What’s your immediate response to the idea of replacing all management in your company with leader boards and badges? Does it scare you? Does it make you angry? Does it seem so ludicrously Machiavellian that you laugh in disgust? Good, me too. The more I think about this
the more I like it the more I LOVE IT! It sends chills up my back and makes me want to run away screaming. It’s that good.
I can already hear the arguments: “People will game the system.” Like they don’t already. “Employees need managers.” No, managers need employees to manage more than employees need to be managed. “The workplace would break down in total anarchy without someone there to tell people what to do.” Now you’re starting to sound like a 3rd world dictatorship.
I’m guessing that your objections are based on two beliefs: Employees need management and that gamification is shallow, exploitable and people don’t want scores and badges. I will first state that gamification, as it stands today, is not what I’m talking about, but it is the precursor to what is still to come. Additionally I’m separating out “management” from other roles often fulfilled by managers like mentoring.
Let me first introduce exhibit A: The HBR article on Morning Star, the market leading tomato products company.
How essential is it to have layers of executives supervising workers? Managers are expensive, increase the risk of bad judgment, slow decision making, and often disenfranchise employees. Yet most business activities require greater coordination than markets can provide.
Is there a way to combine the freedom and flexibility of markets with the control of a management hierarchy? Economists will tell you it’s impossible, but the Morning Star Company proves otherwise. It has been managing without managers for more than two decades.
At Morning Star, whose revenues were over $700 million in 2010, no one has a boss, employees negotiate responsibilities with their peers, everyone can spend the company’s money, and each individual is responsible for procuring the tools needed to do his or her work.
By making the mission the boss and truly empowering people, the company creates an environment where people can manage themselves.
“Yeah, but…” I know; “this would never work at your company.” And you’re probably right. Morning Star was built this way from the ground up. They work with a series of negotiated commitments between each employee and everyone they have to do business with. And it works better than anything out there. I won’t recount the whole article to you but go read it and become a believer (or not).
Exhibit B: Gamification is here to stay and it works. As online gaming like WoW and other MMORPG‘s have shown, gaming works. Gamification is a hugely successful method for driving collaboration, and team work; two things desperately missing from today’s enterprise size corporations. Furthermore if you still don’t agree with me watch this much linked to video by Jane McGonigal: Gaming to make a better World.
Exhibit C: Silicon Angle has a post about new gamification features in Socialcast and also give a quick rundown of several other products on the market.
Traditional performance reviews can help keep the business and its processes on track by reviewing individual performance. But they are also limiting. They often don’t reflect how an employee is doing on a day-to-day basis. The reviews judge people by the goals that have been set. The result is often a poor reflection of the individual. The employee can go for months without getting any feedback on they are doing in their work. It can lead to frustration and a feeling that their work does not matter.
A number of startups are reaching into the performance review space to provide more comprehensive and immediate feedback. Most notably are companies such as Rypple,Achievers, Small-Improvements, Engage and Sonar 6. More established services includeSuccess Factors and Halogen.
At the beginning of this year, I identified as one of my 5 year predictions, enterprise gamification:
Why not build game mechanics into CRM applications? The biggest flaw in every CRM is getting people to enter data. There’s no good way to do this why not make a game out of it. Sounds trite but I guarantee you’ll see better results than you see now.
With the advent of social and mobile data there will not only be more an opportunity for gaming but also more of a need. Not everything is intrinsically motivating and sometimes a little rewards works well.
At the time I was thinking of this as a way to augment tasks with less intrinsic motivation like getting sales people to enter customer data into a CRM system, but now I’m thinking it could be much, much bigger.
I know that some of you - in fact - most of you, probably aren’t convinced yet. If you are a manager or work in HR, you’re probably so incensed that you couldn’t be bothered to read this far and either have already left or jumped straight to the comments to tell me what an idiot I am (I hope I get some of these comments). If so I give you my final exhibit.
Exhibit D: “The more visceral the reaction, the more important the idea is.” Okay, I’m cheating with this one because I’m quoting myself, but I know it’s true. If something in business (that doesn’t have anything to do with morals or ethics) gives you a visceral response then it usually means there’s a big market opportunity there. If the idea of using gamification to replace management give you this kind of visceral reaction then I’d stop and take a closer look at what the market opportunity is. And in this case I’ll go ahead and tell you what it is: The ability to replace the cumbersome, costly and often ineffective management processes with simplified, data driven reward metrics that could actually drive even greater individual, team and business results than the current process is capable of. It’s that big.
And to throw out an olive branch to anyone who hates me now, I also believe that either as a starting point or as a compromise you could combine gamification with management but I don’t think you’ll get the full benefit this way.
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