Thoughts on Leadership: Scorekeeping in the Game of Work

By Gino Blefari

“When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.” – Thomas S. Monson

This week my travels find me first in Newport Beach at the “Link Arms Sales Rally” for Orange Coast Title Family of Profit Centers. The event included company executives, profit center managers and sales representatives for all nine title insurance agencies operating in six states. I presented to the group on habits for success, and it was evident everyone in attendance was dedicated to self-improvement, learning and the systematic attainment of their Wildly Important Goals.

Next, I was at our HSF Affiliates headquarters in Irvine, CA, meeting with prospective Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network brokerages. Whenever we host these alignment sessions, we’re given a critical opportunity to present our brand value proposition and system of execution to help brokerage leaders achieve their specific goals faster than they would in our absence. One of the ways we expedite this goal-achievement process is by scorekeeping the key measurements of success, which on a proper scoreboard, means tracking the specific behaviors that lead to the accomplishment of our Wildly Important Goals.

I’ve recently been listening to “The Game of Work” by Charles A. Coonradt, who Forbes called “The Grandfather of Gamification.” In 1973, Coonradt founded The Game of Work in specific response to what he observed as a detrimental dearth of productivity at workplaces everywhere.

Before we dive into Coonradt’s helpful philosophy, let’s establish a clear distinction between scorekeeping, a necessary exercise to create productive motivation, and micromanaging, an often-negative activity that can severely stunt workplace culture and team members’ collective morale. Micromanaging is about closely monitoring employee habits and tasks to the detriment of their professional freedom, while scorekeeping is about providing those same employees with healthy choice and a way to progress that’s entirely their own. A great manager is a leader who can generate better results with the same—or fewer—amount of resources. The more efficiently this process is completed, the better leaders they become and the closer an organization gets to achieving its Wildly Important Goals.

Now that we’ve covered the difference between micromanaging and scorekeeping, let’s dive into seven key points on scorekeeping from “The Game of Work” that can be applied to your own businesses:

  1. As with any sport, there’s no way to win without knowing the score. Could you imagine watching a football game where a winner is declared based how a ref feels about a given team’s performance? In sports and in business, keeping score with a set of pre-determined measurements is how team members know exactly where they stand at all times throughout the game and clearly understand who emerges victorious at the end.
  2. If you keep score, you’ll win more in the long run. As Coonradt writes: “I have never met a winner who didn’t know the score. I have never met a professional golfer who didn’t know who else was on the leader board. People play and modify their behavior based on the feedback of their progress against an acceptable standard—the scoreboard.” The bottom line is that those who are at the top of their game got there because they tracked their progress all the way to the apex of success. And speaking of tracking …
  3. When you have a culture of transparency and accountability, it may make certain people uncomfortable. But remember, Coonradt says winners track results; losers track reasons. The truth is, there may be too much truth in scorekeeping for some people to handle. When progress is measured exactly, there’s no hiding behind the numbers; either you’re moving up or you’re moving down, winning or losing. Fearful or not, knowing where you stand at any given time is the only way to move somewhere new. If you’re losing, you can assess the situation and track ways to improve. If you’re moving up, you can increase the activities that are contributing to your success.
  4. Scorekeeping must be simple, objective and self-administered. This point brings us back to the issue of micromanagement. Scorekeeping eliminates the perils of a too-involved management system by allowing a team member to easily track his or her own progress. “When people keep their own scorecards, they know whether they won or lost that day and also how much they improved,” writes Coonradt. “The players will also correct any deficiencies in their scorecards before the cards are turned in. Our self-concept or self-image is based on what we know and can prove about ourselves.” Inherently, human beings want to be better, do better and win the game. Keeping a personal scorecard allows a team member to tap into this motivational instinct.
  5. Proper scorekeeping compares current performance with past personal performance. As an example, let’s return again to the game of golf. If you’re a decent player and break 90, you’re happy with your performance. Compared with a professional golfer, your score isn’t getting you to the Masters anytime soon, but personally, you can observe noticeable improvement. The same concept applies to scorekeeping. The success of a scorekeeping system depends on how well it compares current performance with past performance, not on how well it compares performance with an arbitrary standard. Accurate feedback relating past performance to a positive uptick in current performance creates the necessary motivation to keep playing and improving.
  6. A good scoreboard celebrates wins. “Scorekeeping exists primarily so that we know when to begin the party,” says Coonradt. Celebrating the goals tracked on a scoreboard incentivizes team members to establish self-worth and pride in the work accomplished. Rather than focus on shortcomings or problems, regular celebrations of small wins imbue a scorekeeping system with progress and praise.
  7. Increasing the frequency of regular feedback increases the quality of the results. Regular check-ins ensure obstacles preventing a win are addressed before they can escalate into larger issues. As Coonradt explains, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

So, what’s the message? Coonradt argues that people don’t like to keep score because they’re afraid if they do, they’ll have tangible evidence of failure. Instead, they resort to judgments and observations rather than measurable, trackable data in the pursuit of their professional accomplishments. “But look at what they are passing up,” says Coonradt. With a scoreboard, players in the game of work know exactly if they’re winning or losing on any given day, in any given year and will fight—as we all should—to do what it takes to win.

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