Engagement Communication

Episode 7: The Secrets of Frontline Engagement

If you build it, will they come? This question is about more than baseball fields. A learning solution will not have the intended impact if no one uses it. This is especially true on the frontline, where time is tight and development needs are personal. How can you get employees to voluntarily engage in training – product, service, safety, compliance – without having to chase them down?

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Episode overview:

To uncover the secrets of learning engagement, JD speaks with the people at Axonify who teach frontline forward companies around the world how to build their own strategies. They have helped organizations reach an 83% engagement rate with frontline employees completing training on average two to three times per week. These practices really work! 

Listen to our latest episode: The Secrets of Frontline Engagement.

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

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.

Episode Transcript

Introduction (00:00):

The 80 Percent is brought to you by Axonify. To take your frontline training to the next level and drive results for your business, head over to axonify.com.

JD Dillon (00:11):

Episode 7, The Secrets of Frontline Engagement. Recorded on Wednesday, July 8th, 2020.

JD Dillon (00:24):

If you build it will they come.

Richia McCutcheon (00:30):

Um… hello?

JD Dillon (00:33):

If you built it will they come.

Richia McCutcheon (00:38):

JD, is that you?

JD Dillon:

Oh, hey Richia.

Richia McCutcheon:

Hey JD. What’s up with the whispering.

JD Dillon:

Have you ever seen the movie field of dreams?

Richia McCutcheon:

Nope, I haven’t.

JD Dillon:

Well, it’s the best baseball movie ever made, but it’s really about, spoilers, Kevin Costner’s character and his connection with his father. At the beginning of the movie, Costner’s walking through a cornfield and he hears a voice whisper “If you build it, he will come” Meaning if he builds a baseball field on his farm, his father will come back to visit him.

Richia McCutcheon (01:11):

That makes no sense. I guess I’ll have to watch it. So what does any of this have to do with frontline employees?

JD Dillon (01:19):

You see in learning and development, we often reference Field of Freams to make sure we build solutions people will actually use. Just because you build it, that doesn’t mean people actually show up and use it. This is especially true on the frontline where people have very limited time and specific development needs.

Richia McCutcheon (01:36):

Oh, I get it. I think. So, how do you avoid the Field of Dreams problem with frontline training?

JD Dillon (01:45):

Great question and a tough one to answer for most companies. Getting frontline employees to engage in training is tricky. Like I said, they don’t have much free time on the job. They have individual development needs based on their job performance, but they also have to complete required training on things like compliance, that aren’t exactly the most exciting topics.

Richia McCutcheon (02:07):

And even if you change the way you deliver training to make it more interesting and useful, you still have to get employees who are used to boring, irrelevant training to reengage and try something new.

JD Dillon (02:18):

Exactly. The good news is that plenty of companies have actually figured this out. The bad news, there isn’t a single answer that works for everyone. So rather than ask a pile of different companies how they’re solving this problem, I went straight to the people who teach companies, how to engage their frontline workforces in continuous learning.

Carrie Cardoso Cote (02:38):

My name is Carrie Cardoso Cote and I’m the director of customer marketing at Axonify.

Peter Cameron:

My name is Peter Cameron and I’m a client engagement manager.

Rob Little (02:47):

My name is Rob Little. I am a customer success manager.

JD Dillon:

These are the folks responsible for helping Axonify organizations reach an 83% engagement level with frontline employees training for just a few two to three times per week. I asked Carrie, Peter and Rob to share their secrets. What they’ve learned after years of working with companies in a variety of frontline focused industries, what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to building and engaging high value, frontline learning experience.

Peter Cameron (03:17):

So engagement is really at the heart of all of this. Ultimately it’s based on this premise that if we’re not engaging them, then they’re not motivated. And if they’re not motivated, it’s very difficult to get them to change. If that’s the thing we’re doing certainly to adopt and develop a new behavior, or otherwise, maybe a skill set.

JD Dillon (03:34):

First, we have to define what we mean by engagement and why it’s more than you may think.

Rob Little (03:39):

Traditionally right there they’re looking at, did they take the training? Yes or no? We take another step. When are they going into the platform? How often they’re logging in, what kind of content are they engaged with and are they growing knowledge where you want to see them grow knowledge? So then making the next action items to go to the leadership and say, we’re growing knowledge here. This is affecting your goal or your KPI that you have set as an organization.

JD Dillon (04:08):

Fostering the kind of learning engagement that results in business impact really begins with awareness.

Carrie Cardoso Cote (04:14):

People don’t prioritize communications as an important piece of the training platform. So building it and helping people just pivot to a new tool and not spending a lot of time thinking about what people want when it comes to training, letting them know how they should be using it. When you say you have a new training platform, nobody’s like, “yes, I’ve been waiting for a new training platform”. Nobody has ever said that in their life. So making them understand why this is different, how it can help them personally, professionally grow and why that experience isn’t the painful one that people associate with training. So really leveraging communications and building different strategies into keeping people engaged and keeping them coming back.

JD Dillon (05:05):

Getting people’s attention in a busy, hectic workplace is difficult.

Carrie Cardoso Cote (05:09):

Put yourself in your associate shoes. Are they going to stop? And are they going to read tha? The answer is probably not, what are different ways you can capture their attention? Are you empowering your store manager to host like a week long event to get people interested, have them understand how they can access it, get them excited about what’s available. Are you leveraging a corporate intranet site where maybe they are checking into for their schedule or punching in for their shift from a time perspective? Is there something there that you could put to capture their attention, whether it’s a digital ad or something that isn’t what they’re used to seeing. So really playing up on that element of the unexpected and making that association with training be positive and exciting.

JD Dillon (05:59):

Another essential consideration for engagement is access. And that’s why more organizations are using mobile technology, including personal devices.

Rob Little (06:08):

It’s especially in the world we live in today almost regardless of what you’re using online. There’s an app to go with it, right? And I think most people are on their devices, whether it’s at home, um, voluntarily or in the lunchroom at break or, or at their desk at break. I think having that option to do training via your own device is something that really, really boosts engagement.

JD Dillon (06:35):

You have to remember that a new approach to training, whether it be mobile learning or microlearning could represent a big change for the frontline.

Peter Cameron (06:42):

Everything seemed to come down to change management. If, for example, we’re working with a client that is a, say a large client that’s been operating for many, many years. They have their own training. They’ve pretty much got it nailed down what they’ve been up to and what they’re doing in terms of training their people. We come along and we introduce the potential for change, doing it a bit differently. And I think where we see a lot of the challenge from that frontline person is they’re kind of essentially expecting their training to be handed to them in a specific way. And often what we’re doing is we’re kind of changing that on its head. The challenge there is will we get that adoption? Will they buy into this new way of doing training?

JD Dillon (07:23):

How do you get people to do something new or different? W-I-I-F-M.

Carrie Cardoso Cote (07:29):

Highlighting the value that they get in it? So always coming back to the what’s in it, for me, for a frontline employee, hitting some sort of corporate objective with a training tool, isn’t going to be their biggest priority. If you’re talking to a frontline employee about what they’re personally going to get out of it so they can grow their confidence, there’s potential for career progression. They can serve a customer and not fumble over things like that information is readily available. So focusing on those messages in different ways,

JD Dillon (08:02):

A solid engagement strategy is critical for overcoming the biggest obstacle to frontline learning. Time.

Rob Little (08:09):

Businesses change daily, right? And today’s world. I think that’s pretty easy to say, and it’s really easy for those frontline and those managers and those leaders to get bogged down in the day to days of business. So that’s one of the biggest challenges is, is life is busy, whether it’s in work, whether it’s outside of work, really having accessible training for your users or making sure that user experience is easy and efficient has been really important for the customers that I work with.

JD Dillon (08:38):

How you overcome challenges like time and workload will vary based on the audiences you support.

Peter Cameron (08:44):

Let’s say it’s a sales audience versus let’s say a call center. Those are two very different audiences. The sales audience really is by and large, highly competitive, highly competitive. So understanding that piece of information, when we start to build out the training for them, we really try to put as many of those gamification hooks in there as we can, right? Team leaderboards, and reward programming. And every month we’ll possibly do things like a big shout outs to the winning team or the winning person on a specific measure, or what have you, when we switch it and go over to, let’s say a call center. Oftentimes we find, for example, in those call centers, it doesn’t necessarily work as well. When we focus just on the competition The reason being again, if you know that audience you’ll know that they’re really kind of cohesive group, they do a lot of things collaboratively. They’re very busy. Like every single moment of their day is accounted for usually in those circumstances. So we really have to make sure that we’re accommodating the time factor. We’re giving them things that are relevant and meaningful in their day, but also in terms of motivation, we’re giving them the time. So essentially what we focus on often with the teams developing for, let’s say the call center, it’s about really getting them to message to their people about we are actually taking quality time out of your day so that you can learn better. So you can train on this. So it’s not something we need you to do over and above everything else, it’s actually embedded into your day. And so it becomes a more, a scheduled thing and it becomes a habit and a pattern.

JD Dillon (10:07):

Making, learning part of work speaks to intrinsic motivation. The idea that people will engage because they know training is going to help them succeed. But what about the role of extrinsic motivation, like rewards and recognition? How is that perceived? And does it work?

Carrie Cardoso Cote (10:23):

Yeah rewards is definitely a divided conversation. The company that we see using them is not surprisingly, it works really well. And what I’ve highlighted is that rewards still have to have monetary value either. It’s sometimes that tangible reward goes a long way to keeping people coming back. Do you know whether you have a tiny budget, is there even more incentive for people to come in to be the person that wins that gift card or that experience that you have available as part of your strategy. Rewards don’t have to be physical, bragging rights that’s pretty big to you, especially on competitive teams for leveraging non-monetary rewards, like a lunch with your CEO or the premium parking spot or an extra vacation day. Having them have something to work towards works really well.

JD Dillon (11:17):

Companies have gotten really creative when it comes to strategies to motivate and recognize their frontline teams.

Rob Little:

So they leveraged cameo, which is a platform where you can get celebrities to send out videos for a small fee. They actually paid for pretty popular actor, Cedric the Entertainer, he, uh, came on and delivered a broadcast message via video is telling him to keep it up, keep up the great work and just those fun little things. And as soon as you hear one of your store employees you’re at work with say, “Hey, did you see that video that Cedric the entertainer sent”, um, the next person’s logging on and so on and so forth. So that was a pretty unique thing that I thought was pretty, pretty awesome. That one of our customers that

Carrie Cardoso Cote (12:02):

We also had another customer who did a really inexpensive, simple program called the brain trust. So they had no rewards strategy, but what they did was award top performers this brain trust certificate. So it started out kind of quiet. So if you are a top leaderboard performer, or you are asking questions or posting content one day a certificate, and that the physical brain trophy, would show up on your desk. And it was just like quiet, like the elite group of people who were doing a great job with their training. They were really excelling, in time what they did to start to create profiles about these people. So it was really like a personal bio and it didn’t cost them any money, but it started to gain momentum in the organization. People wanted to be in it, they would see these certificates or even see these trophies and want to know how they could also get that. And at the end of the year, anyone who’s in the brain trust actually got invited to the company’s annual events, something that they wouldn’t have had access to in the past. This was a great example because it was super simple. It was no cost, but people were motivated because they’re being recognized for building their knowledge or sharing that knowledge with others. And it was kind of like a groundswell movement is in the organization. Centered around training.

JD Dillon (13:24):

Rewards in game mechanics can drive engagement when they’re applied well, but you can’t assume they’ll work equally for everyone. That’s because one of the best engagement tactics is choice.

Rob Little (13:34):

Instead of telling them here’s, what’s gonna motivate you. Who’s going to make you better at their job. I want a couple of options on here’s a few different routes you can take within your role and your responsibility. And as far as training goes and learning, how do you deliver that content to help guide them through those pathways?

JD Dillon (13:51):

Building engagement during the launch of a new program or platform is one thing, but sustaining it longterm is a whole nother challenge.

Rob Little (13:59):

Keeping that engagement and extending that engagement is a challenge. And I really hone in on three different things. One, it’s a cross functional effort as far as L&D goes and training departments go. But as well as who are those business leaders and that leadership engagement is extremely important. I think in traditionally employees, and now those frontlines are used to having those exact training managers or the learning managers pushing training on them. But, a lot of my most successful customers it’s cross-functionally communicated and those leaders are engaged, whether it’s from operations, whether it’s from safety, whether it’s from human resources, everybody is communicating to those frontline employees that how important training is, and then it kind of segues nicely into what that is all about, right? It’s no longer communication where you’re saying, Hey, you have to do this because now it’s part of a compliance and you’ll lose your job if you don’t.

It’s best for our customers to communicate this. Isn’t exactly for us to do it’s for you to get better at your job. It’s for you to be safe in the workplace, making that communication, you know, what’s in it for me and focusing on that is super important. And then finally, you know, making sure that that content is relevant, you know, if you’re communicating and you have all the leadership buy in, when those users are engaging with that training, is it relevant to their day to day? Are they going to nod their head and say, “yeah, this is, I can see how this is important”, or are they going to say, “well, I only do this once a year. Why do I have to continuously take this training?” So relevant content is really, what’s going to make it easy for users to want to get in there and get engaged.

JD Dillon (15:45):

The idea of engagement, not just being about the employee or L&D is a constant theme in this conversation to make an impact. It has to be a company effort.

Peter Cameron (15:55):

We cannot just assume that if we built good content and ship it out, that the learners are going to get what they need and the changes are going to be made. There’s all sorts of people. As you say, in the kind of in the spectrum, as we get to that end user, that needs to be part of this. If you get the team leaders, for example, they’re the ones that are boots on the ground if you will, they’re the ones on a daily basis, engaged with their team or teams. There’s a bit of a different message around what it is they need in order to make this successful. For the team leaders, it’s about those metrics. It’s about, at some point, we’re going to need you to be able to have your finger on the pulse of what your teams are up to. We need that participation. If we get participation, that’s the buy in. Then we can start to see some knowledge growth, for example. So we kind of focus the efforts for that particular group on making sure they have what they need to keep their people motivated.

Carrie Cardoso Cote (16:42):

Having all levels within the organization is important. So anywhere from your executive team, are they supportive of what you’re doing and are they going to contribute to that recognition throughout the organization? That this is important at a whole company level, to the project team right down to your frontline managers. Bringing in a champion or someone at kind of each levels that has that buy-in, that you can rely on them for that support and to share that message across the company is really key. I usually recommend the customer bring in what I like to call support champions. So you can pull those from across the organization, whether they’re an executive, regional manager or a store manager, and get their perspective on what would be successful and different ways that you could communicate out what are the channels that are the most influential with your frontline audience.

JD Dillon (17:40):

And when training does make an impact, remember to include the frontline and their efforts as a central part of your story, to reinforce the importance of learning engagement.

Rob Little (17:49):

It’s easy to share those wins with leadership and those executives, but how about sharing those wins with your frontline as well? Here are the results that you guys accomplished by taking part in this program and this effort that brings to fruition a little bit more of a sense of community, a little bit more sense of ownership from a frontline standpoint as “wow, here’s what we accomplished. Here’s what I help accomplished. I was able to do this.” That’s really important.

JD Dillon (18:19):

Ultimately frontline engagement isn’t about training programs, technology or content, it’s about people.

Peter Cameron (18:26):

Some of the things I think deeply about as a learning consultant is not just understanding the end user, but really developing the training around the fact that they’re humans first. So understanding their needs, it’s not just about making sure that they hit a certain score or a certain assessment level. It’s really about understanding what are the skills that they need to get to point B and then building and developing and helping the team develop training around that users, not so much around the content, which is one of those kinds of change management pieces. Let’s figure out what they need to do to make them, you know, a great employee, a great person working in whichever department or what have you that they are. And then we’ll work backwards and figure out how to get there.

JD Dillon (19:06):

Businesses change. People change. So your engagement strategy also has to change if you want to see those longterm results.

Carrie Cardoso Cote (19:14):

Building that engagement strategy is critical for longterm success. You think of that popular eighties, Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. What I tell customers is that if you build it and you don’t tell anybody, they are not coming if they don’t know that it exists, and if you don’t continue to take care of your learning platform and your engagement strategy, it’ll get stale and people won’t be invigorated to come back and do training. So you got to keep it fresh. You got to keep it exciting. Don’t make it full of corporate lingo and bad diagrams. You know, think about what you like and what makes you take notice outside of your organization in your real life, and kind of apply that same lens and approach with how you have about learning and how do you get to your frontline to keep them engaged and coming back.

JD Dillon (20:09):

So those are the secrets of learning engagement on the frontline. That’s how organizations are getting 83% of their employees, millions of people to engage in continuous learning. Richia why do you think this conversation regarding engagement is especially important right now?

Richia McCutcheon (20:27):

And engagement strategy is going to be very important right now because your employees are going to be distracted with everything else going on in the world. They’re distracted with the health and safety protocols that they have to follow. They’re distracted with the customers that they have to deal with. With a good engagement strategy, you’re going to help them focus on what’s really important in that time of need, and engage in training that will help them do new jobs or do their jobs differently.

JD Dillon (20:52):

Something Carrie said really jumped out for me, specifically when you consider the current state of the workplace. The idea that your whiffem as a manager or an L&D professional isn’t necessarily the whiffem for the employee, even though you all work in the same company, because you may be heavily invested in reaching a company goal, but your employees may be most concerned about something closer to them and their performance, especially right now, their own health and safety. So we always need to be mindful of the employees’ context and make sure that training that’s designed to help reach a business goal is also designed to deliver what the employee really needs and really cares about. Specifically, how is this experience going to help them and their peers do their jobs better moving forward. Lots of great insights from our peers at Axonify that can be applied across industries, regardless of your particular audience or solutions. I’d like to thank Carrie, Peter and Rob for sharing their frontline engagement secrets with us for this episode.

Richia McCutcheon (21:51):

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

JD Dillon (22:03):

And I hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for another story about how companies are helping frontline employees make a difference in their organizations and communities. I’ll see you then, Richia.

Richia McCutcheon:

Chat soon JD.

JD Dillon:

Until next time, be kind to the frontline.

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