Summary: Discover how fictional company AshCom used true learning experience games to overcome their L&D challenges and boost employee performance.
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 experie