How to Use Corporate Games of the Best Kind

Susan Hall

In his book “Enterprise Games,” author Michael Hugos advocates games as a means to make jobs so much less like, well, work. Companies such as IBM, and SAP have incorporated game elements. Marriott has used games to train staff and Siemens created “Plantville” to help enhance employee knowledge of its products and get students interested in manufacturing careers.

Hugos says corporate folk, however, get bogged down with the word “game.” Indeed, Tyler Altrup, senior social media engagement manager at EMC, has urged ditching the “G” word.

Says Hugos:

When I speak to people under 30, I don’t have to mince words. They understand about games. Also people in the military understand games. But in the corporate world, if I’m speaking to people over 30, I use “interactive simulation,” because that sounds appropriately serious for something like work.

… [Corporate management needs to ] tone down the indignance, listen to the notion as games as a way to cut through that studied indifference that’s so well portrayed in the TV show “The Office.” What would happen if we found ways to engage people enthusiastically – not just going along for the ride and rolling their eyes – if we showed people what’s going on, trained them in effective ways to respond and gave them a reason to care?

His initial example in the book involves the supply chain for Starbucks holiday cups. The objective: to keep each outlet fully stocked with the red holiday cups, but not left with excess inventory that would not be reused the next year. It became the Red Cup Game, in which all parties in the chain could log onto a common interface to see from manufacturing to the local coffee shop how the stock supplies stood in as close to real time as possible. He likens that to massively multiplayer online games.

He also writes about making a game of finding discrepancies in accounts receivable/accounts payable records among multiple offices, and the use of games in training, sales and other corporate business tasks.

I asked him whether companies would be willing to invest in user interfaces to make these things happen. Hugos said that’s not really necessary and not at the heart of games, which he defines as having a goal, rules and constant feedback that elicits voluntary participation — that engagement being a critical factor.

Learning becomes another engagement factor for games. The more you play, the more you learn and the better you get. He tells of a company that sells about 80,000 electrical products that wanted its sales staff to be more confident in trying to extend orders. But how could they possibly really understand all that inventory? By developing decision trees that helped sales staff probe intelligently into the customers’ planned projects, they could help them boost sales and learn the stock at the same time.

He likes to talk about the assembly line as the major work paradigm of the last century, but notes it required a few people to do all the thinking. As the new paradigm, he says, everyone has access to the relevant information — not all the company’s prized secrets, but the information they need to do their jobs well — and in effect can crowdsource solutions.

When you have that game dynamic in action, people can see what’s going on, they care about the outcome and will self-organize to get things done. … What if management gave you clear objectives and then let you and your teammates figure out how to do that? Then all the micromanaging stops and all the bullshit. I think that would unleash a level of responsiveness and creativity that we’re all talking about but not finding.

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