Mark Ames is director of government relations at the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and a member of ASAE’s Government Relations and Advocacy Professionals Advisory Council.
For government relations teams looking to improve productivity, engagement, and accomplishments, adding gaming may be the strategy your association needs to level up.
It’s important for your government relations department to have a strategy, but how do you create one? We often turn to the familiar, creating elaborate plans like Matryoshka dolls. However, as time passes, the team is not accomplishing as many goals as hoped and morale is slipping. The problem isn’t you or your team; it’s the game—or rather the lack of one.
Teams love to win a game that challenges them to achieve new levels of excellence, growing individually and together as a group. When they’re playing a game like that, they’ll come up with creative, previously unimagined ways of succeeding. To create this kind of engagement and success, you need a game and a scoreboard.
Drawing inspiration from 4 Disciplines of Execution methodology, a government relations scoreboard can transform your team into a productive powerhouse. To get started, work with your team to select one to three goals that matter most. Each goal should meet the following four criteria:
Once you have your goals, you’re ready to create a scoreboard. Let’s illustrate this using the fictitious association, the Mowers and Ornamentals Organization—or MOO.
MOO’s government relations team includes Vishal, Melissa, and Andrea. MOO’s top goal is to get 20 bills or amendments that promote or protect MOO’s interests enacted into law between January 1 and December 31, 2023. They can’t directly control which bills or amendments are introduced or enacted, so they come up with two Point Goals (A and B), which they believe will influence the top goal. (See tables)
Players have multiple ways of winning and the freedom to devise their own strategies. This creates a sense of autonomy and ownership, while encouraging learning and lasting engagement. For instance, under Goal A, team members could meet their weekly goal by sending one letter to a legislator on a high-priority goal (worth 3 points) or they could send three letters to legislators on lower-priority issues (each worth 1 point).
Players can get ahead by sending multiple high-priority letters in a single week and then focusing on other projects for a bit, coasting on their high scores. If a player needs to quickly catch up, then they have a clear path for doing so—focus on high-point-value activities.
In addition to being motivating, scoreboards provide valuable insights into individual and team performance, helping you identify behavioral patterns. For instance, looking at Goal B, Andrea is a high performer, but goes through periods of intense activity followed by lower performance, possibly due to burnout. Perhaps with an intervention, she can avoid burnout and boost performance.
Similarly, while Vishal fell short of his yearly goal for B, he led the team for A, earning more than twice as many points as Andrea. Vishal likely enjoys writing much more than Andrea or knows techniques that fuel his efficiency, which could present interesting learning and professional development opportunities for them both.
Not to be left out, Melissa was a superstar in Goal B, helping the team achieve its yearly goal, even though Vishal fell a bit short. She was also the second-highest performer for Goal A, distinguishing herself as consistent, reliable, and a real asset for MOO.
Recognizing and celebrating individual and team successes is vital to maintaining motivation and momentum. Don’t wait until a year-end review; instead, also recognize and celebrate successes at weekly and quarterly intervals.
Even when teams don’t win, as long as the spirit of learning stays alive, then you never truly fail, and will instead continue to improve. The game of government relations, and life more broadly, is yours to win. All it takes is a bit of creative thinking about the systems that surround and motivate us. Have fun and go play.