To create employee engagement, you need leadership to create a third culture, a constructive culture that reinforces a belief that each employees effort can make a difference and maximizes both productivity and employee satisfaction.

The leaders of constructive cultures recognize the need to create achievement motivation in the entire workforce. Achievement motivation strives to:

Set clear goals and objectives for everyone in the organization Balance ability and challenge when assigning work and projects Engage the intrinsic motivation of individuals Provide constant feedback to allow for self-correcting Reinforce cause and effect thinking by articulating broad strategies for accomplishing the well-defined goals and objects Create the opportunity for Flow1

While all the above points are critical for employee engagement, it is the last point, creating the opportunity for Flow that is ultimate. When an employee is in a Flow state, productivity and satisfaction are truly being maximized. In a Flow state, individuals get lost in their work, they become extremely focused, they lose sight of time and they are extremely energized as the Flow state causes the body to produce endorphins. The endorphins drive satisfaction and the focus drives productivity.

The key question then is how do you lead someone to this state? For that, we go back again to children. When our children are playing a video game, they more often than not achieve the Flow state. They get locked into the game, lose all sense of time, are extremely happy with the way they are spending the time. The video game producers clearly understand how to trigger achievement motivation and the flow state. So what can we learn from these games?

First, each video game has a very clear goal or objective and while there may be sub goals or quests, they are all aligned to help the player achieve the larger objective. The smaller goals, the goals at each level, help to break the large quest into smaller more achievable pieces, create a natural cause and effect strategy to complete the overall quest.

Second, most video games are not about winning, but about advancing to the next level, they start out relatively easy, and as you achieve each level, they increase in difficulty. The focus on advancing to the next level creates an opportunity to always challenge the players without over-whelming them. Since it is not about winning, but personal achievement, the children cooperate and help each other with tips and suggestions to improve their performance.

Third, the games provide constant feedback, with sound, pictures and scores. Most of the feedback is positive, but there is some negative feedback. When you make a mistake for the first time in the game, generally nothing happens, no negative consequence but also no positive reinforcement. If you make the same mistake a couple of times, you may lose your spot and have to start back at the beginning of that level. For the most part, the way mistakes are handled minimizes the fear of making a mistake, and allows for creative or innovative approaches to try achieving the next level. The positive feedback is constant, every time players take a correct action it results in positive reinforcement, this encourages players to repeat the positive actions, and to increase their frequency of success. When they experiment with a new approach, if it is correct, they get positive feedback right away, so they know to continue with that approach. This constant and mostly positive feedback is designed to help players grow in their ability and confidence within the game.

As leaders work towards creating a constructive culture through clear and challenging goals, as well as providing positive feedback they create a collective belief in all employees that their effort makes a difference. When employees believe their effort makes a difference, they are engaged in the task at hand, they will demonstrate the passion and energy needed to achieve the highest levels of productivity while also being highly satisfied as an employee of the organization. They are going after the ball, instead of being afraid of it.

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1 FLOW – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Copyright © 1991 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Harper Perennial