Thanks to Babson, the Massachusetts Lottery Hits the Jackpot

Michael Sweeney, of the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission, gives a press conference next to a big replica check.
Michael Sweeney, executive director for the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission

The Massachusetts State Lottery had a problem.

On the face of it, that problem might seem like a minor headache, something that wouldn’t cause much trouble or be too difficult to fix. The problem: The lottery’s retail outlets often activated books of its instant game tickets out of sequence and sold them in the wrong order.

Seems simple enough to correct, right? It should only be a matter of keeping track that the tickets that are first in order are sold first. How hard could that be?

Except that the lottery has 7,000-plus outlets—mom-and-pop corner stores, national convenience store chains, bars, restaurants—across the state that sell its tickets. So, each of those outlets, as well as lottery sales reps and regional managers, needed to be educated about the issue. Plus, software systems needed to be changed so tickets can’t be activated out of turn. Plus, the lottery needed to take a look at how it distributed tickets to outlets in the first place.

“There were all these pieces of the puzzle,” says Michael Sweeney, executive director for the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission. “It was multilayered.”

And, this multilayered problem, which at first blush seemed more of a nuisance than anything else, actually had very real complications. Because if tickets were sold out of order, then grand prizes may be awarded out of order as well, and if they were awarded too soon, then that meant the rest of the tickets would go unsold, which meant a loss of revenue. Lots of it. Like millions of dollars’ worth.

So, this seemingly small problem was actually very big and complex, and it needed to be solved. Luckily for the lottery, it had the help of Babson College and its B-AGILE program.

‘Hungry to Innovate’

There is one thing you don’t want to say to Sweeney while at work. If he’s asking why some clunky or outdated procedure is still being used, don’t defend yourself by saying it’s the way it has always been done. “That’s probably the worst thing you can say to me,” he says.

Sweeney is not one for complacency and accepting the status quo, even though the Massachusetts State Lottery has been incredibly successful. Last fiscal year, it earned a profit of nearly $1 billion, and that money was then distributed to the state’s 351 cities and towns to use how they see fit, whether that is buying a new fire truck, hiring school nurses, or paying for snow removal, for example.

Searching for a professional development opportunity for employees of the Massachusetts State Lottery ultimately led Michael Sweeney to Babson and its B-AGILE program.

Despite that success, Sweeney always is looking to do things better. “I am a big believer in the concept of continuous improvement,” he says. “That’s a cultural mindset I’ve tried to build.”

The lottery may be a government agency, but Sweeney looks to business for examples of how to innovate. “What I do is look at the leading businesses around the world and see what they are doing. That’s where the flag is being planted,” he says. “I view the lottery as a business more than a government agency.”

Some might not consider the bureaucracy of government as a place for innovation and forward thinking, but they would be mistaken. “Governmental agencies are hungry to innovate, and when given some training and tools to do so, they do amazing things,” says D.R. Widder MBA’99, the vice president of innovation at Babson.

In his constant quest to have employees think creatively and feel unhindered by the past ways of doing things, Sweeney searched for a professional development program for them to attend. He wanted a program that was taught by an organization with experience working with government agencies. Also, he wanted a thoughtful, interactive program that would offer practical and immediate ways to make an impact on his organization.

That search for an educational opportunity ultimately led him to Babson and B-AGILE.

An Impact Right Away

The Babson Accelerator for Growth, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Leadership, or B-AGILE for short, is a program that helps instill a culture defined by creativity, collaboration, and the ability to dream up new ideas and make them reality.

“B-AGILE offers an excellent professional development opportunity to learn about how to become an entrepreneurial leader,”  says Phillip Kim, Babson’s Lewis Family Distinguished Professor in Social Innovation, and one of the faculty who teaches in the B-AGILE program.

Designed by Widder, B-AGILE is targeted toward government organizations, though companies also have participated in the program. “The skills we teach at Babson—such as identifying and evaluating new opportunities, working collaboratively to build stakeholder support, and operating under resource constraints—can apply to the government context,” Kim says.

“Governmental agencies are hungry to innovate, and when given some training and tools to do so, they do amazing things.”

D.R. Widder MBA’99, the vice president of innovation at Babson

At the Massachusetts State Lottery, Sweeney chose roughly 25 colleagues to participate in the six-week program, and they represented a cross section of new and veteran employees from across the organization. “I wanted people to become more familiar with each other and what they do, and how they are all interconnected,” Sweeney says.

The concepts the group learned in B-AGILE were immediately applied to their work. “We asked participants to connect to their own work situation, and that would lead them to think and act more entrepreneurially and to solve complex problems together across departments,” Kim says.

Right away, the group set about solving the complicated problem of retail outlets selling instant tickets out of order. The comprehensive plan of action they came up with, involving education, technology, and distribution, will be implemented this year. Once tickets are activated more correctly, the lottery expects to earn $2 million to $10 million in additional gross sales.

“It is so inspiring to see these B-AGILE graduates having so much impact so quickly,” Widder says.

For Sweeney, B-AGILE demonstrated the importance of continuous innovation and improvement, the values he always has preached. “The program is very impactful,” he says. “I would encourage government agencies to take a good look at it.”

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