Ep 049 Chuck Coonradt talks about these kids today

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Charles “Chuck” Coonradt is Founder and CEO of The Game of Work, which was founded in 1973, and recently Forbes Magazine called Chuck “The Grandfather of Gamification”. Over one million executives, managers, and supervisors on five continents have been exposed to Chuck’s ideas on feedback, scorekeeping, goal setting, coaching, personal choice and accountability.

His five best-selling books The Game of Work, The Better People Leader, Scorekeeping For Success, Managing The Obvious, and The Four Laws of Financial Prosperity have been labeled management “must read” and are found around the world in many countries and languages.

The Game of Work’s client list includes many Fortune 500 companies, as well as other nationally and internationally recognized firms. Companies that have successfully utilized and implemented Chuck’s unique concepts include Pepsi, US Postal Service, General Foods, Leslie’s Poolmart, Nordstrom, The US Air Force, Boeing, American Express, Molina Healthcare, Coca-Cola Consolidated, The Chicago Tribune, Coors Brewing and International Paper.

A regular day with Chuck is usually a lot of fun. He’s currently retired, so winter includes skiing and workout, the other half is with a coaching of C-suite executives either face-to-face or over the telephone, a small and select number of clients.

Gamification as a term is credited to a combination of Berkeley math majors and some work by some of the big players in Silicon Valley, and Ken Krogue, who was aware of Chuck and was asked to do an article about gamification, said that there was a predecessor to the term, and quoted Chuck in this article, and called him the grandfather of gamification.

An interesting FAIL that Chuck had was with an industry mainly composed of family run business (whose identity will not be disclosed!) His process includes open, frequent sharing of appropriate feedback for appropriate behavior. Even though all the research says we must reinforce positive behavior, what ends up happening most of the time is that we instead measure the mistakes! In this particular project, they were implementing Chuck’s process but there was a stall in progress, so he decided to talk to the CEO aside and asked what was going on. To which the CEO said that he was basically not willing to disclose the scorecards and results with which they were, in the end, measuring the results of the company and hence the employees! Without this disclosure, Chuck’s process simply will not progress, so he decided to refund them and terminate the agreement. After this, he includes upfront, an agreement that the company would disclose, with their own employees, the measurements necessary to increase their success.

Another story was of a time that he was working with a supermarket company with HQ in Boston. They were trying to set up the scorecard with results to resources ratios. He decided to get back into the project to improve it because a key element is ownership and he didn’t feel this was being fulfilled. So speaking with them, they said they needed to measure “shrink” (this includes employee and customer theft and rotten products). In supermarkets, this number is usually as large as net profit. Chuck was thinking that this didn’t make sense because it is subjective, it is not tied to the P&L, it measures a negative behavior, etc. However, given that they’ve found that credibility is more important than accuracy, he bit his tongue and let it continue. After two weeks it seemed to be working, so he kept on waiting, two weeks later it still is working. The next visit included the accounting reports and they were consistent with the scorecards! This meant that what Chuck was thinking initially, that such scorecard made no sense, didn’t make sense! The project was a success but his thinking wasn’t acute, though learning came from it and they realized that ownership was critical for the success in this case, as well as the frequent, actually daily, feedback tool, they were able to modify their own behavior to improve their results in the scorecard!

Another principle that he has found in his experience, is that the feedback needs to be appropriate. This means, for example, if you are in the sales force and generate an amazing new contract, appropriate feedback is not “that is what you’re paid for”, it is a big bell and lots of accolades and cupcakes or whatever. When the performance is not something to celebrate, feedback is corrective but also instructional. You have to accept that you as a coach are responsible for their performance. He mentioned the book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. You have to accept your responsibility as the leader in the outcomes. That’s when you are able to correct the course because you are responsible for the course and the outcome. This is foundational for Chuck’s book The Better People Leader. If you want to listen to Jocko on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, check it out here.

A success story of his process but over which Chuck likes to claim no ownership over is that of a follower, an apostle of Chuck’s process. This person has a son, this was almost 20 years ago when he was going to very early education became a behavioral problem and called the parents. She said that he was just disruptive and might need to be moved to a special place. So the father asked her for the five behaviors she would need from the child in a class, went home and added another five behaviors. They put up a scoreboard where every day he would report which of those he accomplished, and if he got eight out of ten he got a little reward (cheap toy), the kid also created himself a list of what were the things he wanted as rewards for his good behavior. Also, if out of the 50 behaviors in the week, he got 40, the father would give him uninterrupted and undivided 2-hours in the park with him (this dad his a high powered-executive, so this was not a common thing for him). After seven schooldays the teacher asked if the kid was being spanked, paid or similar because from one day to the other the child was doing the five behaviors in school! The dad explains the whole process and the teacher couldn’t believe it. The kid was given a clear direction of the expectations, scores and appropriate feedback! Just beware of the overjustification effect…

Chuck’s epiphany for The Game of Work came while working on a project, for a client who managed a factory of houses. This manager said the problem is “these kids today” because they don’t have the work ethic, etc. This was quite a few years ago, so if it sounds familiar because you heard (or said) it recently, realize this happens for every generation! So they had eight twenty-somethings who were the workers and where “arthritic snails on wet cement”, they were pathetically slow and asked Chuck what he could do about that. Right after the lunch bell rang and all of them ran to a basketball court, they played for 42 minutes enthused, giving it all they got, without a paycheck or annual reviews like in the job. Then they had their quick lunch in the time they had left and gone back to their arthritic snails business… Clearly, the problem was not the raw material but the motivation. It was the most amazing motivational transformation he had ever seen. There he coined the five principles called the motivation of recreation:

  1. Feedback (frequent and appropriate)
  2. Scorekeeping (dynamic and contemporaneous, the players all know the score while the game is in progress so they can change their behavior to win.)
  3. The goals (more clearly defined in play than work, and are available before you start to play.)
  4. The rules don’t change in the middle of a game.
  5. High degree of personal choice (especially on how you reach your objectives.)

We can find all of Chuck’s books on Amazon, even in different languages. There is also his website gameofwork.com, where we can drop him an email and there you can get a free executive summary of his books, in fact you can find the executive summary to Chuck’s book The Game of Work clicking here.

His final advice is to recognize that we all have a desire to succeed and be better, and when you learn to tap into that there is no limit to the level of performance you can get from your team, if you don’t you’ll forever talk about “these kids today…”


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Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


3 Replies to “Ep 049 Chuck Coonradt talks about these kids today”

  1. Josh Steimle

    I met Chuck 20 years ago and he gave me a copy of his book. It seemed so simple, like common sense. It was only as “gamification” became popularized in the business world that I realized how ahead of his time Chuck was. I kept finding myself saying “I know a guy who talked about all this stuff years ago…”

  2. Pingback: Toby Beresford and his Book Infinite Gamification | Episode 141 – Professor Game

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