The Madness Over March Madness

Thursday March 23, 2017 comments

Blame it on my admiration for successful organizations that have chosen NOT to make a policy out of everything and yet have spectacular results. Places like Netflix and Nordstrom come to mind. By contrast, when I read of advice to business leaders about the need to codify rules around everything that employees might even think of doing that could negatively impact productivity, I wince.

We’re at Sweet 16, smack in the middle of March Madness. So, those who would wring their hands cite:

  • A change in the behavior of employees;
  • An increase in the number of sick days used;
  • Extended lunch breaks;
  • Rescheduling of conference calls to allow for more tournament watching;
  • That 97% of the $10.4 billion in bets are not placed in Las Vegas making them illegal; and
  • That there could be illegal discrimination based on who is allowed to participate.

Their answer – make a policy; prohibit any pools or gambling; limit participation to non-work areas on non-work hours. Same old same old.

The reality is that there are about 70 million brackets filled out. That’s more than voted for either candidate in the Presidential election a few months ago. There are less than 125 million full-time employees in the US. Guess where a lot of the brackets and the pools happen? The workplace. Guess how many crackdowns the FBI or any state’s Gaming Commission have done on a workplace related to March Madness brackets? Crickets.

Creating a policy won’t create compliance. It will create eyeroll and move the gambling underground. It will still happen. There are better ways to deal with big, temporary phenomena like this. Why not use this March Madness as the impetus to improve productivity without throwing another policy at employees who will never read it? Here are 7 ways:

  • Own It. Not the gambling part; the enthusiasm for March Madness. Offer company-provided and (if needed) low cost prizes and get everyone having fun together. Arrange after-hours parties to watch games together at night. Cater it, go to a sports bar, or just make it a pot luck. Use it for comradery. When you build that rather than a policy, you have something more substantial to rely on – a team.
  • Use It for Teambuilding. Have different teams work together to complete a bracket as a team rather than as individuals. Each team can then compete against others for prizes you provide rather than gambling. Mix it up - get people who don’t typically work together, to play together. This kind of play spills over into work relationships that enhance productivity.
  • Reinforce Broad Policies. You may already have written policies or unwritten norms in place related to productivity and things that are appropriate use of worktime versus break time. Use March Madness as a way to remind everyone of those policies. You’ve got a great current example in March Madness which will make the policy easier to understand. Let your examples be specific and your policies be general.
  • Create a Productivity Team. You don’t have to mention March Madness. Create a productivity team, educate them on why productivity matters, and solicit their thoughts on how to increase productivity, raise awareness, and get efficiencies. Give them credit for focusing everyone on productivity. If your informal leaders are part of this process, they will own it and others will buy in. They will uncover waste from the trenches that you would never find from above.
  • Create Productivity Awards. Give it a name that fits your culture, language, and vibe. I have clients that could probably call such an award, “Gets Crap Done Award,” though they wouldn’t use the word “crap.” I have others that could call such an award, “The Game Changer Award,” or “The Bottom Line Award.” Allow peers to nominate peers. Those focusing too much on March Madness won’t get nominated.
  • Create Gainsharing or Profit Sharing. Either way, you can structure an incentive program for employees that will introduce peer pressure to eliminate wasted time, reduce expenses, and increase profits. And you can create a plan that funds itself. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing. Harness it this way and it lifts a higher standard than you ever could by a policy.
  • Address Deficient Productivity. The issue isn’t March Madness. Devoting work time to March Madness is a symptom, a behavior, or a value that may not be in sync with yours. Talk about the underlying issue rather than just the current manifestation of it. There is a job to be done, and each member of the team must pull their own weight. When someone isn’t, address it!

In the grand scheme of things, March Madness is just one of many things that could negatively impact productivity. There will always be others. Find a way to harness those rather than letting them erode productivity. If you try to pass or revise policies every time an event in society creates a new productivity drain, you will be so busy that it will reduce your productivity. And you’ll be continually in a Band-Aid mode rather than a preventive mode. That doesn’t really fix the problem, it just covers it up.


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