Picture for a moment yourself on a sunny and cool fall afternoon getting ready to watch your favorite college football team playing their biggest rival. The stands are packed, and the crowd is ready to cheer their team on victory. However, right before the game begins the announcer comes over the loudspeaker and says that the teams won’t be keeping score and are just going to play for fun. How would you feel? Would you still be as interested? Do you think the players would give it their all or simply go through the motions? Have you ever watched a professional All-Star game – not exactly the highest level of intensity and effort.
It reminds me of when my kids were very young playing youth sports. I remember coaching baseball and soccer, and I could not get my head around the fact that we were not keeping score. I know, I know – five year olds don’t necessarily have to be competitive warriors out there, but still, it is just not very interesting if you don’t keep score. You may be asking where I am going with this line of thought. Good question! In my 25+ years in the marketplace, I have found that most businesses operate just like my five year old soccer team – they don’t keep score!
Sure, ultimately, all businesses get down to the bottom line. However, in most organizations employees go through their day as if they are in the Bill Murray classic, Groundhog Day. It is easy to fall into a rut where you feel like you are on a treadmill with no end point. There is a recent effort to try and “gamify” work to make it more meaningful. While this gamification of work has become a growing trend, you don’t need high tech gadgetry to tap into the power of making work more interesting and meaningful.
Over 40 years ago, business consultant Charles Coonradt had an epiphany that led him to commit his life’s work to helping people make their work more like their recreation. He was watching a group of young men building a house that seemed to be slow and arduous work. However, he noticed that on their lunch break these same young men engaged in heated competitions of 4 on 4 pickup basketball games. For him, this was a paradox. How could they put that much energy into their recreation but not their work? He became fascinated with the phenomena that people will work harder and expend more energy in sports and other athletic pursuits than they will at their daily jobs. Coonradt has several books out on this topic, but I want to highlight a few key ideas that may revolutionize how you think about your work.
In my teens and early twenties, I taught a great number of people how to play tennis. I enjoyed the game and learned how to teach others at a young age. As I would teach beginners the basics of how to hit the ball and keep a rally going, they all eventually wanted to play. In order to do that they needed to learn how to keep score. It was always interesting to watch how people pushed themselves harder and the competitive spirit would come out when we would keep score. In organizations, we want to find simple and clear ways to keep score of what is important both as an organization and for the individual team members. I have found over the years that some positions are easier to come up with the 2-3 areas to keep score. Scorekeeping should be objective and the individual employee should ideally know how to track and keep their score. If you have not defined winning and losing for your team members then you are at risk of mediocrity.
When a golfer goes out to play a round of golf, they usually have a score in mind they are trying to beat. While I am a novice runner, I have come to understand a little of the lingo of competitive racers who talk about their PB (Personal Best). When the coach gets the basketball team together to discuss the goals for the season they focus on specific goals. For many programs, the goal is to make it into the “Big Dance” – the NCAA basketball championship tournament. I have experimented with all kinds of goals for organizations and individuals. I have found that the best are shorter term in nature. I find that if they are too long term then people wait until the last minute to work on them like cramming for an exam. I like clear and specific goals that ideally can be accomplished in three to six months.
I went to a St. Louis Cardinals exhibition game recently against the hometown Memphis Redbirds. As I looked at the new scoreboard in the stadium, I noted how much data was readily available: the score, balls, strikes, outs, and even the speed of the last pitch. The players get real time feedback on how they are doing and can adjust their strategy. Unfortunately, that is often not the case in business. I have visited with many employees who never get any feedback or maybe only once a year in a perfunctory review. How can people improve if they don’t get constructive feedback on their performance? As leaders, we should give helpful feedback early and often if we want our team members to develop.
KNOW THE RULES
Along with teaching my tennis students how to keep score, I also taught them the rules of the game. Without rules, it would be chaos out on the court and constant controversy. What if you started a game and then halfway through the rules changed midway? How frustrating would that be? Unfortunately, many workplaces feel that way. The rules are not clear and may change in an instant. Sure, there may be policies and guidelines in an employee handbook, but I am talking the day to day rules of operation. What is expected? What is off limits? Too many handbooks are more driven by legal than practical considerations. Employees want clarity and fairness. As a leader, you have the opportunity to stomp out the ambiguity and create clear a set of rules that you expect everyone to follow. I promise it will reduce the drama in your organization.
I hope these concepts give you some inspiration and ideas to “gamify” your organization. We don’t have to watch the clock until 5:00 or wait until the weekend to enjoy a little competitive activity in our lives. Our work can be just as invigorating and challenging if we put our minds to it. Enjoy!