There are 2.3 billion active gamers in the world. If you are one, know one, are married to one or are parenting one, you know what it’s like when they (or you) are actively gaming. Simply saying the word “gaming” conjures it immediately: immersed, obsessed and engaged.

We can harness that same drive in learning and development (L&D). When designing the LevelUp leadership development program at BorgWarner, our team applied the principles of game design that engage and immerse the user — just as designers of the latest games do — to make our program as engaging as possible. Specifically, we took five key design elements into consideration: challenge, choice, characters, content and impact.

1. The Challenge

At its core, a game is a challenge with a goal or objective to meet. In order to level up, organizations must identify the challenges they want to solve in order to fill the gaps with a digital leadership development program. Ask yourself about the challenges your organization is facing:

    • Are you starting fresh or building a new program from the ground up?
    • Are your programs making a difference? Do you have a robust program, but no one is engaged — or a small program, and learners are asking for more?
    • Can the tools you’re using handle the demand that you want?
    • Is your program meeting the needs of the business with a scalable and sustainable solution?

By beginning with identifying the unique challenge, you can create a unique program that engages employees in learning.

2. The Choice

In a game, players must make choices to address the challenge they face, and the direction a player chooses to go will affect the final outcome. To make an educated decision, the player must fully understand the criteria that he or she needs to meet in order to be successful.

Similarly, when developing a training program, you have a choice to make when it comes to selecting a content partner. When introducing a digital leadership development program to employees, one of the most important steps is to secure a strong content partner. To determine the selection criteria, first, you must determine what is on your must-have list:

    • Which type of learners do you have across the company?
    • Are you looking for virtual instructor-led training (VILT), a self-guided experience or a blend of both?
    • Which type of content will be most beneficial to your employees?
    • Does the content need to be in multiple languages?
    • What is your budget?

With the right content partner for your program, managers will find improved communication, decision-making and creative thinking across the organization. By aligning on continuous improvements with this partner, you can continue to connect with a diverse group of employees, reflect on key lessons learned and encourage a growth mindset.

3. The Characters

Once you make a decision on your content partner, you must monitor how stakeholders and employees are interacting with the program. Your employees and stakeholders are your characters, and if they are engaging with the learning program negatively, you may have introduced an enemy.

For a smooth rollout, work with the right people to earn their buy-in, and encourage them to champion the program. These champions might be your human resources (HR) team, learners or specific business units.

4. The Content

With any good game, content is everything. The storyline creates the universe for gamers to immerse themselves in. In your leadership development program, the content should align with your organization’s leadership imperative and be structured for alignment, engagement and application.

When working with your partner to develop your program’s content, be sure to include these components:

    • Learn: With virtual learning, users can consume content at any time or place. It also has a defined beginning and end and a way to track progress.
    • Reflect: Push a series of questions in a timed sequence to enhance learning and encourage a growth mindset through personal accountability and reflection.
    • Apply: If your employees are taking to the program, they can apply simple activities that incorporate new tools and techniques into their daily work.
    • Collaborate: Encourage learners to interact and build relationships through small groups and manager discussions.

5. The Impact

Introducing a virtual learning program to employees is a process. How do you know if your program is successful and if you are encouraging a growth mindset? With gaming, the boundaries are known: You win, or you lose. When it comes to your leadership development program, look at your organization as a whole to determine what winning looks like. Throughout your program, identify leading indicators that show whether you are heading in the right direction and help you focus on where the program could use improvement.

Use pre- and post-training surveys, and encourage your learners to take self-assessments. These tools enable you to gather qualitative data and an understanding of what works. Has the learning increased accountability across teams? Are you connecting with a diverse group across the company with instructor-led training? Use the data you gather to make updates throughout the program that enhance the experience for both participants and managers.

Looking Ahead

It’s a unique era: Five generations are converging in the workplace, and there is a lot of work to do to ensure that employees across all age groups feel equipped with the tools and skills they need to advance their careers. Designing and delivering a leadership development program in a digital environment can be transformative, so lean into what drives engagement — what drives obsession — and you’ll have a winning strategy in work or in play.

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