Edward Jennings, CEO of Copanion Software, admits that he's a fitness buff. And he acknowledges that it may have been selfishness on his part that got him started to create a fitness program at Copanion. According to Jennings, "Normally this time of year, tax season, it is all about pizza and working all the time. One of the intents was let's get something going so we have momentum before the season gets going." The program was set up for a six week run, mid-January until the end of February.
With a diverse group of people in the company who don't normally have business reasons to interact with each other, Jennings also wanted this to be a team building experience. Everyone who wanted to participate entered his or her name and five teams were randomly selected. There were two categories of competition, weight loss and hours of exercise, which allowed all employees to compete no matter what their personal weight goals were. The prizes certainly were worth the effort, with the winning team in each category earning eight hours of vacation time per team member and the overall winner of each category winning a Visa gift card.
"We wanted to go on two fronts," said Jennings. "We wanted it to be fun and engaging for the people who didn't necessarily have weight to lose." The exercise portion was kept on an online spreadsheet that was accessible to all and tallied every Monday, so that each participant and team could see their progress compared to everyone else's. The office manager managed the bi-weekly weigh-ins and posted the weight loss percentages. "We were really excited by the number that participated, the banter, the positive back and forth that was happening from the teams. People would bring in desserts to throw off the other teams. There was a lot of good dialogue and funny camaraderie – engineering, sales, marketing, there isn't always that much interaction and playfulness."
Another interesting fact of the competition was that it was not the obvious team that won. The winning team was a team that week-in and week-out did the exercise and kept progressing at a steady rate. With four-five people on a team, one really dedicated person couldn't win it for a team. There had to be two to three people who were really diligent about the process. It was the slow and steady and consistent people who won. As an added benefit, the competition started to change people's eating and exercise habits. The company as a whole is behind it all the way. The kitchen, normally stocked with junk food, now has healthier alternatives available.
"There is a general request to do something again," said Jennings. "We want to make sure that when we do it again everyone has a fair chance to compete. Everyone has to have a legitimate chance of doing well. We described exercise fairly broadly, everything from walking to spinning. We want to do it in a way that everyone is motivated to participate." With an 85 percent participation rate, Copanion designed a program that engaged most of its employees.
The results are impressive. There was a total weight loss of 118 (an average of almost six pounds per employee) and total exercise logged of 332 hours (an average of nearly three hours per person per week).
The weight loss and fitness gains were nice, but according to Jennings, "It was really fun and the ancillary benefit for the company is the diverse group of people from the company that don't normally interact were brought together. It really brought us together as a team."