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Are you listening? The return of Employee Engagement

23 01 2013

employee_engagement“Employee Engagement” used to be a term reserved for the hollow halls of HR departments across the land. You’d hear a client say that was their main goal, and you knew a program was doomed to fail – usually because it was code word for “I haven’t got a clue what to do with this type of social application”.  My eyes would roll, my sleeves would get rolled up, and I’d get down to work teaching them the need to rethink the requirement for innovation goals that would drive focused value and strategic change through their organization.

But that was 10 years ago – and today, as I was sitting down with the CEO of a multi-million dollar multimedia retailer, I found myself reflecting on how much has changed since those days with respects to “employee engagement”.

“Boris, I see tools like this” (referring to the Social Innovation program we outlined to her) “as table stakes for keeping today’s top employee base” she said – the first time I’ve heard a C-level executive say that with full conviction.

Bravo – for she struck the nail cleanly on the head. With social technologies increasingly being weaved into the fabric that is our personal lives – we’re getting used to being heard by the masses – and we bring that desire to be heard with us into the workplace.  As Facebook and the other mainstream social platforms get us used to being influential in a bigger world, the dichotomy of then being ignored in the workplace is increasingly causing friction.

4255321476_93d737a959Where as yesterday’s employees wanted pool tables and quirky benefits , today’s employees don’t just want to be actively engaged in the company they work for, they DEMAND it.

Smart employees want to feel a part of the world around them, want to feel they can influence and enact change, want the transparency and responsibilities that come with active engagement – and if you don’t provide that level of autonomy for them – then someone else will.

These are after all, the table stakes of keeping bright employees nowadays – question is, are you stepping up to the table?

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Getting Inside the Game – The promise of Gamification in the Enterprise

15 03 2012

[tweetmeme]You’ve probably started hearing the terms “Gamification” or “Game Mechanics” in increasing frequency in your corporate hallways of late. This is especially so if I’ve been working with you, as Gamification theory and practice (not to be confused with the Economics based “Game Theory”) is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the next generation of highly engaging collaborative Innovation programs.

I probably get asked about Gamification (aka the application of Game Mechanics/Game Design to a particular system, process, or program) at least once a day now – Spigit has quite the reputation for incorporating Gaming Mechanics into its product design – and the Collaborative Innovation consulting practice I run at Spigit has now also pioneered the development a host of new techniques and methods to apply Game Design techniques into the successful design and execution of various types of challenges, communities and collaborative competitions with some quite astounding results.

Done properly, it’s probably one of the greatest tools in a Social Strategist’s arsenal – giving great insight into that hallowed (and much overused) word “Engagement”. Yet as a topic it’s rarely understood – and even more rarely applied – properly by most including those claiming to be in the field.

First and foremost, let’s tackle some of the misconceptions:

–       Gamification is NOT the same as Social Gaming.  Whilst popular games like Farmville, Cityville, etc incorporate gaming techniques and could in themselves be the end result of the Gamification process – Gamification itself is a much bigger subject matter.

–       Gamification IS a Social process

–       Gamification IS a design methodology – it’s about how you incorporate Game Mechanics into a system to make it more ENGAGING .

–       Gamification is NOT about specific technology features and functions. Buying Bunchball, Badgeville, or any of a host of new companies cashing in on the Gamification trend and blindly incorporating their software into your website does not make you a Gamification King.

The key to comprehending why Gamification is so important to businesses in the future – is understanding that that there is something incredibly and intrinsically addictive about a well-designed game that engages us as humans at the very core of our beings.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all been deeply engrossed in board games, video games, or what have you – looked up at the clock, seen it was 1AM and uttered the words “Crap, how did that happen?”

A good game not only engages us, but it physically and emotionally satisfies a part of us.  Left alone we will create games from whatever we have around us (“I spy with my little eye…”).. We actively WANT to, and some might even say need to, play games.

Given options, we will choose to spend time playing games above all other activities We will even PAY to play a good game – and we have whole cities designed to cater to our desire to play games!

What if we could capture the mechanics that make a good game so addictive to us, so engaging, and bring those into a business system that actively creates value for the company? THAT’s the real promise of Gamification.

Games come in many forms though – some very obvious (Monopoly, Blackjack, World of Warcraft. etc) , and others not so (political games, dating games, etc).

In fact, if you think about it – we are actually surrounded by games all around us everyday, although most of the time we don’t necessarily perceive or think of them as being games.

For example – take your morning commute – you get up and leave the house with the aim of getting to work on time.  There’s a path to follow, and there are choices along that path:

–      Do you decide to drive or to take the train?

–      If you drive, which route do you take?

–      Do you go the direct route over the hill that can be slower but has less traffic or do you go around on the main road that can be quicker but is more prone to traffic jams?

–      How fast do you drive – do you increase your speed when you hit the highway to make up for your lateness but also increase the risk of getting a ticket that would make you even later? (and poorer financially..)

–      And so on…

You make decisions and take actions to beat your fellow competitors (other commuters) to get to your ultimate goal – getting to work on time. It is, in essence, a game.

Of course, we don’t associate it as a game because it’s not structured and presented to us as a game – but essentially it has the same structure: A goal, a story, a reason to act, and multiple actions and decisions to get to that goal which ultimately delivers you a reward – in the example above, not getting told off by your boss for being late to work.

Almost everything else you do during your day could also be reframed as a game:

–      Lunchtime: When do you leave your desk to avoid the lunchtime rush/get the best grub?

–      Airport Security: Which queue do you join to get through as fast as possible and not miss your plane

–      Travel – Whom do you fly with? Do you go with the most direct flight, or do you go with the one you fly the most in case you can pull off an elusive upgrade?

–      Sales Reporting: What percentage certainty do you report that elusive deal you’ve been working on in your CRM system? Do you raise your boss’s expectation and hope not to disappoint? Or do you low-ball it and aim to surprise?

–      At Work: Which order do you attack your workload to be the most efficient with the least amount of pain (and most acclaim from your peers and bosses!)

–      At Home: How do you get your child to eat the brussel sprouts that they hate?  Cue the airplane game!

Consider that all of these activities you choose to engage in during your day have the same elements as a good game:

–       They have a clear start and end to it

–       There’s a pay-off for “playing” it well and achieving a “win”

–       There’s a clear storyline/reason to play that’s clearly communicated

–       A good activity isn’t repetitive

–       A good activity doesn’t throw complexity at you all at once, but rather in stages with mini-pay-offs to keep you interested and wanting to “throw the dice” until you finish.

And so on.

We play these games, and we “game” these games (incidentally – people “game” every game out there – given the option of two routes with an equal reward, we will always pick the shortest/easiest route to the prize – maximizing the prize wherever possible), and ultimately we win/lose the games we play.

The problem (or opportunity) with most business systems though, is that, as we don’t envision them as games, we don’t design them as games. That doesn’t make them any less of a game; it just makes them “crappy” games that no one wants to play!  

They’re “crappy” for the participants because they’re tedious and unrewarding to play/participate. They’re “crappy” for the business because participation is low or non-existent, compliance to the task at hand is minimal, and because ultimately the system is being gamed for the participants’ benefit and not the company’s benefit.

Instead by building and designing business systems with the mindset that we’re really creating a game, with a specific outcome, and incorporating the same rules and mechanics that naturally engage us in games – we actually end up building a system that is a win-win for all.

The net effect? Imagine creating systems that are so addictive that people will gladly spend their own free time to participate in something that is adding value to the company – and enjoying the challenges involved in doing so.

That they will even give up their own time on the weekends to submit ideas into your innovation system.

Sound impossible? It’s not – we’ve been able to achieve this effect at companies like Citi, Cisco and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as we applied these new design techniques to the practice of Collaborative Innovation at each of them. More on this to come…





The Next Evolution of Open Innovation – What’s Next?

20 04 2011

[tweetmeme]
This last week I was at the Marcus Evans Open Innovation Conference giving a presentation on “The Next Evolution of Openness” – Getting back on the speaking circuit finally gave me a little thinking time away from building a rapidly growing consulting practice at my new company Spigit and I wanted to share with you some of the key points of that talk over the next few blog posts.

Things change quickly in the Innovation world – and as I was writing the title of the presentation I was struggling whether the word “evolution” was quite the right one – maybe “Revolution” would’ve been a better word to use in the circumstances.

There’s supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse that goes along the lines of “May you live in interesting times” – and I don’t think that times get any more interesting than the business environment we currently find ourselves in.

We live in a time of massive change – both in terms of the size of changes we’re asked to take on, and the frequency with which change now happens.

The recent financial depression has had profound consequences on the businesses that survived. We’ve come out the other end to a world that demands greater accountability, greater participation, and greater transparency than ever before. We’re in the middle of a social revolution where the strength is slowly moving away from corporations and moving into to the hands of the consumer. Where power is moving from the Core of a company to its “Edges”.

As a result, businesses are waking up (rudely in some cases) to a new way of working, a new way of organizing, and a new brand of leadership. Innovation, as a corporate discipline is no different.

Indeed, if we look at the history of Innovation over the years, there are definite trends to be seen:

We started with the lone inventor, working alone to build an advantage that no one else could copy.

If one bright person could achieve an advantage, it didn’t take rocket science to realize that maybe we could put several bright people in the same room and multiply the effect – so we built R&D labs to take advantage of that.

R&D labs worked well, so we started wondering if anyone else in the company had useful input too – so we invented the suggestion box as a corporate tool.

The advent of technology brought with it the ability to ask a broader range of employees than ever before – reaching out across business silos and traditional geographic boundaries to grab ideas wherever they lay. We started putting effective processes around the use of the technology and Idea Management came about.

Innovation Management came along when we then figured out that ideas without execution were worthless – so we changed to focus on an end to end process that drove the ideas we were collecting all the way through a formal pipeline to execution and thus started creating an engine for creating new value for corporations.

Collaborative Innovation brought in the concept that people could add value even if they didn’t have an idea themselves. We started using leading edge social technologies to allow people to work together on building ideas together and driving new levels of value creation.

Open Innovation brought in the idea that the best ideas didn’t necessarily (and probably didn’t) reside solely within the corporate four walls.  So we started to look at sourcing ideas from anywhere and everywhere outside of our  own organizations.

We then reevaluated the innovation process – realizing what was really at the heart of our activities was a robust problem solving process and so collaborative problem solving became the big focus.

When we started considering Innovation as a problem solving process we also then realized that the applicability of what we were doing became broader – we could now push a flow of new ideas across the entire enterprise, building a cultural shift of not just reacting to, but actively driving massive continuous change at all times – We created Enterprise-wide Social Innovation.

So, what’s the next step I hear you ask? For me – it’s realizing that maybe even problems aren’t the right focus – that maybe, just maybe, we need to embrace the larger social revolution and realize that we’re on the brink of a new future for business as a whole.

That future sees companies using Innovation as the gateway drug on their route to incorporating broad level social feedback and input across every aspect of the enterprise.

That future sees us bringing in and co-creating with the masses to create the ultimate engagement model with would-be customers – that of a conspirator or co-owner in the very business they helped to create.

Maybe then, it’s not Innovation that should be Open – but rather Business as a whole.

If  we just follow the trends from the timeline above, we see that there has always been value in building our companies outwards. That there has always been value in continuously increasing the number of people in “the room”, in increasing the transparency of the organization, in pulling the outside in, and ultimately in the engaging, at scale, the broader world around us.

That the leaders amongst us are those who are continuously exploring the boundaries of their companies and learning how to embrace the fringes and edges to drive value at the core.  

Could this be the Open Business revolution at last?

I look forward to reading your thoughts 🙂








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