January 5, 2021

Make Work a Game

During the first half of 2020, Ali Shafi noticed his company fell into a rut.

Shafi is CEO of SIO Logistics, which connects manufacturers with trucking companies. Like many third-party firms, the primary means of attracting new customers involves picking up the phone and cold calling. 

The phones were hardly ringing off the hook at SIO. Business was steady—but not growing at a rate that satisfied everyone. 

“We caught ourselves doing the same old thing week in and week out,” says Shafi. “And that’s not us. Our guys are competitive. So how do we use that to our advantage? How do we add that element of competition beyond mere sales?”

How to turn work into a friendly sales competition.

The answer was simple: Tap into your staff’s competitive nature by turning work into a game.

Shafi decided to make it a team sport: He split the office of 10 total employees into teams, each one with two or three sales reps and one operations guy per squad. They then set up a scoring system, assigning a certain amount of points to each performance metric. Teams got 1 point per $100 of organic revenue generated. If the team got a prospective client on a Zoom call, that was worth 3 points. Hit your weekly revenue goal—5 points. Whichever team finished Q3 of 2020 with the most points won.

What could you buy with $500?

Instead of offering cash as the reward, Shafi asked each employee to list three things that they would buy with $500. A kayak; a home gym; a TV. Each of the members of the winning team would then put those three things on a wheel and spin to see what they would get.

The change was immediately apparent. Employees were working the phones as never before. One team would organize a “power hour” of cold calls only to be noticed by the opposition, who would then scramble to put together a power hour of their own. Meanwhile, Shafi made sure the tight-knit staff didn’t get so caught up in the competition that they lost sight of the service they were providing the clients. He had them vocalize the GROW model of goal setting and problem solving: 

visual acronym explaining the Grow concept implemented by SIO Logistics for their sales competition

            Goal: Visualize where the client wants to be.

            Roadblocks: How far is the client from that goal—what are the obstacles in the way?

            Options: What options does the client have to deal with these challenges?

            Will: What will you do to help them deal with these challenges?

Results followed quickly. In just three weeks, the company combined to close eight new customers—compared to just 10 new clients that had been brought in during the previous six months.

The competition was so successful for SIO that Shafi decided to bring it back for Q4—with some minor modifications. This time, the teams would focus just on sales goals and remove the operations side from the equation. There would also be a tiered system of individual prizes based on each team member’s contributions so no one could ride on their teammates’ coat tails. After all, the point of the competition is to make sure employees are adequately compensated for their efforts—that they feel like they have skin in the game. 

“Their paycheck is their reward,” says Shafi. “There are no caps—whatever you put in you get out. A lot of companies say that, but we mean it. Don’t get comfortable. This is where you are at, but this is where you could be.”

You’re only as strong as your most recent earnings report.

But in business, a company’s momentum is only as strong as its most recent earnings report. That dreaded troll of complacency is always lurking just around the next quarter.

“Complacency? I’m not going to sit here and say that we’ve beat it,” says Shafi. “It’s important that everyone knows what the goal is in Q4. That sounds simple, but a lot of companies, ourselves included, fail to make that clear. You have to say: ‘Here’s where we want to be—what are you going to do to help get us there?’” 

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