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Gamification, the finer art: fostering creativity and employee engagement

Hari Kumar (Managing Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, New York, NY, USA)
Satish Raghavendran (Vice President, Deloitte Consulting India Private Ltd, Hyderabad, India)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 16 November 2015

Abstract

Purpose

Fostering employee engagement in large organizations is a formidable problem that gets even more challenging in a sluggish economy, when the standard lever of monetary incentives are not a viable option for boosting employee engagement and motivation. As the organization gets larger, building emotional connectedness or bonding becomes challenging as teams expand to operate in different time zones. The overwhelming pace of work in the modern workplace can also hamper bonding. Yet emotional connectedness, when present, serves as a catalyst in driving superior performance and employee loyalty. The culture of many large organizations discourages innovation and out-of-the-box thinking because their institutional structures encourage risk aversion. Even though large organizations are best positioned to absorb the ups and downs of intelligent risk-taking, their talent processes enforce conformity, legitimize mediocrity and penalize failed attempts at innovative thinking. Performance appraisals tend to promote employees who take the path of least resistance. Managers, of course, help perpetuate this risk-averse cycle of mediocrity. Either they have been conditioned to think only in a linear fashion or organizational systems perpetuate managerial insecurity at all levels. This insecurity manifests in several ways: managers may take credit for the work performed by a subordinate; shoot down ideas a subordinate may have; or deflect opportunities that a subordinate may get. Survival in such an environment is based on being average and staying within the system. As a result, the spirit of entrepreneurship is lost. The authors designed a creative and playful contest called “Maverick” to tackle employee engagement in large organizations. The contest deeper goals include: shifting culture and behavior, talent discovery, brand building and meaningful engagement. The impact of the program on a broader organizational culture parameters were assessed through a survey. The survey results validate the impact of the program.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper develops a conceptual approach that underlies the design of the Maverick program. Surveys were deployed to determine the perceived impact of the program on the broader culture.

Findings

The secret ingredient in employee engagement is gaining the “emotional share of wallet” of employees to drive meaningful, enduring organizational change. Emotional wallet share is the sweet spot that lies at the intersection of employees’ skill sets, their aspirations and the value they generate for the organization. Proactively identifying the sweet spot empowers an organization to capture employees’ emotional wallet share to identify enablers and catalysts that can unlock motivation and performance. The survey results indicate that the Maverick contest was perceived to have a positive impact on all the identified attributes. This is a testament to the program’s success as a pivotal driver of a positive organizational culture. Further, it validates that the Maverick contest identifies several levers that leaders can use to positively influence organizational culture.

Research limitations/implications

The organizations can adapt the proposed conceptual framework in designing meaningful programs to tackle employee engagement and motivation.

Practical implications

The paper provides a meaningful framework to tackle employee engagement in large organizations. The Maverick approach is of interest to leaders of large organizations that are struggling to increase employee engagement with limited resources and that wish to foster creativity to drive innovation. The program offers a compelling way for talented professionals to meaningfully contribute to their organization that is agnostic to their position in the hierarchy. It gives employees the freedom to strive without being paralyzed by fear of failure; the chance to build their personal brand and pride; and a safe environment in which they can question received wisdom and attempt an unconventional approach to problem-solving. It creates a playful environment to bust stress, foster innovation and encourage an entrepreneurial mindset.

Originality/value

This paper offers a superior alternative to the standard gamification solutions that are routinely applied to business situations. Gamification mechanics work effectively in roles that are transactional, instead of roles that demand autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose. Maverick program is designed while being mindful of the intrinsic motivation of the professionals.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Dr Prasad Kantamneni for his assistance on the survey design and analysis.

Citation

Kumar, H. and Raghavendran, S. (2015), "Gamification, the finer art: fostering creativity and employee engagement", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 36 No. 6, pp. 3-12. https://doi.org/10.1108/JBS-10-2014-0119

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited