How does employee learning impact business results? That’s the million-dollar question most executives struggle with.

In fact, as the vice president of loss prevention and risk management at Bloomingdale’s, I faced this challenge too. But, by approaching training completely differently, I discovered a way to identify exactly how much safety training is impacting the corporate bottom line. And, in the process, our organization has benefited from a safer work environment.

Confronting a universal problem

Today’s organizations, regardless of industry, face a common problem. Simply put, employees often lack the knowledge they need to take the right actions on the job, resulting in huge costs to the business.

At Bloomingdale’s, we identified an opportunity to reduce employee knowledge gaps around safety. Although we already had a low rate of safety incidents, we just weren’t satisfied with simply meeting corporate standards. We wanted to exceed them. Our main goal was to increase employee safety, but the problem was that status quo training methods weren’t cutting it.

Like most retail organizations, Bloomingdale’s relied on a handful of standard training approaches—awareness posters, classroom training, LMSs, and pre-shift morning rallies—which weren’t doing the job. (Let’s face it: Safe work practices aren’t exactly a topic that gets people excited.) And, like virtually every large retail chain, we found it hard to provide consistent store-to-store training, let alone figure out which associates understood the information and knew how to apply it correctly.

While this challenge was overwhelming, to say the least, it wasn’t something I felt we could ignore. I understood that a direct link existed between effective and continuous safety training and the likelihood employees would follow proper procedures, which would reduce injury rates. And enhancing employee knowledge was the starting point.

Searching for an unconventional alternative

Without question, I believed we needed to step outside of the traditional training box. We had to find a progressive learning solution that would not only solve this current challenge but could be applied to any part of the Bloomingdale’s business to boost employee knowledge and performance. After all, retail training approaches in general hadn’t kept pace with the times. We had a workforce that was tech-savvy, multi-generational, and facing higher demands to learn more information than ever before. And I felt there had to be a better way to reach this modern group of employees in a manner that would excite them about learning, help them retain information longer, and increase the likelihood of translating that learning into action on the job.

Although it wasn’t known if the type of cutting-edge approach we needed even existed, it was clear the ideal solution had to:

  • Integrate into associates’ regular workday without taking them off the floor
  • Appeal to a diverse and multi-generational workforce
  • Offer flexibility to meet the unique challenges in different departments and stores
  • Provide a way to measure learning progress and tie it back to business outcomes

Pushing beyond the boundaries of eLearning

It was during a chance meeting that I learned about Axonify and, from the moment I saw it, I thought it was just what Bloomingdale’s needed. Not only did the solution meet all of our criteria, but I felt confident that once employees experienced this new way of learning they would keep coming back for more.

In a nutshell, Axonify is an employee knowledge platform that helps build, sustain, and share knowledge in a fun, engaging, and gamified way. It personalizes learning to target and close individual knowledge gaps, giving employees the confidence to perform their role to the best of their ability. And this helps an organization achieve its potential because employees take the correct actions, which ultimately drive real business results.

Since 2012, Axonify has helped deliver safety awareness training to more than 10,000 Bloomingdale’s employees. Employees participate in three- to five-minute training bursts during their shifts—either through our POS (point of sale) system or tablets on the store floor—so learning happens every time they’re at work instead of only during formal training events.

When employees first access the Axonify platform, they are presented with an opportunity to receive learning within a game (arcade style, brain teaser, sports, or multiplayer) (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Axonify platform presents employees with gamified learning opportunities

As employees engage in game play, targeted questions appear on topics that range from ladder safety to how to clean up broken glass to the correct way to use box cutters and more (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Questions target specific safety topics

Employees not only compete against themselves to increase their knowledge, but also compete against their peers. Leaderboards display how they measure up, driving friendly competition among employees to achieve the top performing scores (Figure 3). Additionally, employees can earn points, badges, and prizes that acknowledge their success and foster increased motivation through recognition.

Figure 3: Leaderboards help to maintain engagement and motivation

Depending on how employees answer the questions, Axonify adapts to target their individual knowledge strengths and weaknesses. To maximize learning and retention, questions reappear at certain intervals according to a proprietary algorithm based on proven brain science research. And because employees participate in training on an ongoing basis, the information they learn is reinforced so it is embedded in memory and they can apply it in their real work environment.

Probably the most exciting part is that all learning progress is tracked in Axonify to measure its impact (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Axonify tracks learning progress and impact

It’s easy to see how both teams and individual employees are advancing, which topic areas employees are struggling with, and where they are exhibiting high knowledge growth. In this way, managers can continue to provide the best coaching to help employees achieve their potential. At Bloomingdale’s, these reports also allow us to see a direct correlation between safety training initiatives and safety incidents that we measure on an ongoing basis.

Proving the value of this new approach

Early on in Axonify’s implementation, two chief executives were walking in one of Bloomingdale’s stores. They noticed some broken glass on the floor, so they began to clean it up. As they were doing this, an associate stopped them in their tracks, saying “You gentlemen aren’t following the correct procedure. Let me show you how to clean up this glass properly. I learned on Axonify how to perform this task.” The two executives were astonished. From that point forward, all skepticism vanished. There was no question in their minds that the learning program was having a direct impact on safety improvement in the workplace.

Proof of Axonify’s impact is also evident in hard data. By measuring safety performance month-to-month it’s clear that there has been consistent improvement. In fact, I am excited to report that by reducing safety claims by 41 percent Axonify has helped save Bloomingdale’s $2.2 million this year alone.

Besides this, the results of an employee survey demonstrate our associates are embracing Axonify just as much as management—86.6 percent of associates reported their job confidence increased; 83 percent said they believe Axonify helps reduce shortage and prevent accidents; and 72 percent said they prefer Axonify to other forms of learning.

While we are always looking for ways to enhance our safety programs, which are all part of the matrix of understanding store performance, I don’t believe Bloomingdale’s would be as strong as it is or as safe as it is today without Axonify. In fact, in my 40 years of experience, this is probably the most innovative program I’ve put in place in any of the positions that I’ve been in for retail safety and loss prevention. Axonify is giving us the ability to educate associates, make them more aware, and change behavior to really create a safer environment. And my vision is to see the Axonify platform implemented in other aspects of Bloomingdale’s as well.