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Leadership secret: Gamify the workplace to kick big goals!

By: Dennis Keay

Want your people to kick big goals at work? If so, then gamify the workplace!

I often hear business leaders bemoan the fact that some of their people come to work with a poor attitude and work ethic.

It’s easy to blame the workers, and yes, there are some that should never have been hired in the first place…but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Most people don’t come to work to do a bad job. Human nature though, means that they do what they perceive is best for them. It’s the old ‘WIIFM’ – ‘What’s in it for me?’ Examples may be:

  • taking it easy at work, enjoying a cushy work life;
  • working hard to get personal recognition;
  • working steadily to avoid making mistakes and receiving criticism;
  • working steadily to ensure job security;
  • getting personal satisfaction from doing a quality job;
  • gaining satisfaction from learning new things and developing professionally;
  • meeting the challenge of solving problems that others can’t solve.

There are many, many more examples.

When a business leader blames the workers for poor performance, I ask what they’re doing about it and what they’re doing to motivate their workers. A fairly common and predictable response is:

They’re getting paid. Shouldn’t that be motivation enough?

This response tells me something about the leader and his or her thinking, and the gaps in their understanding of motivational psychology.

Here at two contrasting approaches:

  • Leigh Matthews, a legendary Australian Football League player who became Coach of Hawthorn Football Club said words to the effect:

The players get paid to turn up. It’s my job motivate them…

  • Elon Musk after becoming CEO of Twitter gave an ultimatum to his employees:

Work hardcore or leave!

Both have high expectations of their people…but their approach to motivating them are vastly different. One looks to get results through inspiring and leading his team; the other has a totally different management style (with several resignations by top performers in senior positions at Twitter).

One of the problems with creating such an atmosphere is that top performers may lose job satisfaction and leave, even if they don’t have anywhere else to go…so it’s not money that’s motivating them to stay. A case in point is Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former Head of Trust and Safety who resigned within 2 weeks of Musk becoming CEO and siting Musk’s management style as the reason.

If you think about it, those who are NOT top performers are the ones who are less confident in getting a job elsewhere, and they’re the ones more likely to stay! I digress…

When you boil it down, there are fundamentally two key motivators for people to perform: Fear and Pride!  The examples above are evidence of this. Money may be an enticement, but typically has limited effect as a motivator for peak performance.  Ask yourself, does a top basketball player work twice as hard for $20M as they would for $10M?  Does a rich philanthropic person (e.g. Bill Gates) support charities and special causes to make more money…or do they do it for some other reason?

Kicking Big Goals – Gamifying Your Business

Look at how ecstatic players are when they’re part of a victorious World Cup Football team…and how devastated they are when they’re part of a losing team. Do you think they’re thinking about the money at the instant that they win or lose? Or do you think it’s more about pride and glory, or defeat, shame, loss and grief? Do you think a Goal Keeper who let the winning goal sneak past him would feel he’d let his team-mates and even his country down by not making the save?

How would it be if your employees felt they were part of an elite team with ambitious goals to kick? How supportive of each other would they be if they knew they had to depend on each other to achieve it? How elated would they feel in achieving it?  How bonded would they feel in celebrating their win? And of course…what would be the reward for winning?  Glory alone…which may be sufficient if they’re competing against another team…or perhaps some other tangible reward?


The team needs some motivation in the first place…they’ll soon lose motivation if they think they’re simply being used as pawns to help the employer win at the expense of the workers good will and effort. It has to be an honest Win-Win for everyone…the employer and the employees. It has to be fair! There has to be some recognition and reward for effort, not just outcome!

I find that the best rewards are NOT monetary rewards. Monetary rewards are soon forgotten and don’t carry the emotion. How often do you hear highly paid athletes or business leaders boasting that their best achievement was the pay-packet?  That’s not the thing they take most pride in.

In my personal career, one of my proudest achievements was putting a great team of various trades people and engineers together and helping them complete some outstanding projects.

So, yes, people get paid to turn up to work, and if that’s all you want them to do, then fine. BUT, if you want the best results for the business, then you need to create the environment for your employees to perform at their best…and that’s about creating a high performance TEAM.

There’s quite a lot to this, and it includes, but is not limited to:

  • Choosing the right goals
  • Ensuring the team has the right mix of skills
  • Choosing the right metrics
  • Clarifying the rules of the game and how to win
  • Ensuring appropriate team-based rewards
  • Adopting an appropriate leadership style and creating the right environment for the team to perform at its best
  • Make it FUN!

If you’d like to hear more about our approach to gamifying the workplace, reach out to us at .

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