Want to Attract the Best Employees? Make Work Addictive Like a Game

joystickWith the some signs of the recession coming to an end, many CEOs may be beginning to worry about how to retain the top talent they have attracted. The group of talent they are most worried about is the uber-talented, but seemingly under-engaged and less loyal, "next generation."

One CEO and her HR leader even went on to launch a huge diatribe about how addicting gaming has become and how it is threatening future productivity and motivation of young gamers. They showed me a recent study that outlined the addictive qualities of gaming ("The Benefits of Video Games: Why We're Addicted to Gaming"). I was struck by how this exemplified one more example of how "arguing with reality" blinds us to the obvious lesson at hand. I recommended to them that they take a look at the addictive nature of gaming and follow instructions.

Reality-Based Leaders know that the solution to all problems is to first stop arguing with reality and conserve the energy of that drama to find ways instead to utilize the lesson and reframe one's current approach to the dilemma. So rather than berating the natural affinity gaming possesses for some of our most talented leaders need to step up and compete differently by recreating their workplaces to offer the same attractions as gaming.

After all, a problem can rarely be solved by the same mindset that created it. What if we stop trying to change the obvious motivators of the next generation and begin instead to create a workplace that replicates the most attractive qualities of gaming? Wouldn't retention concerns become a thing of the past?

The article cited the following reasons that games can be addicting and I offer ways in which to recreate the workplace accordingly:

We're addicted to video games because they're fun, competitive, satisfying, and even thrilling.

There is currently a great deal of talk about how to make work more fun, except that those defining "fun" and those hoping to find it are two different groups. If you want to have more fun in the workplace, make sure it is self-defined.

Return competitiveness to the workplace. Give real feedback and clear rankings of who is succeeding and who isn't. Stop shielding employees from the information of how they rank and what they need to do to improve. Respecting diversity is not tolerating diverse amounts of results, it is encouraging diverse paths to producing top results!

Make work satisfying by making it worthwhile and meaningful. Stop requiring people to do work that no longer makes sense or delivers little return on the massive investment in time and resources. Focus on the deliverables and be flexible with the processes. Ditch the drama--the main dissatisfier of the next generation. Make work thrilling by putting your brightest employees on bold, outrageous projects. Get rid of the many "incremental" change approaches and strategies and jump into transformational initiatives.

Video game researchers discovered that games that provide a sense of freedom and connection to other people are more fun, which is why we get addicted to gaming.

In a nutshell, stop over-managing and under-leading! Set high expectations, clearly outline the deliverables and time frames and get out of the way of your teams. Let people connect in their own way, through social media, virtual meetings and online immersive environments for team and project work. As long as deliverables are being met, give people the freedom to work from home, to work flexible hours, and to work in whatever dress they want within reason. Focus on their development and personable accountability that continue to earn talent their ongoing freedom. We impose strict rules and procedures to save us from having to lead and have tough conversations, not to support productivity. So get off the couch in your leadership style rather than insisting that others get off the couch to come to work.

Video games that are merely "fun" aren't as addictive. Many like gaming because of the sense of achievement, positive experiences, and connections to the real world.

Honest feedback is crucial to letting others know when they have actually achieved results and when they haven't. Having high expectations set for them and being held to those expectations is actually motivating. Allow people to work on creating measurable results that clearly link to the organizational plans. Reward people not for the effort they give but for the value they add. Move away from calculating hours and instead measure true impact to the bottom line and compensate accordingly! Let people connect to the real world often by taking frequent breaks in meetings--every 15 minutes--for people to check their iPhone and BlackBerry devices to get it off their minds. And quickly get rid of any team member that is a downer on the experience of others.

We're addicted to gaming because of the combination of reality and fantasy.

Give the youngest and most talented among us avenues to dream and scheme and even improve together. Whether it's innovation sessions, book clubs, brainstorming sessions, or social time together, work to find ways to facilitate brain dump sessions that give time for talent to appropriately question everything about the company and the industry and then send them back to create daily results.

Another benefit of video games is that they allow us to release interpersonal tensions in harmless ways.

Lighten up! Allow personal expression and humor in the workplace. Budget dollars into projects for fun and impromptu care and feeding of the masses. Allow music and provide space for movement such as basketball courts and bowling lanes for team use.

But most importantly, to make all of these radical concepts work, you must provide the next generation with competent, creative, flexible leaders who focus on results while allowing total flexibility in styles. Leaders that are without egos, low on judgment of others and very clear that there is truly little that we "know for sure" about what will work in the future.

So, to be successful in the next "new normal," you may want to stop complaining about what the next generation is attracted to and use all those great gaming techniques to create an irresistible workplace.

Remember, Cy rocks and you rock.

Cy's new book, Reality-Based Leadership, will be available in fall 2010 and is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com . For more information on Cy Wakeman, visit www.cywakeman.com.

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1 Comments

  • Nancy Laine

    Cy, I got so excited reading this. I agree with you 100% and this is a brilliant post!

    Years ago, as a marketing consultant to a small business, I was literally PAID to read the book "The Game of Work" by Charles A. Coonradt and to write a book review for my client. I absolutely loved this book and it underlines your message brilliantly.

    The Game of Work examines the phenomenon that people often work harder at sports and recreational endeavors than they do at work. The reason being that the goals are more clearly defined, the scorekeeping is better, the feedback is more frequent, there is a higher degree of choice and the rules don’t change in the middle of the game.

    Cy, every company needs to hear you speak about this! You are on to something big. But then, you ALWAYS are -- keep up the good work!