Creating a Turbo-Charged Work Force

Instilling a Sense of 'Winning'

2. A clear set of rules: Another factor that makes play activities like bowling more satisfying than work: The basic objective--and the rules by which this objective can and cannot be achieved--are clearly understood by all the players. Everyone's trying to accomplish exactly the same thing, in exactly the same way.

In most business settings, if there's a primary objective at all, it can usually be boiled down to "make more money." There's no single clear approach, however, for achieving this objective. Priorities shift and change, and are often in conflict with each other. In this game, the rules are not only unclear, they keep changing. And in this game, a "win" is exciting news for management--but it doesn't mean much for the employees who made it happen. The boss can talk about improved "job security," but to the workers that just sounds like "plenty more frustrating and unfulfilling workdays comin' your way."

The kinds of high-energy businesses I profile in my book are all aligned toward a single clear objective: delighting every customer every time. The workers know in advance they won't be able to achieve this perfect score, much as bowlers and golfers know ahead of time their own scores will not be perfect. But it is the pursuit of a perfect score that makes the game challenging and fun. In these businesses, everyone understands the rules: You must do nothing to harm the organization financially (or in any other way) while you strive to deliver a delightful customer experience. And in these businesses, a "win" is exciting for the employees themselves, because it translates into positive customer feedback, the most meaningful and lasting employee motivator of them all. (A win is exciting for management, too, of course, since higher levels of customer satisfaction generate repeat business, positive word of mouth and a powerful competitive advantage overall.)

3. A scoring mechanism for immediate feedback: All play activities allow participants to track how well they and the other players are doing at all times. Would these activities be as enjoyable if this form of immediate feedback were removed? How much fun would bowling or golf be, for example, if the players could not see the pins or the cup, and had their scores mailed to them at home weeks after the game?

In many business settings, workers receive positive feedback about their work only during formal "performance review" meetings. From a motivational point of view, this is usually too little, too late.

Employees in places focused on customer delight receive immediate feedback every day in the form of appreciative comments from happy customers, generous tips and the cheerful return of "regulars." Their work earns these employees a succession of "high scores" that keep them motivated.

4. The satisfaction of winning: Our bowling-alley observer watching the game for the first time may be surprised to see the reaction each time a player succeeds in knocking all the pins down at once. The spontaneous hoots and leaps of triumph suggest bowlers find this accomplishment extremely satisfying.

Understanding what this kind of satisfaction feels like is key to understanding employee motivation in the workplace. Knocking pins down over and over again may seem a pointless exercise--until it's turned into a challenging competitive activity with clear rules and a means of immediately tracking performance. With these elements in place, the activity suddenly becomes fun and satisfying.

Energized businesses such as our busy donut shop challenge workers to attempt something difficult--keep a steady high-volume flow of customers happy and coming back. There are clear rules, and the employees receive continuous immediate feedback from the customers themselves. And when they "score" (i.e., when the feedback makes it clear they're delivering a delightful experience and attracting business away from competitors), their satisfaction can be as great as that experienced by players in any structured game.

For managers in less-enthusiastic business settings, the question should not be, "How do I change my workers so they'll be more motivated on the job?" Instead, the question should become, "How do I change the job to make it more motivational for my workers?"

Virtually all businesses have a particular cultural element in common--one that does more damage to employee motivation than any other. Eliminating this one biggest motivation-killer can transform any workplace into a much more motivational setting for all employees, as I'll uncover in part two of this series.

Author and consultant Paul Levesque has spent many years interviewing management and staff in all kinds of high-performance businesses all over the world. In the first of a three-part series based on his new bookMotivation, Levesque summarizes the key elements such businesses use to turn work into an energizing play-like activity for their employees.

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