Q&A With Dan Sanders:
Chief Operating Officer, Sprouts
How does learning and development play an integral role in the Sprouts’ culture?
In a culture-driven, people- centered organization like Sprouts, helping team members realize their potential is a purposeful objective. As a result, Sprouts weaves learning and development into the fabric of the company’s values in the same way an anthropologist weaves storytelling into the concept of a positive culture. What results is the creation of learning communities throughout the organization. Team members meeting prerequisite competencies take on more responsibility, which, in turn, creates a virtuous cycle – leading to the promotion of one in four team members annually. Equally important, we track the performance of team members tapped for store management in context to the company’s operational readiness score. We use a system of data points to certify store managers based on competency levels. Our experience confirms that store managers mastering job-specific competencies outperform their peers in every key performance indicator. As a result, we convert the learning and development of team members from an intangible asset into a tangible outcome that empirically justifies funding in the annual budget.
Sprouts weaves learning and development into the fabric of the company’s values in the same way an anthropologist weaves storytelling into the concept of a positive culture.
What industry or economic trends do you see impacting training in 2020?
The Digital Revolution changed consumerism, and now nearly every retailer is working to meet customers’ needs at the moment of desire by leveraging data. Omnichannel strategies that seamlessly include home delivery and curbside pickup, in addition to a differentiated in-store experience, represent the new price of admission. But from a training perspective, for all the merits of artificial intelligence and machine learning, they’ve made the development of human social skills more necessary than ever. It’s in the stores where we come face-to-face with millions of customers weekly that we see this truth: service has a soul, and the personal touch still matters. So, going forward, we must ensure team members can do what algorithms cannot; we must equip them to make sound judgments that reflect the corporate values and norms espoused by our senior leadership. Additionally, trainers will need to adopt new technologies capable of helping team members overcome the anxiety of physically serving guests in the store. It’s here that VR- based learning delivers much of its real value by immersing trainees into realistic, likely scenarios they’re going to experience while interacting with customers on the sales floor.
How do you see training as a strategic approach to attracting and retaining talent?
We find team members have three critical needs: First, they express a desire to do something noble with their lives; they’re looking to be part of something bigger than themselves while pursuing a higher purpose in life. Second, they express a desire for transparency and effective communication throughout the organization, primarily from senior leaders; they want to feel like they’re on the inside looking out as opposed to the outside looking in. And, third, they express a desire to keep learning in life; they see training as an investment in their pursuit of professional fulfillment. Likewise, new job applicants arrive at job fairs seeking specific examples of how Sprouts will meet these same needs. Our response dictates whether the best candidates choose another employer or opt to trust us with their careers. We’ve learned over time that what’s required is a commitment to surrender the armor of indifference, get to know team members on a personal level, and genuinely commit to equipping them for success. This practice isn’t just right for the individual; it’s suitable for the company, too. For example, at Sprouts, certified store managers understand the strong correlation between a high level of engagement with their teams and a high level of retention with their team members, which leads to a more consistent shopping experience and higher overall customer satisfaction.
What do you find most impactful about Immersive Learning in VR?
First, team members aren’t subject to the distractions that often occur while reading a manual or observing a PowerPoint presentation. As a result, their retention of content is better, and it takes less time to convey the message. Second, the method of content delivery allows for standardization across the country and, in our case, hundreds of stores.
The organization is effectively “flattened,” so every team member can get the benefit of hearing from our best trainers, the company’s leaders, or seeing the “Sprouts Way” of doing things.
Third, no longer are trainers sent across the country to conduct certain types of training, which dramatically reduces costs. And, finally, team members typically opt for Immersive Learning in VR rather than any other conventional method of training and development. In other words, they eagerly seek the training, whereas, in the past, they may have endured it.
The organization is effectively ‘flattened,’ so every team member can get the benefit of hearing from our best trainers, the company’s leaders, or seeing the ‘Sprouts Way’ of doing things.