Engagement of employees is one of today’s biggest challenges for CEOs, especially in a tight-labor economy. One chief uses an innovative way to get employees fired up at the same time that she is whipping up enthusiasm by clients, creating a win-win scenario that has been unfolding annually for five years.
She gamifies tax accounting. Karen Abramson, CEO of Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting, oversees a two-day “coding” event called the Code Games that exposes employees to smart thinking and the latest technology at the same time that it fosters bonds between Wolters Kluwers staffers and their clients.
The company charges teams consisting of its employees and big-client representatives with crashing for 24 hours to come up with their own digital innovation, or adopt an idea listed by a project-management team.
“They’re supposed to produce a minimally viable product that day or the next day,” Abramson told Chief Executive. “Then they’re judged by a panel of our managers and people from our customers about what product coming out of the games is most innovative and will create the most value.”
The U.S. arm of Wolters Kluwer is based in New York and is part of an Amsterdam-based parent concern that generates about $1.5 billion in annual revenues from offices in about 120 countries.
Code Games began in a company development center in Dallas when some new managers were attempting a team-building exercise with customers because some employees were new to the organization. “We didn’t want to call it a ‘hackathon,’” Abramson said, “because it wasn’t that – and that sounded unsafe. We started with 25 employees and a food truck and one customer.”
Abramson promoted the idea company-wide, and now participation has grown 2,000 percent since 2014, with 800 employees competing in 21 global cities in 2018.
Code Games succeeds with customers because “they like being part of innovation,” Abramson said. “You put the customer at the center of what you do and you see that they come alive.”
And for employees, she said, Code Games are avidly anticipated. “We have to show software developers how important their work is and connect them with customers and even our customers’ customers,” Abramson explained. “They need to see the impact they’re making in a very real way, and for our development teams to engage with customers who say, ‘This really matters to me,’” often because it saves time and labor.
“Plus spending more time with clients drives a great deal of purpose, which is a strong driver of engagement.”
For Abramson, the success of Code Games also underscores the importance of “finding innovation organically in your organization and bringing it forward. Feed it with some kind of an event like this, or you can get stale.”