Performance Engagement Measurement

Episode 5: Part 2: Global Stories from the Frontline

How can frontline training be improved in manufacturing? How important is coaching in a contact center? How can we put the employee at the center of our workplace learning strategy? Our panelists share stories of how companies around the world are improving their frontline training programs.

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Episode overview:

Our international panel of talent development experts are back!  They shared so many great insights during our conversations, we couldn’t fit it all into one episode. In this “deleted scenes” edition of The 80 Percent, we focus on real-world examples.

Thank you once again to the five illustrious members of the global talent development community who were so generous with their time and insights:

  • Donald Taylor (Chairman, Learning and Performance Institute, United Kingdom)
  • Dani Johnson (Co-Founder and Principal Analyst, RedThread Research, United States)
  • Linda Van Der Loo (Executive Partner Learning Innovation, Blue Pebble Consulting, South Africa)
  • Hazel Jackson (CEO, Biz Group, United Arab Emirates)
  • Michelle Ockers (Learning Strategy Expert & Learning Team Capability Builder, Australia)

Check out the Learning Uncut podcast from Michelle Ockers for even more great L&D stories and insights.

The 80 Percent is brought to you by Axonify. To learn how you can build training for your frontline workforce that actually works, visit If you have a frontline story you’d like us to explore on a future episode, let us know at

About the Guest(s)

Donald Taylor

Chairman, The Learning and Performance Institute

Dani Johnson

Co-founder & Principal Analyst, RedThread Research

Linda Van Der Loo

Executive Partner, Learning Innovation, Blue Pebble Consulting

Hazel Jackson

CEO, Biz Group

Michelle Ockers

Learning Strategy Expert & Learning Team Capability Builder

About the Host(s)

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect
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.

Richia McCutcheon, Community Manager
Richia McCutcheon, Community Manager

Richia is a builder of all things, from communities and brands to relationships and partnerships. Over the last 10 years she has become proficient at connecting people over their shared values, dreams and favorite things.

Episode Transcript

Intro (00:00):

The 80% is brought to you by Axonify. Take your frontline training to the next level and drive results for your business. Head over to 

JD Dillon (00:10)

Episode five global stories from the frontline, recorded on Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

Hi Richia. 

Hey JD. 

In our last episode, we spoke with five experienced talent development professionals from different parts of the world and different parts of the professional community. 

I’m Donald Taylor. I’m Hazel Jackson. My name’s Linda Van Der Loo. My name is Dani Johnson and I am Michelle Ockers. 

We wanted to get a sense of how frontline training and support is evolving, especially as a result of the pandemic. Now, if you haven’t listened to episode four global perspective, I highly recommend you hit pause right now and go check it out. Then come back to this conversation, which is a followup on the insight shared by our panel. Richia what was your biggest takeaway from our last episode?

Richia McCutcheon (00:57):

It was a strong reminder that time is a challenge when it comes to training frontline employees all over the world. 

JD Dillon (1:08)

Two ideas really stood out to me because we heard them repeatedly from our guests, regardless of where they live or where they work. First, the frontline experience is heavily influenced by regional considerations. Culture, language, geography, all play a role in how people are supported and may sometimes create barriers for organizations to overcome if they want to provide a right fit support experience for everyone. The second piece, which was my favorite theme of the episode is the need to understand your frontline workforce, if you hope to support them properly. And this goes beyond just knowing what they do in their roles. It really requires us to go to the gemba, as Michelle said, and understand what their experience is really like day to day. And right now it’s even more important to understand what people are going through as people, not just employees. You know, Aston Moss from Briscoes Group who shared his story about engaging employees during lockdown in episode three, had a great quote.

Aston Moss (02:00):

We went, why would people engage? So if we can understand the why, it gives us a really powerful opportunity to understand what’s in the hearts and minds of our people. We genuinely believe that by putting that at the forefront, that’s been incredibly powerful in itself.

Richia McCutcheon (02:16):

If a company isn’t taking the time to put themselves in the shoes of their front line, employees, they’re doing something wrong, you can’t understand the struggles and the barriers that they’re facing every day in their roles without actually talking to them and understanding what it’s really going to take to be successful or continue working in different circumstances. 

JD Dillon (02:37)

Those are just a few highlights from our global panel discussion in our last episode, but there are also a lot of great comments that just didn’t make it into the final cut. Specifically. Our guests shared a lot of great real world examples of how they see frontline support changing. We just couldn’t include all of the stories last time. Otherwise we would have had a three hour episode. So we’re bringing your panel back in this episode to tell these stories from the front line, let’s start with a quick example from Dani Johnson, Co-Founder and Principal Analyst at Red Thread Research. I asked Dani what she’s seeing out there as good examples of frontline training and support.

Dani Johnson (03:12):

We’ve seen some really interesting things in healthcare, actually. So healthcare workers are obviously frontline. I think even in the past eight weeks specifically, we’ve seen a lot of really good stuff happened there. And a lot of innovation happened there, but even before that, they tend to be a little bit better. I don’t know exactly why probably because they’re in it for the long haul. They’re not seasonal workers and they’re not doing it to get through college, but there seems to be quite a bit of, of innovation in the healthcare space

JD Dillon (03:38):

with everything happening in the healthcare industry right now. It’ll be interesting to see how organizations adapt and prioritize, continued learning and support for the people who are really responsible for getting us all through this pandemic. Our next example is from Michelle Ockers, who you’re going to hear a lot from in this episode, she shared a story about how frontline training can be improved in a manufacturing environment.

Michelle Ockers (03:59):

When I was at Coca Cola, Amatil how we approached the manufacturing environment and the frontline workers in a manufacturing environment. When I first started working with them similar to a lot of manufacturing environments that I’ve walked into, which is very much on the job buddy training, but with very little guidance or scaffolding or support to the trainer to know what to train when and very little good learning design behind it, it’s more, you’ll pick it up from this guy and he’ll be your on the job, buddy. So we went about putting some light structure in place. We stopped predominantly on the job in the real environment because, Hey, that’s the best learning transfer environment you can find if you can make it safe, but we gave people lesson plans to be a buddy training. You had to do a competency assessment, and you also had to do a short program in instructing and demonstrating skills in the workplace, which meant you knew how to do that well, how to give feedback effectively, how to monitor progress of the person who you were given responsibility for supporting. And we gave them light structure in the form of, on the job session plans in effect, not full of content, just here’s the things you need to cover in this session. And when approximately in terms of the person’s development or time in the job to cover it. And we did provide some scaffolding, the form of a little e-learning. So it’s about in that case, honoring the workplace, putting it in the workplace, taking what was naturally happening and giving it some support and scaffolding.

JD Dillon (05:21):

This is an example of how L& D can take advantage of strategies that are already in place, but also augment them to provide the right level of support without removing people from the job or overwhelming them with content. During our conversations with our guests, they shared plenty of great professional practices and experiences, but they also provided some insight into their personal lives. And I just have to share this clip from Linda Van Der Loo  who started our conversation by telling me how she began her day from her home office in South Africa.

Linda Van Der Loo (05:49):

Give me the interesting anecdotes first. So one of the things that I love doing in South Africa is going on Safari and unfortunately with the lockdown, I’m unable to do that. And that one of the beautiful areas where most of the game on the Kruger national park now do the safaris virtually. So they have a large Safari on a vehicle within the range and the cameraman. And this morning I started at six o’clock local time. And from the get go, it was amazing. There was a cheetah, with Cubs. There was a leopard with Cubs. They were wild dogs on the kill. And so that’s how my day started. And then it just got progressive, being progressively downhill from there with lots of meetings and things like that.

JD Dillon (06:32):

Of course, I’d like to think our conversation only went uphill from there. I already mentioned going to the gemba, really understanding the frontline experience as being my favorite takeaway from the episode here’s Michelle Ockers, again, providing an example of an international retailer who’s L& D team was able to solve a business problem by spending more time in the operation.

Michelle Ockers (06:51):

I think two other things I want to mention briefly is the idea of going to the gemba spending time in the workplace, really understanding the workplace to design effective support mechanisms for people working in those workplaces. And probably one of the best examples I’ve seen of that is an organization called Specsavers after their retail staff selling spectacles in bricks and mortar stores, where their learning and development team were charged with improving sales outcomes. So there was a direct business need identified. What they did was they went out in the stores to look at what was happening in the stores. And they spent like a lot of time, weeks out in stores, looking at the environment, but pulled data on where sales performance was best. They pulled data on who were the best sellers, and they went out and really looked at what they were doing. And they spent time talking to the staff and they basically went back to the business and said, “we need to redesign process based on what really works”. So, you know, it was a shifting process by really under deep understanding of the workplace.

JD Dillon (07:52):

Retail also came up again, along with airlines as an example of organizations that really understand frontline training in the Middle East, according to Hazel Jackson from Biz Group.

Hazel Jackson (08:02):

If we look at the two big airlines that we have out here, the main ones of Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways, they’ve had a lot of what I’d call frontline training. They’ve built big academies. They have had a worldwide reputation for good service. There’s now even a couple of the low cost airlines that have done the same thing they seem to have had a very good track record at building at pace and consistency for frontline training a little bit less. So possibly in some of the groceries or other areas around the business, luxury retail has also done a good job. So we have a lot of great luxury shopping malls here and where you have those stores. You also have people that have been trained well to manage that luxury customer.

JD Dillon (08:45):

Michelle also echoed the frontline capabilities of airlines with a specific example of coaching cultures and contact centers. 

Michelle Ockers (08:53):

I think contact centers are very important and they often talk about having a coaching culture in place, which can be a variable quality. And one of the big challenges is often the people who are being asked to do the coaching, the team leaders are also on the phones and don’t have enough time to do it. Well, probably the best example I’ve seen of that is at Quantas in their contact centers. And I did interview Bruce Love. He leads the learning and development for the Quantis context centers in learning uncut episode, 15, learning uncut of course, being my podcast. And what I really liked about the approach they took, it was very integrated with looking at the whole of workforce structure. So they actually put in place a new role, a team coach role in each of their teams. And they looked at the numbers and what would they need to do to give someone that capacity to do that coaching effectively. And they were able to reduce time in classrooms, time off the job and increase the quality of support to their team coaches, which was, if you can afford to do that a really effective approach.

JD Dillon (09:56):

You see Michelle also managed to get a plug in there for her own podcast, Learning Uncut, which I highly recommend for even more great practical examples from Michelle and her guests. now to Don Taylor who shared what was probably the most interesting story of the episode, unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, we can’t provide all of the details, but it’s still an awesome example of L&D ingenuity and proving the value of workplace learning from the bottom up.

Don Taylor (10:21):

I’m thinking at the moment, I can’t unfortunately mention the company, but it’s a company that’s involved in house to house selling of stuff, which right now you can’t do because of the pandemic. The L&D manager that has just turned things around, she is now running virtual house to house selling online and sales have gone up now that has happened for a variety of reasons, but a big part of it is her role in supporting people in that, is she being noticed at the top? I’m not sure she is because they’re almost certainly looking at all the other factors that are going on, but it’s her role definitely in driving this that has made the difference.

JD Dillon (10:57):

Our final story comes from who else, but Michelle lockers, Michelle brings us full circle back to the idea of putting the person at the center of the workplace learning experience with her example, from an Australian financial institution,

Michelle Ockers (11:09):

the idea of human centered design and using human centered design approaches, which of course spending time in the workplace is very human centered. But there was an example from National Australia bank where they had a very extended period of time in a contact center for staff who were first joining. It was a sales contact center and they reduced that time in the classroom and spend a lot more time hands-on using kind of an incubator approach. So they put people in the classroom for smaller period of time on the tools taking real calls with additional coaching. So they really shifted the approach, but they did that by co-designing with people in the workplace. I think that whole idea of co-design and really understanding your environment and the people who were doing the job in the design of the best performance support for them. I think that’s really important.

JD Dillon (12:01):

This pair of global perspective episodes reiterate the importance of getting out of our bubbles to share and listen to stories from our industry peers.

Richia McCutcheon (12:09):

Being able to tell stories, brings a humanized approach to things that are happening in the world that you see through the media or your social accounts. And it allows you to get to a deeper level and understanding the feelings that are attached to what’s happening. And if we can’t share stories that are good, bad, hard to listen to happy or sad, then we’re never going to get a full picture of what’s happening out there in the world. Or we’re never going to get a full picture of how we can do better.

JD Dillon (12:38):

to provide the frontline with the training and support they truly need and deserve. We all have to contribute. We have to break down silos based on company, region, industry, and other factors and help people share their stories and experiences so we can solve problems together. Not in spite of one another. I’d like to once again, thank our panel of global workplace learning experts, Don Taylor, Dani Johnson, Linda Van Der Loo, Hazel Jackson, and Michelle Ockers for sharing their insights and experiences with us for this series.

Richia McCutcheon (13:08):

To listen to even more frontline stories, you can subscribe to The 80 Percent on your favorite podcast app. You can also find all of our episodes online at

JD Dillon (13:19):

Join us again in two weeks for another story about how organizations are helping frontline employees make a difference in their organizations and communities. I’ll see you, then Richia. See you later, JD. Until next time, be kind to the frontline.

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