Anyone who knows a gamer knows about GameStop. The global retailer, headquartered outside of Dallas, sells video games, consumer electronics and wireless services, and offers a unique buy-sell-trade program that allows customers to trade in old electronics and software for credit to buy new technology.
There are nearly 7,000 GameStop stores globally, and they are never busier than during the holiday season when the company hires and trains up to 25,000 additional temporary staff. It’s the company’s most profitable season, and it’s also when many game developers release the new versions customers clamor to get. “We nearly double our workforce at the holidays, and it is a big challenge to help prepare these associates for the work,” said Jason Cochran, senior vice president of U.S. stores.
It’s not enough to teach them the basics and put them to work. GameStop feels strongly that part-time staffers should feel like the company is invested in their success, said Matthew Hirst, senior director of organizational development, talent and learning. “Many organizations focus most of their development efforts on full-time staff; we think that is a strategic mistake.”
GameStop differentiates itself from big-box retailers through its passionate employees who love gaming, have a deep knowledge of the company, and are eager to answer questions and help customers. Temporary staffers must be just as passionate as their full-time peers, which means they need the same training and support, Hirst said. “People do their best work in an environment where they feel valued equal to the rest of the team.”
Seasonal hires are also a vital recruiting pipeline. Every year, the company retains about 15 percent; the rest are potential customers, Hirst said. “Even if they never work for us again, we want them to have a favorable impression of the company and their experience here.”
Take It Up a Level
In a matter of weeks, temporary workers need to learn everything there is to know about the company, the products and its approach to customer service. GameStop has its Grow & Go seasonal training offering for new hires, which included a combination of videos, paper-based training content and multimedia courses. But it had many shortcomings, said Adam Scott, former manager and current information technology engineer in charge of developing training videos.
Until two years ago, managers had to rely on time-consuming paper checklists and information sheets to track completion rates. “It had low visibility, so it was difficult to determine whether employees were finishing the training,” Scott said. “We needed a better way to hold people accountable.”
Scott said he originally suggested they move content to a learning management system, but solutions were either cost-prohibitive, or they didn’t fit how the company wanted to train employees. “I figured I could build my own system from scratch and make it scalable to meet our needs.”
In late 2012, Scott, who started as a seasonal hire, pitched the idea to build an online learning platform called Level Up. On it new employees could do their training in a fully gamified environment, complete with points, badges, avatars and learning quests. “It was a great example of cross generational collaboration,” Hirst said. “Adam built the application, and I and other leaders in the company helped make sure he could get it done.”
It took Scott eight months to build the first version of Level Up working alone, mostly full time, while teaching himself to program. In early 2014, the company piloted the training in 10 stores, and when it was well received, rolled it out to the rest of the company later that year.
Minecraft for Employees
The Level Up platform, which is part of the overall Grow & Go program, uses classic gaming strategies to make it compelling. “As a gamer, you know that what a makes a game successful isn’t shiny graphics and sound effects. It is engagement that makes you come back,” Scott said. “That means making sure users are always wondering what comes next? Am I succeeding? What do I need to do to earn more points?”
With that in mind, Scott built an environment where trainees receive points and badges for everything they do, such as logging on and taking a quiz or finishing a learning mission or leaving feedback. They also get bonus points for perfect scores on quizzes. As they receive points, their progress bar fills. Once it is full, they move up to the next level, which unlocks new badges, avatars and learning quests. They also can see where they stand on the leader board, both as individuals and as a store. “That creates a sense of teamwork because the store moves up the leaderboard as a unit,” Scott said.
The Level Up environment creates a lot of healthy competition, with trainees competing for the top spot in their store, region and even the world. That is especially appealing for GameStop’s employees, who are usually gamers themselves. Trainees also can post comments and feedback on the platform, which further reinforces the GameStop culture. “It makes it more of a community experience, like playing Minecraft,” Scott said.
The learning missions are fairly traditional online learning. Trainees read documents, view images and videos, and take short quizzes as they proceed through the content. The courses cover everything from how to deliver excellent customer service, and how the buy-sell-trade program works, to information about specific products and services. Scott’s team also rolls out “side quests” every few weeks to teach associates about new products or games about to be released, to be sure they can answer customers questions.
No mission lasts longer than 30 minutes, and trainees can stop at any point, save their work, and come back to it on any GameStop computer. “This is crucial as most training is completed while they are on the job,” Scott said.
Seasonal hires are expected to complete all basic training missions in the first weeks of employment. Once they achieve the expert level for seasonal training, it unlocks the next level of training for associate advisers, which they are encouraged to take if they have interest. All training levels are open to all associates. It is one way the company lets seasonal workers know they are valued, and that they can grow in the company if they want to come back.
Because the Level Up environment tracks and reports completion rates for all users, management knows which seasonal hires have the greatest ambitions to stay and this helps them determine who to bring on full-time once the season is over.
Where the Magic Happens
Level Up has made it easier to ensure every new hire has the baseline training they need to do the job, though Hirst and Cochran said the platform is only part of the training. “The rest of the developmental magic occurs between the associate and the leader,” Hirst said.
At the start of every holiday season, GameStop flies all managers to a conference where they complete a train-the-trainer program teaching them how to mentor and coach seasonal hires. “For about 30 percent of our managers, it will be their first holiday season, so it’s important to cover all the basics,” Cochran said.
Managers learn how to explain the customer service process and create shadow opportunities for new hires, and how to coach them when they make mistakes, said Erin Wisdom, store manager.
“It is important to create an environment where associates can practice what they learned in Level Up so they are confident on the floor,” said Wisdom, who is a manager in Arlington, Texas, and a mentor to other managers in her region.
The mentoring piece of new hire training ensures every employee understands what’s expected of them, and it helps them get over new job jitters. “Seasonal employees can easily get overwhelmed when they realize how much foot traffic we see during the holidays,” she said. “But Level Up and mentoring give them the tools they need to handle it.”
All seasonal employees for the 2014 and 2015 holidays have used Level Up, and feedback remains positive. Managers like the transparency and ability to more easily track where employees are in their training, and customer surveys show high levels of satisfaction during the busies times of the year, Cochran said. “This year alone, we’ve had 1,200 letters from customers recognizing memorable experiences in the store.”
Trainees also report loving the program. Scott has seen several temporary workers log in to take training on their last day of work, and leave feedback that they were going to miss the training when they were gone.
The platform also has delivered financial and strategic benefits. The 3,000-plus seasonal hires who stay or return to the company have already finished their basic training, and in some cases taken additional courses, which means they ramp up faster than a brand new employee. “It saves us time and money in training them,” Cochran said.
Most importantly, Level Up and the manager mentoring ensures employees feel prepared to do their job with confidence, Hirst said.
“We are very proud of the fact that when these employees look back on their time at GameStop they will remember that we gave them the skills to be successful, to work well with others and to value great service. Wherever they end up, we hope they will always be passionate evangelists for the brand.”
Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in Chicago. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.