Why the LMS Doesn’t Work in Retail and Never Will

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All right. Today, we have JD Dillon and Rebeca Sinclair with us to talk about LMS and retail. JD is the Principal Learning Strategist with Axonify and has spent 15 years designing and implementing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theaters. With his practical approach and ability to integrate science, technology, storytelling, and pure common sense, JD delivers modern solutions that enable employees, improve organizational performance, and drive business results.

Rebeca is the President and CEO of Perspective Management Group, a firm focusing on strategy and human capital consulting. Over the course of her domestic and global career in human capital management, Rebeca has led organizations such as Southeastern Grocers, Hooters LLC, Clear Channel Media, Starbucks, and Victoria’s Secret stores. In 2016, she was an award recipient and recognized as the most powerful and influential woman by the Florida Diversity Council. So, I know you’re going to enjoy today’s webinar and the chance to interact with JD and Rebeca. So, JD, let’s get started.


JD Dillon:

Thank you very much, Alec. Two things I just realized. One, Rebeca definitely just won the bio contest and two, I think I might need to shorten my professional bio a little bit just to say, “JD thinks he knows stuff.” But anyway, hi, everybody. Thanks for joining us today in our conversation about why the LMS doesn’t work in retail and never will. So, Alec already took care of the glorious introductions, but I’m JD, Principal Learning Strategist at Axonify. With my background, I’ll be leading a lot today on some of the experience I had supporting retail environments when I worked for about 10 years in learning development and operations with The Walt Disney World Resort. I’d quickly like to introduce our special guest, Rebeca Sinclair.


Rebeca Sinclair:

Hi, I’m Rebeca and I think my bio covered it, but I have over 20 years of human resource experience as a chief human resource officer. I’m happy to integrate all that I know about learning and transforming companies with the viewpoint of a chief human resource officer, which I think will help give you some good insights today to take back.


JD Dillon:

Awesome. So, a little of the quick glimpse of what we’ll be talking about for the next 50 minutes or so, one, we’re going to just take a quick look at what is the modern retail landscape? What is the environment and the experience and the world that we’re trying to support when we talk about supporting learning and performance in a retail organization? How does that relate to the importance of learning technology in order to enable the experiences we’re looking to provide?

What are some of those disconnects that we’ve identified through the work that we’ve done in our practical experience between the environment and the experiences we want to provide to our associates, and what technology has traditionally allowed us to do or enabled us to do? Then what could be an alternative? What are some ways that, in our practical experience, especially in some of the work that Rebeca’s done across several organizations, how do we overcome that truly help enable meaningful performance change in today’s retail landscape?

Then finally, some question and answers. So, hopefully, there’s some, be some good things, throw our direction. I will spend some time at the end of the presentation before 3:00 digging into questions and curiosities that you may have. But right now, I’d like to start out with what may be a very familiar story in a retail environment. Just take off your hats for those, your professional world at the moment. So, don’t think about the fact that maybe you work in a retail or learning development environment. Just think about you as a consumer, a person who buys stuff from retailers.

I’m curious to see if this has ever happened to you because I know it’s happened to me. So, maybe you’re at home and you’re busy. So, you’re doing your things. Life is happening. So, maybe you’re doing some work, you’re with your family, with your friends, and suddenly, you become aware that there is an opportunity. There is a special. There is a promotion going on in one of your favorite stores and it’s going to activate you, as the marketing team hoped it would, for you to go out and seek that item. So, you’re going to go buy that item in the store now because of this special promotion that you highly value.

So, what do you do? You jump in the car and you brave the traffic, going all the way from wherever you live to, maybe it’s the mall, to the retail environment where you’re going to cash in on this special opportunity. So, you walk through the mall, maybe navigate a couple sets of steps in an elevator. You finally get to the store that you love so much that’s having the special deal, you walk up to the associate, and they have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about with regards to this special promotion or this particular discount that you feel you are eligible for.

One, has this ever happened to you? Because again, I know it has happened to me. Two, what do you think typically happens next in this story? How often do we think customers in your organization are experiencing stories like this? Ultimately, what type of an impact do you think this is having on your business and on your customer experience from a day to day perspective? Ultimately, what is the cost to your organization when simple mistakes or simple knowledge gaps like this happen potentially every day?

It could cost thousands, millions, even potentially more than that, especially if you take into account the concept of word of mouth and how quickly information spreads throughout the network and through social media. When you think about it, retail is really a small stakes game when it comes to knowledge. One bad customer experience due to one employee’s lack of knowledge can ultimately result in an untold lost revenue and even more damage potentially to an organization’s reputation.

I don’t know about you, but if you’ve had this experience like I have, I still remember these instances. I remember the brand and the store and in some cases, I remember the associate that disappointed me. Potentially, depending on how disappointed I was, I several times took my business elsewhere. So, again, I’m one customer who experienced one story. But how many times is this potentially happening in your organization right now?

Part of this conversation, why do these stories take place and why do we sometimes disappoint customers, comes down to the fact that enabling a fully knowledgeable associate in today’s retail environment is a difficult thing to do. Not only do customers know a lot more in some cases than our associates do because of the access to information, but we’re constantly seeing challenges like turnover. So, in a world where we already have a very heavy part-time employee base, we’re seeing consistent turnover challenges with regards to our ability to keep employees so that we can continuously help them perform and improve and grow their knowledge.

At the same time, we have a challenge with regards to motivating employees to continuously improve. So, after they get on the job, we notice that there are potential motivations for post-training and continued development opportunities within our employee base. A lot of this isn’t a secret. I don’t think I’m really revealing any new information at this point in our conversation. Given the fact that employers have identified the fact that because consumers are so much more demanding and because our environment is so much more complicated, that there is a greater need for knowledge and skill development within a retail environment to, again, meet those needs of the organization and of the customer.

Overall, it comes down to the fact that there’s a gap in the modern retail learning ecosystem where traditional methods that we’ve used time and time again over the years, everything from instructor led training to maybe management delivered messaging to e-learning in our current digital landscape. They simply don’t meet the needs of today’s associates or today’s customers. When it comes down to it, in a retail environment, technology is a huge consideration because your associates are distributed, I don’t know where they physically are, right? They may be in different cities, different states, different countries, or different continents.

When it comes down to it, technology is an essential element to make sure that consistent, relevant resources are available when and where employees need them. Unfortunately, while technology is a requirement in a modern retail landscape, often, it’s part of the disconnect. It limits us in various ways in our ability to provide an experience that really makes sense and enables our associates in a way is meaningful to a customer experience. We talk about traditional learning technology, and that could be a potentially large bucket.

So, our conversation today is focused around the platform most people refer to a learning management system. So, when we define what an LMS means, because there are a lot of definitions out there. We’re specifically looking at traditional workplace tech that delivers and/or tracks completions. So, it’s a place that you go to check that people attended. It’s a place where maybe e-learning modules are served up or quizzes and surveys come from.

So, when we talk about traditional learning technology, that’s the world and the experience that we’re talk about and thinking about how do we differentiate from that experience to provide something that really fits into the landscape we’re talking about in retail? It’s this disconnect that has led a lot of organizations to start actively looking to leave their current learning management system.

But what it comes down to is the LMS was designed to provide a certain experience, and a lot of them are very good at what they do. But the question is, what do they do and how does it relate to the experience that we’re looking to provide so that we can truly create knowledgeable, capable employees in a retail environment? I think that’s really where this technological limitation magnifies the existing gap that we have in our retail learning ecosystems.

So, that’s why several different organizations, a couple examples being Toys “R” Us and At Home, and also in Rebeca’s background, are starting to look around and say, “What else is out there? What other types of resources, tools, and technologies can I take advantage of to really maximize and design and create a new experience that’s going to help us close those knowledge gaps with our employees?” So far, has this felt like a similar story that really echoes some of your experience, Rebeca?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Absolutely. Throughout my career, I’ve been challenged with both the strategy and tactics in transforming businesses and coming up with a planned approach that requires understanding what the associates are doing presently and what they need to do differently for the business to evolve and for them to be successful and grow in the process. I do have a long retail career, so I’ve seen it evolve through the years. But the one constant, especially in retail, is the customer experience, which JD touched upon.

Retailers have a product and an experience to sell customers. Retailers, by the very nature of retail, have plans. But they also have to be nimble and they need to constantly check and adjust with the flow of business. The important is we have to ensure that the associates have the most current information to communicate to customers, they need to understand the product knowledge, and to make sure that the products that the customers are consuming or using, that they’re safe or that the customer knows best how to use the product. That makes that experience that much better.

So, as a chief human resource officer, and now leading an HR management consulting group. My experience across business types is that LMD groups have a better opportunity to tether themselves to the business strategy and to the learning solutions to make sure that they have credibility and real analytics about how the work you are doing ties in our drives outcomes and can be evidence. We all know that the day of checking the box or completing a course has passed us by. That’s the old way. I think that’s what we sometimes get from the LMS.

So, for me, whether I’m in a board meeting or I’m in a C-suite team member meeting, the discussions about how the HR strategy is driving results and specifically how each of you as LMD professionals, how your work impacts the business tangibly as a contributing business partner, it’s becoming an increasingly relevant conversation. So, what I’d like to do is talk a little bit about Southeastern Grocers now because that was the most recent experience. I think there’s some interesting work that we did there today.

So, these experiences and other that I think JD and I will talk about, I hope that they’re going to bring you some insights and some ideas and help you start to think about how you can start to transform learning in your organization. So, at Southeastern Grocers, I was brought in to help transform the culture and learning in the business. In retail, it all starts with the field or the store associates and the managers, as we know.

We did not have any active training in place due to mergers, acquisitions, cost cutting initiatives. It probably sounds ultra familiar to each of you. But what we had is we had two different learning systems. We had a couple of functions who had adopted their own learning system. They did this because they felt that HR wasn’t able to bring the training that they needed. So, we had a broken business, a broken culture, disengaged team members, and that sure sounds like a turnaround.

The team had to figure out how to fix this for over 65,000 associates across three banners in Southeast, geographically dispersed over 750 stores. So, for me, what I envisioned was a strategy that would help leapfrog the business and rebuild knowledge across every role, even define culture, a leading and coaching engagement model, and technology at the heart of an accelerated transformation. It took a lot of hard work, but redefining the way the LMD team worked and creating a partnership with Axonify helped us go from zero to over 90% utilization.

We had knowledgeable and engaged associates, and analytics, most importantly, evidenced analytics that fuel performance in just over a year. So, I’m excited, JD, to be able to have this conversation with you today and talk about some of the current thinking and practices in the LMD space.


JD Dillon:

Awesome. It’s a great story, if you haven’t heard it already. It’s a great set of experiences that I think we can really learn from and take some best practices and how we can really create a meaningful, transformative learning experience for our associates. So, I’d really like to dig into that experience and your background and what you’ve seen and your insight and really focus on five disconnects that we’ve identified between traditional learning technology and what we believe are the true needs of the modern retail associate and the modern retail organization and see how we can try to find ways to close those gaps.

So, let’s start off with disconnect number one. Yeah. Let’s start off with disconnect number one. Knowledge demands on associates are higher than they’ve ever been. I spoke earlier to the fact that in a lot of cases, customers coming into your store may know more than either some of your seasoned associates, just based on the availability of the internet. I know that when I shop, my smartphone is in my hand and I’m looking up product information in reviews before I even talk to anyone inside of the store.

So, traditional learning technology typically doesn’t allow people to go to this extreme or really find ways to bridge that gap between what was traditional knowledge requirement and what is really needed today to provide the customer experiences we’re looking to provide. So, my question for you, Rebeca, is why has traditional learning strategy fallen short and not really been able to keep up with this reality of what a knowledgeable associate is today


Rebeca Sinclair:

I would simply put it as it’s just not sustainable. Watching a 30 minute or an hour instructional video or going to a class for a period of time, you just can’t produce a confident associate who can execute and repeat an outcome. That’s what you need to run a retail business, really most businesses. You need consistency and repeated routines.


JD Dillon:

So, we talk about repetition, one of the concepts I talk a lot about, and one of the very popular concepts in learning development right now is the idea of microlearning. So, in your ex, how has your organization leveraged microlearning to help really sustain knowledge over the long term for associates?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Well, first off, the evolution of technology and brain science have converged in a fantastic way in the LMD space. So, I see in practice what we were able to design at SEG with Axonify to rapidly rebuild knowledge and execution in the business transformation with, again, as we talked about, no training or learning practices to point to. So, within a short period of time, we were able to redesign the learning content to use on the platform and we strategically combined it with the learning journey because we all know that side by side and experiential learning still needs to take place.

But we strategically combined it and we reinvented learning as you know it. So, how does microlearning work? Well, there’s certainly a set program if you have a role that you need to do. But it’s on demand. What retail associates do is they log on to this platform and they do every shift for two to five minutes. What they do is they sustain topic knowledge related to their role. So, what this does is by being current and going through this repetition, you don’t lose your knowledge. You actually reinforce it.

So, this process is quick bursts of information, a series of questions specific to the individuals, and it’s based upon what they know or what they don’t know. It’s based upon how they’ve answered past answers. So, the learning ecosystem adjusts to their knowledge base. It’s very individualized and it allows everybody to learn and grow at the pace that they need to, but they do it every day, but just for a short period of time.


JD Dillon:

There’s a variety of things I think you highlighted in your experience there, which is, one, really leveraging that science of learning to bring content back because the reality we all understand is learning never stops. So, how do you continue to present contents and ensure that people retain it long term? But also, how do you make sure it’s for them? So, there’s so little time in anyone’s workday, yet alone, someone who works in a busy retail environment.

So, how do you make sure that each time you experience a learning activity, it is specific to what you need, not just what people who do the job that you do need? So, that’s really, ability to grow and adapt with an individual, I think, is a big part of the microlearning equation that sometimes, I think, gets skipped in the conversation. So, one other thing I’m curious about-


Rebeca Sinclair:



JD Dillon:

Yeah. On other thing I’m curious about is, and I often say that some of the most important things that happen in terms of someone’s ability to grow their capability and their knowledge is what happens after the training, when you actually have a problem in the moment of need. So, I’m curious to see what your perspective is on, what is the role of on demand knowledge in a retail environment for an associate?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Well, I think the great, at least the way we approach or I’ve approached it, is if there’s a specific topic or information that they need to know, and there’s two ways that I’d approach it, one is if it’s just something they’re struggling with, they can actually, through the system, go and seek it out and continue to work on that. So, they can actually help chart their own course.

The other part is if there’s something going on on the business that needs to be pushed out from a communication perspective and it’s information that associates need to know quickly and they need to be able to have command of that, know what’s on sale and things of that nature in a retail environment, you can also let them access that very quickly so they can get current on the topic.


JD Dillon:

Got you. So, when we talk about, in this initial disconnect of knowledge demands being so much higher than they’ve been in the past, I think there’s a balance [inaudible 00:21:11] out there with regards to how do we help people understand what do you need to know and where are you in that journey for the information you need to be able to retain and call back and apply immediately? At the same time, how do we provide access?

So, if it’s not in your wheelhouse or it’s not something you’re always expected to know, how can you get to that information or solve that problem or raise your hand and ask for help so that when you balance those two considerations appropriately, you’re really trying to fill that overall gap that exists with regards to the massive amount of knowledge that may be at play at anytime in a particular organization?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:21:48] Yeah. You have to know your core job knowledge and changes that impact your roles. It’s traditional processes that you need to keep up with. But I guess what I’d use is a couple of examples of important areas. At least in my experience, product knowledge or things that relate to safety or customer promotions are sometimes things that associates have to gain access to. So, what you need to do is be able to leverage the product. I guess that what I’d like to do is take you through a bit of an example, JD.

So, if we use food safety, we had an issue, and it’s in the grocery industry or food industry, it’s not that uncommon, you’re always being audited for food safety and violations and things of that nature. It’s really important, it’s safety practices and preparation and serving of food, because not only can it cause companies funds, but we’ve all heard in the news where consumers or customers get ill.

So, what we did is we identified this issue. Failures were happening frequently and we were very concerned. So, what we did in HR is we identified the common high risk areas that were happening through the company and pushed out specific information and questions to ensure that all of the associates in the deil and bakery and the meat counters, that they knew what they were, they followed them, and they understood the procedures.

To further that, we had the leader of the operations say, “Well, can’t we certify more than just the manager?” We said, “Well, yes. Of course, we can do that.” So, we leveraged the learning system and built out the certification process a bit further using Axonify. We were able to test their knowledge, certify the business within two weeks, over 700 stores, gosh, I’m trying to remember, 100+ associates. Very quickly, we had critical information in people’s hands that they needed to know that could really, you know what I mean, cause harm, but also made them better their job.


JD Dillon:

I think that really leads into our conversation, what is the second big disconnect in the environment that we’re talking about, which is that nimbleness that you spoke to earlier with regards to the fact that information is constantly changing. Knowledge in a retail environment’s a moving target, especially when there’s a consideration like we spoke to with regards to safety and something that we truly have to get out there now so that associates can do the right thing and not lead to further problems down the line.

I know that as a learning development leader in a variety or organizations, I’ve often felt a little bit like a coyote with regards to the Coyote and the Roadrunner’s cartoon where the business is the Roadrunner and there’re always going to be several steps ahead of me moving at a pace that I can’t traditionally keep up with because I’m trying to support what they’re trying to accomplish, and I all the time feel like I’m behind and I have inability to catch up with the pace of the business.

A hundred percent of retailers want to increase learning access and flexibility and make sure people have what they need when they need it. That feels like a very common sense statement. But in your experience, how has improved access and speed really helped organizations recognize the value of learning in situations like that?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Yeah. Well, if I go to the example that I just spoke to about the food safety, the certifications, and what was so great about this was because at my fingertips, at the team’s fingertips, we could address a major issue plaguing the business, right? We could talk about certification. We could talk about the level of knowledge. What I really, just have to use the word, love most about this system and what really gets the attention of leaders when you’re trying to make a difference, you get it out there and you do that and [inaudible 00:25:36] well, they all took it, check the box. Right?

Well, now, I can actually [inaudible 00:25:40] certify that I can let you know who are A, B, and C students. I can let you know who has a higher degree of competency and who has a lesser degree of competency. We could correlate it back to the audit results. We could talk about things that were positive, we could talk about things that were opportunistic. So, this minimal approach giving them what they needed when they needed it, it really allowed the leaders to be able to start to lead this. Right? So, they had issue and resolution fast, they had something that was impactful and sustainable, they could manage and go forward.

Then what we also did, which I think is really important, we didn’t change our core principles and practices, even in a nimble environment. We always asked for feedback and insights, right? So, we did something, we did it quickly, but we also found out what worked and what didn’t work with the associates. So, we made sure to take that back to the core training as well so new associates coming in could benefit from all the experience of others.

So, even when we did something that had to be impactful and quick, we still went back and hardwired it into the business. So, it was a really credible, impactful moment for LMD to really show how they could step up, produce a result, and evidence the result.


JD Dillon:

So, not only do you have to be able to respond to knowledge needs very quickly, but at the same time, taking an approach that focuses on that nimbleness of the environment helps you as a learning organization, as an HR team learn from what you’re doing and the impact that you’re continuously having and able to course correct so that you’re providing even greater value the next time you come out the gate with a particular need.


Rebeca Sinclair:

Absolutely. I also think it [inaudible 00:27:24]. Let me just add one more thing-


JD Dillon:



Rebeca Sinclair:

… JD. I think the other part is when you ask associates for feedback, quite often, they’re asked for feedback, but you don’t act on it. What we did throughout this learning journey with everything that we were doing is we really made sure to listen to the associates and integrate their feedback because when they not only have a chance to give it, they feel heard, they know they were heard, and that their ideas are being put in. Quite often and quite honestly, they do this work every day. So, we really found that it created validity and interest and credibility in the business.


JD Dillon:

Right. Speaking of associates, so we talk about the fact that, the knowledge of the moving target in a retail environment, the associates themselves are also kind of a moving target. So, when we look at our next disconnect is really the fact that retail associates are always on the move and providing access to information for a variety of reasons can be a challenge. So, I’m curious to see, what challenges did you face with providing employees access to the types of learning activities and experiences you were looking to provide?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Well, the experience in transforming SEG as an example was to establish first, a coaching and learning culture. What we did is we did that, but we also made Axonify available on the store computers and the iPads and really, the ability for every associate to have that experience to log on every day at the beginning of their shifts for two to five minutes to maintain current knowledge. The challenge for us was ensuring equipment access, right? So, whether you do it on a point of sale or a computer, and iPad, mobile phones, whatnot, you have to make sure that they have equipment access.

The partnership with IT on bandwidth and configuration was particularly important and in our case, it works well. I think a lot of times, people get a little scared on all the access and technology side of it. But it worked well for us. In fact, we found that when we went to IT, they became advocates because they understood the impact of the product and they really liked the new and modern technology.

So, they were helping us actually come up with ideas to make sure that we could have even greater access on mobile devices. So, there’s four [inaudible 00:29:47] to train that takes place, but what we did is we just really merged the learning journey with Axonify and the equipment and we were able to really keep the system going and foster it.


JD Dillon:

Okay, and I think a big part of the puzzle, when we talk about mobile learning or the concept of providing access, I think part of it, you now, with regards to devices, because we’re talking about technology, how do we enable, whether it’s a personal device or organization provided devices so that people can get their hands on information in a quick fashion? But at the same time, how do we also make sure that that access point is a meaningful part of the work experience, so it’s part of the workflow, so that learning can be part of every day and not something that people have to “go do”?

Because I know in my experience in a variety of different organizations, especially at Disney, space is mapped out. I was opening new attractions. You look at the original plan and all of the spaces available inside the building and then go into the building for the first time and you realize that there is no support space. So, there are very few places you could put a computer or a manager station or things like that.

So, I think part of it is also how do you make it easy for an associate and really allow them to make learning part of their day? So, I’m curious to see, how were you able to really make learning part of every day for an associate when they do have access to content and technology?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Yeah. So, what we did to foster the learning culture is we certainly made sure that it was available on all of our computer systems in the stores and mobile devices, which I’ll come to that in a moment. But what we did is we actually put the managers through all of the programs that the associates went through so they can maintain current knowledge. This meant a lot to the process because until we got the managers in on the system all of the way, it seemed like it was a chore for the associates to do.

So, once the managers could see that they actually could test and see what they learned and were having fun with the system, it really helped them to reinforce that the associates were going through it every day. So, we just made it part of when you come to work every day, here’s what you do. But it needs to be accessible because when you have over 60,000 associates, which feels more like 100,000 with turnover, you need to keep the pace and stay current.

So, we used our systems and then the managers, the entire management population, used their mobile phone. So, we put them onto the training that way. So, I envision a world where hourly associates who want to [inaudible 00:32:28] career can do so, even when they’re not at work, right? So, I think this is very modern and time where people’s time paid and you can track how associates are working the system.

I think it’s really a low risk. We found that the hourly associates wanted to log on off their own mobile devices when they weren’t at work. So, what we found is they wanted to learn, they wanted to grow, and they were really engaged about the process.


JD Dillon:

Yeah. That feels like a really unique problem to have because I think I worked in unionized organizations and very strict HR environments and things like that where if you do anything job related off the clock, we have an issue. But in a lot of cases, that’s been really framed from the concept that the business is making you or requiring you to go do something and they’re not paying you for it, where when you flip that around, I think it’s an interesting and a fun challenge to have when you say, “Our associates want to do things, they want to learn, whether they’re at work or they’re not at work. How do we support that in the right way that obviously meets all guidelines and legal requirements and all these different things?”

I think it’s flipping that perspective on what could bring your own device mean or what could enabling access mean in a very way for what could be an hourly associate. So, I think it’s an interesting challenge to have.


Rebeca Sinclair:

Yeah. I think it is. I think the system allows you to be able to track that and I think it’s a very modern and a bit of a rebellious approach. But I also think it’s the way people learn these days. People sometimes want to do it for a few minutes or learn the topics they’re learning when they’re not at work, when they have a moment to breathe and think. Gosh, I want them learning whenever. Whenever they want to get on the system and learn and whenever they want to do it, I want to make sure they have access and we pay them hourly for doing that.


JD Dillon:

Exactly. I think a big part of the conversation, so we talked about access and technology and making sure people can get to the content and learning experiences, but it’s also how do you make it something people want to do? How can learning be not just something people need, but something people enjoy and, dare I say it, fun? So, when you look at that modern associate and the desire to have engaging and personalized and relevant experiences, how have you seen that preference or that concept change over the years in the retail environments?


Rebeca Sinclair:

What I would first say is business is fast paced and just like in life, we struggle for giving focused time to one thing. We multitask and we put things like learning and skill building to the side. So, we just move from one task to another without thinking and become a bit mindless. But what we found was that not only are millennials, but what I’ll say are older workers, they actually, they want to feel like they matter, they want to do work that makes a difference. In retail, making a customer smile and feel welcome is really satisfying.

So, this creates pride and sense of engagement and belonging. So, it really becomes learning, in my experience and preference, is if you can create a system that really brings them back into it and the gamification and things of that nature, it creates a different world. It creates an engaged workforce.


JD Dillon:

So, when we talk about the existing engagement barrier that a lot of organizations have, example, 67% of organizations say user engagement’s a top barrier, to really adopting technology enabled training, so how do you motivate a largely part-time workforce to care about learning to the point where you said earlier, 90% engagement. How do you get part-time workers to engage that often in continued learning?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Has a lot to do not only with the business support, but it has to do with how you’ve defined it. What we did is we actually, we took [inaudible 00:36:45] and we drew them in. So, we figured out, everybody wants to feel like they belong. So, learning what you need to do quickly and confidently is important, but how your culture and learning translate on the system and the approach is how you draw somebody in.

But we made it fun. The system helped make it fun, by the way. What we have, and I think you’ll probably show a little bit of this later, is this avatar that helped through the learning journey. So, what we found, if you want an avatar, there’s one, is at SEG, associates would pick ones that they feel showcased their personality. So, it was really fun. They had this ownership and that brought them in. Then through gamification, we really started to get … There’s a mixed crowd on gamification and the validity of it, but what we found is associates like to play and compete and post scores.

Gamification takes a few minutes to play. You answer a question, you play Bubble Shooter again, and you repeat the process. But you’re answering questions and becoming more knowledgeable all at the same time. So, you’re learning, you’re reinforcing, and it’s a fun experience. You don’t even know that you’re doing it. So, what we found, and the system really made a difference. How we designed it culturally and how we spoke to our associates [inaudible 00:38:07], but the system helped make it fun.

On this system, you’re able to compete, as an example. So, what a lot of stores did is they posted knowledge boards. So, imagine a district manager becoming very excited when he or she has 10 stores learning and competing for an upcoming customer promotion. So, they’re having fun, they’re being competitive, they’re becoming more knowledgeable, they’re engaging with one another, they’re connecting with the customer, they’re confident, they’re selling the product. So, everybody wins.

What we found is you can feel the store’s culture striving at the same time. We had over 80%, a side note to this is, to evidence, does [inaudible 00:38:50] a conversation is we did our engagement survey and our store population was highly engaged, over 80%. That was very important and this was one of the tools, well, not the tools, but the learning process was one thing they were able to point back to that evidenced that the culture was actually alive and well in the business.


JD Dillon:

Awesome. You hit a lot of information there, but I think that something to point out is just that the reality that learning experiences can be fun. You think about topics like compliance or legally required things or even from a grocer perspective, coursework around how to effectively use a slicer. It doesn’t sound inherently engaging or fun, but I think it’s how you wrap that into an experience or into an environment, like you said, ultimately into a culture that makes it something people want to do and it’s a social experience and an engaging experience amongst their peers.

Not in the traditional sense of “social learning”, but in a way that brings it together and makes it more about what we are collectively doing in order to make ourselves better vs. an isolated experience of people just training or [inaudible 00:40:05] into nonstop content, which is where I think some of the fun gets sucked out of learning, where learning stuff is meant to be a cool thing.


Rebeca Sinclair:



JD Dillon:

So, the final disconnect I’d like to address before we take a look at what was the overall impact on the Southeastern Grocer, and then what does this experience that we’ve been talking about potentially look like and show some images from the platform that you were using, is the concept of limitations. So, we talked about things like gamification, social technology, and content that’s adapted and using the science of learning and all these ideas.

But in reality, in a retail environment, you have limited resources to manage, administer, measure the corporate learning environment. Learning is not the number one priority of the organization. The priority is the customer experience and all the other objectives and goals that the business and senior stakeholders set. So, in that type of a limited challenge environment, I’m curious to see how have you historically been measured with regards to the impact of learning and how did that relate to this environment?


Rebeca Sinclair:

So, this question, I guess, and then the slide brings a lot about what we talked about together, right? [inaudible 00:41:17] is going to be the outcome, right? So, measurement old school is traditional. It’s completion, attendance, certification, inconsistent based upon which learning professional conducted it, it’s lengthy, it’s boring. It’s papers, a test. You’ll never see it again. Knowledge you just won’t remember. It’s just simply, you can’t measure it. It just isn’t how we learn and remember things. It’s not how the brain works. So, what we found is these actually, these don’t speak to the business is what we found, the old way.


JD Dillon:

So, what do you think is essential then to really connect learning to business outcomes? I know a lot of people look at the ROI of learning and is that possible or is that challenging or is it something we should focus on, so how do you make that connection to make it important to the business?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Yes. I think what has to happen is to connect learning to business outcomes, certainly, we talked about examples during the course of our conversation today, where we could very tangibly tie it into business solutions. So, I look at it a little bit differently. So, to connect learning to business outcomes, it really takes LMD professionals on this side of the fence to be able to not be on the sideline, to be a true business partner with an HR [inaudible 00:42:51].

So, we just can’t be in love with our product or our content. We have to start to push the envelope and I’m going to be very specific about, we have to engineer the outcomes that impact the business strategies or the issues that are plaguing it, right? We have to move faster, we have to be agile, we have to see the issues before they tell us about them, and we have to know that making the day to day work execution easier and sustainable will allow leaders to lead and coach from a place that we all aspire them to.

So, there’s no amount of leadership courses that are going to free up the leaders to lead unless the learning foundation for the associates works seamlessly. It’s an extension of the culture and it’s showcasing what and how we deliver, what associates, what they know, what they experience, that they’re becoming more knowledgeable and confident. With this tool, which you’ll probably show in a little bit, we’re able to measure all of that very specifically and tie it back to the associate and to product launches and things of that nature. So, you really can start to showcase how you’re making a difference.

But finally, I’d say it’s how do customers recognize the high level of engagement with an associate in a store, on the phone, or online, that they know it when they see it? They know when they have a great experience and that’s what you started off the conversation with. We need to get to the place that we know that the next generation of learning, at least from a retail example of it, ends with that experience that the customers are more satisfied and we can evidence it, we can tie ourselves back to the things in the business that are different functions that we work with and partner with and support that were helping them get their products out in better and different ways.

So, I feel really fortunate that at a strategy and execution level, for my experience, to have found and partnered with Axonify and to create and to see first hand the power of learning in a truly transformational way without the handcuffs of an LMS, but to really reinvent.


JD Dillon:

So, after you were able to overcome the disconnects that we talked about, the traditional existence, the learning ecosystem of a retail environment, how would you describe the impact or the end of the story? What was the impact to the culture and the capability at Southeastern Grocer?


Rebeca Sinclair:

Well, certainly, we had an engaged workforce and we were able to evidence that through an engagement survey, right? But more than that, we had leaders, managers who could utilize the system and the analytical horsepower that it had to be able see how their store associates were doing, where they could help them, how they could coach them, how they could start to make things better for them.

We really found that from a store level to a district level to a regional level to an organizational level, the conversations that I could have at a C-suite about how well prepared our people were or how knowledgeable they are about promotions and things that were going on to a store being able to coach their associates on what they need to do. So, we really found the analytic engine scaled up and down with this system and we could see that people were doing it and we could see what they knew. We could also learn about where we needed to make adjustments.

The business could feel those results and they could see them and we could tie them back to customer service scores, turnover, and very targeted work. That’s hard to do in the world of HR. Very hard to do. But we were able to use the analytic horsepower to actually evidence this transformation.


JD Dillon:

Yeah. What I take away from that and what it sounds like is that you’re really able to take learning to a different level where it’s not about initiatives and what the business is doing today and “what we’re doing to our employees today” with regards to pushing, turning, and these types of things. It’s more about creating a foundation and a consistent understanding and language as to what does it mean to foster learning and performance improvement in this environment?

Then everything about those specific projects and knowledge needs and timely issues really fit inside of this world, but everyone understands how we’re helping people get better here today, regardless of what that particular role is or particular knowledge set may be at that given time.


Rebeca Sinclair:

I think that’s well summarized. Yes.


JD Dillon:

Thanks. So, what I’d like to do, we have about 10 minute remaining. So, before we get to question and answers at the end for Rebeca and myself, like to take people through a little bit of an example of what did this experience look like for the associate at Southeastern Grocer? So, take a look at the Axonify platform and walk through. What is daily microlearning session looking like for an associate and then how does it relate to what managers can do and the manager enablement that Rebeca spoke to.

Also, you can see as a learning development team and how you can take advantage of that to make what you’re doing to help people every day a little bit better. So, to start out, let’s pretend we’re an associate in a retail environment. So, we’re accessing the Axonify platform in this case from any internet enabled device, so in the case [inaudible 00:48:33] the desktop version onscreen. But we’re logging in and the systems with the avatar, as Rebeca referred to earlier, that I’ve selected is telling me if my name was Jennifer what I have available to me today.

So, based on my role and what I need, I have some daily questions that I’m going to experience today. So, once I access the system, I now have the opportunity to play a game. So, we spoke to gamification a couple different times in our conversation. This is a concept of casual gameplay. So, how do we motivate people to want to come in and experience a daily learning activity? Well, in this case, they have the opportunity to play a game, which will help them reveal the learning content and really add to the fun and engagement level we experience.

So, in this case, we have selected a golf based game. So, as I play the game, the concept is I’m going to change the dials at the top to put the ball in the hole. When I’m successful, I trigger a question as part of the learning experience. So, in this case, you can see a multiple choice question onscreen. My coach is sitting there wondering if I’m going to get the answer right. Then when I select my correct answer, I’m also asked how confident am I in that particular answer.

So, not only are we trying to get people to get the information correct and drill, do they understand this information, but at the same time, we’re gauging how confident are you? What this does is gives us some interesting information on the back end so we can gauge how confident people vs. how knowledgeable are they because someone who’s highly confident and has zero knowledge is a problem in any environment. So, one, we have that understanding from a back end reporting perspective.

But the second thing is it also makes you think again. I don’t know if anyone’s ever had experiences in any technology platform where you click an option and it says, “You sure?” Then you think for a second, “Am I?” So, it triggers that emotional response to make people really think about their answers and not just click through. Once you get the question right or wrong, your coach provides you feedback, you have some additional information, you earn some points from a game accountant’s perspective, and you can continue back through the game experience as time allows. Each game is timed.

So, we talked about the Southeastern Grocer experience. Employees are logging in for three to five minutes every day to get very specific content that’s unique to their needs vs. scheduling massive amounts of employees for general classes and you think about the time and the logistics and the cost savings that comes into a daily experience vs. these monthly or quarterly types of things we may do in a traditional environment.

So, once I’ve experienced a couple questions or maybe a short e-learning or a video, I land at my hub where I can take a look at how I am personally progressing through the content that’s made available to me. I also can dig in for more information to really solve a problem at the moment of need. So, we talked about the importance of what happens after the training. So, you have the ability to leverage a searchable knowledge platform where you can dig in and find, how do I solve this particular problem or a customer’s asked a question. I’ve never had this one before.

So, rather than guessing or just relying on what the guy next to you knows, you can look up what information has been shared by the organization or your peers and some best practices there. So, you can really close that gap as performance support. You can also take a look a little bit deeper in terms of how you’re progressing and if you want to take some extra training or dig into an extra quiz, you can do that if you have some extra time or maybe your manager has asked you to really take a look at a particular topic, you can do that in addition to your daily assigned session.

It’s a gamified platform in terms of the ability to compete. So, you can look at where you stand in terms of your knowledge and the points that you’ve been receiving based on getting answers correct and completing assignments against your team. Then how is your team against other teams in the organization? I know that in my experience when I was with Kaplan, it was fun to see people screenshotting this screen and emailing it around to one another.

As we started to understand, there’s a different level of engagement happening when I have frontline managers claiming bragging rights in a gamified learning system, which we had never seen before. So, this is how you can potentially compete against one another to foster additional engagement. What do you do with those points? So, we have a rewards engine in play. So, associates can use those points in an eBay-like auction. So, they can purchase a variety of different types of rewards, whatever works best and really motivates inside your organization.

You see gift cards onscreen. One of the most popular prizes that I gave out at Kaplan was the best box of office supplies you’ve ever seen because people really liked office supplies. So, we gave out some cool stuff and that was the prize that really motivated engagement. Then as an administrator, you can dig into the data. So, we talked about understanding what’s the impact of what we’re doing? What does participation look like? But also, how is knowledge growing and how does that manifest itself in what people are doing every day?

So, not only can administrators dig into information in the platform from a report perspective, we also have management reporting capability. So, you see onscreen an example that’s the mobile look of our leader zone. So, in this case, a frontline manager, so a manager in the store at a Southeastern Grocer location can pull this information out on a desktop or mobile device and really dig in to understand, “What do my associates know and where are their potential knowledge gaps? How do I use that understanding, which I traditionally don’t have, to inform my coaching behavior so I can really target how I’m supporting my team and not just treat everyone like everyone has a particular challenge? I can really make it a nuanced coaching experience.”

So, that’s a quick snapshot of what the Axonify experience looks like today for a Southeastern Grocer associate. The big point I think I want to make before we get to our question and answer for the last couple of minutes is that we have an opportunity now that it’s not just about technology’s going to solve the problem. Technology is the enabler. But given that we have what we believe is a gap in the modern retail learning landscape and people’s ability to improve their performance, we can leverage this opportunity to really enable meaningful performance improvement with a modern approach to learning that includes right fit user centered technology as enabler within that larger learning ecosystem in our environment.

So, that’s our big point or big takeaway for the day. At this point, we’ve got five minutes left. I’d like to invite Alec back in to see if there are any questions or comments you’d like to share with myself or Rebeca and we’ll go from there. Alec?



All right, JD. Thank you. Yeah, as JD said, we’ll start the Q&A portion. If you have a question, please click on the purple Q&A icon, type in your question, and click submit. We had a few throughout, but we’ve already answered those. So, we’ll see. We’ll give it a little bit of time for some more to come through.


JD Dillon:

Yeah. Well, I’ll assume that Rebeca’s so informative that we knocked questions off very quickly as we shared story and insight.



All right. You know what? We have some rolling in now. So, we’ll start with one from Susan. “Many of our clients have invested a lot in their LMS and LMS’s are starting to offer more appealing and agile functionality. What should we say to them about doubling down on their LMS investment or investing in new technologies and distributive platforms?”


JD Dillon:

So, from my perspective, and Rebeca, feel free to add on, it starts with the user experience. So, what type of an environment are you trying to provide and how are you trying to provide support and then building up from there. I see a lot of organizations start with a required list of features or technological capabilities that don’t seem to line up to ultimately create something that the employee will experience. So, how do you start there and then take a look that in order to provide the experience we would like to provide to our employees, how do we active enable technology?

Then how does our existing technology ecosystem do that and then where are the gaps? So, in some cases, like I said, learning management systems do certain things very well, but then there are gaps and some of the disconnects we talked about today. It could be about a new system or it could be about secondary technology where it comes in and it provides certain parts of the experience to provide that overall learning ecosystem you’re looking to build.


Rebeca Sinclair:

Then for me as a human resource executive, I take it even one click up, which is where do we want to go strategically in the business, right? What do we need our associates to really know to be better and truly be confident and perform their roles? Similar to what JD’s saying, but then, that’s what I did and I went back and said, “How do I get there?”

I realized I can either cobble some systems together or wait for somebody to catch up. But I needed something transformational now. I needed something that was modern, cutting edge, and I was fortunate enough to be able to look at all the resources and financials and make that offsetting decision to go this direction.



All right. JD, we have one about prizes from Carrie. Carrie asks, “Can the prizes be customized or is there just a standard catalog?”


JD Dillon:

Sure. So, in the Axonify example, between Southeastern Grocer, then I was an Axonify customer when I was at Kaplan, we have a very different prize selection and prize strategy. So, I worked in, air quotes, “a highly regulated environment” where I couldn’t give out anything that had a cash value associated to it. So, when I mentioned that really cool box of office supplies, it was also a really cool way to avoid restrictions.

So, we gave out things like one on one meetings with our CEO and these types of ideas. So, it really allows you to be creative and put whatever you want in the system for people to bid on to make sure it’s what’s going to motivate your people, not just the same item across every different organization, which may or may not work in your environment.



All right. So, it looks like we’re going to have time for one more question, JD and Rebeca, and this one comes from Lisa. Lisa asks, “What steps did you take to change the learning culture, especially for those resistant to change?”


JD Dillon:

Rebeca, over to you.


Rebeca Sinclair:

Okay. I think for us, it was you design and you make it easy. You make it so simple. What I’ve always found about any strategy is if, especially in our environment, if you don’t make it easy to use and it’s cumbersome, no matter what you’re trying to do, no one will do it. So, we made this as lean as we could and as quick as it could be and it was able to show that you could build knowledge. We actually really took the managers and other leaders through it.

When they saw how easy it was and how helpful it was and how much information they could have to help their associates, we really found that the management teams were probably, quite honestly, our biggest advocates. So, this is the kind of thing when you see it and you use it, you know. It’s like, “Oh, my gosh. I’ve been waiting for this,” because not just associates, but leaders don’t want to have to spend anymore time than they have to learning something. If you can use modern science or technology and brain science to get there, you know what I mean, it sold itself and they actually helped draw upon it and ask for it.


JD Dillon:

Awesome. Yeah. The only thing I would highlight in addition is one, you said it a couple times, you just reinforced you engaged management, especially at the front line because in my opinion, the most important person in workplace learning is the frontline manager because they’re there every day understanding the context of the work. So, how do you make them part of the experience, not just a stakeholder who signs off on something, to really engage them and show them how meaningful it can be?

Two, making sure that the target is that every experience is relevant because a lot of people may push back on learning activities or scheduled training and whatnot because they’ve been there before and it didn’t provide value. They’d rather have been doing their job then going to this class or whatever it may have been. So, how do you really show that every time you log into this platform, every time you engage with us in a learning team, it’s going to be a useful experience for you and if it’s not, we’re going to take that feedback, like Rebeca said earlier, and we’re going to make sure that next time, we really deliver something that’s going to help you do what you do every day better than you did yesterday.



All right. Well, JD and Rebeca, thank you for that presentation. I also want to thank today’s sponsors at Axonify. But mostly, thanks to all of you in the audience for your participation. For those of you who’ve asked, you can find materials from today’s event and all other CLO webinars archived at or simply click on the CLO icon on the menu below your slides. Thank you once more to our attendees around the world.

We’ll see you all back here next time on Tuesday, October 4th for our next CLO webinar, How an Expert on Body Language Can Help You Modernize Your Training Content for the Digital World. That will start at 2:00 PM on October 4th. Have a great day.