Training a New Generation of Retail Leaders

April 07, 2016


employee training


Now comprising 20 percent of the population, Millennials have some good news for the retail industry. Not only are they ardent shoppers, responsible for some $600 billion in retail sales last year, they’re also five times as likely as any other generation to hold retail merchandising and sales jobs themselves. Barnes & Noble College has always had a deep understanding of this emerging workforce, both through its own research into Millennials and the upcoming Generation Z, but also first-hand knowledge through its 10,000 student booksellers working in their campus stores across the country.

As a company where employee training has always been a priority, Barnes & Noble College’s Manager of Talent Development, Kimberly Shearn, recently had the opportunity to explain what’s different about their approach to attracting and retaining quality bookstore personnel, and why that approach is developing apace with the changing makeup of a new generation of retail professionals.


Insights in Excellence

Interviewed on the post-conference podcast, “Diverse Insights from HCM Excellence 2016,” Shearn shared her views with Rachel Cooke, Chief Operating Officer at Brandon Hall Group, while attending the recent Human Capital Management (HCM) Excellence Conference in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Brandon Hall, a research, analysis and advisory firm, provides companies with strategic insights on talent, learning and growth, and hosted the three-day conference featuring workshops, interactive sessions and networking opportunities. “My role is to make sure that we attract the best talent to manage and staff our bookstores, and that all of our employees have the opportunity to develop the skills and path they want for a fulfilling career in retail,” Shearn explained.

Store managers and student booksellers alike learn and participate in the culture and mission of Barnes & Noble College through the Power of WOW! — an interactive, self-paced course providing an in-depth explanation and review of customer service standards while encouraging employees to go above and beyond customer expectations at every point of contact. It also helps empower staff to engage and communicate with a new generation of highly knowledgeable customers who may be well-educated about the products they want yet still desire meaningful interactions with bookstore staff. During the podcast, Cooke noted the changing profile of students, which is influencing not just consumer expectations, but also the aspirations of those working in the retail environment. “As a company, I think we’ve done a great job in researching both Millennials and Generation Z — and their career goals,” Shearn noted, “and that generational shift has guided us in how our bookstore staff wants to learn,” she said.

Programs like WOW! and the company’s Bestseller training program, a management development track for employees recognized for their high potential, are hardly uncompromising, and Shearn pointed out that the company adapts and develops the content to the changing nature of employees. “We’re building on lessons learned, and giving the opportunity for those who are part-time booksellers to build on their management skill and become full-time managers in the company,” she says, adding that the Bestseller program has achieved a 70 percent retention rate after two years of employment, compared to an industry average 70 percent turnover after two years. With over 10,000 students working in campus bookstores, the company understands the generational shifts from both perspectives of customer and consumer, and that understanding has led to Barnes & Noble College becoming a Millennial employer of choice.


An Emphasis on Development

During the podcast, Shearn also noted that a big development for Barnes & Noble College this year includes new performance management tools for the coaching and development of store teams — a theme reflected in many of the sessions at this year’s HCM Excellence Conference. Proof of the veracity of Barnes & Noble College’s training is that in addition to the opportunity to learn and exchange ideas with her peers at the meeting, Shearn didn’t leave Florida empty handed.


training retail employees
Kimberly Shearn (center) accepts this year’s Bronze Award for ‘Best Advance in Creating a Learning Strategy’ for Barnes & Noble College’s WOW! program, on behalf the company’s Learning and Development team. Shearn is flanked by Brandon Hall Group’s Chairman, CEO and Principal Analyst, Mike Cooke, and ‎Chief Operating Officer at Brandon Hall Group, Rachel Cooke.


The Conference included an awards ceremony designed to recognize the achievements of more than 100 award-winning organizations from more than 25 different industries across the globe. “All of these winning programs deliver meaningful business results to their organizations,” said Brandon Hall Group’s Cooke, in a press release. “Winning an Excellence Award is a great honor, but the real winners are the organizations themselves and their customers and clients because of the innovation and customer focus they demonstrate.”

Shearn accepted, on behalf of Barnes & Noble College’s Learning & Development team, this year’s Bronze Award for ‘Best Advance in Creating a Learning Strategy,’ for the company’s WOW! program. “As we build on the development of our teams this year, our focus is really going to be taking them from transactional to transformative,” Shearn said, “— to encourage them to think outside of the day-to-day workplace and, with the growth of our business, there will only be new opportunities to promote from within — and as a company really build our bench.”

To hear Kimberly Shearn’s interview with Rachel Cooke at the HCM Excellence Conference, click here.

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