I have been coaching entrepreneurs for 16 years. I have seen them agonize about making payroll, firing poor performers and customers who don’t pay them on time. I have also borne witness to incredible moments of innovation and inspiration.
Let’s face it; running a business is hard and it can be lonely at the top. Entrepreneurs tend to shoulder the burden and burn the midnight oil. Sometimes you run a business, and sometimes it runs you.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It is likely that your employees want to take on more if you would only let them. One way to instantly improve your results is to “gamify” your business.
The world has changed. The business press is packed with stories of malfeasance at tech companies, and many others. This only magnifies the need for transparency, and promoting an open culture is critical in winning the war for talent. Today, millennials care deeply about being part of something bigger than they are.
All of this points to the formula required to run a contemporary company. First you need to lead with vision. People want to know where their company is headed, and they want to tie that vision back to their individual contributions. Then they want to see progress toward that vision in real time.
Within my travels I have seen companies with a special energy, in which important information about position and results are shared openly. In these companies, key performance indicators (KPIs) are understood by every employee. They are invited to play the game from the moment they are hired.
This does not necessarily require that a company divulge its financial results. I never suggest that entrepreneurs must “open the books.” That is a personal decision, and one that fosters anxiety for many people. This fear is emotional, and not at all logical.
Absent of financial education, employees make up their own narratives of how much money their company is making. The story they often tell themselves is that the company is making much more money than it actually is.
It is rare for a company to return more than 20 percent to the bottom line, and uneducated employees think it is three to four times that. Most employees don’t know the difference between revenue, gross margin or profit, so they assume the owner is making bank.
Here are tried and true methods for gamifying a business:
Develop a strategic plan that unifies management.
Your strategic plan is your single point of truth. It sets the vision for the future and brings clarity to goal setting. As a strategic planning facilitator, I have learned that teams who build great strategy are the exception.
Build your strategy on market analytics and data. Then communicate your plan in a way that people buy in. Many of our clients summarize their strategic plans and share the highlights at all-hands meetings.
Develop a scorecard that ties back to the strategy.
Gamification requires some optimism about the human condition. I am a capitalist and I believe in competition. Proper use of metrics within a company can drive accountability and performance. The best companies I have worked with use visual management techniques such as signs or monitors that show real-time numbers.
When people understand what the numbers mean, they become personally invested in the success of the business. Use a scorecard to educate your team on how you make money, opening the door for them to make more as well. One of our clients hosts two sprints a day, reviewing the numbers in the morning and then again in the afternoon.
The game must be in public view.
Tie incentives back to the scorecard.
Show me a perfect incentive plan and I will show you some property I can sell you in Florida. The most useful incentives tie back to a corporate scorecard that predicts profit. It creates alignment back to a strategic plan and vision. An important compensation system attribute is that employees can see its status in real time (with or without financial numbers).
Let the games begin.
To entice your employees to play the game, embrace the concept of the emotional bank account- you must make more deposits than withdrawals. Liberally celebrate small wins in the form of public announcements, pizza parties, happy hours, etc. This allows you to have a bigger hammer when you need it. One of our clients runs contests for the best ideas, letting the employees pick the winners.
You can also use the game for good. Another client encourages teams to volunteer together once specific financial benchmarks are met. Gamification can be fun, rewarding for employees, and deliver big financial results.