Archives for September 2013

The Gamification of Sales Force Training

One of the struggles many learning and development organizations have is keeping their sales forces up-to-date on new products and new product functionality. However, with the constant addition of new tools and new functionality, continually bombarding a sales force with online or stand-up courses can become burdensome. This was the problem faced by Scott Thomas, director of product enablement for ExactTarget.ExactTarget is a global marketing organization focused on digital marketing tools—email, mobile, social, and web—that was recently purchased by ExactTarget is a leading cloud-marketing platform used by more than 6,000 companies, including Coca-Cola, Gap, and Nike.

For over a decade, ExactTarget has been working to serve and inspire marketers in all industries and all organization sizes by helping them better communicate with their customers. Marketers at their core, ExactTarget has always believed in the power of relevant and targeted marketing communications.


A few years ago, ExactTarget’s Scott Thomas was searching for a new tool for his product-training toolbox to help deliver instruction related to a new product. With a tight launch date for their MobileConnect product, Thomas found an interesting platform that he wanted to explore.

He had played a free game—College Hoops Guru—on the platform and became intrigued by the possibility of using it to help train his sales force on the new MobileConnect product. The platform was a game-based interface called The Knowledge Guru.

Being able to show—rather than just tell—was critical to securing sponsorship of the game. Thomas’s own play of the College Hoops Guru demo game was a pivotal part of his success in convincing stakeholders that the game could have value. He saw how the game worked, and then communicated his experience to stakeholders.

The other key was the game engine’s ability to track what learners were doing and how they were performing. The metrics sold the game.

Gamification Solution

Users log into the game via the internet; the entire solution is hosted in the cloud. When players enter the game for the first time, they get a narrative that explains how the game works. The player must ascend a mountain for each topic. The game consists of three paths up the mountain to deliver a scroll of

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wisdom to the Guru: three paths, a different scroll each time (Figure 1).

The game’s “mountains” are the instructional topics to cover. Each mountain has learning objectives associated with it.

Figure 1: The Knowledge Guru challenges you to bring forth the scrolls of wisdom

Players see their score as they answer each game question; there is also a leaderboard to document their progress (Figure 2). If players answer correctly, their score goes up. If they answer incorrectly, their score goes down. There are consequences, just like in real life.

The Guru game engine used to create and house the MobileConnect Game has a detailed “backend,” allowing specific tracking of designated information. It enables a supervisor, learning professional, or other vested stakeholder to see how players are performing. If needed, the game can offer ad hoc support based on these results.

An administrator can even drill down to see how a specific player is performing and determine what they have accomplished, where they have struggled, and how much time they’ve spent playing in The Knowledge Guru platform.

Figure 2: The game-like interface clearly shows progress toward the final goal

ExactTarget deployed this solution as an optional activity that followed webinars on the product they were rolling out. They put together a marketing campaign that encouraged people to play, awarding prizes to daily high scores and to the overall winner. They also did a feature article on the overall winner, recognized as the MobileConnect Guru.

Business Impact

The immediate benefit of a game over a traditional training tool is its allure. People wanted to play Knowledge Guru; they don’t always want to attend a training session. The result for the business was that, of all the launches done in the two years previous to the MobileConnect launch, the sales team built one of the quickest pipelines for this product.

The gamification approach improved product knowledge and helped the team build the sales pipeline while simultaneously reducing call-response times.

Why it Works

Repetition is the key to success within this platform as well as using the game elements of challenge and story. These are all key game aspects that motivate and instruct the learner. The learner is cast into a role that requires ascending a mountain by overcoming a series of challenges in the form of questions. The process is repeated several times and this repetition is what reinforces the learning that occurs as the learner receives feedback on his or her answer.

The combination of various game elements and the documented business results shows that you can successfully use gamification to motivate and instruct a sales force on new products and features. As Scott Thomas said after the launch of the gamification solution, “I can’t tell you how many people are coming to me wanting another game solution.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the impact gamification can have on organizations from a learning and development perspective. These case studies were gathered by Karl Kapp as he researched his latest book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice and the series is designed to illustrate real-world application of gamification and the resulting business impact.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions magazine

Affordable Care Act: A Delays and Deadlines Update

Feeling confused about the Affordable Care Act? There’s a good reason for that. The federal agencies charged with implementing the 2010 health care reform law — the U.S. Labor Department, Department of Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department — are still working out the rules.

Here’s a quick look at the delays and impending deadlines affecting employers:


Employer Mandate

Employers with 50 or more full-time workers will have to pay a tax penalty of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee if they

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do not offer health insurance plans to those workers or if those plans do not meet ACA standards.

Status: delayed until 2015.

For more: Internal Revenue Service,

Out-of-Pocket Limits for Consumers

The cap on out-of-pocket costs, set by law at $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family, has been postponed for some insurance plans. The delay allows employers that offer separate plans, such as for doctor and hospital care and another for pharmacy benefits, to keep out-of-pocket limits separate for each.

Drug care plans that do not currently have an out-of-pocket limit will not be required to implement one yet.

Status: delayed until 2015

For more: U.S. Labor Department,


Notification of Marketplace Coverage

Every employer that is subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act is required to notify all employees of the health care options available on health insurance marketplaces or exchanges by Oct. 1. Those exchanges will begin enrolling consumers starting that date.

In practice, this requirement affects the majority of employers; FLSA applies to employers with at least two employees and $500,000 in annual revenue or sales as well as hospitals, nonprofits, schools and government agencies.

New hires starting in October will need to be notified within 14 days. Notices must tell employees whether their employer-sponsored plan meets the minimum value standard and is considered affordable under the definitions of the law and that they might qualify for a premium tax credit if it doesn’t.

Deadline: Oct. 1, 2013.

For more: U.S. Labor Department,

Summary of Benefits Coverage

Employers are required to provide a summary of benefits and coverage in fall open-enrollment materials that informs employees if the coverage offered meets minimum essential coverage and value standards set by the law. Employers that do not have an open-enrollment period must provide the statement 30 days before the beginning of the plan period.

Deadline: Fall open-enrollment period or 30 days before beginning of plan year.

For more: Sibson Consulting Capital Checkup,

Employee Status

Even though the employer mandate has been delayed, employers will need to start collecting information in order to manage the potential penalty they will have to pay in 2015. Employers aiming to minimize their tax exposure will have to choose a 12-month period to measure employee job status. Employees determined to be working full time will need to be offered coverage in 2015 or employers will be liable for the penalty.

In order to meet reporting requirements, measurement may need to begin late this year.

Deadline: fall 2013.

For more: Internal Revenue Service,

Reprinted from

Make Learning and Development Go Cha-Ching

For some, an impassioned debate continues to swirl around whether businesses take leadership and development seriously.

Discussions have evolved beyond, “Was our training program well-attended, informative and referral worthy?” but questions remain about how well-aligned learning activities are with overall business objectives — and how effective they really are.

Proponents of strong program evaluation argue that learning goals must be aligned with key performance indicators, or KPIs.

Yet, most research in this area focuses on distant relationships or correlations derived from multivariant statistical analyses, survey results and a host of other metrics designed to link learning initiatives and business results.

While alignment with business KPIs is critical, the learning community must take the next step by adopting business KPIs as their own.

This position misses the mark on the true measure of success for learning and development. It also begs some important questions: How can we convert the learning function from a cost to a profit center and become a valued strategic partner in the business?

How can learning and development adopt business metrics such as profitability, top-line revenue growth and bottom-line improvements instead of simply measuring correlations?

Step 1: Reverse Learning Investment Logic to Avoid the ‘Field of Dreams’

Traditionally, businesses make multiple leaps of faith when allocating resources to build leadership and organizational capability.

Paraphrasing the popular phrase in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” the “if we build it, they will come” approach assumes that if learning leaders develop a great program, bring in faculty and deliver it well, capability and results will follow.

However, this logic is flawed and fraught with risks.

First, the traditional learning and development approach assumes businesses know and understand what new knowledge and behaviors are required to succeed in the future.

Despite often-numerous “unknown unknowns” in an emergent business strategy — such as untested business models, fluctuating market forces, regulatory changes, shifting customer preferences and unfamiliar markets — static competency models force businesses to act like they have all the answers about the knowledge and behaviors they’re working to develop.

The second assumption is made when leaders believe the function’s investment translates directly to delivering the desired knowledge and behavior change, expecting what is “learned in the classroom” will convert to deeper understanding and knowledge applied on the job.

The final leap of faith occurs when leaders assume new knowledge and behavior changes will produce stronger results.

When the learning and development investment logic chain is reversed, program designers begin with the end in mind and start by asking questions such as, “How can we help our leaders achieve critical results in the near-term, which will force and reinforce changes in behavior and knowledge in the long term? What are the intended business and operational results of developing a particular competency?”

The answers sharpen learning strategies as well as overall business strategies.

Step 2: Move From Action Learning to Results Learning

Most active learning curricula fail to distinguish between completion of well-intentioned activities or milestones and achieving business results.

Emphasis is generally placed on bringing leaders together to work on real business challenges, develop improvement strategies and present recommendations to senior leadership.

But these efforts stop just shy of implementation. Important linkages between learning, capability building and results achievement are severed, and leaders lose the opportunity to determine what it really takes to deliver results in the appropriate organizational context, which could include political dynamics, psychological issues or any barriers to change.

In contrast, some might advocate that “results-fueled” learning and development efforts hold leaders accountable for achieving stretch business results with program participants selected through a variety of methods, such as a cohort model, a business need or skill development area.

When Matthias Bellmann, president of Board Practice Partners, a German consulting firm, took over the learning function at Siemens, an engineering and electronics conglomerate, the company was a siloed organization with an engineering-oriented skill base.

The challenge: to develop the next generation of global leaders. The company had a solid core-learning program, but it needed ways to ensure new learning translated into stronger business performance.

“We realized changing people’s behavior is less about intellectual learning than it is about blasting them loose from nearly impenetrable, self-imposed and often company-rewarded boundaries,” Bellmann said. “We learned L&D can spend months developing the right dashboard and KPIs, and still have zero impact on the business.”

Bellmann, along with Schaffer Consulting, worked to design and commission several business impact projects to tackle Siemens’ strategic cost-cutting learning priority. Cross-functional teams composed of program participants were launched globally, and each was focused on opportunities to cut business cost. In the first year, the teams saved $12 million.

Establishing an effective experiential learning component alone is insufficient. It must be an integral part of overall learning design infused with traditional assessment, classroom and results learning.

Weighing the merits of traditional classroom work vs. results-fueled learning, the dilemma shouldn’t be choosing one approach over another, but how to jointly create the best outcomes.

“CLOs often try to establish effective action learning in a disjointed approach. Rather than one cohesive learning process, action learning is positioned as a competing approach. This is a major mistake,” Bellmann said.

The precursor to shifting learning and development from a cost to profit center is to start by translating broad leadership descriptions or aspirations into desired business results.

But translating desired learning, capability and business outcomes should not be the sole responsibility for learning professionals.

Top leaders must own and engage in the process and be convinced that their learning and development partners have a reasonable approach to improve business.

“My experience is that L&D professionals shy away from the complexity of measuring the ROI on training,” said Kate Hyatt, director of global talent management and organizational development at office-supply retailer Staples. “But if they don’t do it, they risk rendering their role insignificant.

One place to start is by helping their organizations to reduce their corporate objectives to just a small handful and then ask the question: Is our current learning strategy furthering those objectives in a meaningful way?”

Embedding leadership development in strategic business priorities allows learning and development professionals to finally stop asking, “Are our learning activities aligned with the business?” and start asking, “How do we have an impact on the bottom-line — and how big can it be?”

By demonstrating true return on investment, learning and development can reposition itself as a strategic business partner that adds value and drives growth.

Justin Wasserman is a partner at Schaffer Consulting. Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

Do You Have a

Many companies now are recruiting on social media websites, but how many fully understand how to use this relatively new tool to tap into communities of prospective employees? Today, more young people are aligning themselves with groups, or talent communities, in which they can network and learn from others in the same industry. For that reason, it is important to understand how to tap into these groups of individuals who share skill sets, interests, and talents.

Here is how Training Top 125 companies Sprint and EMC Corporation are utilizing talent communities to build their workforce, and what a couple of experts in the field recommend.

Define “Community” and Get Started

For companies unfamiliar with the concept of online talent communities, the effort to use this tool begins by understanding what it is. “Typically, it is an interactive group of job seekers and recruiters joined together by a common interest,” explain Karen Hoffman and Jennifer Schnack, managers, Recruitment Services, Sprint. “As an example, Sprint uses Jobs2Web (now SuccessFactors) as a private community of interested job seekers that may help match a person’s interests to available positions.”

The first step is to establish or build up your company’s social media presence on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. “Set up a Facebook or LinkedIn profile and use that to build a personal or professional network,” say Hoffman and Schnack. “This can be individual recruiters setting up their own profiles or the company setting up ‘corporate’ profiles that are managed by the appropriate HR staff.”

The talent community Sprint set up allows job seekers flexibility to check in at any time to see if any position is of interest, but does not require them to apply at that moment. “When candidates visit but don’t see a specific position they want to apply for at that time, they can join the talent community and create a profile with their work experience and contact information,” Hoffman and Schnack say. “When a position becomes available that aligns with their skill set, they will receive an e-mail notification about the opportunity.”

Hoffman and Schnack point out the importance of keeping all social media accounts that are used in talent community recruiting in the company or business department name rather than using private recruiter or manager accounts. If the account is in an employee’s name, it should be a professional account used solely for the purpose of professional communications. “Keep your personal and professional social media profiles separate,” they recommend. “Don’t co-mingle the two. Also, be careful about who and what has access to your personal information.”

It also is important to remember that your company can leverage other social media outlets to publicize job openings and even the talent community itself. “As an example, a recruiter would announce a position on his or her Facebook page, providing a link back to the talent community inviting individuals to become a member of Sprint’s Talent Community,” say Hoffman and Schnack of how the process works for their company.

Companies must find ways to recruit that mirror how potential candidates engage and communicate, and social media is one way to do this, Hoffman and Schnack note. “We have seen this channel work for both exempt and non-exempt positions. At Sprint, we even have successfully used talent communities to recruit for director-level positions.”

Chance to Build Relationships

One way to look at recruitment via talent communities is as an extension of what companies have always done.

“‘Talent Community’ is really just a buzzword for relationship marketing. It’s what good recruiters do every day—they build pipelines of good candidates who are either active or passive job seekers, then look to reach and influence that community through communications,” says Tom Murray, senior vice president, Global Talent Acquisition, EMC Corporation. “The good (and bad) news is that there are many ways to communicate with candidates via social media. This is good because companies can informally get their message out via social media channels, and often that message will take on a life of its own. HR executives, however, need to change their current mindset of managing the message. Social media is meant to be open, allowing candidates to easily tap into their social networks to learn about an employer.”

Murray says social media sites such as LinkedIn make using talent communities easy. Companies that are not yet ready to build their own talent communities can take advantage of the communities already in existence on LinkedIn and other social media sites.

“LinkedIn has changed the way candidates look for jobs by transforming the job search industry from traditional commercial job board postings to professional networking,” says Murray. “LinkedIn continues to create new ways for candidates and companies to interface by building endorsements, delivering relevant content, and providing professionals the ability to manage their own networks. By spending time on LinkedIn, HR executives will get a good sense of how recruiters use this channel, how candidates build networks, and how companies can brand themselves to unique audiences.”

From LinkedIn, Murray says to move to other social media outlets such as applicants’ blogs or Twitter accounts to get a greater sense of their experience and who they are. “Twitter and blog accounts are informal, and potential candidates are more likely to connect and engage using these less invasive platforms,” Murray explains.

If you’re still confused about where to get started when on a social media site such as LinkedIn, Murray elaborates a bit more.

“For example, a recruiter would search using a skill as a keyword to find potential candidates on social platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter and online search sites such as Google or Bing to uncover bloggers,” Murray says. “The recruiter then would engage the candidate in a conversation. If it’s a passive candidate, the recruiter needs to be careful not to publicly expose the candidate. It’s important to have a strong social media presence, build and nurture relationships, and be able to pull from the talent pool whenever needed.”

Have a “Conversation” with Applicants

“Talent communities can and do form organically online via existing social networks, which companies then can use to source and recruit from,” says Kevin Grossman, director of Content Development, Peoplefluent. “According to Pew Internet, 69 percent of online adults use social networking sites. With more people participating in online social networks, there is opportunity for organizations to take advantage of these relationships to connect with hard-to-reach candidates, extend employment brand messages, and communicate company culture.”

Like EMC’s Murray, Grossman points out the overlap between recruitment and marketing when using talent communities via social media. “Marketers long have recognized the value of endorsements, and social networks transcend that benefit to how companies attract, recruit, and retain talent. This is why organizations such as Peoplefluent are embedding ‘social collaboration’ platforms into their existing recruiting and talent management solutions.”

Grossman says to be sure to have a conversation with talent communities rather than just promoting your own company.

“The biggest don’t is to only have one-way conversations. While important to immediate sourcing and recruiting, one-way conversations in the form of broadcasting and promoting employment opportunities, with no opportunity for reciprocal dialogue, means there’s no opportunity for the candidates to engage the recruiters or the organization, other than to apply for a job,” he says. “That’s great for active job seekers, but not so much for the passive ones who need to understand much more about the employer brand than just a usually unrealistic job description.”

That said, Ted Elliott, CEO of Jobscience, says a talent community is essentially a chance to extend your company brand. “A talent community should be a corporate-hosted website that profiles the employment brand, explains the values of the organization, promotes events, and profiles a career type as opposed to a specific job,” says Elliott. “Candidates can join to learn and stay updated about hiring opportunities.”

Elliott explains that talent communities offer prospective employees a bigger picture of your company than just one job opportunity. “It’s a change in the perspective of how you fill open jobs,” he says. “Instead of advertising a specific opportunity, you promote why you are a great place to work, you develop relationships with stars, and nurture them so you can drive them to jobs as they open.”

Reprinted from Training Magazine

Aon Hewitt Adds Major Employers to Health Care Exchange

In one of the biggest steps for private health care exchanges so far, Aon Hewitt has announced that it will be offering health benefits for more than 330,000 American employees of some well-known companies, including Walgreens, Sears Holdings and Darden Restaurants – parent company of Red Lobster and the Olive Garden.

A total of 18 major employers have joined the Aon Hewitt Corporate Health Exchange, making it the country’s largest multi-carrier private health exchange. Health care providers including Anthem, MetLife and VSP Vision Care will be among the carriers represented in the exchange – with a wide variety of plans and different pricing options.

Aon Hewitt says it expects the enrollment to exceed 600,000 U.S. employees by 2014, approximately five times the number that participated in 2013.

In its 2013 Health Care survey, Aon Hewitt noted that more than a quarter of 800 large and mid-size national employers indicated that they plan to participate in a private health exchange within the next five years, with some 7 million employees represented.

The Aon Hewitt Corporate Health Exchange’s health insurance services remain private, unlike state or federal marketplaces, subject to the same rules as traditional employer-sponsored health care benefits.

Ken Sperling, Aon Hewitt’s national health exchange strategy leader, says the company’s exchange seeks to cut costs by encouraging competition at a consumer level, as well as providing more choices and better service for employee participants.

There’s still much anticipation to see how other major employers will adapt to the notion of health care exchanges. John Kelly, principal business advisor for Edifecs, an exchange technology provider, says that health care benefits still remain a major incentive for new workers, and employers need to figure out ways to offer better and less expensive options.

“[Employers] should be very interested in seeing how the [public] exchanges play out,” he says. “If they can pull it off, if they can have what anyone could call a successful first round in this open enrollment, there will be a lot of consideration I think among employer groups to get out of this business altogether.”

Richard Moore, director of professional services with Array Health, an exchange technology provider, says many large employers will need to start making their own decisions soon.

“They’re going to start working with their brokers or carrier directly and say, ‘I’m now done, I’m done with traditional group model. I’m going to either bail to the public exchange, or I’m done with the group model, I want to do a private exchange. I want defined contribution,’” Moore says. “I think we’re going to see a lot of activity come July of next year.”

Reprinted from Employee Benefit News

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