The Engagement Power of a Winnable Game

Published April 17, 2017

Sometimes leaders feel like they need to make a choice between getting great results and boosting team engagement. 

Have you ever felt torn between focusing on results or focusing on people? Even if intellectually we know we shouldn’t have to choose, this conflict remains alive and well. I know it felt like that for me.

But after several years of working with The 4 Disciplines of Execution, we had what I believe to be our most important insight. And it blew apart the false dichotomy of results vs. people. 

Are you ready for it?  Here we go…

The core principles necessary for executing on results are the very same principles necessary for creating high levels of employee engagement.

We started to notice that whenever a team got the execution formula right, we would see a jump in that team’s level of engagement!

I am still amused that it took us several years before we realized this was happening. It was a sort of “happy accident.” We weren’t trying to effect engagement levels at all. We were just going for the results.

So, what was happening?

Without realizing it, when the 4 Disciplines of Execution were fully implemented by a team, it would always create a “winnable-game.” They were winning! They were achieving! A winnable game gives people a clear opportunity to feel achievement and sense of progress. Nothing drives engagement more than that.

So we dug a little deeper. And we found out, there’s actually research behind this!

In the 1960s, Frederick Herzburg conducted a series of ground-breaking studies on what motivates people. He wrote, “People are most satisfied with their jobs (and therefore most motivated) when those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement.”

In 2011, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer referenced these same studies in their Harvard Business Review article, The Power of Small Wins. They said, “The power of progress is fundamental to human nature, but few managers understand it or know how to leverage progress to boost motivation.”

So how do you create a winnable Game? We would tell you that you need four things. Yup, you guessed it, those same 4 Disciplines of Execution. If you need a little refresher on the 4DX process, check out this video.

To get started in your workplace, ask yourself four key questions (one for each discipline).

Question 1: Have we thrown the game-on switch? Almost everyone can relate to a time when they were part of a team that has gone “Game-On.” This starts by creating (with your team) a single target around a critical priority that is in jeopardy of being achieved. This target should have a starting line, a finish-line and a deadline.

Question 2: Is the game winnable? In other words can the team members mentally connect the dots to goal achievement? This is why we create lead measures. These metrics predict goal achievement and can be directly influenced by the team.

Question 3: Are we keeping score? This is the most immediate (and telling) test of whether the team is engaged. It’s not a question of degree. Team members either are or they are not keeping score. This is where a simple “players scoreboard” can make all the difference.

Question 4: Is it a high-stakes game? It’s not enough to win. The game has to matter. And it’s usually not about how the game is introduced, but rather how the game is played. That communicates to the team how high the stakes are.

The 5-minute video below tells the story of when we first started to recognize this phenomenon. And it’s a pretty good story.

The great news is this: You don’t have to choose between getting great results and boosting team engagement.

It turns out, that’s a false dichotomy. The truth actually is a win-win!

When you create a winnable game, you increase team engagement at the very same time.

About the Author(s)
Chris McChesney

Chris McChesney

Executive; Wall Street Journal #1 National Best-selling Author

Franklin Covey

Chris McChesney is a Wall Street Journal #1 national bestselling author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution and is the Global Practice Leader of Execution for Franklin Covey. Known for his high-energy and engaging presentations, McChesney has consulted with many of the world’s top brands and leverages this practical experience to help leaders from the boardroom to the front lines of an organization get better at executing the ideas that matter most.

Years at GLS 2016