How Fun Can Sabotage Your Project

I’m working on a very complex project – lots of moving parts. As a team, we are looking at ways to motivate people to share our one-page information sheets, inject our slides into team meetings, and encourage peers to sign up for training.

Why not a contest? 

I’ve run fun little competitions in other organizations, awarding points to people who help us get the message out about a change (Starbucks card, anyone?). It can work very very well.

It can also derail your project.

Parents learn quickly that when you motivate people with rewards, behavior can become reward-dependent. Take away the rewards and the behavior drops. We see this all of the time in sales contests.

But there is a bigger risk. 

Recently, the government of British Columbia posted a fun little card about managing stress while people are in lockdown during the pandemic. It’s cute, and the tips are sound.
But the backlash has been HUGE!

While well-intentioned, it trivializes what people are feeling. The change they are being forced to endure is not fun at all. The only benefits are avoidance of a worse fate. Nothing to rejoice about.
When you are assessing how to motivate people to embrace your change, take careful account of the impact of what you are asking people to do. If the net result is negative (more pain than gain), then trying to make it fun will crush your credibility. 

Don’t make light of a struggle. Save contests for changes that offer something good for everyone.

Thoughtfully yours,