraging digital signage to grab employees’ attention using short bursts of information. The digital signs are placed in back of house or in employee breakrooms and run key messages in a continuous loop.
Digital signage can be as simple as a continuous running PowerPoint or using customized graphics and animations. Companies may choose to include more complex information that is driven by real-time data specific to each location’s key performance metrics. In order for the program to be successful someone must “own” the program ensuring it communicates key messages and content is always up to date.
Additional strategies for digital signage include using both corporate managed messages and local, valued information. Messages may display customer feedback, success with in-store promotions, or peer-to-peer rankings on training and performance. Digital signage is also a great medium for sharing birthdays, other milestones, and recognition of exemplary performance to reinforce a connection between the store and its employees.
One major wholesale retailer implemented digital signage to improve OSHA incident rates. The retailer used scorecards and reporting loops giving employees insight into near misses and safety hazards before they became statistics. Their employees are now half as likely to get injured as they were before implementing this program. They’ve also achieved significant savings on medical claims, worker’s comp premiums, and lost work time.
Augmented Reality—The Future of Immersive Training
Perhaps the most exciting advancement in the digital training world is augmented reality (AR). AR uses a digital device, such as a tablet, to overlay interactive video content into real-world scenarios. The process happens in real time so the user becomes completely immersed in their learning experience.
Some stores have begun developing customized AR solutions to help them to successfully onboard employees. Using the device’s built-in camera, trainees trigger interactions with specific checkpoints throughout the restaurant, warehouse, or grocery store. These checkpoints launch enhanced computer generated imagery (CGI) so that trainees can interact with their surroundings like they never have before. Part of what trainees see is a real-time camera generated image of the store; the other part is an artificial CGI demonstrating a training concept. The virtual scenes illustrate learning objectives in context, on location, and in the employee’s hands.
AR helps food companies to educate employees on what to do when issues arise by providing a digitally simulated, first-hand experience of how to react. Stores may upload virtual food safety, workplace safety, and customer interactions to aid in coaching employees through desired behaviors. Stores that invest in AR incorporate comprehension testing by working exercises into the employee’s experience.
New AR technology debuted at FMI Connect in March of 2015 that has the potential to take AR training to the next level. This virtual reality based training technology was developed by Alchemy Systems’ Awareness team, which is working to roll out AR training for a few major retailers this year. The technology is currently in development stages for food service.
Trends show that technology will drive employee performance and engagement through 2016 and beyond. Technology enables food industry establishments to take a data driven approach to closing knowledge gap, and improve employee performance. To keep up with preferred modes of communication, it’s time for companies to seriously look at how to develop a strategy for taking training “digital” in the year ahead.
Holland has over 25 years of experience in developing training, communication, and productivity solutions for the restaurant and retail industry at his company Frameworks (acquired by Alchemy in March 2015). Reach him at email@example.com. Lang, as a product manager for Alchemy, works to develop customized solutions for large retailers ensuring corporate culture fits both the needs of the company and its associates. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.