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Want To Digitally Transform Your Business? Let The Games Begin

Football fans celebrating
Digital transformation brings new rules, skills and strategy. For businesses striving to keep up with the competition, gamesmanship can help.
  • Gamification leads to the faster and better absorption of knowledge
  • Digital transformation requires everyone in an organisation to play one of four different leadership roles
  • Teams which adopt the 4 key leadership types can bring about digital transformation more successfully

The final whistle has blown on the 2022 World Cup and Lionel Messi can hoist the immensely coveted trophy high, but why should a good sense of sportsmanship and the beautiful game end in the workplace?

After all, running a successful business is about teamwork, strategy and of course, keeping ahead of the competition. Business leaders want to win. Without this positive mental attitude, how would small scale start-ups go on to become industry leaders?

Another key element is skill development. Messi’s journey to becoming the Greatest Of All Time isn’t down to luck. It’s due to a career spent refining his ability, embracing new techniques and adapting to the changing pace of play.

It’s no secret that one of the biggest disruptions to the global businesses playing field is technology, with swift innovations requiring fast learning and adaptation for users to keep up. It’s a whole new ballgame.

However, new research suggests that bringing more gamesmanship in the office can be route to mastering digital transformation.

Stijn Viaene Professor of Digital Transformation at Vlerick Business School & KU Leuven found that setting up team-based games can strongly contribute to the success of a firms’ digital transformation efforts.

What exactly does a digital transformation entail though? In short, it’s the process by which companies embed technologies across their businesses to drive fundamental change. This could be using AI-driven insights to improve sales efficiency or customer targeting, for example, or devising a cloud environment to enable staff to work remotely.

The benefits? Increased efficiency, greater business agility and, ultimately, the unlocking of new value for employees, customers and shareholders.

It’s not all plain sailing though, as Stijn explains it’s not a task to be led by one person alone. “If the digital transformation is to succeed,” begins Stijn, “it must have the support of everyone in the organisation. Digital transformation is rather like turning a tanker; it’s not something that can be achieved by a mere handful of people, let alone one individual”.

Despite equating digital transformation to such a mammoth task, Professor Stijn and his team have proposed a simple game in order to make the process much simpler than it needs to be. 

Enter what he calls the 4-V model, or the four leadership types – a means of creating effective, successful teams.

The 4-V Model - credit to Stijn Viaene, Professor of Digital Transformation, Vlerick Business School & KU Leuven
The 4-V Model – credit, Stijn Viaene, Professor of Digital Transformation, Vlerick Business School & KU Leuven

Professor Stijn visualises the model using a four square grid, with one axis representing both ideas; the task of connecting mental representations, thoughts, beliefs, and actors; connecting human agents, designers, performers. The other axis is split into explore; identifying opportunities and assessing their potential and exploit; developing organisational capabilities to capture opportunities.

Time for a quick breakdown of these four leadership types: Professor Stijin calls these Vigilant, Voyager, Visionary and Vested.

The Vigilant and Visionary leaders are on the ideas side. The Vigilant identifies and explores opportunities, assessing their potential, while the Visionary paints an engaging, energising, and ambitious picture of a successful digital company.

Voyagers tap into the creativity of individuals and teams, turning abstract opportunities into concrete solutions, and Vested leader caters to the versatility and mobility of people and resources.

In order to discern where everyone fits in the 4V model, participants play a game that revolves around the digital transformation of a fictitious bank and consists of three rounds. The participants are divided into small groups, each with their own assignment or project – developing a specific app, setting up the bank branch of the future, outlining the IT strategy etc. At the end of the journey, all these projects must naturally fit together.

“In the first round, we throw the participants in at the deep end,” says Professor Stijn. “Under time pressure, they have to make all kinds of decisions while being faced with unexpected events on a regular basis.”

Just like Tetris blocks, each part has to be the right fit to make the whole thing work, as Professor Stijin explains, “They soon realise that coordinating these initiatives is no easy task. The second round is a moment of reflection. We touch on a sore point: if you aren’t tackling the transformation in an integrated way, end-to-end, then you’re not actually transforming at all”.

Finally, during the third round, participants experiment with their proposals and experience how it feels to assimilate the four roles and collaborate, instead of rushing forward blindly and tackling problems on their own.

Will the participants actually be able to put things into practice after playing this

game? “Definitely,” confirms Professor Stijn. “Not only will they understand the model, they will also be able translate it into the context of their own organisation. In addition, they will be able to profile themselves and their colleagues as one or more of the four types. And, not unimportantly, they will be able to enter into ‘coalitions”.

This, he concludes, could inspire a more collaborative leadership style. “Our model regards leadership as the connection and mobilisation of ideas and actors in order to detect opportunities and make the most of them,” Professor Stijn says. “It also involves continuous learning, especially in turbulent environments.”

Whilst some managers may doubt that dedicating company time to playing gams can be beneficial, Professor Stijn says productivity and games actually go hand in hand. “We now know that gamification leads to the faster and better absorption of knowledge. So while you can explain these kinds of models, which we do, during the game the participants actually get to experience what we mean in practice.”

And, for any other business leaders still stubbornly clinging on to the old ways, the beauty of Professor Stijn’s proposal lies in its simplicity. “The good thing about our model is that you can apply it without turning your whole organisation upside down – precisely because we have freed leadership from its traditional place in the organisation,” he concludes. “We apply an extra ‘layer’ on top of the existing structures, as it were. And as long as you put enough weight on it, this extra layer can break through the silos.”

What Professor Stijn calls ‘Gamification’ could even be applied in a broader context. Research has shown that being good at video games could actually make you a better leader.

So whether it’s at home or the office, don’t let anyone tell you business isn’t a game. In some cases it very much works when it is.

In fact, play well enough and you could be lifting your own silverware.

By, James Dugdale

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