Fantasy Concept Is Winning Option for Employer

By Kathy Gurchiek Jan 12, 2009
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NuVox’s use of the popular fantasy football game as a model for an in-house motivational tool scored with its sales and marketing teams during the 2008 season—a season capped with a Vince Lombardi-style trophy for the winning team.

“It helped to continue to build the culture—the winning culture—in sales and communications throughout the sales organization,” said Rich King, the commissioner of football and senior sales productivity manager for the South Carolina-based business communications provider.

The company is so pumped over the concept that it’s toying with doing something similar based on Fantasy Baseball, or establishing multiple Fantasy Football leagues within the organization.

Fantasy football, which generated interest among an estimated 14 million people during the 2008 season, involves compiling one or more National Football League teams by “drafting” real NFL players onto imaginary teams and using their performance to determine the outcome of games between imaginary teams.

Instead of basing play on NFL player performance, though, NuVox’s teams scored game points based on player’s individual results during a Wednesday-through-Tuesday work schedule.

“Everybody was excited and waiting for the scores each week,” King told SHRM Online. “It’s a long promotion as far as three months, but it was also a weekly promotion,” with the opportunity to win player-of-the-week and coach/owner-of-the-week cash awards.

Scouting reports and a blog posted by the company’s channel marketing and communications teams on the company’s intranet helped fuel interest. Team owners could trade employees or pick up new ones through a free agent pool.

“We had managers having weekly calls with their teams to encourage results,” senior communications coordinator Greg Aiken said, likening the calls to a locker room pep talk.

The game started with an Aug. 21 player draft from among NuVox’s 650 direct sales, indirect sales and account managers. Each of 26 teams had an owner/coach (senior execs), six players (sales reps and directors), and a sales director. Because its direct sales group is so large, the company broke it down so that one direct sales manager represented six to 10 people in the direct sales group.

Dealer managers acted as offensive players, while account managers played the part of defensive players.

Play lasted 12 or 13 weeks instead of the NFL’s 17-week season—and a player’s performance was calculated using the employee’s monthly quota, dividing it into a weekly portion, and converting that weekly number into points to reflect the employee’s play for the week. Sales directors and managers were scored according to how well they did in attaining their percent of the quota.

Playoffs winnowed the number of teams to 10, with the winner announced at the company’s annual multiday event for its sales personnel.

Fostering Communication, Access to Execs

The trash talk e-mails among players and owners helped foster increased communication throughout the company, which has offices in 16 states along the nation’s southeastern region, according to King.

Participants also were talking across markets and sales channels to pick up insider information. For example, insider knowledge of a sales person’s upcoming deal would result in a trade to grab that sales person, pointed out Sid Earley, vice president of marketing and coach of the Fighting Earleybirds.

Lauren Weatherly, director, Channel Marketing at NuVox, thinks other work groups could use the Fantasy Football concept.

“I see this as a great opportunity for a call center, where they do have measures and ratios, and they’re looking out on a weekly basis. It’s a team environment; you have an opportunity to receive recognition on a weekly basis,” and the game provides access to senior leaders that participants may not normally have, she added.

NuVox advises organizations considering this concept to be aware of how they obtain their own statistics and how long it will take to convert them to scores. NuVox pulls sales numbers daily, but hadn’t counted on how long it would take to manually convert those numbers into individual scores.

“We underestimated how much effort it was going to take to keep up with the stats and the scoring,” Earley said. “I think next year we would do more advance planning and figure out how to automate it more or come up with a simpler scoring system.”

Organizations also should look for ways to keep the game exciting through a four-month season and among non-playoff teams.

NuVox spent less than $5,000 in cash awards to participants during its Fantasy Football time period, she said. It also faced the challenge of keeping interest high among the 10 teams that did not make the playoffs, although the opportunity for weekly player and coach prizes (and accompanying bragging rights) helped, according to Earley.

“There was a little bit of ‘I don’t want to put up a goose egg or put up a low score on the board,’” said Earley, “even if they’re out of the running for the playoffs.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.

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