Lessons you can learn from going shopping

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Written by Paul Matthews on 21 January 2015

How does the supermarket support your performance when you go shopping?

The supermarket wants you to be a good shopper, an informed shopper, an efficient shopper, and they want you to enjoy your shopping experience so that you are happy to do it again in the future. They want to make it easy for you to do the task of shopping.

How well would you and your colleagues be able to work if you were looked after doing your work tasks as well as a supermarket looks after you when you are doing your shopping tasks?

From the moment you drive into the supermarket car park you are within a carefully designed environment that is intended to make your shopping trip easy to do. Of course, they don’t always succeed, but they are getting better at it. Notice how much easier it is to shop at one of the new build supermarkets compared to one of the old ones where the design and layout is different.

Just stop and think for a moment how the supermarket companies set things up to make it easy for you to shop. How they group similar products together, and signpost them, and how they show special offers and often put them at eyelevel. They are intensely focused on making the customer experience a good one and an easy one. And this does not just apply to supermarkets. When you delegate the task to yourself of buying something online, the shopping experience is vastly better at some sites than others because some are much better at supporting you through the shopping process and helping you with the task you have set yourself. They are better at performance support.

When we think of performance support in a work context, we often assume that it is either paper-based or digital information made available at the point of work. Regardless of how the experts define it, I think it is useful to consider performance support much more widely. Think of it as anything you might do to alter the environment around someone to make it easier for them to do the task in hand. You can of course add paper or digital information to the environment, but there is so much more that can also be done to enhance performance.

When someone is unable to do the task they have been delegated to an adequate standard, or within the time stipulated, it is more often because something in their environment stopped them from performing than because they did not know what to do or how to do it. Just reflect on your own experiences over the past few weeks when you were unable to deliver on a delegated task. What stopped you?

If you start thinking this way, you will notice that not only does the performer need to be competent, the environment that the performer is operating in also needs to be ‘competent’. A shortfall in the competence of either the performer or their environment will result in the performer being incapable of doing the task in front of them. We label this lack of capability as ‘poor performance’. Unfortunately, the finger often gets pointed at the performer when the incompetent component is actually the environment. Blaming, and then trying to fix the performer for lack of capability will not solve the performance problem if the performer is competent and it is actually the environment that is incompetent.

The next time you walk around the supermarket, notice all the little things in the supermarket environment that you have previously taken for granted and that make your shopping experience an easy one. Now imagine how you can take that performance support lesson from your supermarket trip into the working environment, and make a real difference.


About the author
Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy. He can be contacted via www.peoplealchemy.co.uk

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