Get Disruption-Ready by Reskilling Your Frontline Workforce — How Learning Management Solutions Deliver Bottom Line Value – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Shelly Kramer | August 3, 2021

In this LinkedIn Live episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, I’m joined by JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect of Axonify for a conversation about what it takes to prepare your workforce to be resilient in times of disruption — and a lot of that has to do with having the ability to reskill your frontline workforce. If we’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that our frontline workforce is critical to business operations. Beyond resilience, as it relates to both frontline workers and the organization as a whole, learning management solutions can, and do, deliver bottom line value.

One of the things that I find most impressive about JD, apart from the fact that he’s flat out brilliant, is that his career path has been a fascinating one, and a tribute to what I mean when I call him “brilliant.” He has led Learning & Development at Walt Disney World, and from there he went to leading the Learning & Technology Development at Kaplan Higher Ed. Today, JD leads all things learning-related at Axonify, an award-winning team of software developers and learning specialists based in Canada’s world- renowned technology hub, Waterloo, Ontario.

I should also mention that JD is the founder and principal of LearnGeek, an independent practice that provides advising and education services to organizations and professionals that want to provide better workplace learning and support experiences for their employees. He’s an author, an advisory board member at, and, well, you’d be hard pressed to find a better resource when it comes to learning management and insight on how to use technology to power your learning and development initiatives. Which is exactly why I was excited to feature him on our Interview Series.

In Times of Disruption, Frontline Employees Are Even More Critical Than Ever

In our conversation, JD and I discussed the fact that companies of all sizes have experienced quite a bit of disruption in the last year and many weren’t ready to deal with the myriad challenges that presented. But one thing we know to be sure, in times of disruption, frontline employees are even more critical than ever.

But we also know that as we’ve navigated a global pandemic during the course of the last 18 months, things are especially challenging for frontline employees. These employees, from cashiers to grocery store and retail workers, to medical personnel, were (and are) learning as they work in order to keep up with disruption and also do their part to keep business operations on track. This impact is still being felt across the globe, but could the right learning platform lessen the burden for these employees and help organizations be better prepared for the future? That’s what JD and I dove into in our conversation.

Learning Management Solutions for Frontline Workers Deliver Bottom Line Business Value

Our discussion around tech-focused learning management solutions for frontline workers was far-reaching and focused on how these solutions can and do deliver bottom line business value. Our conversation touched on the following:

  • The attributes that make frontline employees unique within the global workforce.
  • How effective businesses have been at supporting frontline employees in the last year.
  • JD shared insights on what Axonify is seeing with their customers.
  • The critical areas companies have focused on for upskilling and reskilling employees that either returned to work after being furloughed or changed jobs.
  • JD shared why the frontline employee experience is so unique and requires a new way of thinking for reskilling and training.
  • We explored how Axonify’s learning platform delivered the digital experience that frontline employees require, as well as how it fits alongside existing solutions like SAP® SuccesFactors®
  • We wrapped up the conversation with a discussion on what people can do to help their organizations get past the obstacles that stand in the way of meaningful learning and development.

For SAP SuccessFactors customers, using Axonify is truly a game-changer. You can find Axonify on the SAP Store, along with an Infosheet that our team produced: Improving the Efficacy of Frontline Training Programs with Axonify.

It was a terrific conversation and if you’re looking to reskill your frontline workforce, or even make sure that what you’re currently doing is on target, it’s one you won’t want to miss. You can watch the video of the conversation here:

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Shelly Kramer: Hello, and welcome to the Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series. This is a LinkedIn Live conversation that I’m so excited about. We are talking about how to get disruption ready by re-skilling your frontline workers. And today I’m joined by JD Dillon from Axonify for a conversation about what it takes to prepare your workforce to be resilient in times of disruption. JD, welcome.

JD Dillon: Hi, thanks for having me.

Shelly Kramer: Always. So tell us a little bit about yourself and then tell us a little bit about Axonify.

JD Dillon: Sure. So I’m a long time corporate learning and operations person. So I’ve spent the last 20 years primarily focused on helping frontline employees do their best work every day in organizations like the Walt Disney company. I live in Orlando, Florida. So I spent about 10 years with Disney and about six years supporting contact center operations for Kaplan, the world’s largest education company. And that’s where I met Axonify. I was actually on the customer side of this story before I joined the team about five years ago. And with Axonify we build technology, content and services that are designed to help frontline employees around the world do and be their best every day. So we know that it can be traditionally challenging to enable frontline teams, to reach frontline teams with the information and training they need in order to overcome the next challenge or prepare for the next disruption. So that’s what we do with our partners and our customers all over the world.

Shelly Kramer: Well, when you talk about disruption, goodness, we’ve lived disruption the world over the course of the last year. So I think it helps to walk into the situation and be a disruption expert. I have lived my life, my career sort of being an agent of chaos or working with organizations and disrupting them in good ways. So it is, I think, really cool to be an expert when it comes to navigating disruption. And I’m so impressed with your background with Disney and what was the other company, the huge company? I just-

JD Dillon: Kaplan.

Shelly Kramer: Oh my gosh, if there were ever learning management and learning execution needs those two companies you must be amazing at what you do. You are amazing at what you do.

JD Dillon: I am amazing at what I do, but it was interesting. My background I think introduced me to certain types of challenges and the idea of finding new ways to overcome familiar problems. So I remember that I learned a lot during the transition actually between those two roles. I supported learning and development and operations at Disney, so in Orlando, the property is about the size of San Francisco, and there were 65,000 cast members and I was bouncing around between resorts and theme parks and water parks, delivering courses, designing materials, all of the things you do in learning and development. And I went from that world, which is steeped in storytelling and everyone’s connected to the brand in some way, especially if you work there. And then I went to the world of for-profit online education, that’s a transition point.

Shelly Kramer: Very different.

JD Dillon: And I went from supporting people who were all on the frontline, all trying to deliver great customer, great student experiences, but doing their work in very different contexts. And it challenged me to rethink and retool everything I was doing because frankly, the toolkit and the tricks I was using at Disney didn’t work at Kaplan because it was very different people doing different types of work in different contexts. So I had to relearn how to do my job, and I think it was an early version of facing a level of professional disruption that’s then informed what I’ve done since then and now how I apply in the work that I do at Axonify.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah, very interesting. I can only imagine the challenges with those two very disparate workforces, how interesting that would be. And I mentioned before we started recording this video that I have 15 year old twin daughters, and even the kind of learning… I was thinking as you were talking about learning and teaching at Disney, that audience you have spans all age ranges. That employee base, that cast member base spans all age ranges. Kaplan does as well, but it’s different, probably not quite as many young people, which is a different kind of learning.

JD Dillon: Absolutely. I think one of the biggest differences I saw was in one conversation, I may have someone at Disney who’s been here for 40 years. And they haven’t just been doing this a long time, they are this in terms of the level of performance they bring, the stories that they tell. And in the same room I’m working with someone who’s a college program intern. So I have to convey the story, convey the information, the message in a way that resonates across the board when it comes to experience, role, demographic, all of those considerations.

And then moving into a different organization, it was still similar in terms of people coming from different backgrounds. A lot of people out there supporting contact centers may know, some people that you’re working with are professional contact center agents and they’ve worked in a ton of different organizations doing a similar job. Some people first time they’ve ever talked to someone on the phone professionally. So how do you find a way to support people that meets them where they are while helping everyone get to the level of performance they want to get to because everyone wants to do a good job, but also meets the needs, requirements and priorities of the organization. So similar challenges, but very different contexts.

Shelly Kramer: Well and meeting employees where they are I think is key, where they are with the messaging that they need and the training they need. And that’s so important. So speaking frontline workers, there’s been a lot of focus on frontline workers over the course of the last year. First we had health and economic impacts of the pandemic, and now we have challenges related to recruitment and hiring and retention. So before we dive into this question, I want to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Can you tell me how you define frontline employee?

JD Dillon: Sure. The simplest way that I kind of identify the group is it’s a group of people in your organization whose job is to work directly with your customers or your products and services every day. So while a wide array of people do different types of work that relate to those elements or functions within your business, it’s the people who are directly interfacing with those considerations. So your delivery drivers, your retail store associates, your warehouse operations team, your contact center operations team. So in the case of a manufacturing team, they may not see your customers, but they’re directly working with your products every day.

So it’s more about the context in which people do their work and a certain set of I’d say, attributes that they share in common, because some people might use the word desk-less as an example, it gets tossed a bit in a similar conversation. But there are what I would consider frontline employees who do work at desks every day, contact center agent being the best example of someone who is working with technology, sitting in front of a computer, but they spend most of their time directly engaging with customers, which is why I consider them to be in the group of frontline employees.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. Okay. Well, that helps a lot. So let’s talk a little bit about the frontline workplace experience, and I think it’s probably safe to say that that experience has changed considerably over the course of the last year. And now it’s changing again, as businesses are shifting to opening at full capacity or almost full capacity. So how effective do you think organizations have supported their frontlines over the course of the last year it’s part A of this question and then second part of this question is what do you see happening now as we’re pivoting to full reopening again? So let’s take question one, how effectively do you see that organizations have supported their frontlines over the course of the last year?

JD Dillon: Sure. And I think even if you just look at things anecdotally, you look at the news and all of the things that have been talked about with regards to frontline or essential workers over the past year, I think people can see that it’s been a bit of a mixed story. I think what has consistently happened is everyone noticed let’s say. So as having been a frontline employee, managers of frontline employees, and then also from a learning development perspective focusing on frontline workforces in a variety of companies, I can say that in a lot of cases, organizations just don’t see that team or maybe don’t put the right level of priority on that side of the business for a multitude of reasons. In the past year, everyone has seen them because to be frank, they were the ones driving everything forward.

They kept you open, they kept you profitable, they kept your customers safe and as satisfied as they could given their current set of circumstances. So everyone now sees that team and I’ve seen a growing connection when it comes to the importance of the role that they play and your ability to run your business. We’ve said that for a long time, and a lot of organizations have realized that over time more are now doing that. The next step becomes well, how do you prioritize this team and provide them with the support they need to do their best work everyday and deliver the results you need to see as a business? That’s where I’ve seen the story mix a bit in terms of some organizations taking those steps moving forward, prioritizing and making investments in terms of technology, in terms of training to not just keep the team safe as was required at the beginning of the pandemic, but then prioritizing them moving forward because they’ve recognized that connection as they re-imagine their business, your business can only grow as fast as your people can learn.

And a lot of teams have recognized that means everyone in your organization, not just people in specific roles. At the same time, my team did some research in partnership with Arlington Research in the UK. And we spoke directly to a set of frontline employees around the world, not folks who use Axonify particularly, just people who are in roles in grocery stores, retail stores, warehouse operations, professional sales teams. And we asked specifically last year late in the year about their support experience, how well taken care of were they, were they getting the information they need? Were they getting the timely updates, the training they needed as their job changed? Because what we found is when we asked, has your job changed? We found that more than 50% of frontline employees who were first of all furloughed at some point last year, directly impacted economically by the changes going on.

And then those who were still on the job about half saw a major change in what they did every day, whether that was taking on new tasks, or just moving into an entirely different role. Because today you may have been a bank teller in a branch, and then tomorrow you’re a work from home contact center agent because that’s where the business has moved. And within that change, we saw about 48% or so of those employees received some type of training to help them make that transition. So less than half of employees who were required to change what they did or how they did it every day received some type of formal support. So that’s partially good and partially problematic. And I’d say it’s less about organizations not wanting to provide the support or recognizing that enabling these teams is important.

I just think over the years, they haven’t prioritized building the mechanisms and the channels and putting the tactics in place that would allow for a rapid adjustment to get information that is needed today into that workforce. A lot of people are still relying on, well, did you attend the morning huddle or did you see the flyer posted by the time clock? There’s still a lot of that out there, and I challenge everyone to say if doing your best work relied on you reading a flyer in your break room, could you do that? I know I couldn’t. So I think a lot of organizations saw that gap last year kind of ran into it, which is why we saw limitation in terms of the types of support or timeliness of support that the frontline received. And now they’re using this time as they can get a little more strategic in the conversation to figure out, well, how do we solve for this problem? What do we need to do?

Shelly Kramer: Yeah. I think that as disruptive as navigating a global pandemic has been for all of us, the world over. I feel like there have also been some aha moments along the way, and it is seeing these things that you’re talking about in real life, recognizing the challenges that perhaps frontline workers had before we had to pivot the way that we did and certainly as they’ve been navigating through this. So my hope and I’m seeing this from many different business leaders in many different sectors. Now that we’re in a position where we’re talking about either a hybrid workforce situation or complete return to the office situation or whatever, I feel like many business leaders are realizing that the way things weren’t all that great, we need to change that because this is what a pandemic has taught us. And this is what a pandemic has taught us our employees need. So are you seeing that, are you seeing some aha moments in some of your customers at Axonify?

JD Dillon: I think what we’ve all seen is that a lot of traditional barriers fell very quickly out of necessity. You might’ve been having a conversation within your organization about remote work for years, and maybe there was an IT consideration around, well, the resources we need and IT security are very important things, but that really limits our ability to XYZ, dah, dah, dah, and then overnight that wasn’t a problem anymore. We figured it out.

Shelly Kramer: We had to.

JD Dillon: If you want to keep moving, you got to make it work. So that extends to the frontline story, and one of the best examples I’ve seen is the mobile experience. So bring your own device activating people’s personal smartphones as part of the workplace experience. I’ve been having that conversation in learning and development, corporate communications and whatnot for a decade. Since there have been phones that could do these things, we’ve been saying, well, we could. And a similar set of barriers got in the, where it was again, very important things like IT security, things like, well, do we have applications that are designed for a mobile experience? Would people want to use their phones?

And then if people, maybe if they do work away from work, what does that mean in terms of we want to make sure people get paid for their work? So there’s a laundry list of items. My favorite still though is, well, if we let people use their phones and they’ll be looking at their phones at work, they’ll be distracted, they won’t work with the customers. So customers won’t like that, so why would we do that? I’ve heard that objection over and over again my entire career. What happened in the past year is a variety of different factors directly influenced a rise that we now see in mobile engagement. And from a statistics perspective, Axonify training engagement before the pandemic was around 60% of sessions where people log into Axonify for access and communications and training, about 60%, 62% was conducted via mobile device around the world.

At the end of last year, that number turned into 74%. So a giant leap took place, nothing changed about the technology, the experience, what we were doing as Axonify, what changed was how people were prioritizing being able to reach their teams. And we saw a couple of things take place, two kind of main factors that really drove that story. One, the ability to stay connected when people did have to go home, when the furlough took place, when you had to shut down the operation for a period of time, but you wanted to maintain the connection to your team, keep people updated as to what was going on, continue to build the culture despite the challenge that they were facing. We saw people leveraging people’s primary computer, which is your personal smartphone and in some places that is the only device people may have at home.

So we saw people really lean into the mobile story and the BYOB story there. And then the other factor is that we’ve seen a rapid acceleration of the deployment of devices into the workplace to the point now where you just recently saw Walmart is distributing 750,000 phones across their frontline workforce in order to improve their ability to access information to be productive on the job and whatnot. But even over the past year, we’ve seen people deploying handheld devices, zebra devices into the workflow. Especially if you take grocery as an example, it may be in March of last year you didn’t have a delivery operation, and then by July you did.

And now you have people who are out in the store picking product and text messaging customers in order to make sure they’re making the right selections and delivering a great experience. So organizations have now handed devices to their teams, which completely eliminates a lot of those challenges or barriers that we saw to allowing people to use mobile phones or their own devices as part of the strategy. So I’ve seen that need to be connected to be able to reach people in a timely way and the recognition of how much that helps people be confident in what they’re doing and the organization flex and bend and be agile in terms of their execution has really created some of those aha moments, as you said, around how technology is deployed.

Shelly Kramer: Right. And I think two, a lot of this equation is trust. It’s a really simple thing, but it’s… I was having a conversation with some really senior executives at some big tech companies in the last couple of days. And we were talking about collectively shift to work from home doesn’t mean fewer hours and less work, basically what most of us are experiencing is that we’re working so much more, we’re working all the time. And I think that trusting people to do the job that needs to get done, do the work that needs to be done, do it with their personal device in their hand. No, they’re not going to be playing solitaire all day. Yes, they’re invested in serving customers or doing the job or whatever, but really trust is a big part of that equation. And my hope is that we see organizations kind of realizing that that’s an important part of the culture element is trusting your team.

JD Dillon: Absolutely. And it comes down to it’s a balancing act. Before you trust people to do their best work and to be focused on the priorities that matter most to you and your customers, you have to enable them with the resources they need so they can be confident and knowledgeable in their work. If you don’t do that first part, that’s where we see trust in both directions start to slip, because if I’m not getting the help that I need, how can I be focused on delivering the right experience when I may be running into problems over and over again, and you’re not helping me fix them. And then that trust starts to break apart and the relationship starts to fade. And that’s when we start to wonder, well, why do we see problems with retention and turnover and those types of ideas.

So trust begins with giving people the resources they need so they can be confident in their ability to do the job and solve the problems as they arise, and then letting them use those tools to do the work in the way that they can best do it. But then also on the other side, holding people accountable to it. It’s just like you said, if you apply this to a work from home scenario, does it matter when something happens or does it just matter that you get the product or the output that you expect and you hold people accountable to that, and then you let people find the way they work best. On the frontline, there’s a potential for a gap to emerge in terms of workplace culture because in a lot of cases, they don’t have the same flexibility that someone like I do when it comes to working from home, adjusting my schedule, choosing to hang out and have a conversation with you.

In a lot of cases, people are scheduled, they’re very task oriented on the frontline. They’re held accountable to a specific set of activities over a certain period during a shift, and we have to find ways to fit into that reality and provide the same level of support that someone working from home gets and it’s not the same experience, it’s an equitable experience. So everyone gets what they need to be successful. And we don’t allow a gap to emerge where we make technology investments, training investments, resource investments in the team that is now working in a hybrid fashion and forget the people who don’t have that same choice.

They didn’t get to go home, they kept clocking in everyday, they kept our world moving forward, not just your business moving forward. Now we need to make sure they’re getting all of the help they need and shaping an experience that’s attractive, that’s, I’m trying to think of the right word, but I feel good, it really reinforces why do I work here today? That’s when we’ll get people to take on those roles and not just expect that people are going to show up because there’s a job opening.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and I think that it’s, we mentioned this earlier in the conversation, it’s about meeting them where they are with what they need when they need it and making those things accessible easily across the board. So we’ve been talking a lot about skill sets and that sort of thing, have you seen companies focusing their re-skilling and up-skilling efforts on any particular topics or skill sets?

JD Dillon: I’d say we’ve seen the conversation on the frontline shift as the circumstances have shifted over the past year. So if you asked me that question in the beginning to middle of 2020, I would have said there’s a considerable focus on health and safety, the kind of basics of hygiene, hand-washing, wearing a mask, all of those considerations. That then started to shift into the middle of the second half of last year, where we started to see the introduction of considerations around things like mental health, wellness, the impact of what’s been going on and how we can help people adopt practices or identify when they need help or when they can help someone else. So those conversations really started to pick up as well as a re-imagination of people’s kind of core skill sets. So let’s say customer service, which is broadly speaking, a wide ranging set of skills across the frontline team and grocery retail contact center operations.

We saw a re-imagination of those skills taking place whereas one of my favorite examples is just how do you interact with someone when you’re both wearing face masks? You’re used to reading certain signals, you can read certain emotions with people, but when we removed that in the way we were interacting in the second half of last year, we needed to re-skill people on how to engage in some of those basic capabilities of their job. So now, as we kind of turn another curve with regards to how things are progressing, it’s starting to change again where people are I’d say taking a more strategic look at the skills they’re going to need to build moving forward, where in 2020, it was very reactive.

How do we catch up with the change that’s impacting our world, where now we’re looking a little bit further ahead and still focusing on things that matter like wellness, mental health, leading with empathy, those types of ideas. What’s going to really help power our business forward as the business changes, as customer expectations change and as employee expectations change with regards to the skills we help them build so they can build their career.

Shelly Kramer: And speaking of employee expectations, I was reading an article just the other day, talking about there are more people quitting jobs than ever before. And I think that the pandemic has taught organizations certain lessons, but it also has taught a workforce from frontline workers and beyond. I think that it has shown people perhaps maybe a glimpse into what’s more important than other things.

And I think it’s shown people maybe the true colors of the companies for which they worked, that maybe they kind of knew before but weren’t really paying attention to. But I think that today people are finding, well, first of all, there’s definitely a dearth of highly skilled workers, certainly in the technology space where I live and breathe.

But this is a challenge that businesses all over have. And here’s the problem though, when you don’t have a culture, when you don’t have a focus on creating the best employee experience that you can and giving them the tools, the resources, the training to make those jobs that they do frontline or otherwise satisfying, enjoyable, something that they like showing up for, some place where they feel they’re making a difference or they feel they’re contributing, they’re going to go find something else. So this is really an important business objective.

JD Dillon: Absolutely. And when it comes to conversations like the skills gap, skills is a very popular conversation right now for a reason when it comes to human resources and operational leaders. And I like to point out the fact that I actually don’t think it’s a skills gap to be simple, because it’s not like we suddenly realized people’s capabilities are important, there’s clearly a gap in terms of our ability to access people who can do the types of things we need them to do as businesses evolve. But is it really a skills gap or is it actually an opportunity gap? Have we failed to prioritize and recognize development for so long at this point that we’ve basically created the situation because as skill requirements shifted faster, we just didn’t have the mechanisms in place to keep up.

Shelly Kramer: Or we weren’t paying attention. Just like you are saying that I’ve been talking about this for a decade, well, I’ve been talking for a decade about millions of shortages in terms of people to fill jobs that are necessary in this industry 4.0 world that we live in. And that’s not new news. So I think you make a very valid point in that it didn’t just happen, it’s been happening, we knew it was happening, we were talking about the fact that it was happening. But the other thing I think that I’ve really seen fall by the wayside over the course of certainly in the last five years or so.

And please argue with me if you feel differently, but I think that learning and development in some ways took a little bit of a back seat in terms of business priorities for a while. And I think that one of the things that we’ve learned certainly as we’ve had to engage in this massive pivot to navigate a pandemic. I think that we’ve learned the importance of learning and development as just a fundamental business premise and something that’s certainly not treated as a one and done exercise. It’s something that’s a culture of continuous learning, and I think all of those things are really important.

JD Dillon: There’s so many places to go with everything you just said, but I think there’s considerations on all sides of the conversation because absolutely a vast number of organizations did not prioritize learning and development and even to this point maybe still aren’t. And I think a lot of that comes back to the organization not necessarily just not prioritizing training, but not re-imagining what employee development is and looking at it from a modern perspective and kind of with a modern lens to say, investing in training does not mean removing people from their work in order to send them to programs and thereby inhibit productivity, and then put a strain on the organization. That is what it meant in a lot of cases in the past, but when you look at what technology can do today with regards to how people work, and let’s bring that to the frontline, frankly, because organizations often staff to what they need, pulling someone out of the operation for 30 minutes is often something you just can’t do.

When I supported the contact center rule number one, people can’t come off the phone and then I had to figure out, well, how do I help them develop in any meaningful way if they can’t come off the phone? And that’s where I think the re-imagination is required is to not just prioritize the development of the right knowledge and skills within your organization, but take a hard look at how work is done and then figure out, well, how do we embed the opportunity to learn, solve problems, collaborate, engage, and develop so that it’s a seamless part of the job? It’s not just something we can access in the flow of work, it’s something we’re actually expected to do and recognized for doing. And I would challenge anyone who’s a manager out there, how often are team members, or how often are managers recognized for prioritizing development?

Are frontline managers looked at and not necessarily just recognized for hitting operational goals? Are they recognized for helping build the bench strength of the organization? And in most cases that’s not part of their priorities, so where are they going to prioritize their time? So when you look at and living in a world of frontline employees, the frank reality is I may only have three minutes with a grocery store employee on any given day, because if I try to get any more time to help them focus on their development, I’m going to negatively impact the operation and then we kind of go back to where we were. So the question becomes, how do I make the best use of those three minutes? And three minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you focus on the right things for a couple of minutes a day, that starts to add up and it turns into not just more time dedicated to development than you traditionally see when it happens in batches maybe once a month, once a quarter.

But it allows you to align with how people actually develop. You’re not going to remember most of what I said today if you’re watching this conversation, you’re going to remember pieces of it. So that’s how we learn in pieces in iterations, and we get better incrementally over time. So we can feed into that reality, fit the ability to learn and support people into their day-to-day work. And then if we’re focused on the right things, see those results come back quickly. And then there’s one last thing, prove that the investment we’re making in people’s development is positively impacting the organization. That’s the other thing I think that’s often missing is we all know altruistically, give people the training they need good idea, it sounds great. But for those who are maybe making decisions based on return on investment, business impact KPIs, does it also help us become more profitable, help us avert risk, help us get ready for the next change that’s going to take place?

So we have to make the ability to learn, develop a seamless meaningful part of the job, but at the same time, make sure we’re measuring the way that it impacts organizations. So we can turn back around and say, you know those three minutes that we’re dedicating every day, it’s helping us increase sales by this much, it’s actually driven a customer satisfaction increase by this percent. We’re seeing the results of the investment and we’re hearing about that result from the teams, from the frontline employees who feel like they’re being better taken care of, and they feel more confident in their work. That’s the kind of balancing act we have to find when it comes to the approach we can take today.

Shelly Kramer: So for me, the secret sauce of the Axonify solution is everything you just said. You don’t have to take our word for it that this works, in the platform, we’re going to show you dollars and cents wise how it works. And I think that’s a value proposition [inaudible] to walk away from.

JD Dillon: And when it comes to organizations with regards to how much more data-driven people are in the work that we do every day and how we’re trying to make data informed conversations, I challenge organizations to look at how well do you understand your teams? How well do you understand their capabilities? What they know and don’t know at any given point and how that’s influencing the decisions they make on the job. And it really comes down to a simple realization that if people don’t know or they don’t remember, they can’t make the right decision and then potentially negative things start to happen from there. So it comes down to that very basic point, but in order to understand where do we focus the time that we have, how do we deliver a better experience, more personalized experience, it comes back to, well, do you have the right data, the right understanding of your organization?

So you can target the experience and make the best use of everyone’s time and get away from a world where everyone takes the same training. It’s a one size fits none scenario, and people start to get a negative feeling about that time spent because it frankly didn’t help them do something better today. That’s how learning and development needs to evolve, especially in a world where we’re going to continuously be trying to keep pace as things change around us, so we can be more agile, more responsive to disruption and ultimately more competitive.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and that’s a really valid point in terms of disruption because the reality of it is things are not going to slow down, things are not going to go back to normal. You know what I’m saying, we are in a time of accelerated change, technology is driving that change, customers are driving that change, employees are driving that change. And being able to collectively move at a more rapid pace enabled by technology solutions that is our future. So it’s not going to go back the way it was. It’s going to be better.

JD Dillon: And connect that comment to the skills gap conversation from earlier, you’re never going to close the skills gap because the road is constantly being plowed, there’s constant construction happening. So if you think you can chart your path forward from A to Z, that’s just not how anything works nowadays. So that’s why I come back to the idea, it’s less about worrying about the specific set of skills required to be successful today and it’s more about installing the mechanisms, the technology, the resources, the tools, the channels that will help you deal with whatever that list becomes. I often say that from a corporate learning and HR perspective, we should be a little bit more like plumbers.

You need water to move through your house to get to different places, to help you solve different problems when and where you need it.

And it only gets there, you don’t have to carry buckets around in a lot of cases anymore, because you’ve got a solid plumbing infrastructure in place, and you can get that resource where you need it when you need it. We need to be doing the same thing when it comes to the infrastructure that supports our teams, regardless of the role they have, the work they do, or where they do it. So that those pieces, tactics and channels are there so that when I need it, I can push the right information, the right training, get access to the right people or allow them to engage, share what they know, share their insights in a way that kind of creates that collaboration. But the pieces are already there because frankly, I don’t know what the next thing is, what the next change will be, what the next disruption, regardless of how great the plan is, we know what happens there. So we need the infrastructure in place so that whatever the next thing is, we’ve got the pieces that we need to be able to confront it in collaboration with our teams.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. And I would add that in addition to an infrastructure, you really need to focus on creating a culture of continuous learning. And this is our norm, we are all going to be learning all the time and being adaptable and agile and that sort of thing. And I think that when you create that mindset, people are excited by that because people do want to enhance their skill sets and move along in the corporate world, regardless of what your position is. And so I think when you set the benchmark that this is who we are, this is what we are, and continuous learning is our jam. So isn’t it exciting? I think that that plays a big role.

JD Dillon: Yeah. And I often read posts that’ll say the five things you need to do in order to up-skill and re-skill your team. And one of those things is often build a learning culture, which I find funny that anyone would ever put that as a bullet point on a list, because that’s a very large bullet point. But the reality is that every company has a learning culture, a lot of companies haven’t paid attention to it. So it’s less that, well, people need to be learning every day. They are learning every day because we’re people, that’s how we operate. The question becomes, are they learning the right things and are we making it easy for people to learn the right things that matter most?

In some cases, people have blind spots or gaps in their ability to identify what should I be working on or what skill set is going to help me take that next step, or maybe where am I struggling if I’m not getting the right feedback in my performance day to day? So that’s where it all comes back to closing those gaps in the infrastructure, making sure we’re making it easy for people to solve problems, to identify where there are gaps in their performance and to access the opportunities so they can close the gaps for today, but at the same time prepare themselves for where we’re going into the future. And then we can shift that infrastructure in the direction that we need to in order to address whatever the next disruption may be.

Shelly Kramer: That makes perfect sense. JD, this conversation has actually gone on a little long, but I will tell you that I can hang out here with you and talk on this topic for a very long time, because it’s clearly of great interest to me. I do want to wrap up with one question, how does a solution like Axonify that focuses on frontline employees fit alongside a solution like SAP SuccessFactors that matches the needs of the corporate workforce as a whole?

JD Dillon: Sure. It all comes down to shaping an experience that aligns with how people learn and work every day. I often tell people that what you learn, so the knowledge and skills that you develop are driven by your job, whether it be projects that you’re working on or particular position or title that you have. How you learn to do those things is directly influenced by how you spend your time and how you do your work. So if you work at home like I do, I’m working in a very different context than someone who’s working on a manufacturing line or someone who’s a delivery driver. So what we need to do to make sure that everyone… Everyone doesn’t need equal support, they need equitable support, the support they need to be as successful as they can be. So in order to deliver that experience, we need to shape the experience so that it matches the reality that they face and deliver an experience that fits into their day-to-day workflow.

So that’s where you see organizations I think recognizing more and more, it’s unlikely that a single tool, a single tactic, a single platform can deliver an experience that matches the workplace context and the day-to-day realities of everyone that you support, especially if you work in a large distributed dynamic global organization. So that’s where you see organizations pulling together these learning technology stacks or ecosystems that enable them to build the right experiences for the right personas across the organization.

So in some cases you may see maybe an organization has a corporate team who is working in a hybrid reality and an SAP SuccessFactors delivers an experience that fits how I focus on and engage in learning and development as part of my job every day. But maybe that same organization has a retail operation and in the stores, Axonify delivers an experience that fits into the experience of my work every day on my handheld zebra device in those couple of minutes that I have and focuses on my personal needs in a way that maybe because I don’t have time to browse, to work through different projects and things like that, where maybe a work from home employee needs a different type of experience. So it’s all about applying the right tools within the right parts of your organization to deliver that equitable experience that fits into the day-to-day for everyone you’re trying to help do their best work.

Shelly Kramer: And thinking about it in terms of a stack that serves these different needs. That’s very interesting-

JD Dillon: I always say it’s like your phone. How many apps do you have on your phone? It’s probably not one. Same idea for how we’re trying to help people with the right technologies.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah. That makes perfect sense. Well, JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect at Axonify. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. It’s been a fascinating conversation and I know we’ll do it again because these are great topics.

JD Dillon: Awesome. Thank you again for the chat and thanks to everyone for hanging out with us today.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. Thanks to all the people watching and listening for hanging out with us. We’ll see you again next time. And again, JD Dillon thank you for joining me and we’ll see you next time.




About the Author

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”