Okay, youʼre in charge of your organization’s wellness initiative and the first thing that comes to mind is starting up a walking challenge.

So, whatʼs the best way to get started?

At Walker Tracker, we’ve worked with just about every type of organization. Some have launched incredibly successful programs with enthusiastic, long-term participation and a lasting impact on the culture, while others have languished with low participation rates and mediocre results. From our vantage point, weʼve been able to observe different approaches used by company administrators as they launch their walking programs. We learned from these implementations and compiled a list of “best practices” that will give your program the best chance to succeed.

Top 10The following steps will help ensure your walking program is a hit that will plant the seeds for systemic change within your organization.

1) Obtain executive sponsorship. No doubt you’ve already heard/read this, but the plain truth is that executive leadership probably has the single biggest impact on success or failure. Employees will know if the executive team is committed to company wellness and will respond accordingly. Getting buy-in from the executive suite will likely give you a bigger budget, and the moral support will be be wind in your sails.

The best programs include consistent messaging and encouragement from the C-suite and visible participation in the program. This should NOT be a case of “do as I say, not as I do”. Our advice – put the execs on a team, and make sure everyone knows about it.

2) Plan ahead. Walking-based activity programs should be an integral component of a well-thought-out, adequately funded, comprehensive, corporate wellness initiative. Quite simply, walking represents the one activity that a majority of employees can do, but employees facing health or physical challenges should also have a way to participate (via activity converters, for example). Here are some tips on planning and organization:

-Assign a program administrator. This should be someone that has the authority and responsibility for setting the administrative parameters, communications, and resolving issues.

-Set a firm start date – be sure to allow time (30 days or more) to market the program to your employees.

-Define your participation goals, e.g. 30% of the employees, or, 50% of sales and marketing employees, etc. The participation goals should relate directly to the general health/wellness of your employee base and the overall responsiveness of employees to company-sponsored initiatives. Pick a number that represents success, and also stretches the status-quo.

-Define the metrics you need to capture to measure success. Walking-oriented wellness programs have shown themselves to be very good investments, but in order to justify the programʼs continued existence it is necessary to document results with meaningful metrics. Make sure you capture baseline statistics to compare against.

-Plan the walking program itself around a theme, challenge event, or competition. Walker Tracker enables you to set up many different types of challenges or competitions, so be creative and choose something that will engage employees’ imaginations or competitive juices.

-Competitions should be relatively short— we’ve found 8 to 12 weeks to be a “sweet spot” of program duration—with new challenges scheduled regularly. This gives employees a way to wipe the slate clean and start over if they fall behind in the first challenge.

3) Reach out to employees well before the program is scheduled to begin. Let them know that you will be starting a walking program and encourage them to indicate their interest in participating. Recruit enthusiastic responders to serve as your “wellness champions” – they can be your best asset. Actively promote the program’s theme or initial challenge event to build excitement and encourage the forming of smaller groups or teams.

4) Use a good tracking device. This is likely the biggest part of your budget, but we canʼt stress enough how important this is. The most successful programs use high-quality, wireless, accelerometer-based pedometers (e.g. Fitbit, Pebble, Jawbone, Misfit, Garmin).

-Our advice is to standardize as much as possible on a single device because even the best trackers count steps differently and you’ll cut down on complaints if everyone has the same device. That said, we also suggest that you allow participants to use a device they may have purchased on their own. Remember, the ultimate goal is to get people to take responsibility for their own health, so purchasing a device is a good start.
-Rule of thumb: if a pedometer is under $10, it is probably a relative low-quality device. Plan to spend at least $15-$25 for a good-quality, manual entry device and over $40 for wireless devices that connect automatically.

-Many companies sponsor a portion or all of the pedometerʼs cost, but one good option is to have the employee kick in some money as well. This is a really good way to ensure that the employees are invested in the programʼs success. Itʼs really surprising how much difference a $10 employee contribution makes to overall diligence and enthusiasm. Allowing employees to pay for devices through payroll deduction will get you more participants than asking them to pay directly via credit card or check.

5) Register users. Once your walking challenge portal is ready to accept new participants (hopefully on Walker Tracker), you can send out invitations via company email or perhaps hold an “all hands” meeting. If you have a large organization, you should allow 1-2 weeks for registration just to make sure you donʼt miss those that are on vacation or on sick leave. Communicate multiple times.

6) Involve families. Several high-profile studies have indicated that spousal participation in fitness programs can greatly increase their efficacy. Consider opening your program to your employees’ families. It’s a great, low-cost way to encourage employees to take wellness home.

7) Invite the world! The United States is a bit unique in the world in that employees access healthcare through their employer. This isn’t the case in most other countries. So, while your wellness goals may be slightly different in your international locations, inviting everyone to participate is an excellent way to build good will throughout your entire employee base. International employees really feel “part of the family” when they are invited to participate in challenge events.

8) Use the “power of teams” Team challenges tend to be more successful than challenges involving individual participants. Take advantage of the natural competitive elements in your organization to make the challenge fun and engaging. So, in addition to larger department or location-based teams, we also recommend smaller teams of 10 or fewer. Small teams tend to provide an extra level of accountability and improved results. You can also tap team captains to help you recruit!

9) Continually advertise the program’s goals. Your corporate wellness goals should not be a secret—articulating your goals can have a really positive impact on your employees’ enthusiasm and participation. Publicize your goals widely throughout the organization and let your employees know the organization’s progress toward the goals.

10) Most important: Make it fun, fun, fun! No explanation needed here.