Games People Play—To Learn

Law firms Hogan Lovells and Littler Mendelson use liveaction simulations in their leadership development and workplace respect programs, respectively. KPMG leverages a gamified, Web-based learning app to help new and current employees understand what, exactly, the audit, tax, and advisory services firm offers clients. Verizon helps store managers know what to do during a robbery via a virtual reality simulation. The games may be fun, but they have a serious side—providing employees with the vital information and skills they need to do their jobs.

CASE STUDY #1 Hogan Lovells: “Transition to Equity” Preps New Partners

TV legal dramas equate making equity partner to grabbing the brass ring. It’s a symbol of professional and financial success. What they rarely show is the evolution that must occur as new partners take on their new responsibilities.

To ease the transition, global law firm Hogan Lovells launched its leadership development program, “Transition to Equity.” The one-day program blends computer simulations and live components involving actors and partners. It debuted to 25 participants at Hogan Lovells’ 2018 global partners’ conference in Monaco.

Teams of four to five compete in a computer simulation and, at the end of each round, compare their results to others’. “More than 60 decisions are made in the simulation. New partners must think through a lot of details, such as how to price services, which clients to invest in, and how to develop associates,” says Global Chief Learning Officer Heather Bock. “In subsequent rounds, they can adjust their strategies and make different decisions.”

During the computer simulations, participants read about various clients and the business landscape, and consider their options regarding talent development, number of clients, the portfolio, legal project management, and other elements.

“With limited time, teams must prioritize. They can’t pursue every opportunity without affecting existing clients, and if they ignore legal project management, programs will go over budget,” she points out. There was a lot of discussion during these simulations, as the complexity of the decisions was evident. Often, there is no easy answer.”

Then teams move to the live component to handle:

  • An underperforming associate
  • A challenging conversation with a client
  • A change involving a client pitch

More than 25 stakeholders, including Hogan Lovells’ CEO, regional managers, and firm leaders, are invested in the success of this program. They sponsor the training and ensure its scenarios are relevant. Most importantly, they give each team immediate feedback regarding their decisions in the computer simulation and live component so they can make adjustments in subsequent rounds. This feedback is where much of the learning occurs, Bock points out.

She plans to launch a data-intensive assessment one year after the first class. Interim results suggest the program—which participants awarded 4.5 out of 5 stars—is impactful. “We’ve found there is a lot of information sharing among the groups and among individuals. They say they now have a more strategic view and sense of ownership, and know how to perform at a higher level,” Bock notes.

The initial program lasted six hours, but Bock says, “we needed more time to debrief afterward. Next time, it will be a full day. Allowing more time for the live components and for discussion and debriefing at the end of the day, after all the rounds are completed, helps the learning sink in.”

For new equity partners, maximizing learning in a short timeframe is one of the greatest challenges. “The opportunity costs of flying new equity partners in are high,” Bock admits, “but even the partners agree this program is worth it.”

CASE STUDY #2 KPMG: Gamified Learning Boosts the Bottom Line

“What services, in detail, does KPMG offer?” With more than 150 distinct capabilities around audit, tax, and advisory services, the question stumped many of KPMG’s 200,000 global employees.

To build a more comprehensive understanding of what, exactly, KPMG offers clients, the organization developed KPMG Globerunner. This gamified, Web-based learning app is used during onboarding, and also is available for all employees to play.

In the learning experience, single players figuratively travel the world, earning points for correctly answering such questions as, “A CFO needs help with X. Which offering can help?” As players progress, questions become more difficult, and players unlock access to new locations, complete missions, earn achievements, and gain ranking on the global leader board. Learners can play singly or as teams for global competition.

After a small pilot, Globerunner rolled out in 30 countries in 2015. Twelve months later, users had clocked more than 1 million interactions with the learning experience. “We saw a 24 percent improvement in awareness of KMPG’s capabilities, and as much as 34 percent for particularly difficult questions,” says Christian Gossan, director, KPMG. More than 70 percent of users say they are more comfortable recommending specific services. The 10 percent gap in knowledge between the best and least-informed countries dropped to 5 percent, and the 12 percent knowledge gap between staff levels dropped to 4 percent. Additionally, 89 percent of players said the game bolstered their impression of KPMG as innovative. It also enhanced employee engagement.

“Training in the context of a real-life experience always resonates well with our employees, and we find tools such as KPMG Globerunner to be a great asset for our learning teams around the globe,” says Global Chief Learning Officer Brad Samargya.

The KPMG Globerunner learning experience has no per-user charge, making it a cost-effective alternative to intranet pages, printed documents, on-site programs, and product fairs.

The economic benefits are amplified by business results. “We’ve heard many stories of how using the app has changed a conversation with a client and resulted in a converted opportunity. Without Globerunner, these employees say they wouldn’t have made that connection,” Gossan says.

This gamified learning experience also provides higher levels of engagement and scalability than other options. “It tapped into learners’ competitiveness and reinvigorated learning,” says Chris Shuster, director, KPMG Learning and Development Advisory, KPMG-US.

Rollout wasn’t without its hitches. “People assumed the app would only appeal to junior staff members. In reality, the content’s relevance to users’ career progression was more important than prior gaming experience. We found that managers and directors were more likely to become power users, answering more than 100 questions,” says Vaughan O’Leary, manager, Interactive Learning Apps Program. The learning experience is so compelling that some employees answered thousands of questions.

To control overuse, KPMG now monitors individual usage of the app. If necessary, learners are given a behind-the-curtain look at the program, the app design, and the results of their own play. And, Gossan says, some may be asked to join the enhancements team to help determine the future pathway of this learning experience.

CASE STUDY #3 Littler Mendelson: A Matter of Respect

You’re standing in a crowded elevator, waiting for your floor, and someone makes a remark that crosses the bounds of polite society. It may have sexual, racial, or political connotations. Do you ignore it? Do you say something? If you speak, what should you say?

That is the gist of Littler Learning Group’s live-action simulation, which evolved from video and lectures in 2018. As the client training arm of labor and employment law firm Littler Mendelson, the goal is to teach clients’ employees how to respond to comments that are not “office ready” and restore a climate of respect.

“The goal is to give participants the language they can apply to real-life situations. It’s seemingly simple, but actually complex,” says Kevin O’Neill, principal, senior director, Littler Learning Group. “Saying, ‘That’s offensive,’ is a start, but the improv actor may retort, ‘Back off!’ That creates interaction, and you train off that new reality. It becomes a committed experience. Then we freeze the action” and discuss appropriate responses.

“I hand out a worksheet giving the response triggers—a casual callout, boundary setting, or appeal for professionalism, for example,” he explains. “At first, people puzzle over it. Later, they’re writing comments and using it to fashion effective responses.”

The simulation is especially effective when participant groups must reply to or join the actors. “Once you break the fourth wall (between actors and audience), there’s a pathway to immediate feedback. They get to test the messaging and be a part of the situation.” Afterward, the Littler team provides evaluations.

Littler caps the training sessions at around 25 participants, divided into four to six groups.

Several clients have commented on the high level of engagement participants experience. “We tend to have long-lasting relationships with our clients, so we get long-term feedback,” O’Neill says. Typically, that’s around how problem employees evolved or how co-workers began setting boundaries.

Metrics for workplace respect training are hard to interpret. Fewer complaints could mean disrespectful behavior declined, or that people aren’t reporting it. Likewise, a spike may signal an increase in either incidents or awareness. “The hope is that people will speak up more and will feel more comfortable,” O’Neill says.

O’Neill takes the training directly to clients. “We have actors on both coasts and the Midwest,” to make logistics easier, he says. If clients prefer, they may replace the actors with their own people. “So far, nobody has volunteered for that.”

Typically, O’Neill asks clients to provide two or three issues as a springboard for the simulation. Two of the most common flashpoints are politics and transgender issues, he says. “There’s a blurry concept of freedom of speech that becomes even fuzzier in the workplace. Political speech is protected, but these days, political opinions escalate into attack-mode comments. To complicate matters, some states have expanded the categories of protected people. Our challenge is to make participants aware of how to talk about issues while maintaining a respect-based workplace.”

CASE STUDY #4 Verizon: SAFE Store Robbery

During a store robbery, everything managers were taught typically goes out the window, potentially putting employees and customers at risk. To remedy that, Verizon’s L&D and security organizations teamed up to develop a virtual simulation to replace its manual-based training.

Store managers participating in Verizon’s “SAFE Store Robbery” virtual simulation each have a VR headset and experience three robberies and debriefs in one hour. “Each scenario is a little different,” says VP of Global Learning & Development Lou Tedrick. The three most common are smash and grabs, robberies using a weapon, and robberies during store openings or closings when there are fewer customers and, therefore, less chance of being identified by someone in the store.

When learners put on the headset, they are introduced to a scenario. For example, “A woman is getting out of her car to open the store. Someone comes up behind her and says, ‘Open the door.’ A dropdown menu appears with three potential responses,” explains Chief Security Officer Mike Mason. After one is chosen, the recommended option appears.

After removing the VR headsets, participants learn what to look for to either minimize the chances of being robbed or to help law enforcement afterward. The key is to listen to your instincts, Mason says. For example, he says, “if a car is out of place, don’t think you have to open the store. This is all about protecting our employees.”

The virtual training is similar to the FBI’s firearms training and airlines’ flight simulators, says Mason, a former FBI agent. “It’s as close as you can get to the real deal.”

To measure learning, Tedrick’s team assessed managers’ confidence levels between the first and third experiences. After training, 85 percent said they were significantly more confident they knew what to do during a robbery. Supporting that, she says, “we saw a correlation between that response and their actions.”

Specifically, she continues, “managers recognized their responsibility is to care for themselves, their customers, and employees, rather than the merchandise. They’re also more aware of what to look for that could help law enforcement later.”

Just as importantly, Mason adds, “they learned their job during a robbery is to remain calm. That’s a big win. We don’t want them to exacerbate the situation by trying to be a hero.”

Real proof of value can only come after an actual robbery. Thankfully, Verizon stores are rarely robbed, but the next time one occurs, Mason plans to interview the manager to learn how the real and virtual experiences differed and whether the virtual training helped.

In the meantime, in 2019, “we’re delivering VR kits to our stores so customer service representatives can be trained,” Mason says. “We’re encouraging the store managers to participate again, too.”

The biggest expense for the program is the cost of the VR headsets, Tedrick says. Therefore, at least initially, the kits will be shipped from store to store as employees in the approximately 1,500 stores are trained.