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Upskilling Mind Games

Mind Games was a song penned by John Lennon. This interview has nothing to do with the famous Beatle, but up-skilling your workforce through the power of gamification is all the rage right now. That’s why we invited Geri Morgan, chief people officer at Intellum, an Atlanta-based learning technology company, on the show. Turns out, Geri is doing some amazing things with gamification that every employer could learn from. You probably won’t get Pac-Man Fever, but you’re likely to practical tips on how to improve retention and empower your workforce like never before.

Intro: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts, complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark. Buckle up, boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese Podcast.

Joel: Oh yeah, it's your parole officer's favorite podcast, aka the Chad and Cheese Podcast. I'm your co-host, Joel Cheesman. Joined as always, the Skeletor to my he-man, Chad Sowash is in the house, and we are excited to welcome Geri Morgan.

Chad: Geri! Geri! Geri!

Joel: Chief People Officer at Intellum, an Atlanta-based learning technology company. Geri, welcome to the podcast.

Geri Morgan: Thank you. Super excited to be here.

Chad: She's glowing, people. She's glowing.

Joel: Yeah. It's four o'clock. She's had a few. That's why she's glowing. We won't tell her boss. We won't tell her boss. Geri, for those that don't know you, give us a Twitter bio about you, and then we'll dig into the company and all that boring corporate stuff.

Geri Morgan: All right. Awesome. So, I've been practicing HR for about twenty years, and started my career with The Kroger Company, Cincinnati-based business, and just love doing the people work. I'm one of those people that didn't fall into HR, I chose HR on purpose, and have a lot of fun doing what I do. Some things about me on the personal front, I've got three kiddos, two, nine, and sixteen, so I have...

Chad: Wow!

Geri Morgan: Every emotion and every age represented.

Chad: That's a spread.

Geri Morgan: Yeah. It's a lot of fun in our house. And my husband and I, we've been married for thirteen years now, so, yeah. And one thing that not a lot of people know about me is that after college, I auditioned to be on MTV's The Real World.

Joel: That escalated quickly.

Geri Morgan: Unfortunately, I was not selected, but my opening was the Geri, Geri, MTV pick me.

Joel: And they didn't pick you with that? That's...

Geri Morgan: No.

Chad: So, what was the process? Did you just have to send in like a tape? Was it like a VCR tape? Was it a...

Geri Morgan: Yes, that's absolutely right. Recorded a three to five minute video about yourself and why they should select you, and then you had to fill out a handwritten application. I couldn't tell you what the next steps were because I didn't make it past that point.

Joel: So, you mailed in a VHS tape?

Geri Morgan: Yeah.

Chad: You do not look old enough to actually have been alive during the VHS Betamax era. You just don't, Geri.

Geri Morgan: Thank you, Botox.

Chad: I love it. I love it. Well, let's go ahead and move on. Move along. We've got stuff to talk about here, kids. So, today we're here to talk about closing the skills gap, leadership training, and trying to curb, churn, and retain our employees longer, which all drives more revenue to the bottom line. So, starting with the skills gap, here's a quick definition. A skills gap is the difference between the skills the employers need and the skills that the employees have. So, I've got a three-part question for you, Geri, right out of the gate.

Joel: Ease her into it, man.

Chad: Why is there a skills gap, number one? Why does the skills gap still exist since we know it's been there for decades? And what are you personally doing to close the skills gap at Intellum?

Geri Morgan: So, the skills gap, you know, I think that businesses are evolving at a pace that's more rapid than our team members can keep up with. And so, that's just a known fact. You know, organizations are moving at a pace, technology is moving at a pace that our internal tools and the resources to prepare and ready our team members is lagging behind a little bit. Some of, and I already forget question number two.

Chad: Why does it still exist? Because we know it's there.

Geri Morgan: So, you know, I think that the insights and the way that we can be proactive and help prepare the businesses for the next bend and the next turn. So, some of the strategies, some of the things that we're doing are gamifying the skills gap and gamifying the education experience, driving more excitement and energy and making it fun, while at the same time, being able to get some insights around what that means for the business and augmenting our staff to overcome where we have gaps. So, having some data and analysis around where our talent is, and then knowing where we need to fill in.

Chad: Well, it seems like many companies aren't spending the money on training to be able to close the gap, right? And it sounds like you guys are. Talk a little bit about the gamification piece. Does that help? How have you seen it help? The interaction, the engagement. Tell us a little bit about that.

Geri Morgan: Yeah. So, you know, gamification, I think that all started thanks to Candy Crush. Then we started, people realize that we're motivated when you turn things into a game and you make things fun. We had a lot of the consumer applications started to blow up. You know, you're getting streaks and badges for reading and walking. And my favorite streak to be on is the good sleep streak. So, you know, you can get motivated and incentivized to do lots of things.

Joel: Is that at work? Because I would nail that one.

Chad: That's only you, Joel.

Joel: I'd nail that one.

Chad: And I got to tell you, I stopped using a device because of the sleep because I was so competitive about my sleep that I would get every single night. I had to stop. I was stressing myself out 'cause I wasn't getting as much sleep as I thought I was supposed to get. I'm one of those, I'm one of those.

Joel: Only so Sowash. Only so Sowash. I think the Boy Scouts might be offended that you said gamification started with Candy Crush because they've been giving out badges in Boy Scouts for decades. [laughter] You touched on strategy. Give us some tactics. I mean, it's not Candy Crush for like the boss's face and you like. Talk about a real world example at your company of someone getting badges or rewarded in a gamification setting.

Geri Morgan: Yeah. I mean, I think some things that we're working on now are like just on a daily basis. How do you conquer your to-do list? How do you complete tasks and feel good and achieved on a short-term basis, getting achievement badges for hitting certain milestones. But really where we're going is more of the skill-based piece. So how can you be recognized for being a task master, a top communicator, problem-solving machine, an innovation guru. And so building out reputation-based, and I think that's the key, is getting out of this mindset that just because you did an activity, you earn a badge. It's making it more meaningful, something that you want to aspire to achieve. And so that can help spark those friendly rivalries, encourage people to step up their game and helping with more strategic work like succession planning, leadership development, and then knowing where you need to build out your education strategies based off of kind of the health and the skill level across your organization.

Joel: And using DOPA hits to do that, right?

Chad: Yeah. How do you publish? Is there a dashboard somewhere? Is there a literal like pens with stuff? Like how do you publish it? How do you spread the word that someone is getting badges? Is there a vendor, a third-party software that you swear by? Talk about that.

Geri Morgan: Well, Intellum is all things education. So we drink our own champagne. We're using our platform. And so our platform does allow for the reputation-based gamification. So we do it for skills as well as core values and being able to earn those and level up in those. Even recently, we're preparing for all employee retreat. And so we're getting people excited about going to this location together and going through the process of preparing and who's ready and excited about the event. So it can help with the team building element as well as kind of the more strategic skills development. So looking for the right vendor and platform that can help facilitate this. And then, of course, with your badges, there's always that cherry on top. Is there an incentive or something in addition that can motivate them to be valued and feel valued. But to your point, Chad, everyone's not that enthusiast or super competitive. And so you do have to be mindful. And so coming up with the right strategy on your gamification is key. And connecting it to business results is where you're going to see the best buy-in.

Chad: That's what I want to hear about. Business results. So when you were starting to create these games, do you have a business result or at least one that you've envisioned to try to hit, like a goal that you're trying to hit with all of these things? And they are something that does pretty much translate to a business result because that's all the C-suite cares about in the first place. So talk a little bit about that. And when you do create these games, you're focused on ensuring that not only you're creating something that has a business result, but you can articulate it to the C-suite.

Geri Morgan: Yeah, you're absolutely right. I mean, that strategy needs to be beyond just the compliance. Certainly you could tie this in to your basic compliance trainings. You get your badge when the compliance is, the learning is completed and your ROI is avoiding fines and penalties, but it's more powerful than that. And so it can really help lead to better outcomes and deriving some insights that can help with the conversations and managing your team. I think of a great example is a high potential team member that was positioned for a leadership development program. And so we signed the program and monitoring the learning activity. And we realized that the individual was spending time in technical training and not doing the leadership coaching and development work. And so this insight and being able to develop a program that gave us some data helped us have a conversation with the individual, learn and talk about career paths. And instead of losing that person because they wanted to go in a technical track, we were able to have that information sooner to be able to position them and just redirect where they're taking their career.

Geri Morgan: So I think that the ROI is going to be retention of team members. It's gonna be helping us to get them and keep them engaged and looking at the connection between the or correlations between engagement and your education and learning strategies and performance, I think is really another powerful way of looking at gamification and how we're engaging. And really it's learning is our new marketing for our internal team members.

Chad: You mentioned retention. Is there any number, like people are here longer or express more satisfaction or our glass door rate, you know, rankings have gone up. Any data around the retention piece?

Geri Morgan: Well, I mean, I think there's lots of reports and data out there. I mean, when gamification and those elements are used, it is found that 90% of employees feel more productive and a 48$ increase in employee engagement. We're seeing some of those results in terms of our overall employee engagement. We're higher than the benchmark. We benchmark ourselves against other similarly sized technology companies. And so we are 10 to 20% on average higher than other peers in our space. I think the glass door rating would be another way of looking at that. We really look at employee engagement internally. You look at retention as well. And the other piece that I think is layered on is your internal promotion rate and through your learning initiatives. Are you preparing individuals to be promoted and grow their career or do you have to bring an outside talent?

Joel: So leadership training, I've always had a pet peeve being in the military for 20 years. Whenever you get promoted, you have to go through leadership training. If you don't, if you don't complete it, you get demoted. Right? But on the corporate side, why isn't leadership training standard for every organization? Number one. And number two, you know, what have you guys and what kind of impact have you seen from leadership training within your organization?

Geri Morgan: It's crazy how lacking this is across the corporate world. I was reading an article recently. It was less than 5% of businesses have leadership development programs at all levels implemented across.

Chad: How does this happen?

Geri Morgan: So we're again, we're in that natural state of just being reactive and instead of proactive with preparing our leaders to navigate situations successfully. I mean, I think there is a budget, you know, certainly that's an area that is easy. And one of the first things that sometimes gets cut, which is unfortunate, the budget piece. And, you know, it's hard to do it right. There's so much, you know, the canned content out there. And so this perception is, is that it's difficult to do. And so I think maybe that's why organizations, you know, don't do it. But I mean, the ROI, you're absolutely right. Like it's the career growth and progression and employee retention are some of the key drivers. The millennial workforce is looking for growth and development opportunities. And so if you're not providing that, you're going to see that turnover every 18 to 24 months, especially from that generation. If you're not satisfying that expectation of employment these days, our workforce is 65% millennial. And so this is a big part of what we talk about in creating that culture of learning.

Joel: You talk about retention, which is very important. I'm curious about two other R's. One is recruiting. We know that applying to jobs suck. We know that ninety some percent bail before they complete the task of applying to a job. Are you guys currently doing anything to gamify the application process or the recruiting process? And if not, is it something that you don't want to do or something that you just haven't gotten around to? The other question is around referrals. Do you have a badge for someone referring someone? And is that a big badge? Because it should be.

Geri Morgan: I love that idea. I think the recruitment piece itself, I think that's brilliant. It's not one that we've currently taken on as an idea, but I have.

Chad: New product for your teaching.

Geri Morgan: Yes, I think it's fantastic.

Joel: I'll take 15% of all these profit.

Geri Morgan: Let's keep working on this, but you're absolutely right. I mean, we want to stand out and be a unique company. There's a lot of competition for talent. And so we do want to be a top destination where people want to work. And so we try to showcase and highlight our culture in unique ways and have a very collaborative selection process and do some things that are very personalized to that individual. And in terms of that selection process, talking about things that matter to them and making sure that they have time to vet us fully so that it's a mutual fit. But I think that this could be really fun to work on a gamified recruitment experience and prepping candidates for successful conversations and the vice versa. So interesting angle there. And the referral piece is something that we do track and monitor. And I like the idea of badges for that. And then there's like a master badge. And then once you have so many referrals, you're hired in HR as a recruiter so...

Joel: Honorary recruiter.

Geri Morgan: A whole new career path.

Chad: I want to. I want to. We don't need no stinking badges badge. That's that's what I want.

Joel: That's for the Eeyore at the company that just doesn't care about anything.

Chad: So we talked about curbing attrition and retention. So a report was leaked that Amazon was losing nine billion dollars in revenue due to attrition. There are multitudes of reports of loss in productivity. All throughout the globe, not just the U.S It seems like curbing churn via career pathing upward/internal mobility is is really the major answer. So have you seen an uptick in companies actually starting to gain traction around around these areas and understanding that churn to the extent that we've had it has not good and is probably the biggest reason why productivity has dropped so much. Have you seen some traction around that?

Geri Morgan: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's certainly being in the technology space. It is an area where we're seeing a lot of growth and extra conversations around employee engagement and and retention and how strategy needs to be a core piece of business strategy and having plans to understand and learn why retention is happening. I think that's where you have to start. It's not, you know, the one size fits all. It's not one answer that is going to address and provide a solution for every business. You got to start with listening and understanding why that activity is happening within the organization and then coming up with solutions. And so, you know, again, starting with a plan and a strategy, the business outcome is everything. Don't rush out crap, you know, don't you have to make it good quality content. And so if you're not putting that thought in the first part and creating the strategy and really knowing who your learners are in this case with career development and opportunities for growth and development within businesses, then it's not going to have the buy in and the meaningful impact if you're not starting with understanding your learners and mapping out what that business connection is.

Joel: Now, you're headquartered in Atlanta and you're in Cincinnati, so I'm guessing you have remote workers, which leads to my next question. How can you best harness the gamification aspect when everyone is in a different office, working from home and particularly if they're on the road? Do you guys leverage mobile as part of your gamification? So if I'm on the go, I can still have my gamification aspects in my hand as opposed to opening up my laptop. Talk about remote and mobile.

Geri Morgan: Yeah, yeah. So we have been a fully remote and remote first organization for 23 years now. So we've been doing this for a while and you're absolutely right. Gamification can help support the employee experience and create community. So it is a tool that can bring people together and facilitate team building, helping create those connections. You can do that through challenges. So, you know, trivia is like right now. We're currently celebrating Intellum's 23rd birthday. So...

Speaker 5: Happy birthday!

Geri Morgan: It's our Jordan year. So we are all Jordan themed. We've got company trivia going on and some fun prizes that are custom Jordan jerseys.

Chad: Nice.

Geri Morgan: So, you know, gamifying celebrations and moments that can bring people together like this. And then you can also just create and foster community through platforms around common interests. And so we have groups and individuals that are connecting on, you know, gardening and parents, which, you know, got that covered and other interests that bring people together in a way that create those relationships at work. So that's just kind of an added bonus that you can use this to help facilitate and address multiple different people strategies.

Chad: So as we're talking about gamification, let's talk about cheat codes. How do companies get past the mistakes? What are some of the biggest mistakes and what are some of the biggest cheat codes for them to get to better results faster?

Geri Morgan: I think starting with knowing who your learners are and then what those learning objectives are and then thinking about how what does that drive in terms of actions? What are the results? So you don't always have to be so monumental. Start with the small things. The other thing that we do is we pilot. And so we get people together. We call them spark sessions. And so sharing, hey, I'm working on this. What are your thoughts? What's your reaction? And so start small and get feedback, get engagement. And then you're going to get people that are excited and become the ambassadors of the program when you launch. So I think that is really a big opportunity that people just try to skip over. And then being able to promote, I mean, it's a whole marketing effort. And so the launch of it, getting the leaders all informed and excited about what you're doing and connecting that to your business outcomes is gonna be the way that you can set people up for successful gaming or learning initiatives in general.

Chad: Are you getting marketing support around this internally?

Geri Morgan: Yeah, yeah, we do. We have our marketing team that provides some exceptional resources. And if you don't have that, you don't always have that. You know, like with our culture council work with Intellum's birthday, we were able to use Canva and AI and some other tools to help us put together the marketing resources that we needed.

Chad: ChatGPT, baby.

Geri Morgan: Yes. Yeah, there's AI for that. So leveraging that as much as we can.

Joel: I mentioned Eeyore, but in doing some research on this topic, there was a wired story a few years back giving some pushback on the gamification trend. And I'll read you a quote here from the story. "Gamification is unhelpful and can even be harmful if people feel that their employer is forcing them to participate in mandatory fun." Have you run into employees that aren't into it? Do you give them an opt out? Like what tips would you give companies who have sort of a stick in the mud, if you will?

Geri Morgan: Yeah, yeah. So that's something that we're real passionate about. Is not making it mandatory, not making it required, is creating an experience that people want to be part of and then going in with the right expectations. You're not going to engage 100% of your workforce. So establish what's realistic. So is it 80%? Is it 60%? So knowing that you aren't going to achieve and be able to appeal to everyone. But I think where you really gain some of those Eeyore's is when you have the reputation based element to it. And so when there is, it's not just for earning the badge. When there is a skill or a mastery level that you can get connected to what you bring and the value that you have, that's when you have your audience and your learners and employees engaged is when there's kind of that level of achievement that is based off of their reputation or skill or value.

Chad: Well, too bad, Cheesman. Mandatory fun is always going to happen with the Chad and Cheese podcast. That's Geri Morgan, everybody. Geri, Geri.

Joel: Geri.

Chad: So, Geri, where can people connect with you? Where would you send them to connect with you to find out more about the company and some of the things that you guys are actually doing?

Geri Morgan: Yeah, please connect with me on LinkedIn or find us through Intellum, through LinkedIn or And it's been really fun to talk about how we can level up productivity. And so I just encourage everyone to game on.

Joel: Geri, you have officially won the Chad and Cheese podcast badge. And with that, another one is in the can, Chad. We out.

Chad: We out.

Outro: Wow. Look at you. You made it through an entire episode of the Chad and Cheese podcast, or maybe you cheated and fast forwarded to the end. Either way, there's no doubt you wish you had that time back. Valuable time you could have used to buy a nutritious meal at Taco Bell, enjoy a pour of your favorite whiskey, or just watch big booty Latinas and bug fights on TikTok. No, you hung out with these two chuckleheads instead. Now go take a shower and wash off all the guilt, but save some soap because you'll be back like an awful train wreck, you can't look away. And like Chad's favorite Western, you can't quit them either. We out.


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