Home décor chain At Home modernizes associate training methods

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Employee training initiatives face unique challenges in retailing, given the vast numbers of people who work far from the corporate office and aren’t tethered to a desk. It’s almost impossible to ensure that all receive consistent information. At times, it’s difficult to ensure they receive information at all.

Home décor superstore At Home uses an employee knowledge platform from Axonify to enable employees — both at company headquarters in Plano, Texas, and at its 120 stores — to access training videos that are tailored to their positions and goals, easily digested and use game strategy to boost learning and engagement.

At Home emerged from bankruptcy nearly 15 years ago with new owners, and brought a new CEO on board about four years ago. “In many respects, it was like a 35-year-old startup,” says Valerie Davisson, At Home’s head of human resources since 2013.

The company previously had been known as Garden Ridge, a name that carried “towering strength in terms of the brand,” Davisson says. It also generated confusion, given that the stores sell a range of furniture and home décor items.

“Our brand suffered every day from a lack of awareness,” she says.

In addition, turnover was running at about 400 percent, Davisson says. The management team needed to rebuild employee policies and re-start employee training, which had become almost non-existent.

The goal was to “change the culture to be something more welcoming,” she says.

Any solution would have to scale with the business and be easy to implement and learn. It also needed to be budget- friendly.

“It needed to be nimble and flexible, but robust,” Davisson says. “The juice had to be worth the squeeze.”

At Home’s director of loss prevention suggested Davisson look at Axonify. Axonify’s employee knowledge platform consists of brief lessons — often just a few minutes each — tailored to each employee’s position and current level of knowledge. Its algorithm automatically adjusts as an employee successfully completes a lesson, so the next lesson builds on what they have already learned.

Axonify’s employee knowledge platform consists of brief lessons — often just a few minutes each — tailored to each employee’s position and current level of knowledge.

“The content can be targeted to the job title and location,” says Carol Leaman, president and CEO of Axonify.

Employees can access the lessons via a range of devices, and at the pace that suits them. Some retailers embed the lessons within their point-of-sale systems or kiosks, while others allow employees to access them on personal mobile devices.

How humans learn

The traditional means of communicating with employees such as posters, meetings and classroom presentations often fall short, Leaman says. After a while, employees don’t notice posters, and it’s difficult to assemble dispersed employees into meetings and classes. “Axonify was designed to counter this,” she says.

The Axonify approach incorporates an understanding of the ways in which most humans acquire and retain information. For instance, most people can digest and remember four or five pieces of information at a time. “Beyond that, you get memory degradation,” she says.

This understanding means the lessons on Axonify are short, but the concepts are reinforced over multiple lessons, which helps participants retain the concepts over the long term.

The programs also use gamification to encourage and maintain strong participation. Participants can earn points as they complete different lessons, and see how their point totals compare with their coworkers.

Moreover, since the Axonify platform is available through the cloud, it is accessible just about any time and from anywhere. This is key for companies with workers who are “deskless,” work hours outside the typical nine-to-five and need to be “on-the-clock” as much as possible.

At Home takes new employees through the Axonify platform during orientation, Davisson says. Many will complete a single lesson — say, identifying counterfeit currency or learning about products from a new line — on almost every shift, usually at the beginning or end. Employees who successfully complete a module can earn points that can be exchanged for gift cards or other rewards.

At Home also uses the platform to distribute messages from top leadership. During the holidays, the company’s CEO was able to let employees know how much their hard work was recognized and appreciated.

“It’s a cheap and easy way of getting the message out,” Davisson says. In the past, communicating such a message could require reams of paper, and even then, management couldn’t be completely sure the substance of the message was conveyed to all employees in the way intended.

Building knowledge

Axonify offers a content library from which At Home can choose articles or expert insight to post, says Mandy Monk, internal human resources consultant with At Home. As a result, “the company can build employees’ knowledge in variety of ways,” she says.

Content typically falls into one of four categories, Leaman says: customer service, product knowledge, health and safety and general corporate information.

Companies can use the Axonify knowledge platform to curate content within a “DiscoveryZone.” Employees who have an immediate need for information — say, how to manage a chemical spill — can turn to the DiscoveryZone to find the steps they should take to safely clean the spill. “The idea is to find knowledge with two clicks,” Leaman says.

The combination of content and learning tools appears to pay off. Companies often find that more than 90 percent of employees participate in Axonify training on an ongoing basis. One vice president of loss prevention at an Axonify client said he knew the program was having an impact the first week, when he began getting calls asking about the location of stickers used to label hazardous waste; no one had ever asked about this before.

At Home initially tested Axonify in about seven stores. Davisson made the tool available and told the store managers about it, but didn’t conduct any training. After all, to really test the simplicity of the platform, employees needed to pick up the solution on their own. The test revealed that employees were able to quickly begin using it.

The technology “looks and feels friendly,” she says.

At the end of August 2015, At Home rolled it out to its entire store director team; about six weeks later, everyone had completed the onboarding and orientation process and asked for additional modules. Davisson loaded more modules, including one with updated safety training — which proved critical when one store was robbed. Employees said the safety training within the Axonify system prepared them to handle the situation.

Most implementations are completed within six to eight weeks. Axonify stands alone, so it typically doesn’t need to be integrated with other software solutions. However, some companies link to a nightly feed that adds new employees and subtracts those who’ve left. Aside from any devices the company purchases for employees to access the platform, no new hardware is required.

At Home enjoys an average weekly participation rate of 94 percent. “I’ve been a human resources professional a long time,” Davisson says. “This is the first time I have training that … provides what we need within constraints of our budget, and for a dispersed workforce.”

Karen Kroll is a business writer based in Minnetonka, Minn.

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