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A Game Worth Playing

April 11, 2011

From E-Myth Worldwide


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What do you experience when walking through the doors of your business in the morning?

Is there a feeling of tension? Does your mind start reeling at the thought of the day ahead of you? Can you feel your neck and shoulders tighten as a familiar tension headache begins?

Perhaps you let out a big sigh as you walk through the door. Perhaps you’re already thinking about when 5 o’clock rolls around? You feel indifference.

Or maybe you begin each day with anticipation, with excitement, with your eyes wide open. Maybe you show up with a huge smile inside and out, with butterflies in your stomach and the expectation that today will be another glorious day.

Most likely, you experience a little bit of all of these feelings from time to time. We all do. It’s part of being human. But be clear: how you (as the business leader) show up each day is absolutely critical to your overall company culture. Your team will emulate your behavior. They learn from you because you set the tone.

If you want to create a company culture where your employees share your values, where they love what they do and love doing it with you, then you have to create what we call, “a Game Worth Playing.” In The E-Myth Revisited, that game is described like this:


…a place where words such as integrity, intention, commitment, vision and excellence can be used as action steps in the process of producing a worthwhile result.

What kind of result?

Giving your customer the sense that your business is a special place, created by special people, doing what they do in the best possible way.

Now I’m going to ask you to do something that might be difficult (but that’s part of my job as an E-Myth Business Coach). I want you to hold up a mirror to your own business and think about it objectively for a moment. Do your employees share your values? Are they performing as you wish them to? Is there a sense of camaraderie and of playing on the same team? If not, perhaps it’s time to take an honest look at the state of employee relations and your company culture as it stands today.

Objective Observations

Adam, the owner of a dental clinic, wanted to build a world-class business but felt like he couldn’t get past the daily employee frustrations. Adam feels a deep dedication to excellence, high performance and professionalism, and he worried that his employees’ behavior didn’t match his own.

But before trying to “fix” what he assumed wasn’t working right, I suggested that he must first strive to understand what the true day-to-day situation really was in the company. What were his employees encountering on a daily basis? To understand it properly, he must observe it objectively.

We talked about this at great length, and ultimately, Adam felt that he was too close to the situation and wouldn’t be able to observe the office environment as an objective bystander. It was troubling for him to observe and not jump in. The Technician in him wanted to take over and do it himself.

So he got some help. His brother, a successful business owner in his own right, went “undercover” as a janitor for a day, doing some odd fix it jobs around the office.

“I asked him to just observe the company culture while he was there. I asked him to listen; to feel it. He came back with lots of feedback and boy, he really helped me see the situation with fresh eyes. I really had no idea about the way some things were working (or not)!” Adam told me.

One of the things Adam’s brother observed was how hard his employees worked to clean and prep for a new patient and how often they had less than sufficient time to do so.

“From my perspective, it just felt like my team never had the stations prepared the way I needed them to be when I walked in,” Adam said. “But in reality, they couldn’t have them done to my standards in the time we provided. It wasn’t their fault, it was a system flaw.”

This was a big revelation for Adam. It prompted him to call a special company meeting to review the patient experience from start to finish. When they did this as a group, they identified many areas for improvement and everybody felt heard and appreciated. It was their first attempt at such a thing and it went so well, it’s now become a regular practice for them.

If you’ve ever seen the CBS show “Undercover Boss,” you know just how powerful it can be for a boss to be exposed to the true workings of a company. Now, I’m not saying you have to do that yourself–or have a family member assist you like Adam did. Many business owners can (and do) observe their company culture themselves with great success. It’s just important to note that in order for this exercise to work, you must be able to remain impartial.

Defining the Game

To get your employees to act as you want them to, they have to want to play your game. The degree to which your employees can buy into your game is the degree by which you’ve communicated the results and rewards of that game to them. Employees want to know what game you are asking them to play, and then they want to decide if this is something they want to learn to do and to become experts at.

As a starting point, you may want to consider the following:

  • Are you willing to jump in and play the game yourself? If you don’t buy into the game, no one else will.


  • Do you stop to celebrate benchmarks and victories along the way? If you don’t take the time to recognize people’s accomplishments, they won’t want to accomplish anything.



  • Is the game appealing to people, or is it the same boring thing every day? It’s important to have a strategy, but it’s okay to switch tactics to keep things interesting.


  • Do you expect this game to be self-sustaining, with no additional support or reminders? People don’t want to guess; they want to know the exact rules of the game.



Communication is Key

Communication is the key to building your company culture. Employees get frustrated and quit when they feel like they are not heard, appreciated, or valued. The antidote to that is to develop a regularly-scheduled time and place for employees and managers to talk with one another.

Holding regular employee development meetings can literally transform the business. The way these meetings are set up is extremely important because an employee needs to know that he or she won’t be judged or discriminated against if they speak their mind.

Ground rules for conducting the meetings should detail requirements and agendas so that everyone knows what to expect. At a minimum, this is a place to review employee work and follow-up with assignments. It is also a great opportunity to find out about an individual’s passions and goals in life, and then to find a way to connect and align these passions and goals with what they do in their jobs.

Practice, Determination, and Commitment

For Adam, successfully implementing the appropriate systems took practice, dedication, and commitment. “It wasn’t easy to change from the old way of doing things to how we do it now,” he told me, “but it is amazing how working on developing a positive company culture has transformed my business. As the business has grown, I have delegated the responsibility of conducting the meetings to my managers, who have also been developing their employee mentoring skills.”

And when frustrations do come up, employees know that there is a blame free systems solution for discussing the problem that they are experiencing. “It completely opened the doors of communication and added a renewed sense of excitement and fun for my employees, more than any incentive program could have produced,” he concluded. “The managers and I listen and respond to the employees, and the employees say that they feel we genuinely care about them. When everyone walks through the office door in the morning, there is a good feeling because we all know that we’re playing on the same team.”


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