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Survivor with Greg Janovsky

Greg Janovsky, Associate Director of Restaurant Client Partners at Yelp, shares the Survivor game he played over the course of a month across an entire sales floor. We get all the details on the game and hear some of Greg's insight on his unbelievable retention rate.

You can find Greg on LinkedIn or shoot him an email.

Episode Transcript

Andrew Phelps: Today, my guest is Greg Janovsky associate director of restaurant client partners at Yelp. Before that he was the senior manager of client partners at Yelp. He was responsible for managing over a million dollars of Yelp's revenue month over month while adding over $700,000 of new revenue a year during his six-[year] tenure, he's managed over 70 people with only three people resigning during his six years of management. Greg, thank you so much for joining us today on the show.

Greg Janovsky: Hey, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Andrew Phelps: So, you've only had three people resign. What is the secret to your success?

Greg Janovsky: I appreciate that question. So, I wouldn't say it's necessarily a secret and you know, I'm sure I can't take you know, all of the credit for it but it's certainly a point of pride in my career as a leader. What I'd like to think I do or what I strive to do for anyone who works with me, for me or who you know, I have the opportunity to it's to be understanding of what their goals are, making sure that they have an opportunity to work towards achieving those or achieving those things each day and making sure that they have the tools to do so. I typically find that if people have clear expectations, they have the right means to accomplish that and then the support along the way to, you know, level up and get out of their current position you get a lot of job satisfaction and ultimately, they retain a lot better.

Andrew Phelps: Well, I think we've probably heard advice like that before, but sometimes the best advice is the simplest and taking an active interest in your people is important for managers of all different types. So obviously you're here today to talk about your favorite sales game, but I'm curious. What was the first game you played at work and what got you interested in playing games yourself?

Greg Janovsky: So, I think initially some of the games that I was introduced to were actually pretty simple at first. I wouldn't say that they were very elaborate. It would be, you know, Hey, here's, you know, state your goal for the end of the week. If you hit that, you get a lotto scratcher or you know, we'll go out to lunch for the week. So, it wasn't anything too elaborate. Typically, it was specific to KPIs or just, you know, kind of the metrics you have to achieve to get to the end of month goal. But over the time you saw a lot of power in what games can actually do in getting people excited. Sometimes some of the tasks weren't really valuable and the KPIs, you know, lead to those results, they can be a little monotonous. And so, when you add a little gamification layer to that, it actually increases productivity a little bit and you actually get some pretty great work that allows you as the manager to loop back and show you know, what that rep is actually capable of.

Andrew Phelps: So, we know that games can be engagement and they make things more fun. Have you thought at all about, you know, what's the deeper thing that makes them value and valuable and why does it make people more effective other than people like playing games?

Greg Janovsky: You know, that's a good question. Hopefully this analogy makes sense or yeah, we'll go with it. So, I'm not a runner per se. I don't particularly enjoy just to go on a run to stop, it doesn't sound like an exercise for me, but I love playing sports. Right. I'll go play basketball. I'll go play soccer lacrosse, like you name it. And so, when you think about some tasks, right, like running is inherently good for you. No one can argue against that, but you don't always appreciate the act of running for what it is. So, what do you do? Well, it's like, well, I can add a layer of a game to it, right? Like as a means to score the goal, I have to run down the field. And so, if I translate that over to the way that we approach the day to day stuff, right, you can make a lot of open calls. You can try to set appointments, you can get into pitches, you know, you can go to close deals, but all of those things may not be your favorite thing. So if you can add a little bit of a layer to it, I think that it creates some competition, it creates some enjoyment and then I also think that it shows people, you know, how good it feels at the end of like, wow, you know, I've put in all that effort, I got this outcome. Not only did I win at the game level, but I also achieved the results that I was looking for in a month.

Andrew Phelps: I actually liked that analogy a lot. And something you said there in the middle was, it becomes the means. Right? And so, I think that's incredibly valuable lesson where you're exchanging the goal for the journey and letting people experience the journey rather than only shooting for the goal or at least managing the tension between the two.

Greg Janovsky: Absolutely.

Andrew Phelps: Well, great. You know, the reason you're here today is to share the best sales game you've ever played. So, I want to let you take it away and tell us a little bit about it.

Greg Janovsky: Yeah. So, one of the best games that I've ever played was actually set up very similar to survivor for those who aren't familiar with the popular show, I think that's been on for almost two decades. It's basically a competition where people outwit, outlast, outplay, and the idea is all of the participants are competing towards the end goal, which is winning the million dollars in the game show. Obviously, that's not at play in the workspace, but the idea is that each and every day a rep comes in there's points allocated towards the actions that they're measured on. And then from there tallied up at the end of the day and coming into the next morning, there's what you would call a tribal council or the person with the lowest points would actually be voted off the Island. So, the idea is that in the beginning, you are on your own set teams. Whether it's, you know, two, two, two, two, or if it's actually against other teams in your organization, but ultimately you don't want to be last. And so, from day one, people are picking up the pace, you know, hitting all of the daily expectations. So that, they're not going to be voted off of the Island. And this would continue on for whatever duration that would work for you but ultimately for us, we had the group size big enough to actually go a whole month. I want to say was April of 2018. We actually had it pretty much the entirety of the floor participating in it. And what it allowed people to do is to rally around this one thing. They were excited to come in in the morning and see who got voted out, you know, are they still safe? Okay, well, if they're voted out, who's our competition today and it had a lot of really great accountability not just from reps to managers I'm sorry, managers to reps, but the reps actually with each other. And it actually led to a really productive month and actually gave a lot of encouragement to some reps who didn't think that, you know, kind of doing those day to day fundamentals, but to results.

Andrew Phelps: Wow. So, a whole sales floor at Yelp. How many people is that?

Greg Janovsky: I would say in that particular office, there was probably 40, 45. It wasn't the broader sales group but for our floor it was a majority of it.

Andrew Phelps: Gotcha. So, 45 folks divided into how many teams?

Greg Janovsky: We had three teams. Some of the teams were a little bit bigger than the others. So, we took averages as well.

Andrew Phelps: And so, were people voted off as individuals then?

Greg Janovsky: Correct? Yeah. At the beginning they were voted off as individuals, but eventually the play got to be such that there was only so many participants left. I think that I wanted to say 10 or 12 people, if then came down to a day to day where instead of the teams or the tribes winning on a particular day then it became individuals. And so, no one was safe except for the one person who had the highest points and then the people at the bottom, or if they're pacing for the bottom could actually be voted out. And in our particular setup, it was just the lowest points, but I've seen other versions of those game played where a few people were on the chopping block and then the rest of the teams or the rest of the people still live in the game would actually vote on who would go out. That was a little too malicious for us. I like to keep it a little bit more objective not hurting any feelings and we actually just kept it to lowest points but by the end it truly came down to the end of the month. I think we've all been there. You know, last week, last few days the deals were just going crazy. The output was really high. It was very much neck and neck, right until the end.

Andrew Phelps: Well, so what were the reactions? This is obviously your favorite. I want to hear, you know, what makes this game, your favorite? How was it received by the folks on the sales floor?

Greg Janovsky: Yeah, well, I'll start with how they reacted to it. They really loved it. There was actually a lot of calls for additional games after this particular month and you don't want to do this end game every single time and you actually, in my opinion, don't want to do a game every month. I think that it can actually take away from some of its power. But there's definitely a call for more games, just like it. You know, some of the people who got knocked out earlier in the game are like, oh no, I can do better next time. Like, when's the next thing coming up? So we knew that it had value and we actually saw that productivity from the middle of the group actually picked up which was really empowering one for the reps to know like, Hey, wow, if I again , I dedicate myself and trust the process, you know, the results will come with it or I'll learn from it. And the managers actually saw a lot better productivity from them around it, which enabled the coaching to be less of, Hey, why aren't you at your dials or, Hey, why aren't you, you know, setting these appointments. It was more of, okay, now that you've done those things, let's talk about what is the conversation like, how are we creating value? You know, have we established, you know, what we can do for them? So, it just really leveled everyone up, I think on the level of confidence in what they were doing. And again, I was happy to come up with some games later to accommodate the demand for others. But I would say that it was well received and the managers definitely liked it too, because they didn't have to set up too much for it to be successful.

Andrew Phelps: So, let's talk a little bit about the setup. How did you get this all rolling?

Greg Janovsky: So, it's actually pretty simple. I would say, as long as you have any level of confidence in Excel or in a Google spreadsheet, we use a Google spreadsheet just so that everyone had access to it. It can be as creative as you would like, or it could be as simple as you would like. We like to keep it specific to just the day to day metrics that we knew were specific. We made some assumptions about the point values that we would attribute to each of those metrics and then from there we just had reps fill in those numbers. At the end of each day, they would tally up in the sheet and then it would empower the managers who would work in a rotation of announcing in the following day of who was the winning tribe, you know, who was the losing tribe and who was the person going home? So, it's as easy as the spreadsheet, depending on what your organization is tracking what kind of dictate, you know, how involved it is. And there might even be some more sophisticated ways to do it, but like I said, if you have a Google account and you can make a Google sheet, you're in business.

Andrew Phelps: And where did you get the idea for this game or the other games you've played, you know, where do you find your inspiration?

Greg Janovsky: I think there was probably one or two versions of survivor played before I implemented mine at Yelp. And whether they were the creators of it, or if they to learn from someone else, I'm not sure. But the inspiration for some of the other games came from things that were familiar with. You know, later I did a version of battleship and so again, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. I think you can take things that people are generally familiar with that allow for participation but the game doesn't end quickly, right? You don't want to have this thing be done in the day. You kind of missed the whole opportunity of momentum generation. So, when you're creating a game, I would just either take a look at what's popular right now. Is there a new movie out, right? Is there a hit show? Is it a dancing with the stars, thing? Like who knows, but ultimately takes stuff that's familiar that people can get bought in around. There's something that it could make a team name for or in this case, survivor buffs, whatever it would have been but really, I think it's just a matter of like, what would you get passionate about and then how do you just layer in what your organization does so that it makes sense.

Andrew Phelps: And then just talking a little bit more about planning and overhead. How much time did it take to implement this into your daily routine, where you sacrificing a lot of time to make this all work?

Greg Janovsky: I wouldn't say there was any sacrifice of time. The initial setup probably was the largest lift that had to be done. Just making sure that the spreadsheet was correct. All the filters and formulas were working correctly and again, that's kind of up to your discretion, you know, when you're creating this, how elaborate do you want it to be? How user family do you want it to be? But once that was created, probably took me about two, two and a half hours after work one day, just to make sure that it was how I wanted it to look. Then just a quick training to each of the managers, Hey, have your reps fill this in? This is what you'll want to look for and then just making sure that we're were participating. And as far as like actions in their day, it should only take about five minutes at the end of their day before they depart to just plug in four to five KPIs that are already available to them and that they're being trapped on. So, it really wasn't much of a burden and again, like most reps weren't just waiting till end of the day to enter it in. They were actively entering it in as the day went on.

Andrew Phelps: So really low overhead and just took a couple hours of your time, you know, over the course of a month to implement this with great success.

Greg Janovsky: Yeah. And as far as the, you know, the overhead to depending on what your organization can offer, whether it's time off or if it's some type of spiff or, you know, it could be a lot of scratchers still. It's really up to you at the end of the day. A lot of people like participating in games for the mere spirit of participating in the game. You know, having prizes and trophies or whatever, it might be certainly is motivating to some, but just being a part of the competition, I think is what people were eager for. So, whether it's something simple, like a dollar scratcher, or if it's a whole day off a PTO I could say that almost everyone would be motivated by something.

Andrew Phelps: Yeah, I love that. And you know, a lot of times we talk about how it's really just implementing something fun and when you move away from the goal and more to the journey the goal becomes less and less important. And I think you've mentioned to me in the past that, you know, your sales folks are making over six figures a year, will get excited about it, you know, who gets the free donut the next day. And I think we've all seen human dynamics like that, where it's not really about the value of the prize. It's just about participating in something where you feel like you're interacting with the people around you.

Greg Janovsky: Absolutely. And that's a really great point. I actually remember that too. It's, you know, all of these people can make uncapped commission in the world that they want, but as soon as you throw out a dollar scratcher or you know, even lunch, right, like 15 bucks to take them out you know, they'll scramble for it and they'll fight tooth and nail to get it. And so, you know, at first it struck me as curious, but then it's like, Hey, there's an opportunity here. It just goes to show that you don't need a ton of resources. I think it's just a lot about the messaging and how you deliver it and making sure that your leaders are bought into it at first, because if they're not excited about it, like their reps, won't be excited about it. And so, you want to make sure that you're doing your due diligence, making sure that they're bought into why it's going to be beneficial so that they can rally around it and then support you as you deliver either updates to the game. Or you can even share the workload of, you know, Hey, maybe today I can't send that email out. Would you mind sending the recap for the winners in the previous day? And so, you can just get a lot of participation, not just at the rep front, but also in the management level.

Andrew Phelps: Great. So, I jotted down a couple takeaways that I thought were the things our listeners could really learn from you. And the first was, you know, what we just hit on, which is it's really about the prize. It's about the gameplay. So, focus on making it fun. The second is to design games, using things people are already familiar with. So, you've done battleship and you ran a survivor game. So, you're using the existing paradigms that people know, so they don't have to learn a bunch of new rules and I think that's really smart. And you're also benefiting from, you know, the brands and the associations these folks have with those existing things. And the final takeaway, which I'd love for you to expand on is you know, use games wisely. Maybe don't even play them every month or certainly not the same game every month or the same type of game every month. And I'd love to hear a little bit more about how you space games appropriately. So, they fit in well and people aren't disappointed when there isn't a game or their expectations aren't broken, cause you're playing games all the time.

Greg Janovsky: Yeah. So, I think the, I suppose what we'll say is the sophistication of a quality game comes into timing and that's around. Did you roll something new out? Are you asking them to do a new process? You know, is there a KPI that's particularly deficient or even one that you just want to enhance maybe it's not behind and thinking, okay, well I could message to this out and I'd get some level of participation, but maybe not the level that I need right out of the gate. And I'm really confident that if we stick to this, you know, not only will we get results in the short term, but it creates long-term value and results for not just, you know, the company, but also the reps and their careers. So, I forget what it was initially about this one, but I think we wanted to get a little bit back to basics with survivor and the way that you do that is by sticking to, you know, all this stuff that's in control of the rep, right? You can't make someone answer the phone, but you can at least make that dial attempt. And so instead of gathering everyone and saying, hey guys, we're going to get back on to the basics. Let's make blank amount of dials every single day for the rest of the month. So how many times have they heard that?

Andrew Phelps: Right.

Greg Janovsky: And it's, well, how do I get them bought into it, knowing that it's going to be a little bit of fun so that I can show them what the outcomes are. And so obviously we play survivor through the whole month, the managers are able to take a look at the increase in productivity in some reps, sign, immediate result from it, right? Wouldn't you know if you contact more business owners, you have a better chance of getting them on the phone, creating value, establishing relationships, and ultimately doing business with one another. And the reason why I really liked this particular game was it really revealed to people that fundamentals are important. We can say it, but until they do it, they won't actually believe it. They haven't seen it with their eyes necessarily. And what this allowed us to do is dress up as a game. We got them back to the basics and it accomplished the goal that we wanted. We wanted to have some fun, but we wanted to really expose to them the power that they hold in their hand each day, because nothing really changed, right? Their commute wasn't different. The book of business was indifferent. The conversations weren't different. It was truly just an output thing. And when we started measuring and rewarding that output, you get the outcomes and those outcomes lead to better results. So, when you're creating your game, don't just do it for the sake of doing it. I think that the best value that you'll get out of it is if there is a new rollout, a new project, a new process that you want to have implemented and get good adherence to so that it can kind of expose itself through the, you know, through the endeavor, through the game.

Andrew Phelps: Well, that is great advice and I don't think we're going to top that. So, Greg, I just want to thank you for being on the show today and sharing your favorite game.

Greg Janovsky: Hey, it's my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Andrew Phelps: And if anybody listening wants to get in touch with you for any reason. What's the best way to find you online?

Greg Janovsky: So, you can find me on LinkedIn. At Greg G R E G Janovsky J A N O V S K Y. Or you can shoot me just an email at

Andrew Phelps: Well, thanks again for being here and hopefully we'll have you on in the future once you've played your new favorite sales game.

Greg Janovsky: Thanks Andrew.