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BlogGames at Work Interfere with Key Business Process

Games at Work Interfere with Key Business Process

by Mauricio Goldstein and Philip Read

In this first blog we want to describe how specific games can interfere with business processes: Strategic Planning, Decision Making, Budgeting, Performance Management, Leading people and Driving change.

Strategic Planning:
One critical component of strategic planning is an objective assessment of the marketplace and the capabilities of the firm. Games have the potential to distort both.
No Bad News: Individuals present overly rosy communiqués; information flow from the external or internal world is optimistic or even falsified. This may result in over optimistic investment strategies for example.
Marginalize: Valuable information held by individuals who have been side-lined or blocked does not reach those who need to hear it.
The Boss Said: Information on the marketplace can be suppressed because of one individuals interpretation of what the CEO will think of this information.

Decision Making:
Games can subvert decision-making by creating environments that are not level playing fields, and therefore increasing subjectivity.
Old War Hero: the person who has “seen it all” blocks fresh ideas because of certainty about their failure. Over time this reduces the groups ability to propose new decisions.
Great Idea: favoritism of one player gives unjustified momentum to their proposals or inputs to decision making.
Token Involvement: the CEO or other senior leader has already made their mind up but pretends to seek involvement or input without really wanting it or listening to it.

Budgeting is one critical way organizations keep score, and therefore the budgeting process is often filled with game playing:
Sandbagging: over time the cumulative effect of this game is stagnant growth for a company, with unambitious target setting.
Channel Stuffing: sales are created to reach budget by loading the distribution channels towards the end of the fiscal year, distorting the real demand picture.

Performance Management:
The ability to measure and reward performance is distorted through different leadership and interpersonal games.
Blame: individuals blame other departments (behind their back) to key stakeholders which can lead to changes in for example bonus payouts.
Management Only by Objectives: managers do not take into account any other factors than just the numbers, in the pretense that this is more objective, but ignoring in fact long term value destruction through destruction of key relationships, or ignoring major windfalls and or unforeseeable disasters.

Leading People:
Leaders need to be able to hire, deploy, motivate, and move people within the organization. Leaders can get caught up in a number of games which interfere with this. Gotcha, Copy, Blame, Marginalize, Great Idea, No Decision, Pecking Order, and Nepotism are all games that destroy the working climate of a group through destruction of the sense of fair play; they may also cause employee turnover.

Driving Change:
Organizations need to be able to respond to changing external environments by changing their internal environments over time. Games can interfere with this through the creation of inertia.
Gray Zone: deliberate ambiguity about the desired change can cause territorial disputes to intensify and these can then derail the change.
Let’s Not Rock The Boat: This game can lead to a conservatism that can cause later on back tracking in the service of protection of the status quo.
No Decision: Critical decisions about new roles, new responsibilities, new leadership appointments, can severely impact the ability of organizations to change.

Think about the performance of your unit or organization in one of the key business areas described above, and ask yourself if there are games likes the examples above that are impeding progress, or derailing management. What is the value destruction caused by these games, and what the benefits might be if these games were more under control?

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Games of the Month

Token Involvement

To play Token Involvement, a manager conducts opinion surveys, focus group, or involvement meetings to communicate that "your opinion matters", but these activities are done only to make people feel involved rather than actually to involve them. The real intention is just to get rid of the complaints and for managers to show their management that they´re doing the "right" thing-involving their people in the decision-making process. The same game is played when leaders involve their direct reports supercially, soliciting their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on thei own view. Cynicism becomes employees´ultimate response to this game, and they lose respect for management. Perhaps evens worse, when management really needs employees to be committed and contribuing to a major project, they have great difficulty securing this involvement.


Praise for Games at Work

jacopoA terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.

Jacopo Bracco Executive Vice President DIRECTV Latin America

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