The 4 Phases of an Employee Journey: How to Ensure Top Talent Stays Engaged into the Endgame

The 4 Phases of an Employee Journey: How to Ensure Top Talent Stays Engaged into the Endgame

Employee Engagement Gamification: It’s Still All About People

How will your company be successful in the next 3-5 years? Why do you think your products or services will take the marketplace by storm? Do you think it is the head start on your competition or your company’s deep subject matter expertise? Or perhaps your tradition of excellence? These traits are important, but there is another important aspect that is easily forgotten but is increasingly becoming essential for your business’ long-term success: long-term employee engagement.

Many employers are focusing on various employee retention strategies to make sure their top talent stays. The right mixture of top talent engenders long-term success in organization. So how do you discover and retain these people when other organizations are offering them better packages?

The right mixture of top talent will engender long-term success in your organization. So how do you discover and retain these people when other organizations are offering them better packages?

No matter your industry, you are competing for people. You’re competing against startups and companies to attract the top talent in your industry.The key differentiator for you is engagement.

The good news. With hard work and careful Octalysis design, you can build an employee engagement system that keeps your best employees on your team for the long term.

At the Octalysis Group, we’ve helped companies understand their “hiring package” is about much more than monetary compensation. And it doesn’t end with the package. The employee motivation and engagement design extends far beyond the moment a new employee signs on the dotted line.Using human-focused design and gamification designed for the modern workplace, let’s see how we can bring employees through the 4 phases of the Employee Journey, from Discovery to Onboarding to Scaffolding and finally to the promised land of the Endgame.

We need to design for how they arrive and embed in the company (Employee Onboarding); how you can get them to become senior professionals that add even more value (Employee Scaffolding); and, finally, how can you retain these very seasoned professional also in the long term? (The Endgame is the most difficult to design for, so be sure to check that part of this article.)

The hiring process (Discovery)

Designing a rewarding discovery phase for your (potential) employees is crucial.

Remember, whatever Octalysis Core Drives you present will depend on your target audience (player type).

If they are Millennials, emphasizing epic meaning and calling or making a difference will be very important.

But for other groups it may be more important to emphasize the potential for growth (Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment) or working with others like you (Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness).


Why Discovery matters

Here’s what Yu-kai Chou has to say about Discovery, the first phase in any experience:

The [potential employee’s] first experience with an [company] is through Discovery – becoming aware of it and gaining a minimum level of familiarity. Familiarity to the point where they can even decide if it is worth more of their time and attention.

A potential hire can find out about your company in a lot of ways, from hearing from a friend or colleague, to a news item, to actually using your product or service.

But how would you really like people to hear about you?

The market for something to believe in is infinite.

-Seth Godin


What does your company believe in?

What does your company believe in that others don’t?

Find a way to present this information to your candidates. Again, especially if they are Millenials. If your company’s beliefs are clear in your marketing (and you feel candidates should know this prior to the interview), be sure to check for understanding and alignment early in the interview process to avoid wasted time.

Starting here also helps you find the people you need to win.

Getting to the heart of epic meaning and calling zeros in on an area of alignment that will bind people to a long-term mission. The individual and the hiring manager must see how this person will be part of the tribe.

What If epic meaning and calling isn’t part of our company?

Most companies have a vision or mission, and a desire to fulfill  a unique role for mankind or be a hero actor for a certain group of customers. A subset of these companies actually live their vision and mission in true epic meaning and calling style.

If epic meaning and calling isn’t part of your vision and mission, however, be honest about this.

If your company is driven more by Development and Accomplishment or by becoming the leader in the marketplace (Core Drive 2) and being the recognized brand leader (Core Drive 4 and 5), then be clear about that. It won’t help to overstate or invent epic meaning and calling when your company doesn’t demonstrate as much in its actions.

Despite this caveat, most companies do at minimum have a Narrative (Game Technique # 10), which is a story that generates context about where your company has been, where it is now, and where the company is moving toward in the future. This helps the prospective employee understand how she will move with you.

Make the hiring process select for aligned people

If your organization is great, you will expect many applications when you advertise openings.

Besides the standard filtering mechanisms, you should build the skills and cultural fit into the hiring process itself.

Does your company give a lot of autonomy and encourage creativity on the job (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback)? Great, then give the applicants a small project to complete which will allow them to demonstrate this skill set and mindset. This immediately narrows the playing field and shows you how much someone is willing to do without a guarantee of reward.

You can save mountains of time by incorporating online forms, one-way video interviews, and scalable mini-projects to share with the applicant pool even before doing live or two-way video interviews.

Incorporating challenge

For our recent hiring at The Octalysis Group, we incorporated a challenge from a lifestyle productivity app in an RPG format, Habitica. We asked “contestants” to use the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard to complete a redesign of the app.

Because we have a strong understanding of Octalysis and the Core Drives that motivate all behavior, we included potential rewards of both part- and full-time trainee for contestant winners.

But!… First, the contestant finalists would have to (and get to) present in front of Yu-kai Chou. The idea is: “You’ve got to impress us in this Boss Fight (Game Technique #14) before we’ll hire you on.”

A quick note. Because many people–even people that would love to work with us–won’t work entirely for free, we offered a Level 1 Octalysis Certificate for completion of the application project. This is a recognized certificate in the gamification community.

We’re confident this design will inspire very strong candidates to consider working with us as we grow The Octalysis Group’s client base in 2017 and beyond.

Let’s move onto Onboarding.

First few months (Onboarding)

Onboarding further sets the tone for several relationships between:

  • the employee and the organization
  • the employee and her peers
  • the employee and her managers or leaders, and
  • the employee and her work itself.

Beyond these relationships, the HR team and managers should try to understand what kind of an employee the person is developing into. That’s where employee types come into play.

Let’s have a look at each of these. But first…

Why Onboarding matters

Onboarding is all about making applicants feel they made the right choice and about making them feel really accomplished.

Since starting a new job can be slightly scary, also think about creating social support via a buddy system or a mentor.

Creating relationships while emphasizing narrative

For years, Nike sent people on a week-long Onboarding trip called Ekin (Nike spelled backward). This mandatory retreat helped employees get to know other new hires but also learn about the company Narrative and Brand.

In this way, they reinforced epic meaning and calling in the context of a social influence and relatedness experience.

For the employee, getting to know managers and leaders is also important. Even though he runs a 700-person company, Gary Vaynerchuk does employee 1-on-1s to learn about the distinct motivations of each of his employees. If someone is motivated by money and vacation, that’s fine and Gary will ensure his larger People Team incorporates that into their motivation for that employee. If an employee wants big responsibility, then they will cater experiences building toward that in performance-reward activity loops. Gary doesn’t call this type of employee engagement ‘gamification,’ but he clearly understands how to motivate his players across all levels as evidenced by the successful scaling of his organization.

Training, ensuring safety and comfort

When I worked at Target, the first 12 weeks were a training period. Our cohort of 50 new hires worked together to get up to speed on skills and knowledge. A team of trainers taught us mornings while our mentor coached us afternoons.

This allowed for relationships to form between peers and between mentor-mentees. It was also a form of evaluation as Target needed to decide where to place these new hires within the organization. Which brings us to…

Identifying employee types

Another crucial task for the HR team or team manager is to understand the people on the team.

Employees will naturally fit into one of four types. Note that these types are separate from other archetypes like Achiever, Explorer, Socializer, and so on.

(Your design will need to help you stay informed as people are able to move between these four types, BUT prematurely labeling someone and not allowing them to change places a dangerous bias on that individual’s capacity to grow.)

The balancing act will be to design a system for employee motivation that takes into account all the Player Types.

Gamified Player Type: Survivors

Yu-kai Chou, in Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, describes each of the player types.

For the Low Performance and Low Politics quadrant, I call them “Survivors.” Survivors are there simply to collect a paycheck (Core Drive 4) and not get fired (Core Drive 8). As a result, they usually just work hard enough to collect their paychecks and not get fired, and then they stop exerting effort.

Survivors are not necessarily dumber or less efficient at what they do. More often than they are just not motivated or incentivized to do good work. Survivors often like to say things like, “Why should I do this? I won’t get paid more to do it.” or “Last year I did way more work but I didn’t get a bonus. There’s no point.”

Motivational design (gamification) can help Survivors become Performers. As you monitor employees, keep your eye out for Survivors to move into your engagement design.

Gamified Player Type: Performers

Also from Yu-kai:

For the High Performance but Low Politics quadrant, I call them “Performers.” Performers are people who do great work and finish their deliverables in efficient and reliable manners. They are often the people that solve problems that no one else on the team can solve. However, they have a natural dislike (or ignorance) towards corporate politics, and therefore never spend the time to make friends or work on other peoples’ feelings and motivations.

Performers are important players in your company because they do great work. Your employee motivation design should encourage them to remain Performers or even move them into the Star category.

The only bad result is that a Performer drops into the Survivor category. This could happen if they see politics without performance get rewarded.

Gamified Player Type: Politicians

Yu-kai also positions Politicians, but suggests dissuading them:

For the Low Performance but High Politics quadrant, I call them “Politicians.” Politicians are people who don’t necessarily do great work (not terrible enough to get fired though), but they are good at mingling and making everyone like them. They would regularly invite coworkers and VPs to lunch, share secret gossip as if they were everyone’s best friend, and have a knack for claiming credit and recognition.

Politicians love having meetings to show how important they are, and often are very outspoken, especially with higher-level managers in them. When it comes to delivering the agreed work from the meetings, they often defer that to the Performers, and then report all the great things about it in the next week meeting, which makes it seem like they are doing good work again.

Politicians are not necessarily amoral, and organizations need them as people lubricants. They are simply keen on taking the most frictionless path to improving their careers. Politicians often contemplate “I need to invite the VP out for lunch this week and let him know how important of a role I took in the project.”


Gamified Player Type: Stars

Through Leadership Training, your organization can develop Stars:

Finally, for the High Performance and High Politics quadrant, I call them “Stars.” Stars are usually the individuals who rise to the top of an organization. They are great at delivering great work, but are also great at factoring in everyone’s feelings to make things happen.

Stars strive not only to perform on an individual level, but they try to get the entire group to perform too. They see work as their game, and they often work night and weekends to achieve the highest score they can possibly get. Stars often think of challenges like, “how do I get all the VP teams to cooperate so we can beat projections this year.”

Understanding each of the player types will help you engage all your employees across each of the stages of their employee journey.

So far we’ve covered Discovery and Onboarding. Let’s move on to Scaffolding.

Year 1-3 (Scaffolding)

From Yu-kai’s Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, Yu-kai defines Scaffolding in the following way:

Scaffolding starts once a player has learned the basic tools and rules to play the game and has achieved the “First Major Win-State.

And something important to consider as you design engagement loops for this part of the journey:

Regarding the scaffolding phase, one thing to note is that more often than not, it requires the exact same (or very similar) actions on a regular/daily basis, and the Gamification designer must answer the question, “why would my users come back over and over again for the same actions?

Watching how an employee responds to criticism or setbacks and feedback will help you predict what type of an employee they might become from a player type standpoint.

Why Scaffolding is important

Ensuring employees have clear goals and are getting immediate feedback on what they are doing is key during Scaffolding. Always ensure that feedback is never a win-lose proposition: it should always be an encouragement to improve while trying and experimenting even more.
Step away from traditional yearly appraisals, but think about ways to have more frequent but less heavy ‘conversations’ that happen on a weekly or monthly basis.

Finding a place in the culture

People need to feel safe and comfortable expressing their views and doing their best work.

How well does your organization design the workplace environment AND the everyday workflow experience to create safety and comfort?

Mentorship (Game Technique #61), is effective because it builds accountability for growth in a one-to-one relationship.

During the rigorous process of joining a Fraternity in American universities, most fraternities have a Big Bro/Little Bro system where an experienced member in the organization will be matched up with a new potential member going through a semester-long training process known as “pledging.” The Big Bro is there to serve as a mentor that provides not only directional guidance, but also emotional support to make sure the time-consuming process of pledging becomes more bearable. This practice has lasted for over a century and shown to improve the Onboarding experience of members joining the organization.

When things aren’t going well for an employee, they can get support. When they are problem-solving, they can get input. When they are trying to move to the next stage, whether to a new project or to get a promotion, they have help.

Starting a group quest…

The earlier you can get your employees into a Group Quest, the better. Even if you must train them, you should also give insights and daylight to the Group Quest they will soon embark on during Scaffolding. Ideally, this challenge is related directly to your Narrative and the epic meaning and calling you painted in the interview process and Onboarding.

In Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards, Yu-kai discusses the very effective Group Quest (Game Technique #22).

The game technique Group Quest is very effective in collaborative play as well as viral marketing because it requires group participation before any individual can achieve the Win-State.

A successful game that utilizes this is World of Warcraft, another fanatically successful and addictive game made by Blizzard Entertainment.  In WoW, there are many quests that are so challenging that it requires an entire team of 40 max-leveled players to work together, each specialized in their own responsibilities, before they have a chance of beating the quest. In well-designed instances, even though the 40-player requirement is not imposed by the program, the users simply find it difficult to win if they had 39 players.

Let’s move onto Endgame, the most difficult phase of the experience to design for.

Year 3-? (Endgame)

The Endgame is notoriously difficult to design for. What motivates an employee in years 1-3 may change during that time and may change again to keep them motivated in the long term.

From Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards:

The Endgame is the 4th and final experience phase of Octalysis Gamification. The Endgame is all about how you retain your veterans and obtain more longevity in your experience.

This is the phase where users have done everything there is to do at least once (according to their perception), and they are figuring out why should they stick around and continue to play the game (especially when there are newer more exciting alternatives out there).

First of all, it is increasingly rare that people stay with companies for more than a few years. But they definitely won’t stay and do their best work while staying unless you design for it.

Why the Endgame matters

Veterans in your company are your brand ambassadors for new employees. Involve them in the Onboarding of new employees and in the support of people that are in Scaffolding.
How can you use their knowledge and expertise to create new ways of working, new products, new services?
By involving these key long-term players in all the building of company culture and in the drive to the future, you are giving these players more status and creativity to keep them motivated in the years ahead.

What not to do (a bad design)

Don’t lock people into staying based on monetary loss and avoidance.

My friend waived getting his business school paid for because he didn’t like the situation at the company enough (even though they’d agreed to pay him). He forewent the payment and decided to work for a different company. Basically, he passed on over $100k to quit.

I watched people wait and then quit in April from Target after their bonuses came through. Do you think those people were working super hard from December to April?

We often see that Black Hat design like loss and avoidance doesn’t work anyway. I left a job that wasn’t aligned with my long-term goals and gave up over $150k in salary and benefits over two years to pursue my own business.

The right way

Finding a workable Endgame is one of the hardest things to do in today’s employee marketplace. Loyalty isn’t valued in the same way and there is greater freedom of movement with globalization and technology improving remote-work experiences and distributed teams.

We believe long-term employee engagement comes down to several key factors, beginning with day-to-day engagement. If an employee loves the work they are doing, and the HR and managers and leaders continually adapt as the employee grows and matures with the company to give them stimulating work, then they will stay.

Think about status, access, power, and stuff.

Here’s two examples of how status elevates employees in a reward structure:

  • At a standard sales company, the salesperson that is highlighted as the best salesperson with a cooler office space will stay longer even if his salary isn’t increased.
  • A Star player at a design firm will stay on if she is given the highest-prestige design challenges for the company with the most elite brands.

Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback

The Golden Corner of the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis is Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback. Without a doubt, a Star player for the long-term will require this. It’s the drive that arguably requires us to do anything for the long term.

Properly rewarding this drive is delicate, requiring constant communication with your best employees to understand how they view their creativity.

Rewards should align and outpace their expectations and be performance-driven. Ever-increasing status should come with the territory, too.

Has your Star player been asking to do an extra project for some time? Maybe now is the time to give her free reign to run with that project with little oversight.


Helping companies create systems of lasting employee engagement is at the core of The Octalysis Group’s mission. Creating meaningful work for people in the future is a key challenge for even the very best organizations.


To learn how we can assist your firm in creating long term employee engagement and get a stronger market position, contact us right now.

Joris Beerda, Managing Director The Octalysis Group

Leading Octalysis Expert, International Keynote Speaker, Behavioral Scientist and Managing Director of The Octalysis Group.

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