Game On: Rethinking Change Management for the Digital Era

A case study of the Digital Supply Chain’s efforts to use online gaming as a new model for the digital transformation of supply chains

By Marko Kovacevic and Craig Moss

In the ever-evolving landscape of business, Change Management has stood as a cornerstone, influencing both triumphant transformations and learning moments in failure. Its essence has always hinged on three constants: people, leadership, and courage. Two and a half years ago, the Digital Supply Chain Institute (DSCI) embarked on a quest to reimagine Change Management for the digital era. Our inspiration? Watching world-class teams playing online video games. The collaborative dynamics and rapid problem-solving we witnessed in the virtual realms was eye-opening.

Our journey began with a simple yet profound observation: how players in online video games like Fortnite collaborate to solve complex challenges to achieve a well-defined goal. This observation sparked a radical thought – could the realm of video games offer more than just entertainment? Could they unlock new paradigms in Change Management – especially with people entering the workforce that grew up with video games and smartphones?

We immersed ourselves into the world of Fortnite, one of the most popular games, to analyze the strategies of successful squads. This period was full of emotions – excitement at the potential of our findings, frustration at our own gaming skills (or lack thereof), and the inevitable skepticism from the business community. Players must engage in sophisticated real-time strategic analysis, constantly adapting to the evolving game environment and opponent strategies. Communication is key, with players efficiently conveying information, coordinating movements, and planning collaborative strategies to outmaneuver opponents. The laughter and doubts didn’t deter us; instead, they fueled our determination to transform this unconventional idea into reality and uncover key gaming success factors that could be applied to digital transformation of supply chains.

Our initial breakthrough was realizing the power of small, agile teams. Change Management in the Digital Era, we discovered, could be optimally conducted by teams of four. This configuration offered the right blend of skills, effective communication channels, and the agility needed for swift execution. Larger teams bred complexity and leadership struggles, while smaller ones lacked the diverse perspectives essential for innovation.

Developing the Framework and the Four Lessons:

We observed world-class gamers. We conducted internal “work” sessions with our colleagues. We ran pilot workshops with small teams inside large corporations. What became clear to us is that there are four key actions that emerge in high-performing teams. The four essential elements that we identified serve as the foundation for engagement and catalyzing change in organizations. They are the essential elements for creating high-performing teams in the digital era that span different ages and locations.

There are clear parallels between video games and change management. Video games have clear measurable, time-bound goals. Most of the research on change management in organizations also cite clear measurable, time-bound goals as a critical starting point.

The Four Lessons:

1. Rapid and Appropriate Communication – Just as gamers must communicate quickly and accurately to cover each other during play, businesses require timely and relevant exchanges. Effective communication in the workplace transcends the speed of response; it’s about completeness and relevance. An incomplete answer to an urgent query can impede progress as much as a delayed one. Team members need to be aligned using the same communication channel.

2. Rapid Trust-Building – Rapid trust building is critical to success. This entails each team member having an honest assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses and those of the other team members. In video games, the team needs to quickly determine who is the best builder or navigator or shooter. Trust in the team members, much like in gaming, is also bolstered by the immediacy and reliability of communication. When a team member responds promptly, it lays the groundwork for trust. This trust is further cemented when team members merge their skills to overcome challenges on the path to achieving their time-bound goal together.

3. Trusting and Filtering Data – In gaming, players are bombarded with data but learn to filter this information swiftly. They know what data matters in each situation – when to look at the map or the clock or inventory of food, weapons, or materials. In video games the players always trust the data. Similarly, in business, employees are inundated with data from various sources. The ability to discern and trust the right data is paramount for timely and effective decision-making. Too often in organizations, team members do not completely trust the data coming over the dashboard. This causes delays and confusion.

4. Dynamic Leadership – The culmination of the first three lessons is the creation of dynamic leadership within the team. The gaming world often eschews fixed hierarchies in favor of situational leadership, where the best person for a task leads the team in that moment. This approach can be transformative in the workplace, moving away from rigid hierarchies to a more fluid and responsive leadership structure, harnessing the strengths of each team member as the situation demands. Effective dynamic leadership allows the team to choose their path to achieving the goal. The goal is fixed by senior management, but the team has the autonomy to choose the best path to the goal given the situations they encounter.

“In change management, much like in Fortnite, agility and adaptability are key. We must build our teams with diversity and trust, ready to pivot with the evolving landscape, just as players construct and adapt to survive and succeed in the game’s dynamic environment.” – a senior supply chain leader at global consumer product organization, who participated in a pilot program.


Designing the Workshops: Beginning:

To translate our insights into actionable strategies, we developed a series of workshops. The Engagement Workshop was designed to introduce the participants to our concept and the powerful lessons from video games. We used video clips to illustrate the four lessons and their synergy. The Interactive Workshop encouraged participants to draw parallels with their organizational challenges.

The Immersion Workshop took things a step further. Here, we formed squads of four and plunged them into the gaming environment, demonstrating the practical application of each lesson. We believed we had crafted a fun, powerful and innovative tool for change. We saw that it had applications to creating high-performing teams that span different ages and different locations – both critical in today’s business environment.

Our enthusiasm, however, met with an unexpected reality. The response was mixed, especially from some Baby Boomer leaders who found our methods unorthodox and found the video game clips to be chaotic and confusing. This initial setback, though disheartening, didn’t spell defeat. Instead, it opened doors to an unexpected audience: the Gen X and Y leaders, who were immediately attracted to our approach and saw its potential.

Lessons and Growth:

This journey taught us two vital lessons. First, our method transcended traditional change management. It was a platform for cross-generational mentorship and collaboration, offering a unique blend of competition and cooperation. Second, we realized the importance of tying the gaming experience to very specific business challenges.

With this new understanding, we re-designed our program to include two more workshops. The first focused on identifying and defining a business challenge as a change management goal, then creatively linking it to gaming strategies. The second workshop was about action – taking the learnings, goals, and game analogies, and crafting an actionable plan through gameplay.

These workshops became the core of our engagement model, encapsulating our innovative approach to Change Management in the Digital Era.

1. Engagement Workshop – The initial workshop aims to familiarize participants with our novel approach. It builds on our previous Engagement Workshop and incorporates discussions to identify specific business challenges. Here, we introduce the four essential lessons crucial for team success, showcasing how these elements work in harmony. The workshop is designed to be interactive, encouraging participants to draw parallels with their organizational environments.

2. Immersion Workshop – This workshop takes the theoretical foundation laid in the Interactive Workshop and brings it to life. Participants were grouped into squads of four and immersed in a gaming environment. This hands-on experience demonstrated the practical application of each of the four essential elements in a dynamic, collaborative setting.

3. Challenge Identification Workshop – Recognizing the need to connect our methodology with real business challenges to be solved, the third workshop focuses on identifying and defining specific organizational challenges. These are then framed as change management goals, linking them to the dynamics of gameplay.

4. Action Planning Workshop – The final workshop is where strategy meets execution. Here, we take the concepts, goals, and gaming analogies developed in the previous workshops and transform them into actionable plans. Participants engage in gameplay that mirrors their real-world business challenges, facilitating a unique and practical approach to problem-solving.

The Road Ahead:

Our journey is far from over. We stand at the cusp of implementing our four-workshop approach, bolstered by numerous tests and invaluable feedback from participating companies. We’re on the brink of creating impactful case studies, eager to share our successes and learnings.

Innovation in change management requires the courage to think differently, to test and try, and to be resilient in the face of failure. Our story is a testament to this relentless pursuit. As we continue to navigate this path, one thing remains clear: true change is born from the bravery to reimagine and redefine the norms.

Marko Kovacevic is Managing Director, Digital Supply Chain Institute (DSCI).

Craig Moss is Director of Data and Change Management at the DSCI.

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