New rules of the game that dó help leaders in organisations.

On 16 October, it is boss’s day (m/f). But what is there to celebrate, now we have reached an all-time low in terms of employee engagement in Europe? At 14%, our score is the lowest in the worldHow do we get this score back up? Covid doesn’t seem to have taught us anything. We are doing the same as before, with the same rules of the game. However, the world has changed. We may have missed opportunities, but it is not too late. It is time to change the rules of the game.

Dear bosses, are you reading this?

All around us, everyone seems busy as ever. Instead of coming up with new ideas after the lockdown period, we are on overcrowded trains and even facing 17% more traffic jams than in 2019 in The Netherlands (FD). Once in the office, it appears that our connection with colleagues has been weakened by working from home. Bosses seem focused on meeting targets, whereas it is important to make time for shared exchanges. Statements from employees such as “When I’m sitting at home, it doesn’t really matter who my employer is; my workplace is the same anyway.” or “I have been working in this job for just over two years now and I have never seen my colleagues live.” show that there is a greater need for contact with colleagues. An opportunity for all bosses to turn the tide.

To create more engagement, a boss has several options. One is to include employees in strategy formation and implementation. Linking business objectives to employees’ interests and strengths creates new energy. Think of the strategy execution process as a game.

Playing in common interest

What does the game look like if we are allowed to redefine it? And what should it comply with? The great thing is: we can determine that together, without it being imposed by someone from ‘above’. It is time to take control as employees too, so that everyone can use his or her qualities. Once that happens, the collective outcome will be greater than the sum of the actions of each individual.

Let’s illustrate this using a game of chess. Using the chessboard as the playing field, the base from which an organisation communicates with its employees (internal) and customers and other stakeholders externally, the stakeholders (external). They play with the colours black and white.

Now imagine giving some chess pieces a third colour. These are joint chess pieces, which can be used to make both sides better and work together. This change creates a completely different dynamic. Instead of two groups facing each other, we are now in an ecosystem. By building bridges between different disciplines, we can achieve joint success. When the pieces are in the right place to harness the energy of both the organisation and the stakeholders, interaction takes the form of a joint chess game. Here, you can intune with existing habits and determine which patterns are still helping to get things done. In consultation, the rules are changeable (adaptive). You no longer win by beating the other, but you move your pieces to achieve a common goal. The organisation is part of an ecosystem in motion and adaptable to developments from inside and outside.

New rules of the game

If you delve into strategy processes, you might conclude that strategy formation has traditionally been seen as a loose process. In fact, research shows that 57% of companies do not get strategic plans implemented. A select group of people determine the strategy and the management approves it. Employees then take note of it via an e-mail or intranet message. In other words, the strategy is thrown over the fence.

If you translate this situation to chess, you see that each department plays with its own pieces, but the link with the environment is missing. There is no cohesion. Senior executives recognise the importance of strategy implementation, but a majority admit that their company is failing in it.

With the new rules of the game, this would be relatively easy to solve. By focusing on the common interest, you ensure higher engagement of both employees and external stakeholders. This involves questions like: what do you want to achieve together, as a board, management team or team? And: what do you yourself, as an individual, want to achieve? Make that transparent and coordinate. Before taking action, ask the question more broadly in the organisation: What stands in the way of the strategy? Remove these barriers or adjust the strategy. Think about what is good for the whole, consider what role different people, groups or teams would like to play in it. You are in your own place and you have shared pieces. The playing field is an ecosystem in which you act. Taking the new rules into account, it results into a strategic interaction model.

Translated to the chessboard, this looks like this:

Strategy – joint pieces

  • Bishop – the bridge builder for cross-functional, multidisciplinary cooperation
  • Rook – provides structure, clarity and how we interact with each other (value-driven), overview, monitors boundaries where necessary


  • King – encourages personal growth, organisational rituals and transparent culture
  • Queen – stakeholder of stakeholders, decisive role model

Inspired action

  • Horse – courageous leadership, role model who maintains relationships, strong alignment
  • Pawn – anchors change through small steps, finds opportunities to initiate change

Inspired action

Inspired action happens when you understand what needs to be done, you are behind it, when what you do really matters and you enjoy getting it done. It is an intuitive process. Feeling what is there instead of imagining how it is. Letting go of control and trusting that the right thing will happen. The trick is to play with new, connecting skills to create space.

While researching the origins of chess, we read that chess originally had no queen. In her place was a counselor to the king, the weakest piece on the board that could only move a square. In the Middle Ages, he was replaced by the queen, who was given the freedom to move unrestricted straight and diagonally across the board. According to Dutch author Tim Krabbé, “the queen is the best thing that has happened to chess”. Her entrance changed the game; it became more exciting and faster.

Dear bosses of Europe: do you dare to look differently and formulate those rules of the game that do help the people, the organisation and the ecosystem?