A CykoMetrix Spotlight Production

Every week, the Spotlight shines on an amazing professional with a story to tell and lessons to teach. Welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight.

The following is an adapted transcript of the exchange between Sylvain Rochon, CMO at CykoMetrix as host, and Jim Wexler, President of Persona Labs, New York.

Sylvain: Welcome to CykoMetrix Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon, the chief marketing officer at CykoMetrix, a SaaS assessment service that measures teams using pulses over time to measure how effective they are and how effective, and more data around that. This series puts the spotlight on a person in the psychometric space.

Today we have Jim Wexler. Jim is the president of Persona Labs, a psychometric assessment company that uses gamification to deepen engagement, assess capabilities, change, behaviors and improve performance. Jim is an original pioneer of learning simulations and game-based learning.

He has created the first-ever game-based programs for CTE, Deloitte. MetLife, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, and SAP cumulatively putting in play over 8 million games. Jim is also the co-founder of Courageous Labs and has been featured in Business Week, Forbes, and New York Times. Hello, Jim.

Jim: Thanks.

Sylvain: All right. So, the subject for today is using gamification for development, organizational development, personal development.  This is something new to the market. We talked about this before. It’s used for training. That’s very standard. But you’re taking a different approach and you’ve developed a whole slew of assessments that leverages gamification.

So, I think the audience would like to know first how do you use gamification for organizational development? What does it look like? What kind of outcomes can an organization get using those techniques versus a more traditional way of assessing and developing?

Jim: Well, it’s interesting. Thanks for delving into this topic with me today. The history at my company has been trying to make the development of team members engaging so that they get more out of it and participate more. That started with, as you said, game-based learning.

For years now, we’ve taken the principles of games and gamification and tried to add them to the learning development mix so that today’s worker finds it to be more relevant and more engaging and kind of get away from the death by PowerPoint and standardized e-learning that comprises most of what happens in learning in enterprise.

So, we took to that process of inventing game-based deliverables that take a client’s content, what they’re trying to teach in terms of soft skills or hard skills, and make it into an experience that is relevant to the user.

In terms of the role of psychometric assessment in that, we at Persona Labs, have a library of hard-won assessments, so our materials have been around for about 20 years.  These tests have been used by thousands of companies, and over a million people had participated in our traditional assessments.

The area of our business that we’re talking about is taking some of that psychometric test material and rather than using it for screening or talent acquisition, weaving it into the learning experiences in order to get information about users’ capabilities as we develop them.

So, the outcome of an e-learning course might be that someone’s understanding of their job role and the capabilities required are better understood while we’re getting data about their strengths and weaknesses and potential for performance. So, it adds a dimension of data to an already proven format.

Sylvain: Right. And when you gamify an assessment, what kind of reactions do you usually get from a client? Because like you said, this is not something that’s been done by a lot of other companies. Very few companies do this for development. So, what are their reaction and if you’ve measured the outcome by using an assessment that is kind of standard non-gamified versus one that is? What are you noticing since you’ve been in the business for a while?

Jim: Well, certainly, the reactions are positive from the users and from the executives who are getting more data and richer feedback from the experiences we’re delivering. But I think you have to look at this from the 2 angles that it originates from. If we’re creating a psychometric assessment in order to screen talent or understand their capability, then adding gamification or adding game dynamics just makes that experience richer which allows us to get higher completion rates and better user experience.

Neither of these things is particularly highly valued by the traditional psychometric assessment industry. It’s very risk-averse in the traditional industry, of course, that we both participate in where old line and bubble tests haven’t changed much in 75 years. The delivery methods are valid and proven and the powers that be in the industry and the clients that they serve aren’t necessarily eager to innovate.

So, even having said that though, for those that do innovate and do try to deliver a better user experience because it’s almost universally agreed that filling out a bubble-type survey test over and over again as a candidate or as an employee is a less than desirable experience. But bringing some game dynamics to that, making the asking of the questions more game-like, for example, means that the user will be less likely to say that the experience was poor.

We have proof that if you gamify or add some game dynamics to the test experience, people quit less and the completion rates are higher. Having said that, some of the challenges that face us as practitioners of a science, is that one must validate that the outcomes are as valid when you’ve changed the format of the survey and we’ve done that. The big benefit to bringing game dynamics to the testing processes is that the user enjoys the experience more, they reflect well on the company that’s providing the test, and the chance for completion is higher.

Sylvain: You bring in some interesting points about the industry or at least the psychometrics researchers or psychologists who are looking into this. You’ve mentioned this. They would say, well, because you’re changing the medium of the test on how to test is administered, the results are incompatible with the foundational research.

You did mention that you were able to validate that note. The outcomes of your gamified tests are as valid as the traditional ones. How are you able to interact with or convince these researchers? What kind of data can you present to them to show that the technique doesn’t invalidate the results? What can you present to them? Because it’s very traditional as you know.

Jim: Right. Well, usually our documentation is available and can be examined by the research community and it’s up to snuff. But it’s interesting. It’s almost a philosophical question rather than an academic question as to whether these changes should be made. Because as far as the academics and psyop, where the researchers are concerned, there isn’t a necessary interest in changing the deliverable.

So, while the painful process of validating each and every new game-based deliverable is possible, and in many instances we’ve got good documentation to support that, the philosophical portion of this is about the use of the tests in the human world.

Because the users, first of all, as skeptical as they may be about the validity of tests overall, wonder after being put through these tests over and over again if they’re truly meaningful. Their desire for a better experience needs to be addressed. Not by the academics but by the companies that are providing the tests just as our workplace has changed.

If you go back to when we were kids or go back to even before that time, the hierarchical structure of organizations and the corporate workforce was that they would say “jump” and we employees would say “how high.” That equation has been changed.

Employees now will not do it because you say so. They want companies to have good social responsibility policies and good work-life balance policies and a good culture overall. And all the money in the world might not persuade today’s workers from joining a company that does not deliver on those.

Another aspect of that is the tech-savvy baseline. If you’re a slicker company, tech company, or a high-end brand, a Coke or a Pepsi or a Nike, every dollar you spend in every iota of your effort is to carve out your brand in the marketplace and show that you are a sophisticated participant in the modern world.

Then when you invite employees in to join your firm, you give them a test from 1923, there’s a break. It does not serve the brand to test in an old-fashioned way. Some brands simply won’t tolerate that. Others are bureaucratically unaware that they are going against their own brand strength when it comes to welcoming employees.

If you think about it, a large company like Pepsi might hire 5,000 people a year which means they’re testing, excuse me, deeply interviewing 50,000 a year.  They may be testing 500,000 people a year on a screen-like basis to determine who to hire. That’s 500,000 people that they are saying straight up that their brand is a false positive.

So, there’s a reason in the marketplace and there’s a reason based on today’s employees to make sure that the testing process is as appropriate and relevant and as engaging as other communications that we do. That pushes against the academics that might say “Not interested. Keep it pure. No reason to change our process.” That is the conflict in which Persona Labs plays out in the marketplace these days.

Sylvain: That’s excellent. It falls into a follow-up question regarding the completion rate you mentioned. This is typically a test imposed on the employee, the trainee, or the candidate for a job and there are different levels of motivation. Of course, if you’re a candidate looking for a job at IBM, your motivation should be reasonably high to actually complete an assessment.

But if you’re an employee and you’ve been around the company for 20 years, the motivation is probably less. So, how does gamification or gamifying the assessments change the completion rate? I don’t know if you have an actual statistic to provide like from doing Delta analysis, but how does it change, in general, the completion rates?

Jim: Well, just think about it broadly for a second. The experience itself of any interface is improved by gamification. We can discuss what we mean when we say gamification. I think we should define our terms. Just think about interfaces and user experience, IBM as you said. In theory, and this is the old way of thinking, if I want a job at IBM, I should crawl through the mud to get that job. It just isn’t the case in a highly competitive workplace.

Right now, as you know, with the implications of the great resignation, it’s hard to find good people to fill jobs. Wages are going up but there are other qualifications besides money that could help a company obtain appropriate human capital at a higher rate. If any part of that process is unappealing, it may cause a candidate to step away. Preventing that and making the process of applying and enrolling frictionless is the job of the HR department, and even scientists shouldn’t stand in their way.

Talking about UX, user experience, when we go to Amazon or a game interface or any interface that we do for many hours a day, all of us, if it’s poorly constructed, I don’t understand what I’m looking at. The buttons are in the wrong place. It’s slow to load. It seems like a waste of time. We leave rather quickly.

The marketers would take about a second and a half to engage and retain consumers as they peruse your interface and consider in which direction to click. Well, being sophisticated users of interfaces, we are not just built to not tolerate poorly designed ones. So, what we found and we have the data which we can share is that when we experience, first of all, it is designed to motivate, which we should discuss.

But when it’s designed in a way that looks and feels like something I might do in my everyday life, I’m more likely to join in and continue and complete. So, it’s basic knowledge and good common sense that user completion would rise when the experience isn’t horrible. That’s where we kind of shine.

By the way, just to talk about the gamification itself. It’s a word we all are familiar with now and I’ve been doing this for about 20 years before the term was coined. Gamification really just means using interfaces usually. We don’t realize but using interfaces to induce behavior, designing the user experience so people do more stuff, and underpinning that are the basic underpinnings of human motivation which means 3 things.

Autonomy, giving people a sense that they are in control of the process, mastering challenges. Getting people in an iterative process by which they can pass through things and the third one plays a little bit less in some of these testing protocols, is the sense of purpose or meaning, that I’m part of something larger than myself.

Those are the things that drive us to do everything that we do and as much as we can incorporate those motivational factors into the design of an interface, we’re going to get more participation whether you’re an advertiser, a trainer, or a town acquisition professional.

Sylvain: Yeah. That’s important. I’m glad you went there because defining what gamification is is really important. A lot of people just see or hear the word game. Well, okay, we get them to play a game while they’re doing something.  It could be that. In some cases, it is but in many cases, it’s not really like that.  You’re not playing crosswords or playing Halo while you’re filling out an assessment. That’s not what it is.

It’s more in the interface and a process and the intent and how it flows, making the experience enjoyable with emotional rewards in the path surrounding things like autonomy and control embedding the purpose and things like that. So, a gamified assessment probably doesn’t look like a 3D game, right? It is a thought and a process that makes sense that keeps people engaged in the system.

Jim: Quite right. Two things along those lines are that using game dynamics and game principles to improve the interface might mean.  The main word in gamification is as you said enjoyable or it’s really delightful or playful. This is what we want out of all of our interfaces is that it used and a pleasure to proceed. There’s an awful lot of stuff we have to march through every day when we’re on interfaces and filling out forms and looking for pages and looking for information.

The design that makes that a positive, playful, joyful, and delightful is the winner. So, it’s quite right that it’s a design principle. The design aspects that make even a bubble test more delightful. The way it looks, that sound it makes when you transition, the counter at the top that lets me know that I’m making iterative progress. All of that can add up to incrementally improving the user performance. They’re sticking to it, they’re staying focused, and so on.

The design at the base end just makes it delightful to people and they’ll participate more. Hard to argue with really. But the other end of it, which is the game-based side, it’s just a continuum. Because think about any game you’ve played. Words With Friends online. The new one is Wordle. Have you heard about Wordle? Everyone’s playing it. Anyone who is a scrabblehead is playing Wordle now.

Why? Why is Wordle resonating with people? Well, it’s a combination of the familiar and the novel. We’re all familiar with the five-word games or playing Scrabble or this kind of a thing. So, it’s not out of the left field. I don’t know what this is. I get it yet there’s a novel twist to it. It’s one aspect. The fact that it’s easy to share with others. I got a 3 out of 6 or 2 out of 5 are shareable and so there’s a purpose beyond me. There are aspects to that that have made it quite popular.

I would say that even if you’re moving towards game-like delivery or game-based delivery, you’re not going to reinvent the game deliverable. You probably capitalize on a sense of the interface that others have so that they’re halfway there. I will say this because in your introduction, you mentioned that I’ve done a lot of game-based learning in the past. Often, those are games. It’s either games or simulations.

When we’re making a game, a simple arcade game that’s meant to teach you about roofing tile, or how to be a salesman or crises readiness, we tend to pick a game genre and a game engine that’s incredibly well-known. Maybe even the flavor of the month. There was a time when Subway Surfer was the most popular game around and we made a series for different clients games that did Subway Surfer but taught you stuff.

So, when you played even if you were outside of the 21 to 29-year-old core demographic, you were likely familiar with the interface. You knew what was expected. You didn’t have a lot to learn and you can focus on accomplishing the game while absorbing the information that was given. It’s combining the familiar with the novel that makes this successful in the, going back to assessments for a minute, from the familiar just some game dynamics to make it more delightful all the way up to the familiar.

It looks kind of like a game that we’ve played before but now I’m answering questions or checking boxes about my personality rather than just trying to grab the star or the brass ring is the path forward. We’ve been doing quite well for something a lot of companies do, taking complex information and making it more palatable by adding these dynamics to the experience for the learner.

Sylvain: Well, I think like here at CykoMetrix, my company, what we found that was very important is to get everybody involved in the assessments along the chain. You got HR. You got the tester. You got the service provider. You get them all engaged in some way and involved.

They feel like there is something they can take out of the experience. If you can do that at every step of a process whether it’s for development, for training, or something else, then a person is more willing to engage and they take more value from it, and want to do it again maybe later because we use pulses as you know.

Using our system, for example, if a person has a terrible experience using it during that first benchmark and then they know that they’ll have to do this again in 3 months. Oh, man. They may not want to do it again and that causes issues for all the stakeholders along the line.

So, to your point, especially nowadays where the employee takes decisions and decides to go right, left, or center on his own, the importance is more on the path of its journey and not the endpoint towards retirement so to speak. Well, you got to put in some of those aspects in it. They got to put in something for them. Even though the person that has the ask is the HR guy, right?

Jim: As you said, the value proposition is everything. Whether you’re a brand selling a product or whether you’re a development executive hoping to ease your worker into developing themselves further. The value exchange on an assessment test, in theory, is built-in. If I complete this, I might get a job.

But it’s too abstract or it’s certainly not valuable enough to stand in and of itself. So, the value proposition, think about it from the testing, could be this experience wasn’t that bad or this experience was actually delightful. That could be enough value to ease them into completion. But there are other aspects of that value proposition following that are much stronger.

For example, and we’ve done this with game-based tests, where there’s a report for the user. So, the data goes to the company, they’re going to make some judgments and decisions based on the attributes that emanate from the test. But if I am a test taker, particularly a young person and I participate in it, and I get a report out of it that gives me some insight into myself. The value is there.

If at the beginning of a testing process, it says, “Please take this test, it will determine if you’re a fit for us” but no matter what they’re going to give you feedback on yourself, that could help you in your career, there’s a value exchange. Once we have employees, immerse them into psychometric assessments in order to determine their capability.

If they know that the outcome of the test is that they’re going to be directed intelligently to developmental materials, or a developmental path with courseware over a 1, 2, 3, 6-month, or 5-year period, then the value proposition is there. Yes, you made me spend 20 minutes answering questions about myself and thinking hard and revealing but the value proposition is not a black box and “we’ll call you maybe.”

It’s tangible insights that come out of it. I would say, particularly in the generation that kids under 50 who populate our workforce now have come up in a world where the expectation is that the gathered data will deliver a meaningful artificial intelligent experience. That’s the value exchange.

When I give up all my data to Amazon, each time I click, at least their recommendations, as creepy as they might be, their recommendations are of value. It’s more directed. It saved me time. They showcased something I’m interested in. They recommended a refill at the exact same time at the right price. All based on the data that they gather.

Most companies gather your data and make decisions without having it be of value to you and that doesn’t have to be that way. It’s probably the last bastion of inappropriately undervaluing the sharing of information with the user. There’s a lot to be said for that value proposition.

So psychometric assessments, it’s all tied up in HR and the great traditional process. But ultimately, as we gathered data from a user, having that data be of value to them, is a necessary part of the value exchange. As I had mentioned to you when we spoke when we met, the ironic thing is that HR gets all these people to participate in all this testing, and then even if we hire them, we don’t even give that information to their manager for further development.

Usually, the psychometric testing information is locked down or tossed away at HR. The manager is given 10 new sales recruits without any insight into their capability. Whereas, where the company just spent good money to determine if they were capable enough. That cycle should probably be broken in a world that expects its data to be used wisely.

Sylvain: Absolutely. With the emergence of GDPR and privatization like in Europe where essentially the data legally belongs to the owner of whoever provided it like in a system. In that kind of world where Canada and the US or adopting portions of GDPR, we have to move towards that direction where we want the data to be accessible by the person that takes the test. You want the data to be used and to be useful. I think everything that you’re talking about here is true and modern. We must innovate and kind of get out of some of the traditional thinking around that and you are doing exactly that at Persona Labs.

Thank you so much for taking part in this interview, Jim.

This has been Jim Wexler, President of Persona Labs, talking to us about how he uses gamification for organizational development. What a treat that was. I think very revealing and of use to anybody out there that’s looking at this video. Feel free to contact Jim. I’m sure he’s going to be ecstatic at taking your call and helping you gamify your processes, your training, and your development, and provide excellent assessments to boot for that. Thank you so much, Jim.

Jim: My pleasure. Thank you.

About Jim Wexler – www.linkedin.com/in/jimwexler

Jim Wexler uses gamification to deepen engagement, assess capability, change behavior, and improve performance. 

As President of Persona Labs in New York, he distributes a library of psychometric assessments with one million users at over 10,000 companies, and develops game-based assessments to predict talent and improve organizational performance.

As an original pioneer of learning simulations and game-based learning, Jim created first-ever game-based programs for Citi, Deloitte, MetLife, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson and SAP, and has put over 8 million branded games into play.  Jim helps subject matter experts activate and scale their learning content with gamification and is a co-founder of Courageous Labs, which delivers game-based learning for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Jim is a speaker to business audiences about how the digital landscape has changed the nature of work, business, and the human condition. He has been featured in BusinessWeek, Forbes, and The New York Times. He has a BA in Semiotics from Brown University.

About CykoMetrix – www.CykoMetrix.com

CykoMetrix is a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud, with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

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