Gamification in Amazon and player research with Chuck Sigmund | Episode 075

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Chuck Sigmund is a senior program manager at the Amazon Leadership Institute. Chuck is passionate about creating environments that bring out the best in learners and encourage them to fully engage and optimize their learning experience. His recent work has focused on how to use gamification, digital storytelling, and hyper-interactive scenarios to increase learner engagement. He holds a master of arts in education and training and is a Sententia Games certified Gamification Master Craftsman.

He owns two leadership development programs currently in Amazon’s Leadership Institute. One is for frontline managers to grow into leaders of leaders, designed to be delivered asynchronously where he also engages with them online because it is for every country that Amazon supports. The other one is to elevate the technical and leadership capacities of their site leaders, it includes developing a mission, how to make high-velocity decisions and many more beyond operational abilities. For him, it is especially exciting because he gets a lot of freedom to excite and engage the participants, not just to choke it with content.

His favorite FAIL (First Attempt in Learning) is associated with what he presented at GamiCon 2018! It was about teaching how to recognize dialects and accents for their partners. It had trouble because he did a big amount of research on another “similar” group but… They quite frankly weren’t! For example, in the US people are very competitive, even competing individually against others where these users in India were actually very cooperative. The lesson for him was to make more research, more specific research so you run away from, as Jonathan Peters calls it, “self-hugging”. This led then, of course, to deeper understanding and he turned it around so, in the end, it became a great success. He would also add how important it is to playtest to understand what is working and especially what isn’t.

One of Chuck’s favorite success was a program for a traditional healthcare organization to redesign the new hire orientation program. It used to last several days, having leaders talking about their side of the organization, people receiving a lot of written policy and accepting “they received it” boxes. He started by talking to caregivers (the prime target of the program) and understanding what motivated them to work there and they found out they were driven by working for something larger than themselves, caretaking and the mission of the organization itself. To get them involved they introduced the orientation through the story of the organization itself and introduce them as characters, so they could understand how they all fit into all of it. They created a structure for them to work in teams and face challenges as a team to move forward in the story. Even though they started in separate teams, they also needed to work together as a whole and work together so they could all achieve their objectives. This is exactly what the organization needs and does on a daily basis. The result was that they really bought into the culture beyond the policies and procedures (which they picked up on the way anyway). This led to success in other areas, the fact that they identified and realized how they fit in, this reduced turnover which is something that is great also! He realized that measuring things is very important, sometimes getting it right with the right problem will actually lead to great numbers if it was chosen correctly, the attrition rates reduced were a great example of that.

The gamification for learning process for him has six steps, which starts by really understanding the problem, having all the facts. The second is to deeply understand the audience, which is related to the third one that is to understand what drives or motivates them. This almost always includes a narrative. The fourth is to identify the goals and the rewards for the players that will guide them through the way. Fifth is about creating the challenges so it is not just dumping content. Finally,  it is fundamental to test, playtest as much as possible to course correct every time it is necessary.

A best practice would be player (learner) research. There are many things on the surface but it is especially important to get the underlying motivators. Chuck’s favorite game would be Catan but he also needed to mention that his favorite cooperative game is Pandemic. He would love to listen to Kerstin Oberprieler of Pentaquest! The three of us met at GamiCon a few months ago. He would recommend Freakonomics as a new way to approach problems. His superpower would be storytelling, which is certainly quite relevant to gamification.

The random question this time spins around being a gamer! Listen to Chuck’s answer and my input by clicking play above!

His final advice would be, if you’re getting started, to play a lot of games and while doing so, to deconstruct them so it carries on to other things you are doing! Of course, we couldn’t end this without reminding The Engagers about the importance of talking to your learners. We can find Chuck on LinkedIn and on Twitter as @sigmundchuck. He even gave us his email to contact him chucksig [at] amazon [dot] com!


There are many ways to get in touch with Professor Game, you can go to my Twitter @RobAlvarezB, my Instagram, our Facebook Page, subscribe to our email list and even ask a question to future guests!

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


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