What Negus-Fancey was really after through up to 15 hours of play a day, he discovered, was the sense of flow gaming brought to him. Great games allowed him to lose a sense of time and simply focus. So his next question then became, what are the specific dynamics that create flow and foster motivation during gaming, and could those serve as the foundation for a spectacular business culture?
The perfect flow recipe
Negus-Fancey came up with 3 key elements that relate to flow. He's made them the centerpiece of culture at Verve, the company he co-founded with his brother, Liam, in 2013. The business, which has approximately 150 employees and $35M in venture funding to date, helps develop brands by rewarding individuals for word-of-mouth advertising.
1. Freedom--Just like gamers typically loathe being forced through tutorials or told exactly every step to take during play, employees don't want to be micromanaged, either. Verve employees have clear goals, but they are free to discover how they work best within basic protocols to reach those objectives, with results being the measure of success. There are no regular hours, workers can attend whatever meetings they want, and if the office--which Negus-Fancey refers to as a tool--isn't working, employees are free to complete tasks in their own space.
"As companies scale, if they are too process oriented, you do end up with a situation where people use process as a proxy for results," Negus-Fancey says. "[...] With the world [and technology] changing so quickly, how long is best practice really best practice, anyway? So you want your team to be constantly innovating the right way to deliver against goals. [...] You can use [best practice] as a guide, but it's up to you to figure out how to continuously make them better and make sure we keep meeting our outcomes."
2. Mastery--When you're gaming, you compare yourself to other players and get real time feedback about how you're doing (e.g., health, magic, items acquired). But at the same time, you're being challenged just the right amount, with each sequence of play getting incrementally more difficult. In the same way, leaders at Verve evaluate performance often and provide growth and development opportunities for workers at the appropriate times. With a huge focus on self-awareness and potential, workers can use resources like questionnaires, one-to-one coaching or even hypnotherapy to get a sense of who they are, what they've accomplished and what they could still improve or overcome. Workers even develop mastery plans that they share with each other, which helps develop trust and accountability.
"[Mastery] is more than just constantly feeling like you're getting better at something," Negus-Fancy says, "For us, it's also about really understanding what it is you want to be incredible at. [...It overlaps] what you love the most and what you're best at, and [...] the company's helping you work toward that thing."
3. Ownership--Most video games have both mini goals and larger objectives. For instance, you might have a side quest where you earn coins because the coins allow you to buy the sword that lets you battle to save your kingdom. It's your responsibility to identify what smaller tasks you should finish and how they tie in to the bigger picture, and it's your responsibility to figure out what paths to take along the way. So while Verve employees have the freedom to explore, they have to have awareness of the company's targets and to grasp how their actions affect those targets, admitting both when they've succeeded and fallen flat on their faces.
A work in progress
Negus-Fancey admits there's been tweaking to this overall scheme over time, particularly in the areas of freedom and ownership. There's now a strong emphasis on collective emotional intelligence and deep examination of team norms, for example. And transparency, including in areas like company performance, now is more front and center, too, for a common sense reason:
"If you're giving people lots of freedom and not giving them rules and saying, here's a goal that you've worked out, work out how to get there, if they don't have access to great information, and also a lot of context about what the information means, then it's very difficult for them to make the right decisions."
4 rules for getting it right on your own
As you seek to develop this type of flow and culture in your own company, Negus-Fancey outlines four pieces of advice to adhere to:
1. Model through observable behavior.--"Culture's not about words. It's about actions, and people have to see lots of tangible proof points of a culture to buy into it. And so it's about constantly reinforcing the culture through physical [and tangible] things that you do."
2. Be authentic.--Live and breathe what you want your workers to do. Genuinely believe in it. This not only convinces workers that the ideas are worth pursuing, but that you, with your integrity and honesty, deserve their trust.
3. Make loads of tangible, incremental changes over time, rather than making tons of big promises at the start.--Despite good intentions, huge promises are hard to fulfill quickly, which can lead to disappointment and loss of motivation. By contrast, small changes slowly build momentum and are sustainable.
4. Be consistent.--In the face of rapidly changing markets and technology, free, masterful, accountable workers will need to lean on the foundation of company culture for a sense of stability. Rather than flip flop around trying to find what works, commit to your values even when specific methodologies get the boot.
Simple enough game plan, don't you think? Now press start and level up.