Performance Communication Engagement

Welcome to The 80 Percent—a new podcast dedicated to the frontline story

80% of the global workforce is on the frontline. Grocery staff. Retail associates. Delivery drivers. Financial services employees. Manufacturing workers. They’re essential to your business. They’re the face of your brand, and they work directly with your customers and products every day. But too often they get lost in the shuffle. Too often they don’t get the training and support they need (and deserve) to do their best work. Too often their stories go untold.

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Episode overview:

That’s why we started The 80 Percent—a podcast dedicated to the frontline story. Every two weeks, we’ll tell a new story about how frontline employees are making a difference in their organizations and communities. We’ll explore how companies from a variety of industries around the world are reimagining their frontline training to empower employees and transform the customer experience. You’ll take away practical ideas for improving your own frontline support strategy. And each story is told in less than 15 minutes. So you can listen to an entire episode while making breakfast or taking a walk after lunch.

Do you have 12 minutes free right now? Take a listen to our first episode. In part one of our “Resilience in Grocery” series, we explore how grocers are supporting their frontline associates in the face of unprecedented disruption.

You’ll find every episode of The 80 Percent on our website at You can also subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify so new episodes are automatically available on your mobile device every two weeks.

Do you have a frontline story you think we should tell on the podcast? Let us know via

Thank you for everything you do for your people, organizations and communities.

Be well. Be safe. And be kind to the frontline.

About the Guest(s)

Evan Parkes

Principal Learning Strategy Consultant, Axonify

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

Female Voice (00:00):
The 80 Percent is brought to you by Axonify. To learn how you can build training for your frontline workforce that actually works visit

JD Dillon (00:11):
Episode one: resilience in grocery. Recorded on Friday, April 3rd, 2020.

Hi Richia.

Richia McCutcheon (00:18):
Hi JD.

JD Dillon (00:20):
Our story in this episode is going to take us to a very familiar setting, the grocery store.

JD Dillon (00:31):
Richia, when was the last time you went to the grocery store?

Richia McCutcheon (00:34):
The last time I was at the grocery store, it was about two weeks ago, which is rare for me because I usually do click and collect, but this time I needed to go in because I wasn’t able to get everything I was looking for, and it was a different experience than I’d ever had.

JD Dillon (00:48):
Traditionally I’d visit a grocery store maybe two or three times a week, just to grab what I needed at that particular time. But I’ve also spent a lot of time in grocery stores for work, especially in the last two or three years or so, visiting with different grocers to talk about how they train their employees. And a lot of our conversations would focus on the topics you’d expect. Things like customer service, productivity, compliance, increasing sales and basket size, but frankly the conversation around training a grocery store associate has changed a lot in just the past couple of weeks.

(Audio clips) (01:20):
Grocery store workers find themselves on the front line of the battle against COVID-19 and as customers continue to shop, these workers worry about their own safety.

This morning, major grocery stores working over time, ramping up staffing to get food and supplies from the warehouse to supermarket shelves,

Measures like this to a two by three plexiglass screen, dozens of them now in place to serve as a barrier between shoppers and cashiers.
They were the unsung heroes of the Corona virus crisis, grocery store workers, restaurant employees and delivery people on the front lines every day risking their health so people can get the food and products they need to survive.

JD Dillon (02:04):
So we’re all experiencing a rapid change and what it means to go to the grocery store, but we’re experiencing it from the consumer’s perspective. Today’s story is about shifting that perspective to think about what it’s like to be on this part of the frontline of a pandemic.

Richia McCutcheon (02:18):
I’ve worked in retail but never in grocery, so I only know the grocery experience as a shopper. I just have to wonder what’s it like to be a grocery store associate right now?

Evan Parkes (02:27):
The quick answer for that is very stressful.

JD Dillon (02:30):
That’s Evan Parkes. Evan’s a member of the Axonify team who really focuses on enabling frontline retail associates, including those in grocery. But both Evan and his entire family actually have a really deep background in grocery.

Evan Parkes (02:43):
I’ve been in the grocery industry for 30 years. My family has been in the business for three generations. So my dad, myself, and now I have a son in the business.

JD Dillon (02:53):
And during his extensive career, Evan’s really seen the grocery business from every different perspective.

Evan Parkes (02:58):
In grocery I spent those years starting out in high school as a bagger, worked my way all the way up to store manager. Eventually I’m moving on to district manager and corporate support roles and learning and development.

JD Dillon (03:11):
So with both Evan’s background and the work he’s doing today, he’s a great person to learn from when it comes to what’s actually happening right now on the front lines in grocery and what can we take away so that if you’re supporting a frontline workforce, what can you learn from the experiences that are being had right now on the front lines in the grocery stores. And it really starts with the human side of the story because again, we’re all experiencing the change in what it’s like to shop in a grocery store right now. But what does it like to work in that environment day in and day out?

Evan Parkes (03:44):
They’re putting their lives pretty much on the line and a lot of cases, so much unknown, very busy, loaded with stressed customers. Not enough employees really to work cause some are not risking their lives and going out to the work in the store. So they’re short staffed. So you have an increase in business, less people working all at the same time.

JD Dillon (04:06):
But it’s not just about the busy-ness for a lot of grocery associates. What they actually do day to day on the job is also changing a lot.

Evan Parkes (04:13):
The latest thing is, you know, changing people’s roles from before where everybody maybe was serving customers in the store to moving to more fulfilling online orders, trying to expand whatever they’re doing and clicking collect. Some people are using third parties, some people are attempting to do it themselves, but they have a lot of employees that never had to fulfill orders for customers before and now they’re switching to that. So there’s definitely a big change there. Some of the other things that they’re changing too is just focus on tasks, just putting groceries on the shelf, checking customers out.

JD Dillon (04:46):
And then there’s the addition of tasks that you may not always see but are of great importance right now.

Evan Parkes (04:51):
The big one that may be goes unseen is the cleaning increase, right? So you’re seeing people at the front of stores wiping down shopping baskets before people take them continuously cleaning areas that the customers have to touch, like pin pads and register scanners. So the cleaning I think is another big piece that maybe people don’t think about right away.

JD Dillon (05:12):
Feeling supported and that you have what you need in order to do your best work is an important part of really any job. Employee development is often talked about as a differentiator or a reason why an associate may select a particular employer over another organization, but right now we’re looking at performance through a very different lens. So what does employee training mean right now in grocery?

Evan Parkes (05:36):
There’s continued learning that has to happen to really make these employees be able to take on these new roles and be efficient at them in the long run. Right now they’re looking for ways to be able to get people ready fast and get them working, thinking that some of them are coming from other industries and they’re only here for a short term role. So because there is so much turnover and so many people coming going, it’s hard for them to invest a lot of time into that, but at some point they’re going to have to readdress it and put people through a proper level of training for compliance purposes and just to ensure that they even understand the real expectations of the job and how to do the role correctly versus just getting it done.

JD Dillon (06:14):
You quickly realize this is not a training story, it’s a readiness story. Yes, training can be a big part of readiness, but it comes down to doing whatever you can to help associates be ready for what comes next as their workplace continues to change. And perhaps the biggest part of this is communication. You don’t always realize how important communication is when it comes to enabling frontline performance.

Evan Parkes (06:37):
The employees in the grocery store, depending on the technology that that is supported within that organization. Sometimes they’re just getting papers posted in their time clock area. Some have more digital means. A lot of times store managers have group texts going on, that type of thing.

JD Dillon (06:53):
So communication and awareness are a huge part of supporting existing associates, but another big part of this readiness story is onboarding brand new associates. When you look around the space, there’s a ton of hiring going on. And some of these people may have worked in grocery before but that was a very different environment and onboarding usually takes at least a few days just to get the basics down. But now the focus is really shifting. Companies are moving away from the long list of topics they usually cover and right now it’s just about what people need to know to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

Evan Parkes (07:34):
L&D, some of them are trying to figure out ways to shorten their current onboarding process and making that bridge version identify what is really critical and what could they teach later on. Some people are out there doing that. What they should be doing is probably a little bit of that and thinking out long term of how do we do this in a better fashion, in a more modern way, maybe moving to more of a mobile solution, things like that. Right.

JD Dillon (08:00):
Mobile technology, especially personal mobile devices have lagged behind the times when it comes to workplace learning. As companies often struggle to evolve their legacy systems. This disruption that organizations are now facing, may actually push companies to try new approaches to the technology for reasons we just couldn’t even consider before.

Evan Parkes (08:19):
One of the concerns that I’ve heard from some of the grocers is that, you know, people don’t want to share devices, so logging onto a computer that somebody else was using or a store handheld tool to do any online learning, it was not something that people want to do. People want are okay using their own personal device before they touch anything else.

JD Dillon (08:38):
What are our big takeaways from this story? I don’t believe there’s one answer, especially not right now, but there are principles we can take away from what organizations are doing in grocery to support their front line. For me, the big one is communication. Awareness is really the beginning of performance, but it’s often not considered part of training and getting people the right information at the right time is essential for them to even begin to do their jobs. What about you Richia?

Richia McCutcheon (09:04):
The focus on specific work tasks really stands out. Figuring out what’s most important and making sure you reinforce the right behaviors because just showing someone how to do something once isn’t enough to really help them change what they’re doing. This idea of focusing on what’s really important is also a big part of helping people get onboarded faster.

JD Dillon (09:24):
The last piece I wanted to explore with Evan was the role of managers. L&D isn’t always right. There were often a behind the scenes support team. The managers are there on the front lines with their associates every day trying to help them do their best in a very challenging situation.

Evan Parkes (09:40):
The managers, really their whole support system for a new person that’s coming on board, that manager is their lifeline, right? So that’s their support. That’s the person that’s going to get them going. They have a big job and people look to them too. Solve all of the problems that are going on out there right now.

JD Dillon (09:57):
So as we think about our checklist of tactics for enabling frontline associates in times of disruption, we need to remember that managers need support too because they’re doing a very challenging job and without them, associates just cannot succeed.

Today’s story is focused on shifting perspective in a situation with which we’re all pretty familiar, how can we approach the grocery shopping experience while considering the mindset of those working in this environment every day? But it’s not just up to grocers to support their associates. We also play a role as consumers and helping keep store associates safe and productive, but don’t just take it from us.

Rebecca Marquardt (10:35):
My name is Rebecca and I work in a grocery store. So I thought I would share a few tips on how you can help keep you and your local grocers safe while you’re shopping. Number one, make a list and organize it by department. The faster you can get out of the store, the less time you have to swap germs with the store number to make each shopping trip count. The more you can bring home and every shopping trip without hoarding, the less frequently you have to come into the store, the less frequently you are sharing germs. Number four, sanitize your hands as you walk into the grocery store. You wouldn’t track money footprints all over your friend’s home. Please don’t bring train germs into the place that me and my coworkers have to spend 40 hours a week. I got a job at a grocery store because I thought it would be an easy low-stress way to pay the bills. Now my coworkers and I have to work during a lockdown to make sure that people can get food. And while it is great to feel like a hero, most of us would rather be safely quarantined at home. So please help us, help you keep everybody safe. We’re going to get through this. Thank you.

JD Dillon (11:32):
You can see the full video with tips for Rebecca on Twitter. Her handle is @RebeccaLoops and thanks to Rebecca for sharing her insights. Thanks to Evan Parkes for sharing his expertise and thank you for taking the time to listen to our story today. We’ll be checking back in on this story in the future so we can learn even more about resilience in grocery.

Richia McCutcheon (11:51):
To listen more of our 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 (12:01):
we hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for another story about how organizations are helping frontline employees make a difference in their companies and their communities. I’ll see you then. Richia.

Richia McCutcheon (12:09):
I’ll talk to you soon JD, until then.

JD Dillon (12:11):
Be kind to the front line.

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