How Lowe’s starts associates off right with frontline-first onboarding

We’ve all experienced the information overload that comes with starting a new job. New faces, new rules, new acronyms and new products: It’s a lot to absorb all at once. 

The challenge is even greater for frontline associates, who are quickly expected to perform in customer-facing roles. It’s no wonder that poor onboarding is associated with higher employee turnover, which can have serious implications for the business. According to Aberdeen Group, new employees are 69% more likely to stay longer than three years if they experience well-structured onboarding.

The team at Lowe’s knew that onboarding was a critical part of the associate journey. At AxoniCom RETAIL, Jamie Furey, VP of Talent Management, Learning and Diversity at Lowe’s shared how they re-envisioned their onboarding to help new associates feel more confident in their roles, sooner—so they, in turn, can deliver better service to customers.

Watch the session on demand or keep reading for a quick recap. 

1. Mapping out a frontline-first approach to onboarding

The Lowe’s team started off by placing themselves in associates’ shoes. 

“We wanted to think about onboarding the way that a new associate might,” Furey explained. “Rather than saying, this is going to take you 30 days, or this is going to take you X amount of hours, instead we broke it down into shifts. Because that’s how our associates think.” 

This helps associates know what’s coming next (mitigating some of those new-job jitters) and gives them a sense of their progress. 

“We’ve broken it down so that in eight shifts or less you will go through your onboarding content, and we’ve created a full shift plan that’s loaded right into Lowe’s University. It’s very easy to finish something and move onto the next thing—it guides you through it. Associates have a million things going on when they first start. Just being told very clearly in a succinct way how to get yourself onboarded is a big win in and of itself.” 

2. Focusing on the five key behaviors associates need to succeed

Next up? Turn off the firehose of information and focus on only the most critical components associates need to get started. 

The Lowe’s team asked themselves: 

“How could we take a step back to streamline and make it easy? We went on this quest to figure out the five things that are most important for associates to get done when they first start, for every department at Lowe’s,” Furey explained. “We rooted our onboarding program around those five most important things, and how we could break them down in a really digestible way.” 

This meant developing new content—800 micro videos, to be exact, as well as a host of quizzes, images and hands-on activities. The content was hyper-personalized to each department and served up in different modalities to accommodate different learning styles.

Ready to see a smarter approach to onboarding in action?

3. Continuous learning keeps associate knowledge fresh

Cutting your onboarding content down to just five key behaviors may seem like a daunting (or even impossible) task. For the Lowe’s team, this approach was possible because of their company-wide commitment to continuous learning.

“It takes away that notion that associates have to learn everything all at once, that we train them once and set them loose. We’ve really adapted a mentality at Lowe’s that training is continuous,” says Furey. “We believe that training has to be there at all the moments that matter. In retail, those moments are when you start, when you interact with a customer, when we change over our products and trends. There are so many moments that matter, so we just knew that we had to be there more often.” 

4. Learning on the floor, in the flow of work 

In addition to revisiting ‘what’ new associates learn, the Lowe’s team also considered ‘how’ and ‘where’ they learn. 

All too often, onboarding takes place in the backroom or a conference room, far from the places where the real work happens. Furey and her team wanted to change this dynamic, instead delivering training on the floor, in the context that it will be applied. Not only does this make training more accessible, it also helps make it stick. 

“It’s really cool that you could learn about a product or learn about a process right out there on the floor, and maybe five minutes later, a customer might come over and ask you about that product or give you a chance to try out that process,” said Furey. 

The combination of personalized training content, accessible in the moment of need, is proving to be a game-changer. 

“One of the keys to learning is application, and I think that’s what our programs have been able to do this year,” said Furey. “We can have people quickly repeat training as needed, because we’ve shortened those training and made them really compelling and bite-sized. And they’re able to apply that knowledge pretty quickly, because we aren’t giving them everything at once.” 

5. Enabling effective mentorship with training data

Store managers have always been a critical part of a good onboarding experience. Making sure managers understood the new approach and saw the value was a high priority. 

“In all of our leadership programs, we talk about the importance of development for associates. So we’re driving it home in that population. That’s one component. Secondly, we’re mirroring the approach we took to creating associate onboarding and personalizing it for store managers,” said Furey. “Store managers’ onboarding experience will be the same experience their associates are going through. So they’ll truly have empathy and understand what it takes to make it through those five key behaviors.”

They’ve also been able to equip managers with meaningful data to help them help new hires get up to speed effectively. Store managers can see their teams’ training stats, identify top performers and areas of weakness and adjust their coaching accordingly. Learning data is now one of the stats in stores’ general scorecards.

“They get to see their learning metrics in line with all the other key metrics of the stores, so we’ve really highlighted that learning is a key lever to drive great store performance.” 

All of these ingredients have come together in an onboarding experience that creates engaged, confident associates ready to deliver the exceptional experience that brings costumes back to Lowe’s. 

Hear our full conversation with Jamie Furey at AxoniCom RETAIL

Lindsay Windover-Kroes has spent her career writing in the tech and education sectors. She’s passionate about helping others do their best work, from the head office to the frontlines.

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