The Rewards Of Investing In A True Learning Experience Game
This article is part of a series on building a true training game to increase managers’ understanding of corporate finance. What you are about to read is a fable. The company, AshCom, is fictional, but the learning challenges faced by Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and her team are real and commonly shared by learning teams in large organizations. It is our hope that you will be able to connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. We also invite you to read the first eBook in the series.
Making A True Learning Game: Two Months After Launch
AshCom’s launch of the financial literacy game was a success. Kurtis, the CFO, first brought a need to Kathryn, the CLO, months earlier. He was concerned that the managers at AshCom did not have a solid grasp of how corporate finance worked. Even more concerning, he was not confident that the hundreds of managers were fully aware that the thousands of decisions they made each week had a profound impact on AshCom’s financial performance.
Adeena, one of the instructional designers on Kathryn’s team, was given the task to research and present some options to the learning team. Convinced that traditional eLearning modules would not solve Kurtis’ concerns, the learning team zeroed in on games and, in the end, decided to create an actual game.
AshCom decided to partner with Inno-Versity because they had an excellent grasp on learning science, they were creative, and they had an internal and experienced team dedicated to building games. This combination was rare.
The AshCom and Inno-Versity teams worked for months. For the initial rollout, they decided to hold a Speed Monopoly tournament for the managers on a Friday afternoon for every manager in every plant location. Each round took less than 10 minutes. Food was served. The competition was intense. At the end, the eight winners were formed into a team to play the very first round of AshCom’s new financial literacy game.
Their opponents would be the members of Kurtis’ finance team, which included AshCom’s Controller, Internal Auditor, Managerial Accountant, Financial Accountant, and Tax Accountant. If the managers won, they would be each be given an all-expense-paid trip to either a resort or on a cruise of their choice (up to $2,500).
In the following weeks, news of the game and the contest spread quickly. The game, which the learning team jokingly named “Kurtis,” was completed. The final score was determined by total cash available to the company, its market share compared to its competitors, and its overall value. Points were assigned for each category. Both teams met twice a week for an hour. They were presented with strategic decision opportunities which would determine their final scores.
To no one’s surprise, the finance team won. But the manager team was much closer in their final score than anyone would have guessed. Kurtis decided to put a 10% handicap on the finance team to make the contest more equitable, something he announced in the second week of the game after hearing some complaints. With the handicap, the manager team had a narrow victory, and each of the eight managers were connected with a travel agent to arrange for their holiday.
The point of this initial contest was not only to build enthusiasm and awareness of the Kurtis Game. It was also a good opportunity for Adeena, AshCom’s learning team, and the Inno-Versity team to get important feedback prior to the more general rollout. They held a quick 30-minute review with each team at the end of each of the six weeks. They learned:
Both teams playing needed more support than anticipated in the first week. The learning team decided to review the opening instructions and clarify the rules for the game.
The management team found the “practice round” feature to be useful. Because they were less familiar with some of the financial terms, the learning team beefed up the definitions and added some clear examples.
A small number of bugs were discovered by both teams. They were immediately addressed by the game builders at Inno-Versity.
At the end of the six-week round, the AshCom and Inno-Versity team led a virtual feedback session with the eight managers who formed the management team playing the game. They reviewed some of what they’d learned in their weekly session. It gave the learning team the opportunity to dive more deeply into the overall learning experience. They were thrilled to hear reports that the managers felt that they not only understood AshCom’s financial system but that throughout the game, several were applying what they learned in their daily decisions. Kurtis was elated when he heard this.
The management team expressed their thanks for the trips they won and suggested maybe the various teams could play each other in a single-elimination tournament and that some sort of prize be given to the team. That was carefully noted by Kathryn and, with Kurtis’ approval, was implemented when the general rollout began two months later.
Eight Months After Launch
Kurtis had but a note in his calendar to remind him of the eight-month anniversary of the launch of the game named after him. Eight months was a bit random, but he thought six months was not enough time to see the effects of the game and twelve months seemed too long.
Kurtis asked Kathryn, the Chief Learning Officer of AshCom, and Adeena to spend two hours with him reviewing the process and the results. Both women had been paying careful attention to the metrics and to the stories they were hearing. Qualitative and quantitative metrics were both necessary to understand how the game was performing. Kurtis was going through the same exercise but was looking at a different set of numbers. All of it contributed to understanding the ROI of the game.
Kurtis began the meeting by thanking them both for their efforts and telling them that the profile of the learning team had risen greatly since this game was released. He was hearing his fellow executives talk more and more about how better learning experiences might be the solutions to many things on their issues list.
Kathryn smiled when she heard this. “I don’t know whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.” It sounded more like a question than a statement.
“It is a great thing,” said Kurtis. “Things that are working well and solving problems tend to get more budget and people.” He returned Kathryn’s smile.
Kurtis continued, “I have a simple agenda that I would like to review so we are all on the same page. I’d like to ask you, Adeena, to go first and give me a sense of how things went as you’ve been in the middle of this from the start. Then I’d like to hear from you, Kathryn, from the 10,000-foot view. I also have some thoughts that I want to share after I hear from both of you. OK?”
Kathryn and Adeena agreed.
“Let me dive right in,” said Adeena looking at the notes she prepared for the meeting, anticipating the question.
Practice Makes Perfect
“Not everything went perfectly, which I suppose is typical for a new project on a platform new to us with a new partner. All those ‘new’ things made for some challenges. Our learning team and the learning team from Inno-Versity were aligned well in the instructional design phase. The game-building phase was a little bumpy because we have never done this before. We needed to learn a new process and that took some time. For the game to function as a strategy game, we needed to create a lot of decision points, and we had to weigh each one of them for how much it would change the score.”
Adeena continued, “That led to a longer timeline than I wanted. Sometimes our team struggled to give feedback quickly so that added to the problem. Once we got in a regular rhythm, though, we got faster, so if we do this again, some of this won’t be a problem.”
“If?” asked Kathryn. “Sorry. I guess I should wait for my turn.”
Adeena grinned. “The marketing and rollout plan that we developed with Inno-Versity seemed to work really well. I can’t recall a learning experience rollout with more enthusiasm.” Kathryn nodded vigorously.
Aware that Adeena was at the end of her summary, Kathryn said, “I agree with what Adeena said. This was an entirely new project for us, so I anticipated a learning curve. Adeena certainly saw things I didn’t, but I was impressed with how smoothly the entire process went.”
Measuring The Metrics
Kathryn continued, “I want to bring us back to the original objective which was to increase the financial knowledge and understanding of the management team which would then lead them to make better financial decisions as they lead their specific areas. Kurtis, I think you are better situated to answer whether or not this learning experience is showing up in our financial metrics?”
“Yes,” said Kurtis, “and I think you’ll like what I’m seeing. But please continue.”
“I can see all the metrics we decided to track using the system we built early on in the process,” said Kathryn, “and I can tell you that the managers are engaged. I can see how much time they spend in the game each week along with a bunch of other metrics that help me know it is working. The marketing and launch efforts paid off with a high level of enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm has not waned.”
“To what do you attribute that?” asked Kurtis.
“I think our learning team hit upon the right key motivators. You might remember from our earlier conversation that different kinds of games can be built using different motivators. We chose a role-playing game in which players would have to make strategic decisions. That was the right choice. As motivators, we chose ownership, social influence, and accomplishment. The managers certainly have embraced that they are in control of the gamified AshCom and so they feel ownership. The team competition and the prizes given them some bragging rights and social influence. We’ve even heard that those who don’t win want another shot so they get that feeling of accomplishment.”
“Then,” said Kathryn, “there are some more qualitative metrics. I’m guessing you might like numbers more than stories, but the stories really matter.”
“No argument here,” said Kurtis. “I’ve heard some stories too, and they help complete the picture.”
“One of my favorites,” said Kathryn, “is that various teams are 3D printing plastic trophies of you when they compete against each other. The game is named after you, after all. The winning teams display those on their desks and workstations.”
Kurtis laughed loudly. “My mother would be so proud. I’ve heard some stories about side bets too.”
“You asked for my 10,000-foot view perspective, so here it is,” said Kathryn. “I was very impressed with the results from the sales learning experiences we built a few years ago, but I think this has been even more successful. The enthusiasm is high, we’ve given the management team a great learning experience, and it seems our general understanding of AshCom’s finances has increased enormously, which was our original objective.”
“Would you recommend we do this again for other topics?” asked Kurtis.
“I want to hear your perspective before I give a definite answer on that, but knowing what I know, I would wholeheartedly say YES,” said Kathryn with a lot of emotion in her voice.
She continued, “Adeena has gained an enormous amount of knowledge on building games. We have a new partner in Inno-Versity that will help us in games but in other learning experience building too. We’ve added a new methodology for delivering learning experiences. We will get better, faster, and more efficient in the next game. So, unless you have something terrible to tell us, I can only see this as a win for this project and for more moving forward.”
“To be blunt,” continued Kathryn, as she held up her notebook, “I’ve already started a list of potential topics for the next game.”
“I’m not shocked by that,” said Kurtis smiling. “Let me start with some stories. Since we launched this game, I’ve had constant and ongoing questions about various facets of our financials from people who previously never showed the slightest interest in such things. People are asking me about EBIDTA and profit margins and budgeting priorities. People stop me in the hallway and ask questions. I get emails from managers at other plants with suggestions for how we can improve a process to increase our profit. I don’t know if they are trying to get information that will help them or if their interest is more general. The truth is, I don’t really care what motivates them to ask as long as they are asking.”
“In other words,” said Kurtis, “managers are beginning to think and talk in financial terms. I’ve even been asked by some if we can make some additional training…sorry, I know you don’t use that word…I mean learning experiences available to them. That was something I never expected.”
Crunching The Numbers
“What do the numbers look like?” asked Adeena.
“I have to qualify my answer. It has only been eight months since the first game and six months since we launched the game with more management teams. So, I don’t have all the data I want yet, but the trend lines are looking good. I am seeing best cost containment. Waste has dropped for sure. I’ve talked with some of the managers, and they’ve walked me through some of their decision-making even on small items to show me that they are thinking about cash, profit, market-share, and company value. This all shows up in our profitability and company valuation.”
“What were the downsides in your mind?” asked Kathryn.
“Building this game was more expensive than our more traditional modules,” replied Kurtis. “And the timeline was longer. But neither of those were unknown nor unexpected. What was unexpected is both the enthusiasm among the managers and the results I’m seeing.”
“Would you change anything?” asked Adeena.
“Actually, I have three changes,” said Kurtis. “Actually, ‘changes’ is not the right word. I have three requests. Or maybe I should call them suggestions.”
“Fire away,” said Kathryn, taking up her notepad.
“First,” said Kurtis, “I would like to find a way to make this available to all employees of AshCom. Maybe we begin by rolling it out to some longer-term team members but, eventually, I would like to see this as part of our onboarding process. Getting this learning experience into the hands of every person at AshCom would change our entire company.”
“We will need to do some planning, but we can get that done,” said Adeena.
“We will have to change the prizes. Trips can’t be part of every competition,” said Kurtis.
“Of course,” said Kathryn. “Our team will come up with some options. I’m sure we can think of some things that would be valuable to the team without costing too much.”
“Secondly,” said Kurtis, “I would like you to start thinking about building a next level to this game. It could be optional for those who have completed the first game. But at a more advanced level and more difficult. I would love to be involved in helping on that.”
“Funny you brought that up,” said Kathryn, again holding up her notebook. “That’s already on my list. Adeena and I can begin that conversation in the next few days.”
“That works,” said Kurtis. “I realize that will take some time. And more budget. At some point in the near future, I would very much like to see what else is on your list.”
Kathryn chuckled. “It is still ‘very much’ a work in process, so I will get back to you on that. What is your third request?”
“This is a little personal,” Kurtis said sheepishly. “I know you named the game ‘Are You Smarter than Kurtis?’ as a working title in the very beginning. Then it was used in our promotion of the game. Then it was shortened to just ‘Kurtis.’ There is a game named after me where I work, something I never imagined saying.”
After a pause, Kurtis got to his request, “Any chance we can talk about rebranding it and coming up with something different and less related to me?”
“We could try,” said Kathryn now laughing out loud. “But I’m pretty sure that name is locked. I’m pretty sure it will be called ‘Kurtis’ long after you retire no matter what name we try to give it now.”
With that, they ended their meeting, each sure that they had accomplished their objectives and looked forward to what was to come.
To read the rest of the chapters in this series on building a true game to teach financial literacy and to see Kathryn and her team solve their challenges, please download the eBook Building A True Learning Experience Game: Decision Points, Design Steps, And Development Tips. Also, join the webinar for more insights to build a true game that wows your online learners.