story and photos by Kim Souza
Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of The City Wire focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by The City Wire and sponsored by Propak Logistics.
There’s hardly a single minute of downtime in a busy Walmart distribution center (DC), so the the three minutes it takes to recharge a forklift battery is not wasted because the retail giant works with Waterloo, Ontario-based Axonify to reinforce safety education through a gaming application.
Ken Woodlin, vice president of compliance, safety and asset protection for Walmart Logistics, said the retailer has used gamification to train its 75,000 workers on safety procedures over the past year. The results have been good enough for Wal-Mart to expand the program to its transportation department and broaden the scope from workplace safety to now include people-based safety.
Woodlin said it began slow, but now that the entire logistics team is acclimated the retailer is adding the next layer of training which entails safety around the clock.
“If you think about it, we want our associates to practice good safety procedures at all times, even at home because if you have an accident at home, you are still likely to need time off for recovery. We are also going to use the application to assist our truck drivers with their training for driver championships, which require a lot of tests,” he said.
Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores first began testing the use of game application to reinforce safety training in 2012. Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, a educational technology company, said her firm’s educational software platform works well in retail, particularly distribution warehouses that employ large numbers of dispersed workers.
“We built a software application that helped Pep Boys address safety issues with their workforce in 2012 and was introduced to Dave Gorman, a retired Wal-Mart loss prevention exec who thought Wal-Mart might have an interest,” Leaman said in a phone interview.
In mid 2012, Axonify began a six-month pilot with 5,000 Walmart logistics workers in eight distribution centers.
Wal-Mart declined to provide numbers relating to reduced incidents over the past year that the software has been used. But during the 6-month pilot the retailer had a 54% decrease in incidents among the eight DCs using the system, according to Leaman and Woodlin.
“Because of turnover and widely dispersed workforce it’s difficult for DC managers to know exactly what safety procedures employees are applying on the job. Our software gaming application takes just three minutes and provides a burst of information with two multiple choice questions intertwined with a game of their choosing,” Leaman said.
For those who don’t want the game there is a question only option. The game options include:
• Curvy Loop, which involves connecting two points with longest possible line;
• Quiz Show, which uses image hints to help solve a word puzzle; and
• Simon Says, just like memory sequence game of the same name.
Leamon said research shows repetitious learnings in short intervals tend to be retained much longer than 30-minute webinars or other formats that can provide information overload. By adding the gaming option with the brief tests, the user has the ability to do something fun, which also aids in memory retention. She said the competitiveness that is also part of gaming can help companies keep safety conversations going longer, which serves to reinforce the culture.
Woodlin said the effort to incorporate gaming in the safety training was an innovative approach as the retailer has a diverse workforce among four distinct groups — Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.
Shanda Nickson, the human resource officer at the DC No. 6094 in Bentonville, said the gaming aspect has resonated with many of the users.
“They accumulate points from the games they chose when they take three minutes each day to Axonify. It’s been fun to see the competitiveness come out when they discuss point totals and rankings. The games have also sparked more conversation around safety protocol,” Nickson said.
Nickson said the software application is accessible on multiple computers throughout the DC. There is one next to the battery charging station, that is commonly used by forklift drivers.
“It takes three minutes to charge the battery, and while that’s happening, they step over to the computer, log on to the Walmart wire and start the program. In other areas of the facility like loading, they log on after their break. They can test just one time per day. As an administrator I can pull data anytime to see what questions are missed most often, so they we can try and reinforce those areas when needed,” Nickson said.
The questions come from a data base and focus on core safety procedures. The software is intuitive and will repeat questions periodically if the user gets the wrong answer. The software also tracks the progress of each user.
Leaman said since Pep Boys and Wal-Mart have each found value in their software other retailers have signed on.
“About half of our business is retail. We just signed a deal with Bloomingdales and two large grocery retailers who want to use the product for workplace safety training.” Leaman said.
The other applications for Axonify is industrial manufacturing and pharmaceutical sales training.
“Workplace accidents are a drain for retailers and manufacturers. Depending on the severity they can cause lost work hours, workers compensation claims and OSHA fines. Our system works to modify behavior and reinforce learning. Every minute in retail is critical given the thin margins of operation. Retailers are looking to cut costs anywhere they can,” Leaman said.
She founded Axonify in 2011, her fourth technology venture. The third venture she sold to Google in 2010.
Leaman’s grown Axonify from two to 35 employees in the past 2.5 years, adding 10 software developers and five project managers. She expects business to double this year as the company adds more customers.