Specialty supermarket chain, Northgate González Market, saves half a million dollars with a new game plan to tackle employee training

Gary Orona isn’t what you’d call a typical Director of Training. His twenty-two years of experience coaching high school football means he brings a unique perspective on what it takes to build a winning team—whether it’s on or off the field.

At specialty grocer, Northgate González Market, Orona’s challenge was to figure out how to get more than 6,000 employees, spread across dozens of retail locations in southern California, to play by the same rules. Specifically, he needed to ensure that everyone understood and followed all of the government regulations, inspection expectations, and compliance requirements for handling food safely, in addition to abiding by safe work practices and policies. One mistake could not only crush the company’s reputation, but also result in costly legal repercussions.

Up until this point, Northgate’s training program was essentially event driven. “We’d bring in experts, train our 240 managers and then send the managers back to the associates to deliver the message,” explains Orona. “It was like a game of telephone as each manager put a unique spin on the original message. The result was 240 different messages going back to the stores.”

“The process was ineffective, time-consuming and costly. It took managers away from other duties, who in turn took associates off the floor to deliver their version of the original message.”

Choosing Axonify instead of a traditional LMS to drive a winning field strategy

Orona knew he needed a different approach to learning that would ensure the company could deliver consistent messages, appeal to a multi-generational group of associates, respond to their individual needs, and keep them engaged in learningover the long term. He also knew he needed a solid reporting mechanism for compliance purposes. At first, Orona followed the typical path of researching learning management systems (LMS) and eventually interviewed five LMS providers. But none of them, he says, fit his requirements. After speaking to several people at Axonify, he realized the Axonify solution was all he needed. “Axonify does everything an LMS does, but so much more,” said Orona.

At a high level, Axonify helps employees build, sustain and share knowledge in a fun, engaging, and gamified way. It adapts learning content to target and close individual knowledge gaps, giving employees the confidence to perform their role to the best of their ability. This helps organizations achieve their potential because employees take the correct actions which ultimately drive real business results.


"I saw the same success mechanics and continuous progression in the Axonify platform that I used for coaching football and in business when I was running a store." Gary Orona, Former Director of Training and Development, Northgate González Market

Unlike traditional one-and-done training events that are pushed out through the LMSs, classroom sessions, training manuals, and in-person meetings, Axonify’s continuous learning philosophy and proven memory-building techniques resonated with Orona’s own approach for building a winning team.

“I saw the same success mechanics and continuous progression in the Axonify platform that I used for coaching football and in business when I was running a store,” said Orona. “I used the same principle of repetition, doing the play over and over, repeating it until it was perfect so that the team could remember and execute it on game day. It’s the same thing in retail. When the results aren’t what yo u want, you make people do it again so they get it right. If you miss a training question in Axonify, you will get the question again until you remember it. Same thing with football. If you mess up on a play, you line up and run it again until you get it right, until it’s perfect.”

Northgate employee working

Focusing on the follow-through to drive results

While Northgate was delivering training to its store associates, it wasn’t enough. No follow through meant that the learning was quickly forgotten. And, as a result, the company was at increased risk of associates not remembering the right information or taking the correct actions that could lead to a food safety violation or injury to its staff.

“Before Axonify, we would give our people training and they would forget it a week later,” says Magali Andrio, former Human Resources Manager at Northgate. “We used to have a lot of minor cuts or minor burns, but my store has now gone almost six months with no accidents due to Axonify.”

Once Northgate implemented Axonify, the company was able to not only align everyone in the organization from a communication standpoint, but it was able to make the training more effective so associates actually remembered what they needed to know. Instead of only participating in a course or two a few times a year, associates now access Axonify through the store’s tablet or their personal smartphone to take a few minutes of training three times a week. The regular exposure to the most important information ensures it remains top of mind and becomes second nature on the job. And this has resulted in significant improvements.

“There are so many examples of how this is working,” says Orona. “One of our box boys came in and said to our HR Manager, ‘Hey, that guy out there had fifteen carts and he should only have six.’ She asked him how he knew that and he said, ‘From Axonify.’”

Northgate has also been able to control the messages associates receive instead of relying on how well managers convey the message, how good a teacher they are or even if they remembered to communicate the message in the first place. This has allowed the company to ensure everyone not only receives consistent communication, but that it’s delivered directly to the people who need to hear it at the time it’s most critical.

“We use the broadcast messaging feature in Axonify to let associates know about store events or other important news,” says Andrio. “Before we didn’t have an easy way to communicate with all staff and I would have to go around to see everyone personally to relay the message. Axonify messaging saves me two to three hours every day.”

More than a game. It’s a winning approach

After years of employing traditional training methods, Northgate managers believe they have finally found a strategy that continuously builds their associates’ knowledge and, more importantly for them, continuously reinforces that knowledge every single day.

Orona credits a lot of Axonify’s success (with both old and new associates) to gamification — a combination of game play, points, leaderboards and more — as well as people’s natural competitiveness and a reward system Northgate has built into the program. “Axonify offers something for everyone,” says Orona. “And, as a result, our associates are engaged both in learning and in the company.”

"Before we didn’t have an easy way to communicate with all staff and I would have to go around to see everyone personally to relay the message. Axonify messaging saves me two to three hours every day." Magali Andrio, Former Human Resource Manager, Northgate González Market
“I would say they start to learn in less than a week. Before Axonify, onboarding would take three to four weeks.”
Northgate employee unpacking fresh produce

In fact, Axonify has been a surprising hit with older staff, many of whom access it via mobile phones. Although there was some initial resistance because many tenured employees thought they had nothing left to learn, it didn’t take long for them to see the value of Axonify’s adaptive approach which continuously tailors content according to what each associate knows and doesn’t know instead of simply serving up the same content to everyone. Since English isn’t the first language for many of these long-term employees and they struggle with massive information dumps, long training sessions, and large amounts of reading, they also appreciated the smaller information bursts, short videos and easy access to training content that Axonify offers.

The approach is definitely working. Stores average 90% voluntarily participation on the Axonify platform and these associates have experienced an increase of up to 4.9% in confidence and growth of up to 18% in knowledge around topics including, food and work safety practices, shrink, and workers compensation rules. It’s this high participation, increased confidence and knowledge growth from Axonify that has also contributed to the company’s 68% reduction in safety incidents, saving Northgate approximately $585,000 in one year alone.

Onboarding for new hires has also been reduced dramatically, which has resulted in significant cost savings. “I would say they start to learn in less than a week,” says Andrio. “Before Axonify, onboarding would take three to four weeks.”

Additionally, because Axonify provides such deep insights into what associates know and don’t know, the company has been able to undergo a strategic shift in its approach, which is having a significant impact. Prior to Axonify, investigations would be launched only after there was a serious issue: an accident, missing profits or missing product.

Following the investigation, the problem was then dealt with via new training for everyone. With Axonify, managers are now taking a more preventative approach. Through Axonify’s built-in reports, they can see potential issues before they happen. And, with visibility into each employees’ knowledge gaps as well as aggregate team and store views, managers can provide coaching, suggest additional training topics for the team to develop, or flag the need for additional training content before there is a problem.

Associates are also actively participating in keeping everyone in check. They’ll frequently drop by Andrio’soffice to test her on the questions they’ve seen on Axonify and they’ll also remind one another about safety issues, using what they’ve learned from the platform. It’s a self-healing process.

“One of the things that football taught me about business is that you’ve got to let people go make the play,” says Orona. “It’s the same thing with Axonify. As long as they continue to give you effort and listen, they’ll get better and you can make them successful.”

Gary Orona smiling in store

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