A little over a year ago, the safety and risk management team at Roanoke, Va.-based Advance Auto Parts was faced with a conundrum. They had a comprehensive, thoughtfully branded safety program. But despite their best efforts to communicate their safety message to 4,000 locations, they just couldn't seem to make it stick.
Safety Manager Mark Meek and Director of Risk Management Gary Nesbit felt that it was time to start thinking outside the box. They enlisted the help of Chris Webb, the company's instructional designer. Their challenge, said Meek, was, "How do we make it memorable? How do we get to the point where team members are going to look forward to seeing this message and how well are they going to retain the information we're giving them?"
The answer: Stick Stickler. You already know Stick -- or someone that looks just like him. Stick is that little universal stick figure guy that appears on safety signs around the globe. The team at AAP adopted him, gave him a catchy name, transformed him into their spokesperson and made him a safety superstar. In return, Stick Stickler has earned Advance Auto Parts the title of 2013 Risk Innovator(tm).
THE POWER OF HUMOR
Stick Stickler is the animated host of an ongoing series of topic-specific short videos, imparting safety wisdom while comically demonstrating the consequences of taking shortcuts or not following procedures. Each installment is the collaborative work of Meek and Webb, executed by an outside animator. Meek and Webb agree that the "comic" part of the equation is really the key.
"We said, 'Let's make it funny as much as we can,' " said Meek. "It's serious, but let's make it funny at the same time. People remember funny. People remember corny."
Meek credited Webb with being the funnyman behind Stick Stickler. "Funny is memorable to me," said Webb. "I really enjoy good humor. I really don't enjoy boring stuff."
That sentiment cuts to the heart of what had been missing in the company's prior safety training efforts, including posters and self-paced PowerPoint presentations.
"I remember Mark coming to me after he and Gary had talked," said Webb, "and he said, 'We've put posters out in the stores and we've put monthly communications out; we're just not getting traction on that.' I told him, 'Well, that's because it's boring!' "
There is certainly nothing boring about the misadventures of the stick-figure fellow.
"We can put him in any situation we can dream up," said Webb. "In our next edition, we're going to have Stick using a box cutter on a unicycle. That's probably not something we could pay an actor to do, or if we did, we'd have to pay him a whole lot.
"The thing is that we can hurt Stick, and it's not gory or gruesome. It's just informative, showing what can happen if you don't stick to the plan and follow our standard operating procedures for safety."
Of course, the real question is: Has Stick made the safety message ... stick? You bet. Team member response has been overwhelming. Not only are people retaining the safety messages, but they're eager for more, and can't wait to see what Stick gets up to next.
"Initial feedback from the field was positive," said Meek. "On store visits, I started talking to team members to see what their retention level was and they were saying, 'Oh, Stick Stickler, I like that video! He told us to not do this or do that.' "
The numbers have borne out the impact. The company's workers' compensation injury frequency rate has dropped by 8 percent, and its auto liability collision frequency rate is down by more than 14 percent. In addition, safety-related customer claims have plummeted by 30 percent.
But Meek said it's the direct feedback from team members that has been the most meaningful proof of the program's success. It hit home for him a few months ago during a store visit. He spotted a folding chair in one room, which was unusual because the stores don't have folding chairs. Meek approached a team member and asked, "You're not using that chair to stand on, are you?" A woman elsewhere in the room turned around and chimed in, "No ... Stick Stickler says don't stand on chairs!"
"Right there, it hit me," said Meek. "I hadn't even been talking to her. But she repeated back, unprompted, something that she watched in a video. That highlighted for me that this is really working as a program."
The level of engagement has far exceeded the hopes of the risk, safety and training teams. Team members aren't just willing to tune in, they're clamoring for more.
Any time training is received that way -- where they're asking for it and not dreading it -- that's when you know that you're on to something," said Webb. Team members have even asked for Stick Stickler T-shirts.
Meek said he plans to capitalize upon that enthusiasm, adding Stick's image to upcoming print and digital materials.
"Our team members really love Stick and they're always asking when the next episode's being released. They're even going to the point of making script suggestions, which I love," said Webb. "It's just been phenomenal. One team member even suggested a love interest for Stick. I don't know about all of that, but I guess we'll just have to stick around and see."
--By Michelle Kerr
September 15, 2013
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