MIAMI -- The supermarket industry needs to re-think its traditional methods of training and education, especially with respect to the generation of workers now entering the market, said Paul Anderson, director, Supervalu University, Eden Prairie, Minn., speaking at the Food Marketing Institute's Distribution Conference here last month.
"We are going to have to start taking this people thing seriously," he said. "Most of our organizations don't change the way we do things until we feel a high degree of discomfort or pain." As a result, companies are more receptive to change when things are going badly than when they are going well.
Supervalu discovered that "we were finding ourselves doing a lot of training for training's sake and getting a marginal return," he said.
It is critical for the industry to shift to "just-in-time training," Anderson said. "Train them when they need to apply it." But he cautioned his audience to be aware that "training equips people to perform. It doesn't make people perform."
Too much training too early, or the wrong kind of training, can result in poorer performance. "They are going to be even more frustrated when they know what they should be doing when they can't do it. We've got to stop doing that," he said.
Anderson suggested educate front-line managers about what younger employees are looking for in the workplace. "We need to let our supervisors know the influence that they have. We try to train our managers that they are the most important person in the development of their people," Anderson said.
Younger employees want an orientation that provides them with a context for their work, he said. They want to know how their job fits in to the greater picture. "We're not dealing with the same world any longer," Anderson said. They want to know clearly what is expected of them, how their performance will be measured, how they will be rewarded and they want to be equipped to do their work.
Timely feedback is crucial, he said. "Don't wait until the performance review," he said. "We need to train our managers to lighten up once in awhile," he said.
Younger workers also have little patience for "retired-on-the-job" employees, those who no longer work up to expectations, he noted. This makes them angry and resentful. "They want to see that people are accountable," he said, adding, "if we've got someone who is not performing, we can't be afraid to give them a zero increase."
Anderson cautioned against using other companies for benchmarking purposes. This can inappropriately superimpose one company's solutions on another company's problems. "Benchmark for the right reasons. If you are not translating best practices for your organization, you are damaging your organization," he said. Buying training programs can also be problematic. "You may be purchasing somebody else's solution and that may not be where you want to go," he said.
Citing a Gallup study, Anderson outlined the core elements of what attracts and keeps the best employees:
A clear statement of what is expected of them.
The materials and equipment that are needed for the job.
The opportunity to do what they do best.
Recognition for good work.
A supervisor who cares about them as a person, not just as a function.
A company that encourages their development.
A place where opinions count.
A mission statement that makes work important, and provides context.
A best friend at work.
Being able to talk with someone about their progress.
Opportunities to learn and grow.
"The companies that can pull this off have a strategic advantage, while the ones that couldn't are suffering," Anderson said.