#4 Games in strategy communication

By presenting a strategy as a game you are able to involve employees in a dialogue without diluting the message? Games are a different and entertaining way to make the participants remember major strategic points in a better way than just listening.

One thing is to develop a strategy, implementing it in the entire organisation, however, is something else entirely.

Most strategies are difficult to understand and decode, and they are typically communicated in a very traditional way, through extensive PowerPoint presentations or abstract speeches.

But by involving employees and stakeholders in a game based on the specific strategy is an efficient way to communicate strategic points and support  strategy rollout and implementation throughout the organisation.

That is what ISS, on our oldest and closest clients, has been doing for years. For several years ISS have used games and simulations as an essential part of their managers’ education and training. Among other things, they use these tools to communicate the company’s strategy and business model to their managers in a different and entertaining way.

"An important part of the transformation that ISS is going through is focusing on the right customers and their needs. In order to carry through such a change process, it is important that all parts of the business think customer-oriented – including the support functions such as IT, finance, and HR,” Finn Vestergaard, Group Vice President, People & Culture, ISS A/S, says.

Therefore ISS have developed a board game focusing on and intensifying that customer and business understanding. The game i widely used in ISS’ international organisation – from regional top management to talent programmes and management academies - being an important tool for communicating the strategic customer oriented focus.

The challenge of communicating strategy

The traditional approach of communicating strategy the old fashioned way has two common challenges.

The first challenge is that strategy communication often talks to the rational part of the brain. It consists of logical explanations with numbers, graphs, and rational arguments.

The problem is that the receivers also need an emotional approach. They will not take ownership unless the strategy also talks to them on an emotional level. They need to experience the vision and the direction as attractive and desirable, and they need their insecurities and worries to be understood and taken seriously. It is very difficult for us to listen to the rational arguments behind decisions that we feel insecure about.

The second challenge is that we as humans have a rather limited and very subjective memory.

When we are only a passive audience to communication we often find it very hard to remember. The result is that a few days – or even a few hours – after the grand presentation of the strategy most managers and employees have only a vague and superficial memory of the message and content.  What they do remember, however, is tainted by their subjective worries and expectations.

Learning and remembering by being involved

We know from modern neuroscience that the generation of new memory and learning is highly accelerated if the role as passive audience is substituted with active involvement.  That means that we ourselves put the new and unknown into words, tell the story of what we have learned, and have an opportunity to put it into the perspective of our own experience.

This is where gamification become interesting. A well-structured game offers the participants the opportunity to play their way to a better understanding and acceptance of the changes.

Gameplay can be structured so that the participants have the opportunity to experience ‘the arguments behind the strategy on their own body’. E.g. by playing the role of the leader of a fictitious company and thereby experiencing how the market situation changes throughout the game, and learning that bankruptcy looms just around the corner if the company does not learn to prioritise.

The participants are allowed to experience how the strategy works and why it is necessary, and their emotions are activated as they experience successes and misfortunes during the gameplay. The excitement of the game experience triggers adrenaline that helps the brain remember. Game experiences are often so engaging and captivating that the participants dream of them afterwards.

A good game design ensures a dialogue where the participants can air and address their worries and take ownership of new initiatives.

Links to everyday life

One of the biggest challenges in the launch of new changes is making concrete links to the everyday work life of the colleagues. What holds meaning to them? What is expected from them? And how can they contribute?

A good game design offers the opportunity to create clear, strong links between the overall objectives and how the different parts of the organisation contribute to them. Individuals can see themselves in the big picture.

A game-supported process offers the opportunity for a change of scale. Beginning from an overall view of the business model and market development, it can zoom in on specific everyday dilemmas and important conversations with a difficult colleague or a demanding customer. This opportunity to zoom in or out allows for combinations of different forms of training and learning goals; for example, that the participants – apart from a better understanding of the strategy – get improved competences within the fields of negotiation tactics or team leadership.

Be sure of the game’s quality

Strategy is serious business and it is essential that game-based solutions do not create ambiguity or uncertainty, or undermine trustworthiness and credibility.

The quality of the game must be unquestionable and the professional and theoretical focus must be razor-sharp. If the game is factually incorrect it gets too easy for participants who are critical towards the strategy to use any critique of the game as an excuse to air their own frustrations about the strategy.

It is usually necessary to develop a tailor-made solution that is adapted to the actual change processes, the relevant groups of participants, and the right user context.

It is also important to keep the game master’s function in mind: If you have a skilled and experienced facilitator as game master, relatively complex solutions can be successful. If the game master is inexperienced, a more robust and simple design that almost runs itself without much guidance is a far better solution.

Next: How games are efficient training grounds when prepairing for change