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Jan 16, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Business lessons can sneak up in the oddest of places. Even viral online games can give us insight into important organizational processes.

I’m not afraid to admit it; I’ve been playing Candy Crush Saga off and on for a few months. For those unfamiliar, it is a highly addictive game where you work your way through levels by matching up different types of candies – sort of a mix between Connect Four and Tetris – but with bright candy bits and really upbeat sound effects.

Some of the levels are really tricky and cost me all of my lives – but somehow, despite no promise of success, I keep playing over and over. Why? First of all it’s fun and second, I’m stubborn. But the more I thought about it, I realized that another reason is the game comes standard with some pretty motivating features that keep me working through level by level. It all of a sudden struck me that organizations can actually take some helpful cues from this game and implement them into a great set of guidelines for effective performance management.

Here’s what Candy Crush shows us about motivating workers.

Clear goals are key

Every level in the game starts with an animated screen that clearly identifies the objective of that level – “clear all jellies,” “get 30,000 points in 1 minute” — you get the point. Right there on the screen before I even get started I know what I have to do, what I have at my disposal to do it with (# of moves or time) and what the result will be if I achieve the goal (unlock the next level). The exact same principals should be applied to employee performance goals.

Clear and specific goals let employees know what has to be done and how to accomplish it, setting measurable outcomes lets them know how the goal will be tracked, and a defined result lets them know what will be achieved if the goal is accomplished – whether it’s company or personal benefits.

Timely feedback goes a long way

During the game, if I make a good move or rack up some points, a deep voice says positive things like “delicious” or “tasty.” This was quite off-putting at first and sometimes can be a little annoying, but all in all it’s nice to have someone notice when I make a good move – other than just me of course.

I’m definitely NOT suggesting that managers walk around saying “tasty” to employees (don’t do that!), but timely, if not instant feedback is vital to a well-oiled performance management strategy. Employees want to know when they are doing well as they do it – not 10 months down the road when it’s time for a formal performance review.

Incorporating ongoing feedback and coaching can be the difference between employees giving it their all year-round or quitting after the first level. On the other end of the spectrum, if I do fail to complete a level, a crying emoticon pops up and says “you failed.” That’s pretty harsh, but to follow suit, if managers are responsible for giving timely feedback, that means all feedback – not just the good stuff. Again, I would not suggest standing up, pointing, and shouting, “You failed” to employees, but when employees fall short of a goal, they should know how and why, and be given the coaching they need to regroup and try again.

Not all achievements are equal

I passed level 20 with one star while Joe-other-player passed, but made enough good moves that he earned 3 stars. We both achieved the same goal – but he did better and was rewarded as such. Tying performance directly to rewards in an organization helps ensure accomplishments are rewarded based on effort and results – instead of for simply going through the motions.

All work and no play takes a toll on performance

Candy Crush is unique in that you get 5 lives. If you lose them, you have to wait 30 minutes for a new life to regenerate unless you ask other players to share one, or shell out some cash to buy some. I have to admit, sometimes this really bothers me. I’m in the zone and I want to keep playing, but overall, it’s probably a good thing because it forces me to move on and focus on other things – like life.

The same logic is true for performance management. Employees should be encouraged to keep a proper work-life balance. Hard work and dedication is certainly vital to an employee’s overall career and to an organization achieving success; however, too much work can result in employee burnout and reduced efficiency over time. Managers should recognize when an employee’s 5 lives are up and make sure they take the time to regenerate.

Everyone needs a booster

So, not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty amazing at this game. I think before every move, often complete the level in fewer moves than are allocated, and have advanced pretty far. That being said, sometimes I need a little help and have to rely on the game’s “boosters,” which give me an advantage if I use them. Sometimes it’s an extra move, other times it’s the ability to swap-out pieces.

Even your star employees need a booster once in a while. Nobody can be good at everything all the time. Managers need to keep an eye out for opportunities to assist, and employees should be aware of what boosters are available to them should they need a little help completing their goals.

Peers that share, win!

Remember I said that if you run out of lives in the game you can ask other players for one? You can also ask others for boosters, and in every level other players’ scores are posted front and center so you can see their advancement in the game. I think this is a great system and should be interpreted for use in company performance management. Two heads are always better than one and five heads better than two.

Employees who can rely on each other for help are more likely to meet their individual and team goals. Not only that, but transparency in performance via rewards and recognition helps motivate performance.

Important business processes like performance management don’t have to be confined to the four walls of a boardroom or discussed in a vacuum –- we encourage all organizations and managers to think outside the box and refer to anything they have encountered in their daily lives which has resulted in keeping people on track and motivating them to perform and succeed. In this case, Candy Crush Saga is a great example and these insights can help transform your talent management strategy into something pretty sweet which ultimately gives you happy, motivated, and highly-efficient employees.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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