How Fedgroup Boosted Employee Productivity Through Gamification
Gamification has become a hot topic in recent years, but what does it actually mean for your business, and how you can use it to drive employee performance
WHAT FEDGROUP'S PROJECT PIG ACHIEVED:
Through Project Pig, our gamification project, we reduced daily inbound communications from 500 at inception to less than 200, and slashed the dropped call rate from 20% to less than 1%, beating both industry norms and our own stricter deadlines and SLAs (Service Level Agreements).
Here's how we did it.
Someone once told to me that the job of a CEO is like flying a jumbo jet. You have to be able to see the big picture — the mountains, the sky, cloud cover and the terrain below. But you also need to be able to hone in on the finer details — altitude, wind speed, changes in barometric air pressure to avoid colliding with the jagged peaks ahead.
Being the son of a businessman, I was fortunate enough to learn the importance of measuring these finer details at a young age. As early as grade one my father encouraged me to be entrepreneurial, and I started my first business at the ripe old age of six. It was a sticker business whose main customers were my fellow grade ones.
With a father trained as an accountant I wasn’t going to get away with simply stashing my profits into my piggy bank. From day one he had me draw up a ledger to record my sales, cost of sales, profits, losses and inventory. Each night before bedtime I would record the day’s proceeds, comparing them to the previous day’s sales. At the end of the week I could see how I had done relative to previous weeks.
More importantly I could see which stickers sold well and which didn’t, enabling me to adjust my inventory accordingly. Although my bookkeeping and data analysis skills were rudimentary back then, the exercise showed me the importance of measuring performance and maintaining records for future analysis. (I didn’t know it at the time but years later I would read Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler espousing this very philosophy.)
ROOTED IN IT
Fast forward, and I was once again running my own business, this time a software sales and distribution company that I’d launched even before completing my studies in engineering. I also held down a full-time computer science teaching post for the duration of my degree. Shortly after graduation I was asked by my father to assess the IT system of the family business, Fedgroup — an independently owned and run financial services company.
Having just completed a number of years studying engineering and teaching computer science, where I’d been steeped in tech culture, it wasn’t long before I realised the company’s systems were woefully behind the times. I quickly set about overhauling the entire IT infrastructure and what started out as a short-term consulting gig quickly morphed into something more substantial, culminating in me being appointed head of operations in 2005.
The main task I set myself was replacing the antiquated, and largely outsourced, IT system with our own custom-built solution. Working 16-hour days with people from virtually every department, ranging from IT and operations to HR, gave me a fantastic insight into which areas of the business were performing and which areas weren’t.
Years later we had achieved the Holy Grail — a bespoke, in-house IT platform that ran and monitored every aspect of the business from logging calls to managing pay-outs to members. I was pleased by what we’d achieved but it wasn’t long before the old measurement bug started biting again. In 2015 I was appointed CEO and despite having built a comprehensive IT platform on which to run the business, I suddenly felt blind.
Fedgroup operates within a landscape that is changing at an ever-increasing rate, one where today’s assumptions may not hold tomorrow. As such, while our system had excellent functionality, it wasn’t all that good at generating management reports and giving insight into what was really happening in the business.
Having gone from being effectively embedded in individual teams, where I had an on-the-ground perspective of everyday happenings, I was suddenly catapulted into a top-down oversight role where I had only a bird’s eye view of the entire organisation. In this role, I was expected to guide and formulate strategy, and yet found myself blind to the reality of what was happening on the ground.
Further to this, reports give insight into what has happened in a business, but not into what is happening at that very moment. Strategy is necessarily quite fixed, but day-to-day actions require constant adjusting. Real-time measurements are more than reports. They help determine bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and administration-heavy processes, and ensure that feasible growth points are no longer dependent on guesswork.
For the business to survive and grow, I needed to get a better idea of what our individual teams were doing in the trenches each day.
A PIG TO THE RESCUE
Enter Project PIG, or more formally: Predictability, Involvement and Growth. This project culminated in us introducing real-time diagnostics and measurement tools into our IT system, to give us a better idea of whether staff members were meeting internal targets or not. Being a company that is somewhat averse to traditional corporate culture, we wanted to avoid a cut-and-paste KPI (key performance indicator) approach.
With a bit of lateral thinking we used a bespoke IT solution to integrate our measurement tools to a specially-branded vending machine, which was painted pink and ‘dressed up’ as a pig. The whole idea behind the pig is that when internal targets are met, the pig glows a healthy pink and dispenses free snacks to staff. However, when targets aren’t met the pink turns to blue and the pig shuts down.
Highly visible screens throughout the office show teams how close they are to meeting goals, thereby incentivising staff to work towards a common purpose. In addition, management has near-real-time access to deep-dive reports. Project PIG also introduced an element of internal competition between departmental teams, which resulted has in them informally challenging each other to see who can get the pig glowing pink first.
Although there’s an element of fun in this approach, it does have real, measurable outcomes. For example, we reduced daily inbound communications from 500 at inception to less than 200, and slashed the dropped call rate from 20% to less than 1%, beating both industry norms and our own stricter deadlines and SLAs (Service Level Agreements). The advantages of these improvements cannot be underestimated.
Reduced communication reduces staffing requirements and is a result of better client servicing. Happy clients result in a saving to the bottom line. The two most important lessons from Project PIG are that precise measurements are critical to success, and that setting a common goal and enthusing staff to aim at it collectively, enables critical metrics to move in the desired direction.
The success of Project PIG got me thinking about how else we could utilise technology to incentivise performance. Given the success of our irreverent approach to performance management I wanted to introduce even more fun, and an enjoyable way to both track and encourage performance. I decided to invite a group of game developers to our office for a brainstorming session.
The result was our very own Fedgroup game, Fedtropolis, complete with its own storyline and avatars for each company employee. Even my father has a role in the game as the Fedgroup Wizard! The goal of the game is for teams to work together towards a common purpose, earning Fedgroup coins as they achieve milestones.
These coins then contribute towards departmental or team bonus pools, which are shared at the end of the year. Not only does this encourage teamwork but it also allows teams to self-correct without managers having to intervene. If one team member slacks off, other team members are able to encourage them to keep working towards the team’s goal.
And, although all goals are work-related, achieving them is great fun, so while every job is bound to have aspects that could be viewed as ‘The Grudge’, by linking numerous elements to the game, we’ve reduced that dramatically. This serves two important purposes —
it creates a powerful dynamic within teams, promoting not only teamwork, but personal responsibility and deep pride in a job well done; and allows managers to move from ‘policing’, to innovation, being proactive, and earning deeper job satisfaction.
Needless to say, not only are business results greatly improved, but our staff members are happier and feel more valued. In time, the game complexity and rewards will grow, and we roll-out new functionality every Thursday. We worked hand in hand with our game development team to build a game that, when finished, would allow us full management of the metrics.
We gave developers an overview of what was required, then drew strongly on their expertise for suggestions on how to proceed. Although the game introduces a sense of fun, all tasks are work-related and aimed at supporting the business, such as the appearance of a phone monster if the dropped call rate increases. It is also flexible enough to allow for new elements to be introduced as new KPIs are identified.
The results of both Project PIG and Fedtropolis can already be seen in the marked improvement in several key areas of our business. Probably the biggest success has been the reduction in time for completing Group Risk Benefit quotes from seven days to under four hours — something I would not have believed possible before we’d embarked on these initiatives. Other hard and fast results include a 51% improvement in call waiting periods, an email query resolution improvement of 26% and a reduction in quarterly staff turnover from 18,9% to 7,6%.
These results have been a contributor to our two Diamond Arrow awards at this year’s PMR.africa Awards. Since these awards cannot be entered into, but are based on feedback from industry specialists, it proves that our commitment to constantly improve the quality of our service is bearing fruit. Even if you are fully committed to constant improvement, blind spots can occur, and one should always keep an ear open to critical, objective voices to prevent losing touch with the market.
A key part of both the PIG and Fedtropolis is that they are not based on fixed KPIs or performance indicators that are decided on at the start of the year and then set in stone until an employee’s annual review. Employees are encouraged to provide feedback monthly so that we can assess what is working and what isn’t. Goals are then tweaked accordingly.
As mentioned, the financial services landscape is in constant flux. As a business, once your ethos and reason for being are cemented, you need to use this basis to move quickly when required — from board-level decisions right down to how individual staff members are being managed. Our new system allows for this — we can quickly analyse if a product, system, or process is not performing as predicted, and get it back on course.
Similarly, with frequent feedback from staff, we can improve how we engage with them, manage them and incentivise them. This is a win-win for all involved. While implementations such as these are not free, the results have more than justified the expense, with early ROI indicators exceeding our optimistic expectations — not to mention the less tangible results, such as comradery and job satisfaction. Our management team considered the following:
- The business’s longevity was not up for debate, and this would require investment
- Our staff is a remarkable group of individuals and is the bedrock of the business. We wanted to support and grow staff members as individuals
- How could our investment ensure longevity, whilst building an engaged, inspired and fulfilled staff?
While both these initiatives have reaffirmed just how important performance measurement is to business outcomes, they’ve also shown that the exercise doesn’t have to be a grim-faced, bureaucratic ordeal. It can also be a team-driven, collaborative, and fun process.
ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS WITHIN YOUR OWN BUSINESS
- Do you have a strong handle on which areas of the business are performing and which areas aren’t?
- Do you have real-time access to this information, rather than waiting for monthly or quarterly reports?
- Do you have the ability to measure how changes in process or methodology are impacting results?
- At scale, can your business get the most out of your staff’s strengths, and work with their weaknesses?
- At a granular level, are you aware of how your business’s direction is being influenced, and can all factors be recalibrated to move you in the right direction?