Like it or not, the demographic shift is happening and Generation Y is coming to the forefront of the workforce. This generation differs from any previous demographic population because ‘Gen Y’ grew up in an era shaped by conditions unheard of before: from digital social lives with 24/7 connectivity, global mobility and unlimited instant access to shared knowledge via the internet to unprecedented environmental challenges and highly individualized lifestyle choices. The fact that they live and work very differently, leaves those of us from earlier generations confused and yes, a little scared. These erratic, demanding, impatient and tech-dependent Trophy Kids are supposed to become our future leaders?
All we know for sure about the future is that it belongs to those who can adapt to it. When it comes to dealing with the unknown, being agile, creative and willing to learn continuously are useful if not essential skills. Consider children discovering the world they grow up in without knowing what to expect. How do they do it? They play. Children absorbed in play, are focused on their activity, engaged in the moment and curious to explore new possibilities. In other words, children at play are the perfect example of experiencing ‘Flow’, the mental state described by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as full immersion in a task that lets us forget time and the rest of the world.
Playing games not only helps children develop creativity, cultivating various social skills and their ability to deal with setbacks, games also cater to many of Gen Y’s attributes and values, such as challenge, collaboration, constant feedback and self-expression. Given that their physical needs are tendered, nurtured and entertained by protective parents while their mental capacity is saturated with information overflow and 24/7 media input, what Gen Y craves most is emotional engagement. They want to learn and simultaneously have fun; they love suspense and surprise and seek experiences that excite them both intellectually and emotionally.
This is also true for Gen Yers’ life at work: they are lifestyle junkies and work is no longer a means to an end, it is merely an extension of themselves and a form of adult play - an opportunity to continue to learn and to express themselves by following their passion and living their purpose – both compelling drivers for Generation Y. So when we are pondering how to best develop them, why wouldn’t we tap into the power of games? Actually, gamification is slowly but surely conquering many fields, from influencing consumer behaviors to healthcare and even higher education. By carefully engineering games towards specific learning goals, they become great vehicles to generate memorable experiences and transformational insights while capturing Gen Y’s attention.
Applying this methodology, pharmaceutical leader Novartis was able to engage a group of future leaders in Venezuela in a culture change initiative with unprecedented results. In late 2011, eighteen participants embarked on a unique journey in an effort to reinforce Novartis’ corporate values and to foster high performing teams. A variety of interactive games were played combining emotionally engaging activities with deep reflection, meaningful feedback and conceptual learning, which led to lasting behavioral change throughout the division.
Acting as a TV production team generating real ‘Values at Work’ promotion videos or playing citizens of the Kingdom of Atlantis representing different styles and learning from negotiation over limited resources, transformed participants into passionate behavioral ambassadors pushing the entire organization towards a new culture. The results amazed the executive committee and HR department alike; not only did the program exceed their expectations, but as Enzo Belgiovane, HR Head Novartis Venezuela states: “It was the first time in my experience with various leadership development efforts, that I have seen an impact like this.”
Games are incredibly powerful and perhaps the most underutilized tool in the process of transforming our workplace... and our people.
Martina Mangelsdorf is the inventor of GOLD™ - Game Oriented Leadership Development.