As we’ve learned over the last several years, from Richard Florida’s Creative Class to Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Quotient, the soft skills and organizational skills are the most valuable to the success of an organization – particularly in management. Strength in leadership, communication, vision, relationship management, empathy, and empowerment often outweigh the technical skills of the leaders of the most successful organizations. High trust organizations regularly outperform those riddled with fear and insecurity. However, all of these attributes of the most successful organizations cannot be measured with direct metrics. There is no easy formula to follow to build trust – no easy way to measure successful relationships. They must be practiced, honed, improvised, and applied regularly without agreement on measurement and reward.
So the challenge is – how to encourage these intangibles without an agreed upon way to measure and reward. Instinctively, we all know and agree on an “overall goodness” if leaders do more of these – but it’s hard to identify a distinct economic value or discrete measure of progress.
The proposal here is learn from the world of gaming, and use game elements to reward appropriate management behavior. It’s impossible to measure whether a manager taking time for a 1:1 meeting impacts his or her organization’s bottom line. At a gut-feel level, we all know it does, but it’s impossible to measure the prioritization.
In 1964, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, “I know it when I see it” when commenting on obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio. Great leadership is the same way - we know it when we see it. Management skills are intangible.
As Peter Drucker said, effective leaders think through the organization’s mission and define it, and then clearly and visibly establish it. It is the leader who sets the goals and priorities with total clarity. Likewise it is up to the leader to define and maintain standards. Merriam-Webster defines management as the ability to act or direct with a degree of skill – to work upon or direct with a purpose. The challenge we have, as the world of business continues to increase in speed and a need for dexterity and leadership, is how to measure and reward great managers. Jim Collins took a good look at this in Good to Great. http://www.jimcollins.com/ - What metrics can we look at to identify those who are adept at leading teams of increasingly diverse and technically skilled employees? The problem is that there is no single, easy metric to identify.
In 2010, who “won” Farmville? – Who was best at Halo or Angry Birds? No one knows – and that’s OK. There are many components to “winning” in games. The solution to rewarding management behaviors lies in utilizing game mechanics to encourage the right management behavior. How does an HR organization evaluate whether or not an individual manager held the right amount of 1:1 meetings with employees? And how do they compare that with meetings with customers? Or all hands meetings to talk about strategy? Or manager training? Or attending status or review meetings? It’s impossible to come up with a single formula.
The solution we are prosing here is to leverage mechanics from the world of game design to build a system that rewards management activity accordingly. There is no “right answer” in World of Warcraft. If we treat management behavior as part of a bigger picture, we can start to reward and acknowledge the right behaviors and build structure around ambiguous measures.
There are dozens of management behaviors and skills that define great leaders. It’s impossible to identify a single measure of success. Some might point to employee retention, some to annual employee surveys, some to skills growth, hiring rates, and others. And in some respect, everyone is correct. Management is situational. Each and every employee deserves personal attention – and will respond with increased performance. Managers must be adept in the use of their toolbox to build an effective organization. We face a hard question of how to reward this diverse and incomparable activity. Our solution is to use game mechanics to identify and reward effective management activity.
Here are a few elements of game design that can apply in how we reward management competencies: (thanks to Clark Aldrich's Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games)
Award – something of value, perhaps symbolic, earned by meeting certain criteria. Trophy, badge, certificate, grade. Can acknowledge style or substance.
Chase – chase elements increase engagement through using simulations in which the “player” tries to beat, get, or tag something using speed, movement or strategy
Collecting – to get all, or as many as possible – of a given set
Competition – comparing one against another – the glory and shame of the leader board
Gambling – gives players the opportunity to spend value, risking loss, in hopes of getting more back in return. Risk and reward can be mathematically balanced.
Hero – the hero is the character who can bring about success in the experience. A good game designer offers the player the opportunity to be the hero. Can the player make a difference?
Jeopardy – an attribute of the environment where failure is both likely and has significant consequences for the player.
Mystery – increases engagement by presenting a situation where an important piece of information is missing from the equation.
Power-up – using items, such as points or cards – to give a player a temporary advantage
Scores and Grades – using levels, scores, and grades to offer feedback on progress towards goals.
Timer – visible countdown to a trigger
Wish fulfillment – put players in a situation they had previously desired.
Using these, and other elements of game design to build a program to reward managers would lead to a culture that empowers manager to use their experience and discretion in how they prioritize their management activities – as well as eliminate the tendency to focus only on the bottom line, and give some leeway in prioritizing people management investments.