5 things we learned using games to train employees

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Three years ago, a long-time partner came to us with a problem. That problem had a name … The Green Binder.

The Green Binder represented everything wrong with their employee training. It hadn’t been updated in years, no one was really reading it, and those employees who had been with the company a year or more, still didn’t understand the company culture, history, values, benefits, etc.

We created a course module (game) that would work for hundreds of new employees on their own device, act as an initial touch point for the employee two weeks before their first day on the job, and, above all else, we killed The Green Binder!

Along the way, we learned more than a few lessons. Here’s what we figured out:

1. People REALLY hate training binders.

Know what else they hate? PowerPoint slide decks. What’s worse than a PowerPoint slide show? A fifteen minute video of someone giving a PowerPoint slide presentation.

2. Give people a game, and the vast majority will complete it before their first day on the job.

This one was a bit shocking.

One of the options I proposed to our partner was to send the onboarding game out to their new hires 2 weeks before their first day on the job.

I tried to temper expectations a bit by telling our partner to expect about 15% of new hires to complete the game in its entirety before day one. I mean, you’re not paying the employee yet, so why would they complete the game module in its entirety, right? Wrong.

One year later and over 80% of new employees completed the training module in its entirety before their first day on the job.

3. Millennials and Boomers reacted the same way (wait … what?)

In one of our Beta tests, we created two test groups:

Test Group 1 — Millennials

In the millennial group, the results we’re pretty predictable and positive. They powered through their training with comments like “why isn’t all of our training like this?” or “can you add some more sound effects?” and (laughing) “how about a first person shooter game?”

Test Group 2 — Boomers

This group made me nervous — so much so I had my mom, a 60-year-old insurance broker, play the game in advance. I could tell that most of them were already skeptical of this “game” that they “had to play.”

On first load, the course module presents a welcome badge, a sound effect, and a friendly guide character that walks you through the first play.

What I saw was amazing.

The boomers started smiling, giggling, and laughing. They were happy. They were expecting the same tired e-Learning module or long drawn out entrance exam, when someone said, “why isn’t all of our training like this?”

4. Badges are key performance indicators

Unlike the standard gamification line that “points and badges are variable” we decided that our badges would act specifically as completion tokens and our points would mean something concrete. A standard by which all our other future learning games would be weighed.

In order to get a badge, an employee had to complete a specific question set.

From the employees’ perspective, they’ve “just earned a badge” but the data collected before the badge award revealed items like:

  • Time to complete
  • Number of correct and incorrect answers
  • Number of incorrect tries
  • Tendencies that could show if the employee was in fact the right fit for the company
  • If the employee was hired into the right area
  • If the employee was showing other behavioral traits like leadership, etc.

5. Points are the new benchmark

For years, I’ve been challenged on the need for points in our projects. I mean, what are they really for? Other than a nice-to-have for the employee, right?

We finally had a breakthrough, and this is what it looked like:

  • We built a test project.
    We requested that 30 of the partners’ best employees come to the testing session — in this case, “best employees” could be based on specific partner criteria like positive performance reviews, safety, longevity, etc.
  • We took the average point total of the 30 employees tested and used that number as a benchmark score for any new or existing employees.

The result is a system where new hires (in particular) are playing games to earn points, but in actuality, they are being tested against a broader group of existing employees for specific, pre-defined purposes.

This is still preliminary, but the initial results are exciting.

In conclusion

The bar is set so low in the corporate training space that even the hint of something different brings a feeling of joy to a new or existing employee.

This sense of enjoyment is changing the way employee data is being reported and acted on by our partners.

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