Gamification in the Classroom – Making Employee Benefits Fun

I recently completed my Level 1 Gamification Apprentice certification from Sententia, a world-renown consulting agency for training program gamification.

What is Gamification?

Think about all the fun we have playing board or card games with family and friends. Now think about those occasional training sessions where we struggled to keep our participants energized throughout the course. Imagine if we could combine our training tactics with entertaining game components to create a fun, engaging learning experience. That’s gamification!

Gamification takes the psychological and behavioral sciences surrounding game design (video, card, board games, etc.) and implements those ideas in training programs to enhance active learning. The main idea here is that we want to make learning more fun and engaging in the same way that rolling dice, drawing cards, or jumping over Donkey Kong’s barrels enthralls gamers.

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Feedback: Keys to the Manager’s Mind

I recently had a conversation with a young manager who was focused on improving his team’s work quality.

He was frustrated that some of his employees weren’t performing as well as he expected. I asked him what he was doing to help those employees perform better, and he responded that he just expected them to get better with more time and experience. He had assumed his team members knew that they were doing sub-standard work, but really it was him who failed to give them feedback.

This is a common scenario, especially with newer managers. “Why aren’t my employees performing well?” Because you haven’t told them that they’re not. Learning, even at its most basic level, requires feedback.

Many of us are afraid to say negative things to others, especially about work quality. Others may simply not know how to give constructive feedback. Regardless of which category applies, here are five tips that can help everyone provide good feedback.

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The FMLA and “Friends” – What Rachel Can Teach Us About Leave Transitions

You can learn a lot about human resources from binge-watching shows on Netflix (especially if you do it at work, since it’ll get you some one-on-one time with your HR department!). The Office is full of employment law violations, Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy discuss modern problems in health insurance, and 30 Rock showcases the challenges of team leadership.

During a recent marathon of the late 90’s show Friends, I came across an episode that teaches us about the managerial pitfalls of parental leave benefits.

“Friends” screenshot from Netflix, 2017

In the real world, paid parental leave is one of the fastest-rising employee benefits. Organizations are fighting harder than ever to recruit and retain good employees who are growing families. For the rest of the working world, at least in the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act remains a strong, but complicated policy mandating a form of unpaid parental leave (see my crash course video on the FMLA).

While the law may appear simple, management must jump through many hoops in order to provide a fair and effective process (if they want to avoid litigation and prevent huge morale losses, that is). Policies must be established and relationships must be strengthened, in order to ensure a peaceful transition and continued productivity when the employee on leave returns to work. Friends teaches us the consequences when the process isn’t done correctly.

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Recalling a Recounting: Part 2 – It’s the Little Things that Count

This is Part 2 in a 2-part series on HR lessons learned from the 2016 Michigan presidential recount effort. Read Part 1 here.

Here’s how the 2016 Michigan presidential recount worked:

Two county workers sat at a table while a few public observers (generally one from each party) stood behind to watch. A county official would bring several large boxes to the table. These boxes contained the ballots cast in a particular county precinct. The county workers made sure the precinct boxes were still properly sealed from Election Day.

Then they matched the boxes’ serial numbers to the numbers written down in the poll book. A poll book is the official Election Day record for a precinct, maintained by pollworkers as voters came to the precinct and cast ballots. It includes a list of voters and the number of ballots read by the scanning machines. If the serial numbers matched between the boxes and the poll book, then the boxes could be opened.

(image from

The workers then counted the number of ballots contained in the precinct boxes and matched that count against the poll book’s record. If those figures matched, then the workers could sort the ballots by vote choice and conduct the actual hand recount.

You might be wondering why I’ve shared so many details about the recount process on a blog about HR and training. Well, the details matter. If at any point in the above process the numbers and figures did not match, then the entire precinct was deemed “unrecountable.” This means that the ballots in the boxes for that precinct could not have been hand recounted (the original machine count stood). Election Day workers had to follow the exact details on how to sort, pack, record, and seal the precinct boxes and their contents, or there was no legal way to recount it.

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Recalling a Recounting: Part 1 – Audits are Awesome!

It’s January, which means its almost Inauguration Day.

It was a tumultuous election season that didn’t end until mid-December for some of us (particularly MI, PA, and WI residents).

Michigan held a statewide hand ballot recount for three days before the courts prevented its completion. I had the privilege to volunteer at a county recount site as an attorney for Jill Stein’s campaign. Half of my job was to ensure that county workers followed state election law; the second half was arguing with other attorneys over whether a pen mark was a vote or just a stray pen mark (that was seriously a huge issue).

But I also found the experience to be incredibly informative on how we, as HR professionals, can improve our workplace effectiveness in 2017. While the recount could be viewed as a formality that may never happen again, it gave us three ways to help our organizations achieve real business goals.

This is the first segment in a two-part Lessons series.  Part 2 can be found here.
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Onboarding: Even the President Does It

We are currently inundated with analyses and forecasts on how the new President-Elect could change benefits administration public policy and employment law. However, in the midst of these regulatory evaluations, we are overlooking a significant human resources transition taking place between Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

According to a recent article in the Hill (referencing a Wall Street Journal post), President Obama and President-Elect Trump will meet frequently during the next month to make a smooth transition between administrations. The 44th President will relay to the 45th President the ins-and-outs of the Oval Office, including White House staff selection procedures, diplomacy traditions, and general tips for a successful first 100 days in office. In other words, Obama will be onboarding Trump.

Photo from ABC News/Associated Press
Photo from ABC News/Associated Press

Sure, the onboarding of the next President of the United States is tremendously different than orienting a new manufacturing hire to his or her station on the assembly line. But the purpose is the same – a good onboarding process will ensure that the new hire effectively integrates into the organization’s work culture. This results in increased long-term performance and a lower chance for failure.

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Golf Lessons: Part 3 – Practice Makes Consistency

This is Lesson #3 in a three-part series about key lessons I have learned while practicing the sport of golf. Be sure to read Lesson #1 – Results Matter and Lesson #2 – New Tech, Old Tech, Effective Tech if you haven’t already.

“Practice makes perfect.”

We’ve all heard the adage about the importance of practicing. Many of us have read Malcolm Gladwell’s theory in The Tipping Point about it taking 10,000 hours of experience to master a skill. It’s a tenet of learning theory that repetition of an activity leads to improving the ability to do that activity. We get it; practice is important.

But often we don’t think about the kind of practice we do and how it affects our results. I once had a coach who ranted on a weekly basis that we had to be cognizant of how we practice, not just focused on the amount of time we spend doing it. His version of the adage was “practice makes consistency” – in many cases, bad practice habits would lead to bad results.

my father

Golf, like most sports, cannot be done well without a substantial amount of practice. Each shot on the course is different. Two shots may share the same yardage, but wind speed, tree branch length, and grass height can drastically change the way you approach the ball.

As an amateur golfer, I frequently find myself facing challenging shots that I have never experienced. For example, a tree in front of me might offer only a small clearing to shoot through, or large sand traps could be guarding the green ahead. Golf rarely gives you an easy shot, especially when you aren’t good enough to consistently keep the ball in the center of the course.

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Golf Lessons: Part 2 – New Tech, Old Tech, Effective Tech

This is Lesson #2 in a three-part series about key lessons I have learned while practicing the sport of golf. Read Lesson #1 – Results Matter and Lesson #3 – Practice Makes Consistency.

We live in a wondrous time where computer technology is available for little to no financial cost. We have high-tech presentation assistants with a hundred functions, cloud-based training systems, and an offering of delivery software that makes PowerPoint look like an old slide projector. Every professional development conference hosts multiple sessions on the latest and greatest training tool.

Golf is no different. Equipment technology is evolving every year to help make average golfers play better without the extra practice time. Clubs are engineered to compensate for bad form or low physical power, allowing everyone to hit the ball straighter and farther without extensive practice. Golf is a difficult sport to master, so extra help from gear is generally well-received. For an example of this, just look at how drivers (the big club you hit off the tee) have changed over the decades.

Left - modern driver; Right - Persimmons wood driver
Left – modern driver, Right – old wood driver

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Golf Lessons: Part 1 – Results Matter!

I’m currently in my second year of having a “serious” relationship with golf. I am more attentive to my play and strive to perform better with every swing. This involves studying books about the game, watching training videos on swing mechanics, and putting balls into a coffee cup in my office.

Golf is the ultimate game of personal development. There are an infinite number of skill points to master, and always room for improvement. Each round on the course and every bucket at the driving range present a new learning experience, increasing both physical and mental acumen. For example, a brief practice session may focus on improving 50-yard pitch shots, but it also includes a subconscious lesson on concentration and restraint.

Besides the direct personal benefits that come from learning a sport, golf can teach us how to be better trainers and presenters. Here is the first in a series of three lessons from the fairway to help us iron out our efforts in the classroom. You can also read Lesson #2 and Lesson #3.

(If you’re completely unfamiliar with golf, check out this intro video from YouTube)

Golf Lesson #1: Results Matter

Everyone’s heard the common phrase, “it ain’t rocket science!” But for golf, it actually is! Dave Pelz, a former NASA space researcher, is regarded as one of the best golf teachers in the world, particularly when it comes to the short game (150 yards or less, and putting – the more “finesse” shots). He analyzed hundreds of professional golfers and thousands of golf shots, and engineered science-based methods for improving the average golfer’s game. In his most popular book, Dave Pelz’s Short Game Bible, he begins with an important mantra: the score is what matters.

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