Five ways to empower your staff to do the right thing

Brand reputation in the retail sector has never been so important. Companies out of step with consumers’ expectations around compliance, ethics and values can expect to pay a price.

Brands – from the top down to frontline staff – need to be seen to be doing the right thing.

Don’t just take my word for it – it’s customers who are calling the shots. A recent Accenture Strategy global survey of 30,000 consumers found that “customers are no longer making decisions solely based on the stalwarts of product quality or price; they’re assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for”.

According to the survey, customers are demanding “transparency and fair employment practices” from retailers. Among the areas under increasing consumer scrutiny are topics such as health and safety for staff, sustainability, and data protection.

Traditionally, this is where organisations across all business sectors have hit a problem. Often, compliance and ethics training is something that’s churned out, usually from a handbook or through classroom-style learning. Dull. Boring. Ineffective. It’s not inspiring your people, and if they’re not embracing the message, the message will be lost, opening the door to potentially reputation-wrecking mistakes.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. At Sponge, we recommend retailers focus on these five must-have ingredients to ensure that compliance and ethics training inspires – and protects.


The first step is to deliver learning that employees want to do. Some retailers have already recognised the need for more people-centred compliance training by introducing digital learning. One option to consider is an engaging learning game. A game uses repeat practice and forces employees to make decisions – important for effective learning.

Sponge created an off-the-shelf game specifically for GDPR, targeting employees across industry sectors who needed a grounding in the new data protection rules. Online bathroom retailer,, are among the companies that have used it across the business. Learning and Development Manager at, Lara-Marie Rivers, said: “The fun, yet informative, nature of the game meant that colleagues were able to take in the key points of the training, whilst having fun at the same time.”

Easy to use

The learning should fit in with when people have time to do it, to minimise workplace disruption and so they can actually complete it.

A good example of this is Tesco’s award-winning compliance training, Learning Leap, in which bite-size modules embedded good compliance behaviours in employees’ daily work. The global roll-out to thousands of staff achieved unprecedented levels of engagement. Regulatory, Ethics & Compliance Director at Tesco, David Ward, said: “During a four-week period, we were able to successfully train thousands of staff members, which helps us to safeguard our reputation and protect the interests of our customers.”

And, because the retail sector is often known as the ‘deskless workforce’, learning delivered on a device of choice allows workers to do the training when it suits them best. Shifting learning to mobile and tablets makes sense because staff are likely to be using these for customer interactions.


Training that means something to the employee has real impact. For example, immersive technologies such as 360° video, simulations, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) allow learners to tackle real-life scenarios they face in their day-to-day work. This training hits home – and the decisions they make and learn from them can be immediately applied in their job. Now, they have the confidence to make judgements that protect the business.

Immersive learning works very well for jobs that have potentially dangerous or costly situations. With the UK’s postal workers suffering around 44 dog attacks a week, we worked with Royal Mail to create VR dog safety awareness training for postmen and women.

Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health Wellbeing & Environment at Royal Mail, said: “This training for the frontline combines new technology and some of our traditional guidance to deliver the learning experience in a completely different way. It gives the user the opportunity to experience the realism of an attack without any of the risk.”


Strengthen the engagement with an ongoing learning campaign. Rather than a one-off learning event, a campaign uses a blend of learning methods – something for everyone – over a longer period. A campaign provides employees with a bigger picture and deepens their understanding of the learning and its role in the business.

AXA Insurance used a learning campaign, Inspiring Customer First, to instil the company’s customer service culture. The number of positive comments more than doubled and official complaints went down by a quarter. Senior Digital Learning Partner at AXA UK, Tom Bailey, said: “For our staff, it has been a highly motivating and enjoyable experience.” Although delivered within a call-centre setting, the principles apply equally to retail.


Don’t stop now! Keep the training going with little nuggets of reinforcement to affect behavioural change long-term. Regular reinforcement and practice will help staff remember what they’ve learnt. A lapse could prove costly.

The Tesco training referred to earlier included bi-monthly emails called PiPs, or ‘Putting into Practice’, which followed on from the initial bite-size learning modules. The emails contained microlearning quizzes for employees to complete and links to a web page with further job aids and feedback.


Retail needs a workforce that has the confidence to think for itself; to make the right decisions; along with the ability to react quickly to change. Adapting a fresh training approach that utilises 21st century learning methods will build a workforce of ethical, agile people and create a strong culture of compliance, and strong values and principles.

In retail, your people are your most powerful tool in protecting and enhancing your brand’s reputation – so unleash that potential by ensuring that they have access to the right training.