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Q&A: JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect at Axonify

JD Dillon is the Chief Learning Architect at Axonify. After 20 years leading Operations and L&D teams within dynamic organisations like Disney, AMC and Kaplan, he’s… View Article


Q&A: JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect at Axonify

JD Dillon is the Chief Learning Architect at Axonify. After 20 years leading Operations and L&D teams within dynamic organisations like Disney, AMC and Kaplan, he’s become an authority on frontline enablement and a staunch advocate for improving the employee experience.

We sat down with JD to talk about the disruptions facing retail, the challenges of enabling retail associates and Axonify’s journey to revolutionise frontline learning and enablement in partnership with global retailers like Foot Locker, Walmart and more.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’ve spent my entire career working with frontline employees. The first half of my career I managed movie theatres and theme parks. I spent 10 years with Disney, first managing park operations, and then transitioning into learning and development where I supported every line of business at the Walt Disney World Resort, including retail, food and beverage, attractions and hotel operations. I then moved on to Kaplan, the world’s largest education company where I oversaw learning technology and content strategy within their contact centre operations. Now, I’m on the technology side of frontline work with Axonify, where I’ve been Chief Learning Architect for the past eight years. We support four million frontline employees around the world in a variety of industries, helping them do their best work every day.

What does Axonify do?

We’re working to close the digital divide between corporate and frontline workers. Frontline work is different. It’s hands-on. It’s on-location. It’s mobile. So frontline workers need a different kind of technology to help them solve problems, make good decisions and perform at their best. We build that technology along with content and services that fits how frontline work is done.

Axonify blends training, communication and operations tools to provide frontline workers with personalised support when and where they need it during their shift. We support associates who are brand new to the industry—and often brand new to the workplace—as well as workers who have been doing the job for 15, 20, 30 years. Axonify leverages your organisational data to personalise the training and support experience for every associate. This includes everything from adaptive learning that focuses on specific performance gaps to translating the digital experience into each employee’s preferred language.

How is what Axonify does different from a traditional learning management system (LMS) or communications platform?

We’ve been focused on the needs of the frontline workforce from the very beginning. Our first customer was a retailer who needed help with loss prevention and safety challenges. From day one, we’ve made sure our platform fits the unique nature of frontline work. This is why 83% of Axonify users worldwide access the platform two to three times per week, on average.

We’ve taken inspiration from a variety of technologies—both in the workplace and consumer space—to craft a best-of-breed solution in partnership with our customers. After all, they know how to run their businesses better than we ever will. So our learning management system, communications tools, task management features and recognition capabilities are all designed to enable—not disrupt—how frontline employees and managers do their jobs every day.

How does that change a shop worker’s experience getting training or onboarding?

We think in terms of minutes, not courses. Labour hours are a frontline business’ greatest operational expense. Retailers schedule only the people they need to run their businesses and serve their customers. Plus, they need new employees on the floor as quickly as possible. So we crafted the Axonify experience to fit into the minutes people have available in their day. Plus, we designed our platform to be a mobile-first experience that is available on any devices used within the workflow—from inventory scanners to point of sale systems to personal smartphones.

The Axonify experience begins on day one, during a new hire’s onboarding. As they complete hands-on and digital training, the platform learns about the employee’s strengths and gaps. It then personalises the experience to focus on the most critical areas. This includes highlighting potential coaching opportunities to store managers, who play a critical role in the frontline experience.

This personalised experience continues beyond onboarding with daily training and communication activities that take just three to five minutes to complete. Every time a person logs into Axonify, they get an experience that’s just for them—with quick bites of useful information to help them do their job, keep up with change and improve their performance. This can be done within the operation in the moments frontline workers have available between tasks. Plus, with the option to play games, compete with peers and win prizes, it’s a lot of fun.

What are some of the unique challenges retail is up against right now?

I divide retail challenges into two camps—the predictable and the unpredictable.

On the predictable side, there’s the need to draw shoppers into stores while fostering a strong ecommerce presence. This means offering a differentiated experience that justifies a visit as well as upsell opportunities. Plus, organisations are pushing management teams to do more with less. In many cases, this means managing wages and reducing labour spend while still getting the work done.

Then there’s the unpredictable side—making sure organisations are future-ready for the next potential disruption. In some cases, this includes increases in theft, workplace violence and other emergency situations.

Both sides have one thing in common—frontline associates must have the knowledge, skill, tools and motivation to do their best to help businesses overcome these challenges and achieve their goals. It takes more than a classroom session or an eLearning module or a pre-shift huddle to develop skills, change behaviour and inspire people to action.

How does Axonify address these challenges?

We understand the unpredictable nature of frontline work, and that’s why a big part of our story is reinforcing critical knowledge. Whether it’s how to handle a difficult situation or how to deal with an emergency that takes place in the store, we’re constantly reinforcing what people learn, challenging them to apply their knowledge so it’s top of mind when it matters most.

In that way, we’re helping retailers balance the needs of preparing their teams for the predictable challenges within retail, as well as those unpredictable situations that matter significantly to your employees, to your customers and to your business.

Axonify offers a flexible solution that can be used to address your current priorities—without overloading your frontline team or falling behind the changing needs of your business. You can target specific information to specific locations, brands or teams. Meanwhile, Axonify leverages data to personalise the experience while making sure required training gets done and critical messages are viewed ASAP.

Sometimes, the focus is increasing basket size or improving customer service. In other cases, like Walmart, we’ve focused more on the safety side of the business, reducing time away from work and incident claims. And Walmart is seeing significant savings as a result of using Axonify for training and ongoing reinforcement.

What’s next for Axonify?

We’re constantly speaking with our customers and conducting research on the frontline work experience. We’ll continue to expand our capabilities to provide more value to the people using our technology on the job every day as well as to stakeholders across the business, including Operations, Human Resources and Learning & Development.

We’re also evaluating the shifting technology landscape to consider how capabilities like generating AI can further augment our frontline digital experience. For example, we’re using LLMs to augment our translation capabilities to make Axonify available in more than 60 languages. We’re also working on digital assistants, content authoring features and measurement tools that leverage AI to improve operational efficiency and get the right information into the hands of the people who need it.

Anything else to add?

Retail managers need help. Our latest research shows that 54% of retail managers are burned out on a daily basis. Frontline employees don’t work for your company—they work for their manager. Managers have an oversized influence on the frontline experience, including recruitment, hiring, training, scheduling, communication, recognition and task assignments. To improve the frontline employee experience and hit our operational goals, we first need to improve the way we support managers. So if there’s one place retailers must invest this year, it’s managers.

If you’d like to explore how Axonify can help your retail operation, visit their website or connect with JD Dillon here.


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