From soldiers to businesspeople, group aims to help people become better leaders
What do the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hilton Hilton Hotels & Resorts and the Department of Defense have in common?
They’re all clients of Game On Nation, a Bradenton-based company that offers leadership, communications, teambuilding and business training to a wide range of organizations.
Game On, founded in 1997 by President Steve Shenbaum, was once associated with IMG Academy, a sports training facility in Bradenton. Previously clients were sports-centric, but today Game On works with professional athletes and collegiate athletes, as well as many corporate clients and all branches of the U.S. military. Company officials decline to disclose revenue figures.
AJ Lee, vice president of business operations, says the company’s clients fall into three segments: about one-third sports, one-third military and one-third corporate.
The client list includes U.S. special operations forces, NASCAR, the New York Yankees, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Honda/Acura, FCCI Insurance Group, Bealls Inc. and Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance. Game On also works with athletes from the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Alabama and UCLA. About 75% of the company’s client base is out of town, with 25% in the local area.
Despite the shift in clients, the focus remains on building leadership and communications skills through a variety of exercises. “Authentic connection is the commonality,” says partner and Vice President of Business Development Blair Bloomston. “When you’re talking about leadership, whether you’re swinging a bat or signing contracts, it’s about people.”
Game On is developing a reputation for handling sensitive topics, too, she adds. It’s an area the company has moved into naturally, Shenbaum says, receiving requests to address workplace rights, responsibilities and respect.
With the #MeToo movement in the foreground, the company has increased training about diversity, inclusion, respect and other workplace issues. Bloomston says Game On enhances what is often “check-the-box compliance” to something deeper, including interpersonal trust and bonds.
Companies can order standard programs, but Bloomston says most of Game On’s clients receive fully tailored, from-scratch programs.
What’s ahead for Game On includes introducing online training for clients by early 2019. Right now, the company works with groups ranging in size from two to 2,000 people, but with online training, Game On could do presentations for 20,000 people without having to increase its team.
“We don’t want the online program to replace our live training, but we want it to complement our live training,” Shenbaum says. “I want a resource for more and more people to receive our concepts.”
Information will be conveyed online through videos and text. “The goal is not to keep them online,” he says. “It’s to reach people, share our concepts online and encourage them to live out those concepts with real interaction.”
The company’s training experiences are centered on sets of exercises. “Game On creates these shared experiences, and they’re very memorable and very lasting,” says Bloomston. “This approach and these exercises are universal, and that’s something we’ve proven for 20 years.”
Game On refers to its techniques as exercises because it denotes a process that’s continuing, not finite. “Repetition is a big thing,” Bloomston says. “You don’t go to the gym once.” The exercises can be used in perpetuity.
Bloomston, Lee and Friday recently shared three Game On leadership and communication exercises with the Business Observer. A look at the trio reveals several common themes for executives and entrepreneurs.
There’s power in common language within an organization, Bloomston says.
Common language can be a short inside phrase or word that is understood by the people working there. But it can’t just be words — the concept behind the common language has to be lived, too.
“When you’re talking about leadership, whether you’re swinging a bat or signing contracts, it’s about people.” — Blair Bloomston, partner and vice president of business development, Game On Nation
One phrase Game On encourages clients to use is “I’ve got your back.” Bloomston says they tell people at companies to not only say it but to write it and do it.
Another one is, “You’re next.” It’s conveying a sense of empowerment, she says. “You are moving up and your moment is next.”
Other organizations use phrases like “own it,” “all in,” or “lift it up.”
Another way to introduce common language into a company is to use a gesture such as a high-five. It’s a physical embodiment of common language, Bloomston says.
Whether it’s words or a high-five, she says, “Get it to be sticky for the whole organization.”
SPOT is a four-part structure that can be added to any task or presentation.
The presentation can be anything — from an actual presentation in front of a potential client to a conversation. It can even be checking out at a grocery store, Lee says. Or, Friday adds, it could be a family dinner.
SPOT is an acronym. The “S” stands for “setup.” Bloomston says this involves strategizing and asking questions to help set up a presentation for success. Questions can include, “Where have you chosen to host your meeting?” she says, along with specifics like the day and time and whether the setting has the best noise environment. “It’s about being intentional.”
The “P” in SPOT stands for “present.” “It’s all about speaking from the heart,” Bloomston says. “Be very real in how you speak.” It’s also about thinking through the content and how it will be delivered, like, for example with or without PowerPoint slides. The key, Bloomston says, is asking, “What is the best way to convey it to a specific audience?”
The “O” is for “observe.” That means presenters should observe the people they’re interacting with and think about what they need to adjust based on those observations. It’s about having what Bloomston calls “the self-awareness to be able to change your pace, read the room and meet their needs.”
The final letter in SPOT — “T” — stands for “tieback.” Bloomston says it’s the “so what?” or the “what’s the point?” “A really good tieback,” she says, “is so simple and easy to remember.” The tieback can also be thought of as a call to action, important particularly because people are often overloaded with information, and the tieback helps drill down to the key points. “It’s nuggets you can take away,” Friday says.
Lee says tiebacks aren’t exclusive to SPOT. Game On uses tiebacks in all of its exercises to drive home important points.
They’re simple steps, Bloomston says, “but the impact can be very rewarding and complex.”
Listen, Talk, Fix
Game On’s Listen, Talk, Fix exercise is about listening with intention.
It’s particularly helpful with interpersonal communication and in one-on-one meetings like an employee review or a goal-setting meeting.
The first step, Listen, involves conveying the message, “I need you to listen” or “I’m going to listen,” says Bloomston.
Talk includes the discussion at hand and people sharing their perspectives. During Talk, people get ideas and brainstorm together. “Real leaders want their people to come up with their own ideas,” says Bloomston. There’s another element of this step, too: “Talk also includes listening to make sure people know what’s being said,” Friday says.
Fix means presenting a solution with a deadline. It’s a specific action step with a specific timeframe. Something along the lines of, “Let’s try this for three weeks and then check in with me,” Bloomston says.
The order of steps is important with Listen, Talk, Fix. “We can all recognize conversations do get out of order,” Friday says. But this exercise allows people to focus on and remember the best order. “You can do it,” he says. “It doesn’t seem so lofty.”
It also helps people focus on moving forward. “We’re seeing a big trend in the speaking industry — ‘good to knows,’” Bloomston says. “It’s not enough. What’s the “good to do” after that?”