jill vaughanWith the brand “We’re Game,” it’s no secret the Virginia Lottery is all about having fun. However, games alone are not enough to engage employees. To create a truly engaged workforce where employees go the extra mile for players, K-12 public education and each other, the Virginia Lottery has made employee engagement a key part of its business plan.

To understand the role employee engagement plays at the Virginia Lottery, a PadillaCRT client since 2014, I sat down with Jill Vaughan, director of communications, to learn more about how engaged employees have helped the organization contribute nearly $8 billion to K-12 public education in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Why is it important to the Virginia Lottery to have employees who are engaged with the organization?

A part of Virginia’s government, the Virginia Lottery is celebrating its 29th year in 2017. We launched our new brand “We’re Game” in 2012. We were very conscious that a key audience for the rollout was our statewide workforce. We felt if our employees learn to live our brand internally and are “game” to serve each other, our 5,400 retailers, vendor partners and stakeholders, that directly translates to the consumer experience. To strike up engagement, we worked specifically to help create an environment that resembles an innovative gaming company versus a state organization. We want to remind our people that “we’re game” to change lives every single day through our games and our support of public education.

Describe what an engaged employee looks like at the Virginia Lottery. In other words, how do you know when your employees are engaged?

Employees pose for a picture before hitting the streets to hand out Virginia Lottery swag to spectators at the 2015 UCI Road World Championships bike race

It’s easy to spot! They proactively look for opportunities beyond their day-to-day jobs to further the goals of the organization. For example, exciting events often take place in downtown Richmond. Whether it was the 2015 UCI Road World Championships bike race or the week the American Idol crew camped out to audition local talent, our employees jump at the chance to come up with ideas to highlight our “we’re game” spirit. It’s not uncommon for street teams of IT, HR, Finance and Security employees to roam the city center giving out Virginia Lottery swag and free scratch tickets to the public (those over the age of 18, of course). Yes, our Communications, Sales and Marketing employees are usually involved too, but when you’re able to reach the more administrative departments, that’s big.

Based on employee survey results, the Virginia Lottery has a highly engaged workforce. What unique initiatives and programs do you use to excite and motivate your employees?

I feel the biggest win was creating our D.R.E.A.M. Team before our brand launch. This team embodies the acronym, which stands for Dedication, Responsibility, Education, Attitude and Motivation, and is made up of 24 employees from all departments. They represent different geographic regions of the state. In a nutshell, they are brand ambassadors, and they were strategically selected because of their enthusiastic attitudes, informal leadership abilities and strong work ethic. These folks lead the “we’re game” charge internally several times a month – at company pep rallies, our annual Spirit Week, strategic webinars, project celebrations and even small staff meetings. I truly see their work reminding our staff of nearly 300 that our work is fun AND important. These team members, along with all managers and directors, are empowered to reward others through our Play of the Day points recognition program. It was designed to be a simple and quick way to thank employees for living our core values. The recipient receives points that they accumulate and can redeem online for gift cards from retailers like Amazon, Starbucks and more.

What challenges have you had to overcome to successfully engage your employees? What steps did you take?

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Employees surprised downtown Richmond, Virginia, with a Holiday Flash Party

One of our biggest challenges as a consumer products company housed within a state government is that our own employees are not allowed to play Lottery games. It is against the law and critical to upholding our integrity. So, we try to bring the consumer experience to our staff in other ways by giving them the opportunity to sell our products at special events like NASCAR races and the State Fair of Virginia. We try to incorporate new product launches through interactive employee simulations, kick-off events and webinars as much as possible. It’s important for the customer service staff to understand each game in order to serve our players. With more than 50 scratch tickets on sale at one time, plus several draw games including the big names Mega Millions and Powerball, it’s a lot of information! We also offer new employees the opportunity to witness a Virginian claiming a major prize or attending a news conference. Nothing brings it home like seeing a new millionaire in the flesh!

In 2016, the Virginia Lottery generated more than $588 million for public education grades K-12 – a record amount. How did engaged employees contribute to this success?

One of the highlights of the year was the world record $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot in January 2016. Employees statewide volunteered to assist our retailers with the monstrous crowds and lines, helping Virginians get their tickets. For many Virginians, this was their first time ever playing our games, a key brand opportunity.

Research shows that engaged employees are high performers. From our economists to our security personnel to our sales reps in the field, we see engagement from leaders at the top-down to the front lines. We are a 24/7 operation. Lottery drawings occur every day, even on holidays. Scratch ticket bins need to be full at all those grocery and convenience stores. Our operations must be seamless. Infusing the brand into our daily routines reminds employees that the Virginia Lottery is a great place to work.

What advice would you give to a company to further engage their employees in helping to drive the organization forward?

  • Get buy-in from leadership. We used our new brand launch as an opportunity to start fresh so that employees would be the first to know how we wanted consumers to view the Virginia Lottery. This helped us formulate our internal Brand in Action plan. Brand/Culture is a recurring agenda item for our top leadership meetings. For the first time in our history, being a Top Employer will be one of our four Lottery-wide strategic measurements for FY 18.
  • Have a strategic plan. Update it annually. We revisit our Brand in Action Plan each spring.
  • Tap a dedicated team to drive the engagement strategy. My department leads the effort, and three of us have Brand in Action in our job descriptions. We collaborate closely with the Executive Director and Director of Administration to execute the strategy.
  • Create an internal brand ambassador team. Invest the time to train them. Our D.R.E.A.M. Team meets monthly, and we now have annual incentives to reward the members for different participation levels.
  • Create a single position to manage the program. To make an impact, we believed this work needed to be the primary focus for an individual dedicated to the cause. We recruited internally and found that person in Eileen Rodgers. As Brand Communicator, she brings front line customer experience from working at our Hampton Customer Service Center. She leads the D.R.E.A.M. Team with a passion like no other!
  • Measure. If you don’t already have an employee engagement or annual culture survey, start there. We have seen our culture results improve five years in a row, and were named a Richmond Top Workplace finalist for the first time in 2015.
  • Leverage agency partnerships. While we already had many successful tools in place for this program, PadillaCRT serves as an objective third party as we continuously try to improve. They bring us best practices, assist with training and research, and more. It’s great to bounce new ideas off them or delegate tactics that we may not always have time to execute internally.


To learn more about engaging your company’s greatest assets, read our recent employee engagement posts on the Buzz Bin below. And check out our ORC International survey of millennials, which indicates how college debt is impacting key life milestone and their level of engagement at work.

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