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Consultant Interview: Michael J. Sutton

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SuttonIn 2016, the Performance Magazine editorial team interviewed Michael J. Sutton, Chief Gamification Officer/Chief Knowledge Officer at Funification LLC, United States of America, for the “Performance Management in 2015: North America Special Edition” report. His thoughts and views on Performance Management are detailed below.

The goal of Performance Management is to increase the clarity of strategic, tactical, and operational thinking, employee job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

Trends

1. Which are the 2015 key trends in Performance Management, from your point of view?

My work is that of a boundary spanner associated with Knowledge Management, Business and Competitive Intelligences, Organizational Transformation, Entrepreneurship, and Organizational Analysis and Design.

Over the last 5 years, I have watched the emergence of a cross-disciplinary field that encompasses all of my areas of interest, and is building visibility and profile that many would have never expected. That cross-disciplinary field has been ascribed the label Gamification, Serious Games, Augmented/Virtual Reality, and Simulations – GSA/VRS.

2. What are your thoughts on the integration of Performance Management at organizational, departmental and employee level?

Performance Management – PM for short, is the mobilization trigger for continuous improvement in any enterprise that wishes to be recognized and respected as a Learning Organization. The goal of Performance Management is to increase the clarity of strategic, tactical, and operational thinking, employee job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

Culture will either enable or constrain the application of single and double loop learning, coaching, mentoring, and feedback to continuous improvement.

My anecdotal, but extensive experience over the last 45 years in private sector, public sector, military sector and the educational sector would suggest that PM is an ethereal concept that seldom is anchored to the foundational principles and values of our global, national, and local businesses and institutions.

Others may have experienced a more positive engagement by enterprises within each sector, but I have seldom seen any significant relationship and commitment devised to connect these three levels.

Often I have observed top-down, bottom-up and middle-out attempts at constructing a PM framework. However, each business transformation required to accommodate PM Key Performance Indicators more often than not remains incomplete.

Many of the barriers are cultural, and this organizational trait in terms of poorly defined accountability, lack of responsibility, and implied authority will impede any transformation. Nevertheless, to me a significant barrier is behavioural.

We face a mosaic of global educational systems for employees, management, and executives that over-emphasizes competition and hinders to reward of collaboration and cooperation through smartnerships – “smart partnerships”.

3. Which will be the major changes in managing performance, in the future?

Smartnerships are an emerging mobilization trigger for individuals, departments, and organizations. Enterprises, such as Gore & Associates, Zappos, Valve Software, and Morning Star, have demonstrated the success of holacracy, also understood in terms of flat management.

This emerging trend in management structures has the power to construct smartnerships that can benefit both individual employees, as well as the teams and organizational entity itself. Nonetheless, such an approach to organizational structure is more easily deployed within an entrepreneurial firm or small to medium-sized enterprise.

Large, bureaucratic organizations lack the agility and capacity to handle significant change and pivoting without critical organizational implosions, since the cultural imperative does not exist.

Research

4. What aspects of Performance Management should be explored more through research?

That cross-disciplinary field I have previously identified, Gamification, Serious Games, Augmented/Virtual Reality, and Simulations – GSA/VRS, needs to be explored through more research for a number of performance management reasons.

Although many enterprises are implementing these techniques, tools, learning strategies, and applications quickly within their Training and Development business units – Gartner indicates that 50% of all enterprises have implemented these approaches to training as of 2015, metrics are still sketchy that could point to success.  Most current evaluations of these tools are anecdotal at best and qualitative at worst.

Much of the imperative for implementing these tools and techniques has been increasing the engagement of staff, managers, and executives in their work and learning activities. This outcome, coupled with increasing retention of employees by increasing job satisfaction through extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, suggest an immediate requirement for increasing the validity of KPIs for both the learning organization, as well as qualitative measures on the sustainable impact within the workplace.

For example, an emerging learning organization will construct learning communities and Communities-of-Practice – COPs, to exchange existing knowledge nuggets within the minds of the knowledge workers and to cultivate new knowledge as a means to trigger innovation throughout the firm. Such communities provide the basis for building new competitive advantages for the enterprise.

The same holds true for higher educational institutions, who are experiencing decreased enrollments in North America, wand here the price and ROI for degrees has come under increased scrutiny. Many faculty members have been experimenting over the last 5+ years with gamification in classroom-based courses, hybrid courses, and online in courses.

An increasing number of bachelor, masters, and doctoral programs are strictly online, and more effective than on campus courses because of the flexibility and cost of the programs.

Thus, assessing and evaluating the educational impact for gamification, serious games, augmented/virtual reality, and simulations to address learning outcomes effectively is paramount for increasing engagement and retention in universities and colleges.

5. Which organizations would you recommend to be looked at, due to their particular approach to managing performance, and their subsequent results?

In terms of gamification in corporate and business environments, no clear leaders are yet identifiable, because of the flux in different platforms and delivery models demonstrating the business value proposition for GSA/VRS.

However, prominent players can be identified: Muzzy Lane Software, Microsoft HoloLens, IBM SmartPlay, BreakAway Games, Caspian Learning, Innovation Games, GamEffective, PlayGen, Virtual Heroes, Morf Media, Badgeville, ExperiencePoint, Artemat, Designing Digitally, Growth Engineering, and PlanetJockey.

Additionally, many higher education institutions are building professional certification, bachelors, masters, and doctoral gamification degree programs.

Some of the most innovative leaders in this field appear to be the following universities:

  • Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin, Savannah College of Art and Design, Bloomsburg University, Columbia University, Excelsior College – United States of America
  • Hong Kong Polytechnic University – Hong Kong
  • University of Malta – Malta
  • Aalborg University – Denmark
  • University of Utrecht, HKU University of the Arts – The Netherlands
  • Turku University of Applied Sciences, University of Tampere – Finland
  • Institute of Technology, Carlow – Ireland
  • Mahidol University – Thailand
  • U-tad – Centro Universitario de Tecnología y Arte Digital – Spain
6. What Performance Management question would you like to ask researchers?

I think three significant questions related to assessing the value of xx to Performance Management might be useful in launching useful research in this emerging GSA/VRS area:

  1. What are the KPIs that are useful for measuring the impact of GSA/VRS on individual employee engagement, retention, efficiency, and effectiveness?
  2. What KPIs could be useful to demonstrate team-based and business unit performance increases when GSA/VRS, as applied to Training and Development in an enterprise?
  3. Which KPIs can be identified or developed for assessing and evaluating the educational impact of GSA/VRS on learning outcomes, student engagement, student retention, and post-graduation success in the workplace within institutions of higher education?

Practice

7. Which are main challenges of Performance Management in practice, today?

The critical challenges of practice-based Performance Management are surfacing quickly to include:

  • Teaching managers to be effective development coaches for improving performance of their staff.
  • Seriously engaging executives in performance management beyond dashboards and scorecards.
  • Creating and enforcing accountability in our business and educational leaders for developing further the strengths of employees and educators.
  • Increasing alignment of performance goals with strategic and tactical business goals.
  • Improving the ability of a manager to furnish real-time feedback.
8. What should be improved in the use of Performance Management tools and processes?

Performance Management tools and processes need to be improved to:

  1. Clearly communicate performance goals and expectations to all employees (in the cases of business environments) and faculty (in the cases of educational environments) on a timely, periodic basis.
  2. Identify and increase methods for improving the return on Human Capital, (such as performance coaching, mentoring, and timely feedback).
  3. Apply KPIs to identify performance gaps internally (employee satisfaction) and externally (stakeholder, regulator, customer, and supplier satisfaction), and resolve the emergent issues and concerns within a finite time-frame.
  4. Encourage innovation though employee and management engagement in enterprises; or in the case of educational institutions, through student participation in the development of educational gaming environments.
  5. Transparently post results and outcomes and celebrate the achievements taking place.
9. What would you consider as a best practice in Performance Management?

The following, to me, are some of the best practices in Performance Management:

  1. Integrate GSA/VRS KPIs into critical business and educational processes to demonstrate the validity of gamification within the firm and university.
  2. Construct and deploy coaching and mentoring development programs to managers, employees, and higher education faculty, thus building sustainable internal expertise, while increasing engagement and retention.
  3. Identify, recognize, foster, and incentivize the innovative leaders in the enterprise or university, whether the individuals are experienced or junior executives, managers, employees, staff, faculty, or students.

Education

10. Which aspects of Performance Management should be emphasized during educational programs?

I am totally biased in my response to this question. In my professional opinion, the cross-disciplinary emergent field – labeled Gamification, Serious Games, Augmented/Virtual Reality, and Simulations – will have the greatest impact globally on the performance and success of global economic outcomes in terms of our workplaces and educational institutions.

11. What are the limits that prevent practitioners from achieving higher levels of proficiency in Performance Management?

To me, the most critical constraints our enterprises and educational institutions face are managing underperformance and mediocrity, along with the blatant lack of innovative and agile organizational cultures.

Personal performance

12. What is your opinion on the emerging trend of measuring performance outside working hours?

Many of the Gen X, Y, Z and Millennials are embracing new forms of performance monitoring of their lives outside of the workplace, e.g., FitBit, Nike+, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Starbucks Rewards. Most of these generations are comfortable with this personal information not being private.

The GI and Baby Boomer generations are much less trusting of seeing personal performance indicators available to the public, or so to say hackable to prying eyes.

13. What personal performance measurement tools do you use?

Very early in my career I adopted Lateral Thinking, as taught by Edward De Bono, as a means of increasing my creativity quotient to perform better in my coursework. Later, an author, who eventually became a colleague, Bill Jensen, introduced me to the pragmatic implementation of a concept for streamlining my work activities—Simplicity.

As my professional life became much more hectic, I adopted the GTD (Getting Things Done) Method by David Allen to increase my workplace performance. Most recently, I adapted an approach created by Ronen Gafni and Simcha Gluck: The New Entrepreneurz—Changing the Way You Play Life, resulting in a personal, revolutionary performance increase that will drive my next decade of life-long education, mentoring, coaching, and consulting.

Specialization Specific Question

14. What are the processes and tools you look at, in order to differentiate a successful performance management system, from a superficial one?

Being that my career has encompassed the academy, the practitioner environment, and the consulting world, I was challenged by this question.

Without a touch of reservation, I propose that for any performance management system to be successful, it must incorporate a framework and paradigm based upon Gamification, Serious Games, Augmented/Virtual Reality, and Simulations (GSA/VRS).

These techniques will increase motivation, bolster the capability to incorporate double-loop learning, build micro learning feedback, and permit graceful failure within a learning and operational environment.


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