About six years ago, I worked for a terrific little advertising agency in downtown Dallas, Calise Partners. One of our clients was a telecommunications provider called Advanced Fibre Communications. The part of the telecommunications network that AFC operated in was called the “access” network. This will be important in a moment. AFC was located in Petaluma, California and the company’s corporate culture very much mirrored the sensibilities of its northern California location. When we started work with AFC, they provided their services to small, local telecommunications service providers. However, AFC’s expertise was in broadband hardware so once the large providers such as (what once was) Southwestern Bell and Verizon started focusing on providing fiber based broadband access to consumer’s homes, AFC’s business exploded.
As the company grew, there was concern about keeping the company’s well regarded culture intact. We were asked to develop a customer engagement program that reinforced key company success factors and the importance of teamwork and collaboration. Key company success factors were defined as:
- Team Up With Great People
- Strengthen Customer Relationships
- Grow Profitably
- Focus on Solutions (not products)
- Think Globally
- Act With Integrity
To reinforce behavior that supported these success factors, we developed A Passport to Opportunity program. Each success factor was represented by a passport stamp that employees could earn by demonstrating supportive behaviors. We focused on each success factor for a couple of weeks through internal communication and outlined what supporting behaviors looked like. Here is the twist. Employees were awarded passport stamps by their peers who observed employees acting in desired ways. Remember when I mentioned that AFC was in the “access” network? Well, these empowered employees were identified as highly regarded and influential employees. There were not all from the executive suite but were from all levels of the organization and they were nominated by other employees. Collectively, these employees were known as “The Accessibles”. Considering the company’s focus on access, it was a natural extension that employees be accessible as well.
When a supporting behavior was observed, an Accessible would let the employee know and would advise HR that a particular employee had earned a passport stamp. We developed electronic, web-based passports as well as hard copies for all employees in which their stamps could be displayed. Each employee that earned a stamp would receive a reward such as an iTunes gift card and all employees that earned a particular stamp were entered into a random drawing for a larger prize such as a hot air balloon ride over Sonoma County. For employees that earned all six stamps there was a large party planned for the Sonoma County fairgrounds.
Throughout the program, we regularly conducted employee surveys to quiz them on what they were learning and to gauge reaction to the program overall. The vast majority of employee feedback was positive.
The program was supposed to last for 12 weeks, however based on the company’s meteoric growth and a lucrative new contract with Verizon, AFC was purchased half way through our program by Tellabs. Consequently, the passport program was shut down before it could run its course.
Today, this program would be called gamification of an employee engagement initiative. However, whatever it is called, it was highly successful. Advances in Internet technology and online gaming over the past six years make our program look archaic but success factors are the same today as they were back then. To use a modern gamification framework:
- Define Objectives
- Delineate Target behaviors
- Define Players
- Devise Activity Loops
- Don’t Forget the Fun
- Deploy the Appropriate Tools