Playing to Win

Competition in games and simulations-based training is a key factor in boosting employee and client engagement at Bellevue University, Passle Limited, and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.


Bellevue University: Virtual Internships

Media communications students at Nebraska’s Bellevue University needn’t quit their day jobs to complete their mandatory internship. Instead, Bellevue is pioneering a virtual internship using simulations.

“Approximately 70 percent of our students are above age 30. They don’t have time for a real-world internship, but they need the resulting skills and knowledge,” says Donna Hewlett, program director.

That’s why she and her team developed a virtual internship. Development began in November 2014 and is being built out in three phases. “We’re wrapping up phase one now, and expect to complete phase three by the end of 2016,” says Ben Brocker, director of production. The first group of interns should enter the program in January 2016.

As senior 3-D artist Chad Brocker explains, “right now, the virtual internship looks like a corporate Website with a portal.” Students will use it to gather material for assignments and interact with the members of the simulated company.

Phase two will transform the HTML material into 2-D, allowing “a bird’s eye view of an office floor, so interns can walk to the people” with whom they’re interacting, Brocker adds. In phase three, the 2-D world will evolve into an immersive platform populated with avatars.

The virtual internship will build the skills the advisory board of local entrepreneurs and employers says new employees need. They include the ability to communicate clearly, think critically, solve problems, manage themselves, and exhibit highly ethical behavior.

For media communications interns (and the IT students who may use this next), the internship is based at a simulated e-learning company. The simulation includes a full cast of characters (some with gender-ambiguous names), marketing materials, corporate mission, a Website, press and business documents, Yelp reviews, LinkedIn profiles, and information about its target customers.

“The simulation has three components: acclimation, assignment, and evaluation,” explains learning consultant Kirsten Osolind. “The acclimation module introduces the company’s policies and procedures. The assignment module provides an overview of the project scope and defines the company. Interns must read and summarize tactical strategies that would be usual for a local e-learning company,” and are expected to develop written and audiovisual presentations, blog posts, and status reports, and engage in outside learning activities.

“Company notices and e-mailed responses from executives vary based upon each intern’s decisions,” Osolind says. Interns receive points for increasing their influence among virtual executives and key constituents.

The virtual internship also includes a “learning tour” in which students talk with real companies and their customers. “This component deals with the tactical aspects of business,” Osolind says. It focuses on overcoming hurdles and crafts assignments to develop interns’ research skills. It includes an interim review.

The evaluation module concludes the virtual internship. “It begins with a written report and presentation, and moves to self-evaluation and a performance evaluation,” Osolind says. Importantly, this phase also evaluates the virtual internship itself and asks students to provide tips to help future interns approach assignments and to adapt as the internship progresses.

Once the program begins, it will be adjusted and rolled out to other programs. As Hewitt says, “Participants will have a protected environment in which to learn, so by graduation they will be ready to enter the real work world.”


Passle Limited: Blogging Competitions

Passle Limited encourages new clients to integrate its product into their routines through competition. For the Oxford, UK, knowledge management firm, this means persuading its clientele of knowledge experts to blog more regularly.

“Many who set up a Passle account aren’t in the habit of blogging or using social media,” says Claire Trevien, social media and marketing manager. While Passle shows users how to use its software tools to create posts quickly and easily, “if we left it at that, our clients wouldn’t use it regularly.”

Therefore, Trevien creates one- to two-month-long competitions within firms to encourage employees to blog frequently. “We split clients from the same firm into two teams,” she explains. Individual members win points for themselves and their teams for each blog post, and extra points for the post with the most views.

Players start with 500 points, but lose points if they don’t post. “Even creating a single one- or two-line post is enough to retain the points,” Trevien says. “It’s all psychological. The points don’t mean anything in the real world, but people don’t like losing things, even if those things are fictional,” she points out. “This is a surprisingly good incentive.

“Each week, I write the clients telling them who is the most valued player for the week and which team won,” she continues. The e-mail also includes tips— such as sharing posts on social media— to improve their scores.

“They get incredibly competitive,” Trevien says. “Established professionals will banter on e-mail about how their team is going to ‘crush’ the other. It makes the whole thing fun and gets them accustomed to using Passle, so it becomes a habit.”

At the end of the competition, “we visit the firm and present the winning team and individual with small trophies. There’s also a raffle, so others have a chance to win something.”

That chance makes the competition interesting even for those who aren’t leading, so it encourages participation. “Small forms of recognition are just as important as bigger ones,” Trevien says. Therefore, Passle is beginning to integrate badges and rewards for certain activities, such as writing a specific number of posts.

Passle has conducted competitions with groups ranging from two to 50. “We found smaller teams work better because the people are more likely to know each other,” Trevien says. “It’s easier to bond as a team and prod your colleagues to post if you’re only tracking four or five people, rather than 15.”

For example, FinTech Collective’s staff of four used Passle competitions to increase its Web presence in 2014. Within about six months, the young venture capital group created more than 500 posts.

Typically, the numbers of posts peaks during competition and then declines gradually, though remaining above pre-competition level. For example, within one month, Critchleys, a Top 100 UK accounting firm, increased its posts per accountant from an average of 1.15 per year to 4.82 per year, well above the industry average of 0.25 per accountant per year. “Its Twitter following increases by 20 percent,” Trevien notes. “One year later, the accountancy is still blogging several times per week.”


UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital: Chatter Gamification

Better staff engagement equals better quality, according to Arup Roy-Burman, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. That’s why he added gamification to training for the hospital’s nursing staff.

The immediate objective was to encourage nurses to collaborate using Chatter, the hospital’s internal social media platform. The long-term goal was to improve patient care.

The hospital based its gamification strategy on three key elements: performance, achievement, and collaboration. Game elements, therefore, supported real-time feedback, recognition, leader boards, communication, and competition.

A two-week pilot gamified the use of Chatter by awarding points to staffers for uploading their profile photo, posting, and commenting. It involved approximately 125 pediatric ICU nurses, divided into the day shift team and the night shift team. “They’d rather be with patients than a computer, so we had to make it fun for them,” Dr. Roy-Burman says.

While they competed for an ice cream party, “the real incentive was the social competition,” he notes. Rankings were displayed on leader boards that were visible to nursing staff, but never to patients. As the competition expanded to additional units, the hospital deployed a fresh leader board for each week, as well as an overall leader board. “When nurses saw their rankings, productivity increased around those metrics,” recalls Jeff Dolan, VP of Sales for Level Eleven, which gamified Chatter.

The next phase focused on increasing peer recognition. Before the contests, nurses didn’t give or receive recognition for jobs well-done, “so we developed a recognition app,” Dr. Roy-Burman says. “Nurses had 200 characters per week— use them or lose them— to say something nice about someone. These kudos appear on colleagues’ Chatter profiles and can be deleted or kept as long as the user wants.”

After the Chatter and recognition contests, “posts increased more than tenfold, comments 118-fold, and 57 percent of the ICU nurses in the pilot were using the platform,” Dr. Roy-Burman says. Peer recognition also increased. In the Pediatric ICU, for example, 76 percent of the nurses have been recognized by their peers— 56 percent of them multiple times, building morale. Importantly, the improvements in collaboration and recognition have held steady for at least one year.

This success encouraged the hospital to integrate its newsletter into Chatter to drive discussions between nurses and management and, therefore, improve quality of care. “One nurse says it’s like a continuous staff meeting…without needing to be there,” Dr. Roy- Burman says. Now 43 percent of nurses say they read the newsletter weekly, and 67 percent engaged with it at least once per month. “This gives us a metric to start with,” he says.

Because nurses now are engaged on Chatter, it has become a platform to deliver micro learning and quality assessments. For example, nurses can assess their own procedure against best practices for specific medical procedures, and if they are unsure about the steps, can click for instant instructions. Chatter also has become a vehicle to share videos of best practices and new techniques.

Gamification dramatically increased the use of Chatter. When the pilots concluded, the 340 (of 4,228) nurses who participated in the gamification were responsible for 60 percent of Chatter comments and 50 percent of Chatter posts. Chatter gamification since has rolled out to other units and to UCSF’s main hospital.


By Marla Lepore

To improve their organizations’ competitive footing, senior leaders increasingly are hungry for cultures of innovation. A primary challenge for those tasked with operationalizing that ambition is building a shared understanding of what “innovation” is and how to do it well.

Such was the situation facing an organizational development (OD) consultant at a technology giant. Given the responsibility of researching and introducing innovative practices throughout Global Supply Chain Management, the consultant was excited to discover the discipline of design thinking, a concrete approach for innovation pioneered by design consultancy IDEO.

His focus quickly shifted to the next challenge: how to make this complex methodology practical to teach, learn, and apply in a demanding business environment with thousands of employees. To maximize impact, he needed a solution that was not only engaging and effective, but also repeatable and scalable.

After an exhaustive search, he found ExperiencePoint’s Design Thinker simulation. An expert-guided innovation simulation built in collaboration with IDEO and based on ExperiencePoint’s platform, Design Thinker gives participants hands-on experience using design thinking to build innovation confidence and competence.

“Innovation can be a nebulous topic,” the consultant says. “Design Thinker gave us something to sink our teeth into—a reference point and common language of applying a designer’s vocabulary to business problems.”

During the four-hour experience, a facilitator leads competing teams through a simulation of IDEO’s process, with points allocated to focus attention on key, counterintuitive innovation concepts and behaviors.

“Because design thinking isn’t like traditional problem solving, it’s natural for people to trip up,” says Greg Warman, principal at ExperiencePoint and head of the company’s innovation product line. “Design Thinker offers the right amount of safety—immediate feedback for learning without jobs or company resources at stake.”

For the OD consultant, however, the stakes were high. As a foundational element of a “Culture of Innovation” program, the training had to deliver business results. As such, it concludes with an application exercise connecting the skills and techniques learned with the participants’ real work and projects.

“This isn’t about training for training’s sake. People are extremely busy, and they have goals and metrics they’re trying to achieve,” says the OD consultant, adding, “we constantly have to show leadership: This is the value we’re bringing. This is how much money we’ve saved the organization. These are the executives who are vouching for it.”

Not only have 80 percent of employees surveyed said their ability to innovate has improved because of design thinking, the training is delivering tangible value. The company now has applied design thinking in a variety of projects, netting more than $100 million in savings.

Additionally, numerous ideas have been documented with financial, cultural, and operational value. With large-scale, cross-functional brainstorming becoming common, the company has been able to measure process improvements (in one case, a 20-step process was reduced to three), as well as value-oriented metrics in its quarterly scorecard.

“Experience is the best way to learn, but left to the workplace, it’s slow, risky, and unpredictable,” Warman says. “We apply technology in a purposeful way to stimulate meaningful conversations and stretch people out of their comfort zones while giving them a safe place to make mistakes. When you engage people both emotionally and intellectually, you’re able to achieve the learning moments that provoke new ways of doing things.”