by Elizabeth Cichowski
Whether or not retailers are requiring their employees to wear face masks, those employees need to make a human connection if you want to increase sales and capture market share from your competition. That valuable discussion brings up a completely different issue: If you are implementing new policies due to this pandemic, which you probably are, what’s the best way to do so?
Just because you tell your employees that there is a new policy doesn’t mean they’ll actually follow it. Whether it’s wearing a face covering, temperature checks, cleaning and sanitizing, new fitting room procedures, or anything else … How do you get them to do it and to do it properly?
Here are some suggestions for implementing COVID-19 related policies and procedures. Many of these suggestions are also true for non-COVID policies and are based on my experience working with retailers over the years.
Base COVID-19 policies and procedures on CDC, WHO, OSHA, and/or other government authority guidelines or rules.
Do not base policies on your opinion. Your employees may have different opinions than you do, and you may need to refer back to what the authorities say. In addition, although it’s probably difficult for a single customer or employee to prove a health issue was caused by something you did or did not do, if you disregard guidelines and a number of employees or customers fall ill, some attorneys are saying you could face a potential claim.
Document policies and procedures in writing.
Policies and procedures need to be written down. Otherwise, they are subject to interpretation. Written policies also protect you from a legal standpoint if you need to discipline someone or terminate their employment for a violation.
Make policies and procedures easy to access.
If they’re locked away in the back office in a binder, your employees cannot refer to them. Sure, there can be a master document somewhere, but considering all the standard guidelines everyone is going to have to do for the foreseeable future, consider multiple ways to get the information out there.
Retailers can add a special section to their website, create posters for the backroom, and more. In addition to comprehensive, employee-facing policies and procedures, consider posting customer-appropriate, quick reminder cards in specific locations. You’re probably posting information to help customers feel safe in your store or stores, so “kill two birds with one stone” and inform your employees at the same time.
Explain WHY something is now required.
People need reasons to want to do something. Adults need the “why” and not just the rules. And try to stay positive. Many individuals are nervous or anxious right now. When explaining why a policy is in place, describe how it benefits employees, customers, and/or the business.
Explain HOW it is to be done.
Give specific details. For example, if face coverings are required, when will that be implemented? How are they to be positioned on the face? (Consider showing a picture for reference.) Where do employees get them? How often are they to be cleaned, and what is the procedure for that? Test your policies and procedures by following them step-by-step. Did you achieve the outcome you’re going for? Finally, make sure to explain the consequences for non-compliance.
Be careful with the words you use.
Make things easy on employees by using as few words as possible to get your point across. Avoid words like “should” and “may” because they imply choice. For example … Policy: “All employees should wear face coverings at all times inside the store” vs. “Employees wear face coverings when inside the store.” Procedure: “1: Prior to entering the store, take a freshly-cleaned face covering and … “
Establish a training protocol.
Whether you or a manager are communicating and training on written policies, make sure someone is doing an actual check on whether employees ARE ABLE to comply. Can they physically do it? If something is preventing them from doing it, remove that barrier. If needed, (e.g., the employee is physically unable to comply), you may need to reassign the employee to a different role. If people are not complying, you should evaluate why BEFORE taking corrective action.
Whether digital or on a paper form, most companies require an acknowledgment that employees have read and agree to follow the policy and procedure. Otherwise, it can be risky to discipline someone or terminate their employment for repeated policy violations.
Do not require some employees to follow policies and procedures while others violate them. If some employees comply and others do not, your policy is likely to be viewed as a suggestion. In addition, this doesn’t look right in the eyes of the customer.
People do things when they are recognized for it. You or a manager should be on the floor, complimenting people when they comply. People are likely to be less defensive about corrective feedback when they are recognized often.
Just because you tell people there’s a new policy doesn’t mean they’ll actually follow it. Consider these guidelines when implementing new policies and procedures in your stores.
Liz Cichowski is a learning & development professional with over 20 years of experience, specializing in the retail industry. Her company, Learning Means Business, Inc., helps retailers optimize revenue, profit and market share through exceptional customer experiences, efficient store operations, goal setting, and more. For more information and to contact Liz, please visit: www.linkedin.com/in/liz-cichowski-65b46710