Turn your workplace policies into games

If you work for a com­pany of prac­tic­ally of any size and in any in­dustry, it is quite a cer­tainty that you will be ex­pec­ted to read and fol­low a con­sid­er­able num­ber of work­place policies (or man­age­ment de­crees). Many of those policies will have a very good reas­on to be in ex­ist­en­ce. It could be be­cause there are leg­al re­quire­ments that staff must meet in their job, or simply be­cause they re­flect good com­mon sense and best prac­tices.

However, with the rare ex­cep­tion, most of these policies are writ­ten in the most te­di­ous and un­friendly lan­guage pos­sible. The res­ult of­ten is that staff can re­main woe­fully un­aware of key as­pects of their role and un­pre­pared to take the cor­rect ac­tions when the time comes. Staff reg­u­larly see these policies as something neg­at­ive, re­strict­ive and, even, something that needs to be act­ively op­posed.

So, what do we of­ten do, as man­agers, when we real­ise that a policy is not work­ing? We re­write it mak­ing ex­actly the same mis­takes and we de­mand that all staff “read & un­der­stand” the policy. Surely, we are all aware the this is quite likely a point­less ex­er­cise doomed to fail­ure and wast­ing valu­able time (ours and our staff).

So, what can we do?

The Gami­fic­a­tion of the Work­place

Play­ing games is prob­ably the most nat­ur­al way for hu­mans to learn. This is how we learn as a child and it is one of the most ef­fect­ive ways for people to learn new skills and try out new things. This nat­ur­al tend­en­cy to ac­cept new con­cepts dur­ing play­-time, is why the most ef­fect­ive train­ing ses­sions are those that con­tain very in­ter­act­ive ele­ments and why we are asked to role play. And why “Gami­fic­a­tion” is such a trendy word in our So­cial Me­dia-driv­en so­ci­ety.

So, next time you need to in­tro­duce a new policy or cre­ate a new pro­ced­ure, think about how to keep that policy down to 1 single page and con­sider how you could cre­ate a “game” that helps en­force the policy or simply cre­ate the ne­ces­sary be­ha­vi­our­al habits that de­liv­er what the policy is set out to achieve.

Ex­ample 1: Safe Work­sta­tions

Many com­pan­ies have policies to en­sure the se­cure hand­ling of data as­sets. Some of the simple ac­tions to de­liv­er these may in­clude things such as keep­ing a tidy desk, en­for­cing a new pass­word at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals or mak­ing sure you lock your screen when you leave your PC. This last one, was one that was com­pletely ig­nored in a com­pany I worked with in the past. In an open plan work­space, the in­form­a­tion that could be gathered from un­locked PCs was a con­sid­er­able risk and no threat from man­age­ment man­aged to cre­ate that habit.

So, we turned the policy on its head and cre­ated a game.

Whenev­er a PC was found un­locked, staff were en­cour­aged to use the of­fend­er’s email ac­count to “an­nounce” to the rest of the de­part­ment the most em­bar­rass­ing “ad­mis­sion” or “secret” they could think of. No rules and no lim­its en­forced. (I would re­com­mend cre­at­ing a spe­cif­ic email list with all the rel­ev­ant staff in it for this). The best “an­nounce­ment” of the month was en­titled to a very at­tract­ive re­ward (something like a £50 Amazon vouch­er does won­ders). Dur­ing the first few days of the “game” only the bravest went for it, but with­in a week every­one was in it and act­ively seek­ing “re­venge” on who­ever had em­bar­rassed them just a few days be­fore. With­in 4 weeks the game was al­most dead. Why? Be­cause every­one was lock­ing their ma­chines to avoid fur­ther “ad­mis­sions”.

So, with a bit of ima­gin­a­tion and a simple game we man­aged to cre­ate the habit of lock­ing the screen when people left their desk and fi­nally met the policy goals.

Ex­ample 2: Qual­ity checks of soft­ware code

I have not im­ple­men­ted this one (yet), but it was brain­stormed with de­ve­lopers in a com­pany. However, I am con­fid­ent it could work quite well (with tweaks).

If you have ever been in­volved with a team of (proud) soft­ware de­ve­lopers, you will know that some of them will be ex­tremely pro­tect­ive of their code & neg­at­ive to­wards any ini­ti­at­ive that makes them spend time check­ing the qual­ity of the code they have writ­ten. Some­times, this is due to a lack of con­fid­en­ce (even fear of fail­ure) on their part or quite the op­pos­ite (“I am an uber-de­ve­loper and my code is per­fect” any­one?). Whichever way, more and more teams are ad­opt­ing pair pro­gram­ming as a means to de­liv­er soft­ware qual­ity. I am very fond of pair pro­gram­ming, but many com­pan­ies, man­agers and in­di­vidu­al act­ively dis­cour­age this. So, while you work be­hind the scenes to get pair pro­gram­ming go­ing, we have to turn to tra­di­tion­al meth­ods such as code re­views and, let’s be frank, there is little fun in do­ing those.

So, in this case we dis­cuss cre­at­ing a weekly code-busters ses­sion where the team would sit around a pro­ject­or en­joy­ing a few snack and soft drinks while dis­cuss­ing the strong points and weak­nesses of the code un­der re­view. People vo­lun­teer­ing to get their code re­viewed would gain points. The more ro­bust the code was, the more point they would ac­crue. Sim­il­arly, those find­ing minor is­sues would ac­crue points, while a ma­jor dis­cov­ery would hoard a sig­ni­fic­ant treas­ure. At reg­u­lar in­ter­vals , those com­mand­ing more points would get sig­ni­fic­ant re­wards. Of course, this was nev­er put in prac­tice, so I would ex­pect to need to tweak the setup dur­ing the early days of the pro­cess, but it was rather in­ter­est­ing to see the com­pet­it­ive side in some of the de­velopers in the team com­ing through just as we were dis­cuss­ing the idea.

Ah! And re­mem­ber to in­tro­duce bo­nus points for those “hid­den” suc­cesses that happened while work­ing as a pair.

Rules to cre­ate ef­fect­ive games

  • Rule 1: Make it fun. If it is not fun people won’t both­er.
  • Rule 2: Bring out the com­pet­it­ive an­im­al in us.Make it a chal­lenge. Cre­ate pos­it­ive feed­back loops that en­cour­age the game to sus­tain it­self.
  • Rule 3: Have a re­ward. Shop­ping vouch­ers work. Make them pub­lic and give them out at a team or de­part­ment­al meet­ing.
  • Rule 4: In­volve your staff. Com­ing up with the game or re­fin­ing it is a lot of fun in it­self. Get the team in­volved in the pro­cess and you will see the ex­tra buy-in and, even, how mor­ale levels and per­form­ance are in­creased else­where.
  • Rule 5: Don’t be afraid to try new things. If a game is not work­ing, see if you can tweak it to im­prove it. If you can’t then try to learn why and simply drop it.
  • Rule 6: No ivory towers. Policies are for every­one, so lead from the front. If you cre­ate a game, make sure man­age­ment are fully im­merse. If you can’t be bothered, your staff will no­tice it and they will lose in­terest them­selves.

That’s about it.

Give it a go and share your ex­per­i­en­ces. What works? What doesn’t? Also, if you don’t agree with this, feel free to let me know. I’d be happy to hear and learn from you.

Happy gam­ing!


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