inside shape up the nation: final thoughts and future plans

April 27, 2011

in reviews: products, services, books,wellness

this is the final post in a series of reports on my experience with a client’s 10-week shape up the nation team challenge. shape up the nation is an online, social employee wellness solution. i don’t consult with my client on this strategy or provide any communications support, so it’s strictly unbiased, experience-based reporting.

10 weeks are up. (10 weeks is a lo-o-o-ong time.)

of course, there’s a purpose in the challenge lasting this long: habits form. i unconsciously slip on my pedometer every morning—even now, after the challenge is over. each moment i sit, i’m very conscious of my daily movement or lack thereof. that attention has spread. during our spring break, my youngest daughter borrowed my pedometer to see how many steps she takes. her older sister dug out one i bought for her months ago.

evidence, support tools and gamification

Exercise minutes increased steadily

at the end of the challenge i emailed rajiv kumar, shape up the nation’s chief medical officer and co-founder, my remaining questions, which he openly answered.

fm: have you tracked maintenance of activity, pounds lost, etc. with your longer-term clients? what have you found?

rk: our longer-term clients are seeing sustained program engagement as well as outcomes. for example, we’re finding that participation rates and physical activity achievements in year two are nearly identical to those achieved in year one. the best objective evidence we have for long-term behavior change is our 2009 study that was published in the peer-reviewed journal obesity. authored by dr. rena wing, the study showed that weight loss maintenance one year after the program launched was 76% across the entire population.

fm: right now, SUTN clients and team captains can’t see stats on individual challenges or high fives (similar to a facebook “like”). this keeps them from being able to confirm they’re getting the social benefits and isolate specific functions or areas that need additional support.

rk: as we add more social features to the platform, we’ll be giving employers the ability to track utilization of these tools across the entire population. we don’t want to provide employers with extraneous data points, but we do want them to have actionable data about meaningful use of our platform. we’re in the process of enhancing our reporting on challenge engagement (including a feed of all user-generated challenges), healthy conversations, and overall day-to-day platform utilization. we don’t plan to share information about how many messages were sent between employees.

fm: as i mentioned, i see a gap in communication support for team captains, the linchpin in broader employee engagement. can you comment on any upcoming changes in this area?

rk: team captains are what malcolm gladwell would call the “mavens” within a corporate environment. they use their social influence and early adopter status to engage others and set the tone for the rest of the community. they’re also responsible for the viral nature of the recruitment process. as such, team captains are a driving force for any social networking-based intervention that leverages teams to generate engagement and outcomes. we have an internal working group that focuses specifically on how to better support and leverage the team captains. one area we’re honing in on is how to equip captains with the tools and information they need to better motivate their team members and help them reach their goals. in essence, how to turn team captains into “peer coaches.” i’ll look forward to sharing our latest developments and improvements with you in the near future.

fm: can you share with me your plans to expand your challenges?

rk: right now we have a year-round calendar of company-wide wellness challenges that span topics including weight management, physical activity, nutrition, preventive care, and mental well-being. each challenge uses game mechanics and social elements to make it fun and effective. some of our clients choose to host only one competition per year, but most are moving toward a twelve-month schedule of challenges to keep employees engaged year round. we’ve also recently introduced “bonus challenges,” which are challenges for individuals to track a different meaningful behavior each week. these challenges are focused on shorter-term, micro-activities that help people get started and/or maintain their engagement in the program. in the near future, we plan to build challenges around additional programs that we’ll offer, including coaching, health risk assessments, and biometric screenings. we also plan to continue to innovate around using powerful game mechanics to drive behavior change.

i outwalked everyone

a client’s perspective

shape up the nation has the highest participation of all the challenges my client offers throughout the year. vince blando, my client’s wellness coordinator, told me, “shape up is our most participated in challenge. i know for our group, the team aspect makes people accountable to others for making healthy choices—or to be very slick when not making them. you can sense a healthier environment in general during shape up.” vince also noted the challenge of keeping people motivated and enthusiastic from beginning to end: “most of the feedback we received early was positive, with people psyched to compete. toward the end, i had folks stating that it might be wise to shorten the challenge from 10 weeks to 8.”

these challenges are designed to bake in new behaviors, knowing it’s tough to maintain a new habit for consecutive weeks. the greater reporting, additional supporting tools and gaming techniques rajiv outlines will address flagging motivation, when the resistance to change kicks in.

a girl and her pedometer

as for the challenge? my team didn’t win. we came in third place in our local division, but we beat the pants off our immediate rival. still, the trajectory for my team and the average participant is really impressive. daily movement continued to climb over the ten weeks, showing a sustained and growing commitment to regular activity. my own trajectory mirrored theirs, continuing to fall a little short of the average participant but well above my goal.

i have no future goal in mind, and as i mentioned before, i’m really not good at pushing myself.

i’ll continue wearing my pedometer, however. that is, for as long as i keep a hold of this one.



Leave a Comment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Vincent Blando April 27, 2011 at 10:10 am


Great post, and not just because I am quoted. 🙂 Next year, we will be shooting for first place, and a significant drop in toilet-drowned pedometers.


fran April 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm

i don’t know what you’re talking about.


Steve Boese April 27, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience with Shape Up the Nation, I have enjoyed following the progress of the program and your observations and comments along the way.


fran April 28, 2011 at 9:44 am

thanks, steve. it makes a huge difference to have the “employee experience.” we always need to strive to see things from their point of view.



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