How to Give Videogame-Quality Feedback


3016-10-23There’s a good reason millennials spend so much time playing computer games. These programs are designed to deliver fast, consistent, and objective feedback after every action a player takes, helping them to make rapid improvements. When they also offer carefully crafted levels of achievement, it’s hard not to become addicted. Given their success, what you can you as a manager learn from them in engaging your staff?

In my last column (October 9th, 2016), we saw that companies crowd out employees’ intrinsic motivation when they rely on carrots and sticks. While managers think that these contrivances work, they are weak and unsustainable in the long term. The truth is, most companies don’t want fickle employees who must be “incentivized” at every turn. Instead, they want self-starters. Unfortunately, most do little to encourage them along this path.

My Story

As a young AT&T consultant I found myself with a new boss after a reorganization. Tanya was a smart, likable professional who I had admired from afar. However, she didn’t know that I had quietly made a big decision.

A few months prior, my colleagues and I learned that the difference in raises between the best and worst performers worked out to
less than a dollar per day.

We were stunned. Until then, performance review was held as an important indicator of success. Individual efforts to improve one’s rankings involved acting to be noticed by the “right” people. Now, the gig was up. As I explained to Tanya in our first meeting, I no longer cared about the results of the rating process. I would only focus on doing a great job that met the needs of my clients.

She nodded politely, but when we met a few months later I had to remind her of my decision. As we sat down in a New Jersey cafeteria for my annual performance review she appeared nervous. To put her at ease, I brought up our prior conversation.

“Remember, it doesn’t matter to me. There’s no monetary reason to care and only a few of your peers who judge performance know what I do. So, if you can offer me your advice on how to do a better job, that would be the part I really care about.”

The silence between us was deafening. She was shocked. Caught off-guard, she offered little more than some vague advice. The conversation was over in a matter of minutes.

Now, looking back, that moment was pivotal. It was my first opportunity to become a full “self-starter.” I felt the kind of inner motivation companies like to see.

However, I also placed myself well outside Tanya’s control. As a manager, how do influence employees when they aren’t afraid? Is there something you can borrow from videogame design principles?

1. Provide obvious feedback.
Videogames are designed to give players crystal-clear, unambiguous¬† feedback on their actions. It’s the only way to induce players to change their behavior and observe the result. By contrast, most corporate feedback is vague and based on flaky opinions. They have more akin to politics than reality. As a result, employees who are self-motivated¬† learn how to separate signal from noise, fact from fiction,¬† like I did.

As a manager, the onus is on you to create feedback mechanisms which are impartial. Also, you need to craft measurements which help an employee see and learn to manage the drivers of top performance. Most employees crave this information and without it, they get bored or disillusioned. Work hard to meet the new, highly engaging standard.

2. Set up frequent feedback.
Reluctantly giving employees an annual review just won’t cut it. The recency effect – the tendency for a review to focus on the last few months of the year – undermines the effort. It’s far better to set up regular, frequent reviews so that not a single employee is left wondering how they are doing. Leaving an employee guessing is a sure sign of trouble.

Remember, videogames provide feedback every few seconds. That’s what you are competing against.

3. Make the feedback timely.
Studies show that the best time to give feedback is near to the moments of success or failure. If you pay close attention, you will be able to detect these moments and set up occasions to provide feedback. The quicker, the better.

I imagine that these principles are not new to you. However, today you must appreciate that your staff craves the high quality feedback it gets from Pokemon Go, Angry Birds and other games. When it’s not provided, they probably suffer without complaint, simply waiting for the weekend. That’s when they can become engaged.

Don’t allow this to happen. Your company expects you to bring out the best of your employees during the 9-5 weekday. Not after. Overhaul your feedback methods and get them in line with today’s high standards.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to

Special Report – The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad


What are the challenges faced by the Jamaican professional who moves to work in Trinidad?

While there are lot of rumours and stories, my personal experience made me wonder if I was alone in my observations, or whether others were also having the same experience.

After a conversation with Dale, my colleague (and wife) we decided to mirror a prior effort completed in 2006. “trini exec 1The Trinidadian Executive in Jamaica” was a unique study intended to capture the experience of C-level managers who had transferred to work in Jamaica. It’s available as a free download here.

The “Jamaican Professional in Trinidad” is not a perfect mirror image, but together, you may find that they provide a unique, fascinating look at what it’s like for professionals from one culture to work in another, and vice versa.

To download a copy of “The Jamaican Professional in Trinidad – A Practical Guide”, just provide us with your name and email address below.

How to Stop Demotivating the Highly Motivated Person


2106-10-09Why is it that so many employees reach their one-year anniversary on the job, only to be less motivated than when they joined? Does it represent an inevitable decay, a psychological disaster that cannot be overcome? Or is it a result of outdated mental models?

An old man in rural Jamaica lived in a house with a zinc roof. One day, schoolchildren passing by on foot decided to stone his roof, delighted at the loud sound it made. He ran out, alarmed, and chased them away angrily. The following day, they returned with a few more friends and repeated the act. Once again, he ran them off. On the next day, just before they could escape, he approached them calmly. This time, he offered them $100 each to come back the next day and do it again. They looked at each other, agreed that he must be crazy, and arrived the next day to comply.

As promised, he paid them off, and asked them to return the next day for $50. They did, and he repeated the offer, this time promising $25. As they receied their third installment, he apologized profusely. Money was running out. Now, he could only promise to pay a mere $1 the next day, and even less in the future. “No way! Who do you think we are?” they shouted and never returned.

As you consider this tale you may wonder: “As a manager, how do I escape this trap?” Perhaps you have given up trying to motivate employees ranging all the way from your household gardener to a fellow company executive. “It’s all a matter of luck” you argue.

Fortunately, recent research explains why a different mental model for motivation might help.

1. Understand Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
At first, the schoolchildren from our story were internally motivated, enjoying the sound their stones made. His initial, angry reaction was a surprise bonus.

Intrinsic motivation requires no-one else. It enables you to take continuous action because you control your experience. The interplay between your influence and positive feelings keeps you going, even when you aren’t winning or making progress.

Ask world class performers. They openly talk about the benefit of falling in love with the practice of their avocation. While “love” isn’t an absolute requirement, the fact is that those who reach top levels spend relatively little time in competition or performance. Learning to enjoy the long, tedious process of preparation is a huge plus.

Extrinsic motivation is quite different. It’s an invented reward administered by third parties who set up a connection between your cause and their effect. Like the old man in our story, they craft and offers a new, extrinsic reason to act.

2. How Extrinsic can Destroy Intrinsic Motivation
By offering the kids a cash incentive, the old man helped them forget the pure joy of stoning his roof. In his wisdom, he made a gamble: schoolchildren often lack the self-awareness required to survive such a distracting intervention.

The moral of the story is that someone else can destroy your intrinsic motivation. Even accidentally.

If this sounds like a cautionary tale for you and your employees, it should. Managers at all levels complain to me that newly hired staff members are full of ideas, energy, and willingness. After a short while, it all starts to fade and they begin to put in just enough effort to avoid being fired. Eventually, they sound like everyone else, complaining about a paycheck they were once overjoyed to receive. Their corporate prospects degrade as their career becomes “Just a job.” Whatever intrinsic motivation they can muster is redirected to weekends, parties, hobbies and families.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in West Indies cricket. From all appearances, when the team topped the world, it was staffed by players who were paid little and gave much. Now, players are paid far more, while in return they seem to give as little as possible. Painful, heartbreaking performance is only punctuated by the occasional miracle.

3. Conscientious Rewards
Each company is different, but most treat employees like kids, ignoring the internal battle between the two kinds of motivation.

The solution isn’t to “treat them like adults” in a cursory manner. Instead, your company could help employees deepen their self-awareness of what motivates them and why. They can also learn how to disentangle their thinking so that dis-empowering, tempting but extrinsic thoughts don’t end up in disaster.

The old man won the battle because he was wise. However, this wisdom is not limited to the story’s trickery. It can also be used to make people strong so they gain more of what they want in life. For most, this happens to include a healthy bottom line. As a manager, you may need to update your mental models to discover why intrinsic motivation has been lost and how it can be restored.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a free document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to