Snowfly harnesses power of random chance games to motivate, reward workers for meeting goals

By: Martha Roden Monday December 8, 2014 0 comments Tags: Brooks Mitchell, Fort Collins, gamification, John Arnolfo, Snowfly, Tyler Mitchell


By Martha Roden


FORT COLLINS - You find a quarter on the floor of a casino lobby. Do you keep it or play the slot machine right next to you?

Snowfly Inc., a high-tech employee incentive company in Fort Collins, knows that twice as many people would choose the latter.

According to Brooks Mitchell, founder of Snowfly Inc.: "The possibility of winning big is far more exciting than the guarantee of pocketing 25 cents." Armed with a PhD in Management with a focus on behavioral science, Mitchell ought to know.

Back in 1976, he heard an interesting story about a manufacturing company battling absenteeism. The owner had come up with a clever way to nip the behavior in the bud. Whenever employees came to work on time, they drew a card from a deck and recorded the results on a highly visible poster in the lunchroom. The employee with the highest poker hand at the end of the week won $20.

"Random possibility (the drawn cards) paired with instant gratification (the public reward) was a powerful combination to encourage changed behavior," recalls Mitchell.

In the late 1990s, he wondered if there was a way to use computer games that awarded random points as a way to reinforce positive behaviors. Mitchell decided the wave of the future was enhancing employee performance through games of chance. He coined this process, "gamification," and founded Snowfly.

This is Snowfly's gamification process in a nutshell:

  1. Whenever an employee achieves a specific goal on any given day, he or she earns a certain number of electronic tokens.

  2. Each token allows the employee to play a computer spin game - one token per spin.

  3. Each spin awards a random number of points.

  4. These points are immediately converted to dollars and transferred to a special debit card assigned to the employee.

  5. The employee can use the debit card anywhere to buy anything.


This gamification process is customized for each Snowfly client and that's where Tyler ("Ty") Mitchell, Brooks' son and president of Snowfly, comes in.

"We meet with our clients to find out their overall goal and then look at specific objectives for achieving it. For example, suppose our client knows that employees with greater product knowledge typically make more sales," says Ty.

"Then we work backwards to identify measurable, incremental activities that reinforce product knowledge. Perhaps a random product question pops up on the computer every hour or so, and a correct answer wins the employee a specific number of tokens," explains Ty.

Both Mitchells agree that recognizing and reinforcing behaviors as soon as they occur better ensures that employees continue exhibiting those behaviors.

"It's important to reward the homework, not just the final grade," says Ty. Brooks concurs and adds, "When people do more of what you want them to do, their attitude improves. Good job attitude follows good job performance; it doesn't precede it."

What kind of results can companies expect with Snowfly's unique gamification process?

A good person to ask is one of Snowfly's customers, John Arnolfo, owner of the popular Silver Grill restaurant in Old Town Fort Collins.

Back in 2009, Arnolfo had an "orange juice crisis." He'd recently purchased a commercial orange juice maker, but none of his customers seemed interested in buying fresh-squeezed orange juice.

At the time, Brooks was a frequent and loyal customer at Silver Grill. "I knew Brooks was in the motivation business and I wanted to know what I could do to get my wait staff to sell more fresh-squeezed orange juice," says Arnolfo.

He sat down with Brooks and together they discussed the cost of oranges, projected orange juice sales, and the potential increase in revenue. Soon, they were figuring out how many tokens to award staff members for selling fresh-squeezed orange juice, and how much cash the game points would be worth.

After that, technology took over. Snowfly's software interfaced with Silver Grill's software to track every orange juice sale made by every member of the wait staff. Tokens were automatically transferred to the employees' accounts. Orange juice sales increased and staff could access their tokens via mobile phone, tablet, or desktop computer because their accounts were on the web.

"Since my staff are typically paid by the hour, they are very motivated by instant gratification in the form of cash on a Snowfly debit card," says Arnolfo.

Over the five years Silver Grill has used Snowfly's incentive program, sales have increased substantially for more than just orange juice. But more importantly, the relationship between employees and management has improved. "Employees excel when they are recognized and rewarded for doing a good job," Arnolfo acknowledges.

Snowfly has seen many clients like Silver Grill increase their sales by motivating employees through simple, random-spin computer games. Now Snowfly is looking to expand gamification into the consumer realm, especially in the areas of health and wellness.

The same random-spin computer games could be used to inspire people to eat better or increase their activity levels. That's the power of games to appeal to three basic aspects of human nature: instant gratification, uncertainty and possibility.

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Martha Roden

About the Author: Martha Roden

 Martha Roden is a freelance writer and usability specialist with more than 30 years of experience working with high-tech, low-tech and no-tech companies. She and her husband moved to Colorado from Silicon Valley in 1990, trading the ocean for the mountains, and she's never looked back.
True to her tagline, she works hard to "make the complex simple," whether she's collaborating with developers to make an easy-to-use mobile app, helping a marketing team create engaging Web content or writing understandable articles, user guides and textbooks. Her specialties include technical, marketing and educational writing, along with user interface mockups and usability testing. So far, the only writing she hasn't done is fiction.
Martha's love of making complicated things easy to understand started early. Even in kindergarten, she loved explaining things to her fellow students. When she's not writing, editing or evaluating, she likes to do yoga, watch movies with her husband, David, enjoy nature and play with her super fuzzy kitties.