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How to Engage Employees in Sustainability

Employee engagement. It’s one of the most critical elements of any sustainability or CSR program, but it’s also one of the most perplexing.  The reason it’s so difficult is that most of us aren’t professional “engagers.” But game designers are.

Seth Priebatsch, founder of SCVNGR, believes the engaging foundations of game thinking is ready to break out of your game console and into all facets of personal and professional life.

Welcome to the Game Layer

In a keynote address at the recent South by Southwest conference, Seth explained how the past decade built a “Social Layer” on top of the world. This social layer, created with tools like Facebook and Twitter, is all about forging connections between individuals. With this social layer, you can now connect and visualize your relationships in a whole new way.

In contrast, the “Game Layer” is all about influence. Instead of trading in social connections the way that Facebook does, the game layer traffics in human motivation. It’s not about the number of followers you have, or how many people “like” you, but about how you can leverage game mechanics to achieve all sorts of great things.

How Games Motivate Change

Game designers think about engagement for a living. They not only want you to buy and play their game, but they want you to keep playing and reach for the next level of success. In other words, game designers motivate you.

The same mechanisms that get people hooked on World of Warcraft or Angry Birds in the digital world are just as powerful at motivating human behaviors in the real world. It doesn’t take much to turn the affect game design has on individual motivation.

Game design acts on individual motivation: what we do, how we do it, why we do it.

Sustainability: Turn Your Problem into a Game

So how can gaming improve employee engagement in your company’s sustainability program? For starters, game thinking can help you recast a burdensome problem as a worthy challenge.

Instead of mandating that people act on your sustainability initiative, stop and think about what you can do to make your goal more game-like. Add countdowns, points, levels and other competitive elements that will inspire people to get involved and stay involved on their own accord. After all, no project can be truly sustainable unless it can keep happening without orders from the top.

Colin Manuel
Colin is BusinessEarth’s resident expert for communicating sustainability. He’s most interested in identifying and sharing the tipping points that convert sustainability skeptics to champions. His professional background bridges non-profit values with private company efficiency. Colin brings an understanding of global sustainability from field studies in Brazil and his work, studies and travels in 20 other countries.
 
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4 thoughts on “How to Engage Employees in Sustainability

  1. Important and helpful topic. I would love to see more specifics on engaging employees on sustainability. It seemed like the article layed out it’s basic premis and then just ended. What are the best practices that businesses are using to engage their teams in sustainability? Thanks so much.

  2. I work for a new organization, Cool Choices, that is piloting a sustainability program based on this with this concept here in Wisconsin. Team based contests with team and individual rewards. One significant challenge for us is verification of data — how can we show with some certainty that the game is actually responsible (in whole or in part) for real changes.

    But that advantages that a game structure have are very clear — 1) a game setting makes the invisible (energy, for instance) visible; 2) it provides an effective vehicle to teach and provide incentives to learn and share knowledge about complicated stuff; 3) games are inherently social and social norms are critical to changing behavior.

  3. Hi Tedd,

    You’re right. This article simply introduced a new metaphor (“gamification”) to help people think differently about employee engagement. In time, I’m sure there will be more tangible examples of this specific idea being applied in the real world. However, there are some excellent resources for employee engagement in sustainability. A great place to start is with these reports by the Network for Sustainable Business — http://www.nbs.net/knowledge/culture/

  4. I like the idea, and agree that more detail is needed. Are there conferences or meetings set up to bring together sustainability champions and game designers? A report of gaming engagement strategies published for facility managers?

    Employee engagement and getting buy-in from your team is a key part to meeting your sustainability mission both because of the impact of tenants and because a muti-disciplinary approach offers solutions that are simply not possible in silo’d design/construction environments. We’ve emphasized the impact on employee engagement in the SPI Certification program for design and construction firms. Watch a short five-minute video at http://www.greenroundtable.org/certification.

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