Friday, July 06, 2007

Keeping the Excitement in Strategic Planning

The other day I was watching my son play a game on the internet. It's a tedious game, with lots of repetitive action, and I was puzzled by how much he likes this game. You see, my son gets bored pretty easily. Getting him to do his homework can be a real challenge. But there he was, clearly enjoying spending an hour on a task that looked suspiciously like work to me. Why?

People who have researched this kind of behavior point out that the key to my son's enjoyment of the game were the "levels" he was achieving. You see, playing the game properly (which isn't that hard) leads to gaining a "level". This game started out as a pretty easy one - my ten-year-old was able to gain ten levels in his first hour of play. After a while, though, it got harder...and he still kept going. He's proud of his levels. He talks about them with his friends. And it turns out they all play this game - a lot.

What can we learn from this behavior? I see three key points for keeping excitement going for anything in your business:

1. Measure, measure, measure. Everyone wants to keep score, and the things we measure help create a sense of accomplishment.

2. Give feedback. While some people are motivated by team scores, most individual effort seeks a personal score. The more immediate the feedback, the stronger the motivation. If it takes a quarter to get feedback, you won't get as much bang for your buck.

3. Allow comparison. People love to measure themselves against each other. It's the equivalent of little boys talking about what level they are in a game. Think about how to give your people useful feedback about their contributions to your efforts that make sense when compared with others.

Are there pitfalls in this approach? Absolutely. You can measure the wrong thing. Sometimes feelings will get hurt. And some measurements will make key people think they aren't contributing much - when, in fact, they are critical to your success. But a little thought can lead to great excitement about the things that really matter to you and your company.

If progress on your strategic planning seems to be slowing down, you may want to consider how to get your team to treat the process as more of a game. While some teams just don't have the spirit, a good team will always seek to win when they know there is a score.

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