Get In The Game!

Games and simulations case studies where learners are putting the pedal to the metal the moment they log in.

Employees at Grant Thornton, Toyota, and a major tire manufacturer may be able to skip their daily gym workout after taking part in their companies’ games and simulations designed to get hearts pumping and brain cells humming. From navigating the “day from hell” to dealing successfully with five customers in the same amount of time they had for one customer early in the game, these learners are putting pedal to the metal from the moment they log in. That leads to accelerated learning and peak performance.


Grant Thornton: “Day from Hell” Simulation

At audit, tax, and advisory firm Grant Thornton, training simulations are based on real problems new managers are facing today. By designing simulations from current, real-world situations, Grant Thornton and development partner Advantexe imbue training with modern sensibilities.

“As a professional services firm, talent is our business,” says Julian Malnak, head of Leadership Development. “We bring in tons of people each year, and about half of our firm is composed of Millennials.” They want relevant information quickly. Therefore, the training simulation had to be engaging, current, and immediately valuable.

Malnak describes one training module, CLEAR Decisions, as “a day from hell” simulation for new managers. The 2.5-hour simulation asks participants to make decisions about time management, prioritization, and other first-time headaches while adhering to the company’s culture.

“One decision involves who to put on an engagement team. There are several choices, but one is obvious. That candidate, however, is about to be married and lacks the time to commit to the project. Another candidate is in a flexible work arrangement. New managers tend not to pick that person,” Malnak says. Afterward, participants discuss their rationales for their selections and the repercussions of those choices as more information is revealed.

The simulations are run at each of Grant Thornton’s 40-plus U.S. offices. “This is a huge cost savings, because you don’t need classrooms, facilitators, or travel expenses,” Malnak points out.

The next simulation, CLEAR Engagement, brings employees together in one classroom for 1.5 days of training. This simulation asks participants to make more than 60 business decisions they could face throughout the length of engagement with a client.

Grant Thornton hires live actors for this simulation, although, Malnak says, “it has such a strong technological component it could be delivered online.” Questions are answered via computers, but participants talk face-to-face about the situations and decisions.

Because the simulations are team based, participants build relationships that wouldn’t develop in a classroom setting, Malnak says. Each cohort of about five participants includes individuals and departments that don’t naturally work together. “That interaction brings fresh perspectives, knowledge, and interests that help learners think more broadly about what they can do for clients,” Malnak explains. It also strengthens participants’ networks, which improves retention.

Adding analytics to the computer-based elements reveals interesting patterns in terms of how people make decisions. “Analyzing decision-making helps us see where there is divergence on an issue and identify areas that need more dialogue,” Malnak notes.

The success of these simulations has been parlayed into similar simulations for senior managers. Currently, Malnak says, “we’re working on partnership and boardroom simulations.”


Toyota: TrekPoints Tourney Boosts Sales Certifications

Today’s car buyers typically arrive at dealerships well-versed in the specifics of their top choices, and expect car salespeople to know the facts and figures. Keeping that data top of mind can be challenging. That’s especially true for Toyota’s sales team, which sells 23 models of Toyota sedans, SUVs, and light trucks, plus six Scion models and add-on packages such as Toyota Care, Entune, and Safety Sense. To help Toyota dealers, sales managers, and sales consultants ingrain detailed knowledge of its extensive product line, Toyota gamified product knowledge development.

Partnering with Axonify, Toyota developed a certification program “that lets users play a game for a couple minutes to open their minds to absorb information,” says Brandon Mosley, Dealer Training and Performance Strategy manager.

When users log into the Axonify app each morning, they are presented with questions about product information, skills, or conceptual issues such as how to lease a vehicle. “As the app sees a user understands the content, it presents a given question less frequently. To graduate a topic, users must answer each question correctly twice,” Mosley says.

Toyota’s dealership sales teams don’t have to play, but they are incentivized to log in. “Users earn TrekPoints, which can be exchanged for prizes, when they answer the questions,” he points out.

The TrekPoints Tournament raises the stakes. Sales teams are divided into more than 30 regions and three leagues. As learners test their product knowledge against their peers, those with the top scores advance to the next bracket of play and ultimately, to the semifinals. The 2015 regional champions won two days at Toyota’s U.S. headquarters to compete and learn about new Toyota and Scion vehicles. The grand prize winner received a trip to Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

In 2015, approximately 8,000 sales representatives participated in the TrekPoints Tournament. By the end of 2016—the program’s first full year—18,321 learners had logged in at least once. Five months later, there were 8,055 active users—nearly onequarter of Toyota’s sales accounts. “Sales consultants are engaged, and dealers are asking us for more materials like this,” Mosley says. “The approach is fun and supports better performance.”

Sales managers and consultants can access the game from the sales floor from their cell phones, between customers, so training doesn’t cut into sales time.

Consequently, “when we looked at training performance between 2016 and 2015, we found we had a 10 percent bump in the Master certification level for sales managers,” Mosley says. “It had flat-lined for a long time. For sales consultants, 6.9 percent more had earned Master certification in that time frame.”


Tire Training with Captain Traction

For a well-known tire manufacturer, a gamification approach trains the sales teams at independent tire dealers to be more effective, while subtly teaching them about its products. The project began approximately four years ago when the company revamped its extended enterprise training to capture the attention of tire salespeople, who typically are 20 to 30 years old and male.

“Training often isn’t a valued part of independent retailers’ employee experience because it takes them off the sales floor,” says Danielle Hart, Marketing team lead for gamification expert SweetRush. “Therefore, we had to get them excited about training and, in particular, our client’s training.”

Serious games can do that. To play, sales associates log into a gamified portal as newbies. “They earn badges by acquiring skills learned through more than 150 courses (including games, drive-and-learns, and instructor-led training) and rise through several ranks. The highest is Master,” Hart says. As they progress, they can win items such as hats, T-shirts, and iPads. An e-mail newsletter announces new courses and new prize drawings.

To earn Master ranking, associates must successfully complete all of the courses and finish the Captain Traction game. For this, learners adopt the persona of Max, a new sales associate. Max faces a series of mini-scenarios that test all the customer service, sales, and product knowledge skills the associate has learned to date. “Learners must investigate a customer’s case, learning about the vehicle, how it’s used, and the personal details to make the right tire recommendations. They also get to practice their phone skills and deal with objections in the sales process, as well as busy and angry customers,” Hart explains. “Twenty different types of customers are randomized throughout the game.”

Captain Traction has five levels, and a set amount of time to complete each one. At the fifth level, learners must deal with five customers in the same amount of time they had for one customer at the first level.

“We knew the audience wanted more,” Hart says. “So we added Turbo Tablet (like the J.A.R.V.I.S. computer in the movie, Ironman), a cheeky British female who stores all the customer information associates collect and gives feedback. Learners can earn superpowers, too, by completing customer interactions correctly. Powers include the ability to freeze time to complete interactions.”

The tire manufacturer’s gamified training is browser based, so it’s accessible on multiple types of devices. When an associate steps away, the site bookmarks the location for an easy return to play later.

The audience of 17,000 potential learners has racked up 400,000 course completions—an average of 23 courses per person since the program was gamified.


By Laura Baughman, Assistant to the Director, Breakthrough Learning

For most city dwellers with decent health insurance and ready access to health-care providers, a visit to the emergency room (ER) may be just that—for emergencies.

But for people living in rural areas with a limited supply of health-care providers, particularly residents who are low income or at risk, the emergency room is often where they go for all their care. As a result, it’s common for rural ERs to see long wait times, increased patient walkouts, and overworked staff—all factors that may contribute to poor quality care.

Fortunately, for nearly 340,000 residents in four rural counties in North Carolina, a team of nurse educators from UNC Chapel Hill is working to change this by improving interprofessional collaborative practice (IPCP) at four different emergency rooms. The premise behind IPCP is that when nurses, physicians, and other health professionals work well as a team, they improve ER patient flow and reduce crowding, and patients receive better care.

“Based on our prior research,” explains Professor Donna Havens with the University’s School of Nursing, “we had identified through hard data that the interprofessional staff working in ERs expressed the greatest need for more help with communication and collaboration to deliver better care.”

To teach these vital skills, Havens’ team turned to a tabletop game coincidentally named Friday Night at the ER. The game simulates the challenge of managing a hospital during a typical 24-hour period. Players perform distinct functions, yet come to realize they depend on each other.

“We bought games for each hospital and several for our team to loan out to the hospitals, and taught them how to play it,” Havens says. “We initially facilitated the games ourselves, but part of our goal was to help them sustain the positive change themselves, so we helped them learn how to facilitate.”

Each game session is followed by a structured debrief that combines reflection, dialogue, and actionable steps.

“Every time we hosted an interaction using Friday Night at the ER, it was met with excitement and curiosity, and the discussions that followed later went pretty deep,” Havens says. “It’s to the point where they see the relevance of using it beyond the emergency department, which is perfect because the real issue in providing quality care is that it has to flow from the emergency room to the other units and departments.”

Friday Night at the ER is just one part of UNC’s three-year project to improve rural health care, which is funded by the U.S. Bureau of Health Workforce, Health Resources and Services Administration, but Havens says it has helped groups and departments “walk away with new understanding of each other.”

“I know that because of our project, which includes the use of Friday Night at the ER, we have opened new awareness between the ER and Critical Care staff, and it is helping to promote the flow of patients in a timely way,” Havens says. “We are seeing improved coordination as we use it.”


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