Get in the Game

McKenna: Gaming mechanics can help instill sense of achievement in employees.

By
Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

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At the her breakout session at the summit, Linda McKenna of Employee Performance Strategies Inc. asked the room of assembled retailers a series of simple questions:

  • What do you want your customer service reps (CSRs) to do?
  • What do you want your managers to do?
  • What do you want your supervisors to do?

Several shouted out answers: Greet more often! Sell! Smile! Engage the customers! Build relationships!

McKenna then asked what the retailers thought their managers would say when asked the same question. There was silence, and then someone shouted, “Show up!”

“Do you think we have a problem?”she said. “A disconnect? You get what you expect. And we’re plagued in this industry by different expectations.”

One remedy for that, McKenna said, was to step back and understand what motivates employees: “Great leaders manage the feelings in their people’s heads. Because they know that the way someone feels determines their behaviors on the job

.… Do you think if your people are happy it leads to better productivity and output? Gallup shows that 70% of the workforce is not engaged. They’re just showing up.”

How should we motivate? By making work a game, or engaging the employees in “gamification,” she said. The word “winning,”or “reward,” is inherent in gamification—but is that really the best way to motivate your workforce?

McKenna said no. “The dangerous thing is rewarding people for what’s in their job description,” she said. “The minute we start to bribe them up, we are telling them that they don’t have to do it. They only have to do it when we bribe them.

“Rewarding is for a lack of leadership, “she continued. “We just want to quickly reward them and bribe them instead of inspiring them. Rewards can be very dangerous. Are you trying to light the fire under them or light the fire within them?”

McKenna concluded that when store managers sit in a room and define a CSR’s position, it begins to sound a bit janitorial. There’s a lot of cleaning involved: cleaning the bathroom, wiping the pumps, mopping the floor, tidying up the coffee barbet. It sends a subconscious message to the people you hire, she said. You don’t want janitors; you want “brand ambassadors.”One way you do this is by pitching your main gain in the interview process: “Our No. 1 priority is to build relationships with the customer.”

A Pat on the Back

The part of gamification that actually works is in giving employees a sense of achievement, stirring up feelings such as a sense of status, reward and competition.“Study after study has shown that sense of achievement is the greatest motivator, “she said.

It’s scientific, after all. Dopamine, neurotransmitter released in the brain, can be triggered by a sense of achievement—a good ol’ pat on the back. You don’t have to pay anything for your employees to get that dopamine drip to their brain. “How do you do that? Through achievement and recognition, “McKenna said.

“Every seven days, give them a hit of recognition,” she continued. If they do something well, you pat them on the back. When you pat them on the back, it has to be specific; don’t just tell them they did a good job overall.

Just like any drug, dopamine makes you crave it. And most employees will do whatever they can to make it happen it again. “When it gets recognized, the act gets repeated,” she said.

And as with any game, there are certain mechanics for proper play. There should be points, levels or badges.

“[Badges] are one of my favorites. It’s been part of our society for a long, longtime,” McKenna said. “I’m not suggesting that we give our CSRs little sashes.” But she does suggest making the reward more ceremonial. Create a point system, and perhaps use leader boards or some kind of other visual score card. It’s all a matter of style, she said.

She also suggests that retailers get some of their managers in a room and figure out what they could provide employees in the retail setting. For example, could you create some levels inside the store that they’d have to master in order to move to the next level?

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