On-the-job Performance

Is your organization ready for the next disruption?

Posted on: June 30, 2022Updated on: May 26, 2023By: JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

It’s the middle of hurricane season in North America.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted an above average level of activity this summer. Of course, we don’t know for sure if or where a hurricane may land. People who live along the coast know to be prepared, just in case.

The many disruptions we’ve weathered over the past two years have felt like a never-ending storm. People are exhausted. It’s no wonder burnout is now the biggest reason frontline employees quit their jobs. Just like the warning of a messy hurricane season, disruption is a persistent, looming concern in the workplace. You never know when or how it will impact an organization. One thing is for sure: there are no hurricane-proof buildings or disruption-proof companies.

That said, some structures are better designed to weather heavy storms, just as some organizations have done a better job of navigating monumental hurdles. These companies maintained connections with their people, despite furloughs and hybrid work environments. They kept everyone focused on the most important priorities, despite staffing shortages and supply chain issues. These companies were still impacted, but the damage was mitigated by preparations they made before the storm began in 2020.

Here are four practices organizations should implement to become disruption-ready.

Storm clouds rolling over a shallow cove

Take care of your people

People are already tired. The effects of the pandemic are still ongoing. Now, record inflation and rising interest rates are raising questions about the stability of the global economy. It feels like it’s just one thing after another. Business is a human experience. Your operation may be able to function nonstop, but can your people?

Install listening posts throughout the organization. Ditch the annual engagement survey in favor of ongoing pulse checks, sentiment analysis and listening sessions. Ask people directly about their support needs rather than making assumptions. Challenge the way things have always been done by applying the lessons of the past two years. Put everything that’s part of the employee experience on the table—-labor management, compensation, recognition, communication, development. If you fail to take care of your employees, they’ll find another company that’s willing to invest in its people.

Open the lines of communication

To keep everyone on the same page and focused on your company’s top priorities, you must be able to reach all employees with timely, consistent messages. While corporate teams use tools like email and Microsoft Teams to stay informed, frontline workers typically rely on their managers to relay important information, which are sometimes limited to unprotected Facebook or WhatsApp groups. If they have a few days off or miss a pre-shift meeting, they may not get an important message at all.

Foot Locker overcame this obstacle by deploying their own digital messaging app to 44,000 team members across 3,000 global stores. This point of access became essential early in the pandemic, when many locations were forced to shut down, and continues to serve the brand’s mission to inspire and empower youth culture. The company’s BYOD strategy makes information easy to access for retail associates. Today, 93% of Foot Locker’s employees in North America use their personal smartphones to access communication and training on-demand.

Prioritize skill building

Disruption also impacts your customers and alters their needs and expectations. Your employees must have the knowledge and skill required to meet these changing demands. Employees often need to upskill in their current jobs so they’re prepared to use new tools or support new products. In some cases, they may be required to reskill into entirely new roles created to support emerging business processes. This is almost impossible to do using traditional job training practices since there aren’t weeks or months to pull people out of the operation and into a classroom to develop the necessary skills. Instead, learning must be an ongoing priority—a standard part of the everyday work experience.

Citizens Bank faced this challenge early in the pandemic when branches were closed and contact center volume surged. They decided to shift branch employees, who were already knowledgeable about their products and services, into contact center roles. This meant rapidly cross-training people to learn different processes and systems. Thankfully, the organization had already embedded learning within the flow of work for their frontline teams. Rather than implement entirely new training practices, they refocused their existing tools to accelerate the cross-training process. This not only made their business more agile, but it also provided employees with additional flexibility gained from working in hybrid roles.

Enable frontline managers

Managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement results, according to Gallup. They influence every part of an employee’s work experience—from scheduling and communication to training and career mobility. In fact, many frontline employees don’t consider themselves to be working for the company—they work for the manager, the person who hired them, the person they see every day, the person who holds them accountable. This is why managers play such critical roles during times of turbulent change.

To rapidly adapt to business transformation, organizations must empower their managers to lead. As Matthew Metzger, Senior Director of Training & Development at Dollar General, commented during AxoniCom RETAIL: “A stream at the base of a mountain starts at the top. It starts with a trickle. If at any point in time you cut that trickle off, you don’t have a river anymore.” Managers were already more susceptible to burnout than individual contributors and the past two years were especially trying. To ensure consistent execution and teams that can withstand the gale-force winds of change, companies must prioritize manager enablement, including the training, resources and time needed to support their teams through upcoming times of transition.

People who live along the US east coast stock up on bottled water, batteries and canned goods at the start of hurricane season. It’s the best they can do to ready themselves for the unpredictable summer months. After all, you’d rather have supplies and not need them than be unprepared when the storm is just offshore. The same is true in today’s workplace. While an organization may not be able to avoid disruption, they can install tools and processes to help navigate rapid change.

We’ve all been through one kind storm or another over the last two years. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to prepare for the next one—before it makes landfall.

Take care of yourself and your teams.


JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.