How to Help Your Store Associates Deal with Change

May 15, 2020

Think about the life of a grocery associate today. Every day there’s an announcement from the CEO or a change in the policy to know about. Just when they think they have it down, the policy changes and now aisles are one-way only and customers can’t enter the stores with bags. Then the stores become cashless… or now offer curbside pickup. It’s exhausting for your comms team to continually update materials and even more exhausting for your associates to try to keep up.

In early February, more than a month before COVID-19 became a household name, Forbes published an article titled, How To Fight Change Fatigue With Better Internal Communications. The article was written by Elizabeth Baskin, CEO and Executive Creative Director at Tribe, Inc. The article is particularly pertinent to retail companies today that are dealing with Covid-19-related challenges, such as constantly changing policies and new health guidelines for retail stores.

In the article, Baskin shares her guidelines for improved change communications. Since her philosophy around communication aligns so well with how we built Zipline, we wanted to share four particularly salient points.

First, Baskin says to give employees a place to go for information, which sounds fairly obvious, until you consider just how many communication channels exist at most companies. She says, “A freestanding microsite or a page on your existing intranet can provide a go-to resource for current, accurate information about the change. Be sure to keep that information updated as the change progresses. If you have employees who don’t work at their computers, find at least one channel to reach non-desk workers.”

This single source of truth is one of the most attractive features of Zipline for many retail brands. In a nutshell, Zipline brings together all communications so that employees can easily access the information they need to do their specific jobs effectively. More importantly, it allows them to see when a policy or document has been updated to make it crystal clear what the ‘latest and greatest’ is.

And, because many store associates don’t have work emails, Zipline is available via a mobile app. Grocery chain Hy-Vee recently invited its 80,000 store associates to download the app to stay apprised of ever-changing health and safety regulations and get video messages from the CEO.

Second, Baskin suggests that when leaders communicate a change in direction or policy, they link the change back to the company’s vision and values. She says, “Explain to employees the reasons for the change and how it will benefit the business. How does this change support the company’s goals for success and better serve your customers? How does it demonstrate that business decisions are guided by values?”

When CEO Melissa Wong was building Retail Zipline, one of her guiding principles was that effective communication gives meaning to work. Empowering your workforce requires engaging people at all levels. When people know the why and the context of what is being communicated, they are more engaged, inspired, and empowered to execute their work. Staff needs to know why an individual task is important in the larger picture and why their role is critical. They need to see how the actions they’ll be taking for an initiative will impact the result. In short, leaders need to give them a reason to believe.

Third, Baskin advises leaders to equip managers to field questions. She says, “Our research indicates that employees prefer to hear about a change from corporate but then go to their managers with questions.”

Zipline was developed to enable employee engagement and includes a feedback loop to help employees feel empowered and ensure that their questions are answered and their opinions are heard. Associates feed information to their managers, who speak to district managers who discuss with corporate. If that loop is followed full circle, people will feel like their voice is valuable and their opinions can help advance the organization. This improves employee morale and ensures that every person who works for an organization has a voice.

Finally, Baskin encourages leaders to inspire employees to play a role in the change. She says, “Share how their individual job functions can support the change so they feel some personal responsibility for making it happen.”

In Zipline, news and information is filtered by role and/or location in order to cut the clutter and confusion and ensure that individuals understand what they are responsible for accomplishing every shift. If new signage needs to be put out or extra cleanings need to happen to comply with new guidelines, there’s no ambiguity about who needs to do it or if it was accomplished. The added benefit during the pandemic is that store managers spend less time understanding what they need to do to be compliant with ever-changing health and safety regulations.

In retail, communication is the conduit for success, whether we’re launching a new promotion or pivoting the business in a new direction. The outcomes for which we strive as retailers can be achieved through proper and effective communication. Improving communication dramatically improves all of our lives. The better people understand what their role is, the better they feel. Inspire your employees by giving them clarity. That way, they will feel engaged to provide better retail experiences for your customers.

If you believe, like we do, that communication is the key to effective change, reach out. We would love to share more.

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