"There's got to be a better way."
That's what True Office founder and CEO Adam Sodowick thought to himself when he envisioned the typically yawn-worthy problem of company compliance training. At the time, he was making mandatory training videos that, while better than most of the material out there, were still staid, static. "It was a one-to-many approach," says Sodowick. "It wasn't interactive."
Anyone who has waded through mountains of HR paperwork or watched outdated training videos from the ‘80s would probably agree with Sodowick when he says, "traditional compliance training is the most unsexy, boring thing imaginable."
Enter True Office. Founded by Sodowick in 2010, the company now employs 23 people, and received a series A round of $3 million back in January 2012. Currently, the startup has a distribution deal with Thompson Reuters's government risk and compliance group and is slated to release 20 new applications co-branded with the company and distributed to over 2,000 financial institutions globally.
True Office is founded on the belief that company risk management and HR training should cater to the way we naturally absorb information. "People really learn through stories and play…they don't naturally learn through PowerPoints and three-ring binders," says Sodowick.
Jon Lawitts, director of game design, makes "natural learning" a key design principle for all of True Office's gamiefied training. When developing a game, Lawitts generally works with both a subject matter expert (True Office's upcoming game on workplace harassment, for example, relies heavily on experts in the field) and the source material provided by the company, which means he often starts with complicated (and let's face it – dry) material. His job is to turn that information into a living, breathing narrative, distilling out the essential player decisions and actions that will make those narratives playable. "It's not just about digging through the material and refracting it," Lawitts says. "It's also about trying to figure out exactly what sort of game mechanics and learning mechanics will work well for a specific topic."
True Office's new demo teaches employees about insider trading: what it is, how to spot it, and the consequences for those who are caught doing it. "Lizithin, a once promising obesity drug, was found to be causing seizures in humans while in clinical trials," a voice-over informs us. "This news doomed the chance of FDA approval," the narrator continues, "and sent the value of Litzer Pharmaceuticals stock plummeting." When playing the game, your job is to figure out whether the allegations against several hedge funds of the bank RXG Capital (which shorted Litzer stock before news of the failed trials went public) are justified.
It's a detective story. It also mirrors stories that have found themselves splashed across the headlines of late. "We're trying to bring to light that this isn't just mindless training," Lawitts says. "This can actually affect you. It's very real, and there are real consequences."
True Office's workplace harassment game, which is currently in development, is applicable for most companies. And while Sodowick would not get into specifics on price, he insists that on a dollar per person basis, it's cheaper than hiring an expert to train the office on appropriate behavior.
"We've all been there," Lawitts says. "You're sitting through a long HR lecture, you're not really paying attention. It's not engaging, but it's expensive. If you have to get 30 employees in a room and hire someone to train them for two hours, not only are you wasting time, you have to pay for the room, you have to pay for the materials."
"With our product you can go on line, log in and take the training in your own time and you're done." Although the jury is still out on whether this approach to employee training will be effective enough -- both in terms of cost and impact -- to replace more traditional approaches, the overall premise is compelling. Workers today collectively spend billions of hours playing games and imaging themselves juggling risk and reward in fictional settings. Why not use that proven medium for engagement and skill growth to workplace problems?
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