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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Table of Contents


1:  The Problems…………………………………………………………………………..2

2:  The Solutions…………………………………………………………………………..4

3:  Concluding Statement…………………………………………………………………8



This essay will examine the case of the volunteer-staffed educational gaming company and whether it should change its business model regarding the use of volunteer developers.  This essay shows that what the company needs to do is to implement a servant leadership strategy to enable management to be more supportive of and engaged with the volunteers so that the latter can contribute more effectively and efficiently towards their and the company's united aims.  The approach taken in this essay is the ethical culture framework and servant leadership theory, because the company's aim is rooted in a moral cause—the production of non-violent games for users—and it has attracted a strong user and volunteer community base.

1:  The Problems

The main challenges that the company faces are its ability to manage its volunteers and maintain adherence to its core values and vision.  The company's community of supporters is its greatest and strongest asset—however, discouraged management view them as a “risk” and an “inefficiency” (Sutton and Rao, 2014, p. 4).  These few discouraged managers are, however, missing the value of the volunteer community, which helps games go viral through their networks (eliminating marketing costs).  Alienating this base by going “corporate” and hiring developers would cost the company more in the long run.  Volunteers enjoy being part of the process, as Klaus notes, “Our success depends on keeping these people happy” (Sutton and Rao, 2014, p. 4).  Investors will realize this and be attracted.  

The company must identify how to manage its volunteer community more effectively and in such a way that it does not aggravate or turn off its support base (Dinh et al., 2014).  Likewise, it is imperative that leadership in the company all be on the same page, as this is a “shared responsibility” (Andriopoulos and Lewis, 2009, p. 696).  Leadership in the company needs to come together to project one vision and one voice.  If they are not united in the same direction, the company will find it very difficult to clear the hurdles they face in managing their volunteers.  The difficulty of managing volunteers is what is causing leadership to question its vision—but it should remember that its community base is its greatest asset.

Because the company's allure for volunteers is based partly in its moral/ethical orientation towards gaming (no violence in its games), the company's leaders should utilize an ethical theory of leadership and consider the servant leadership approach towards one another.  This approach would not only remind the leaders of the company's core commitment to a new gaming experience and to the stakeholders in the gaming community, but it would also facilitate a company that embodies the firm's vision of serving the community a fresh, new perspective on gaming.

For this company's challenges, servant leadership would be the best approach for management to take with the company's volunteers as well. The company has won over a core community by giving volunteers free reign and near-total control.  Servant leadership would help management to realize more fully the power and responsibility it yields up to its volunteer community and by providing that community with everything it could possibly need it will optimize its potential most fully.  Servant leadership is a powerful way for managers to truly and effectively serve the workers.

One of the company's strengths is its diversity among managers and volunteers.  It truly has a global perspective on what is in demand.  This is a good way to really identify what gamers want and how to give it to them:  it is also an effective way for management to avoid stereotyping its support base—an important aspect of being culturally sensitive, which can help solidify a firm's workplace culture (McCrae and Terracciano, 2006, p. 156; Kissack and Callahan, 2010).  Culture in this sense is defined as a system of values and behaviors shared by those within the organization (Wines, Hamilton, 2009, p. 433).  By recognizing differences and inviting criticism and creative solutions, the company can find unique solutions to gaming issues.

2:  The Solutions

Servant leadership can be defined as a style of leadership in which power is shared and in which fulfilling the needs of others is the primary focus of leadership (Keith, 2009; Hunter et al., 2013).  This style of leadership is particularly adept at developing trust between workers and management, and it enables workers to strongly identify with the mission of the company (Gillet, Cartwright and Van Vugt, 2011, p. 231).  It enables leaders to “prioritize the needs of others” (Liden, Wayne, Liao, Meuser, 2014, p. 1434)—which in this case would help management to place in order of importance the actual values and objectives that are important for their target audience.  For the leadership group, the theory of servant leadership and its ethical framework serves as a guide for role-modeling (Hunter et al., 2013).  By practicing a system of virtue ethics, which is essentially the foundation of servant leadership (Parris and Peachy, 2013, p. 377), the organization's culture can support a group of leaders to be the role models that the individual volunteers see as ideal for a company in the gaming industry that wants to be for and by the gamers.  This style of leadership also plays a role in developing a culture that is dedicated to serving the needs of others:  it influences individual and unit performance by setting the example of behavior that workers are then inclined to “emulate” (Liden, Wayne, Liao, Meuser, 2014, p. 1434).  It also helps managers to abstain from judging others and to accept at face value the desires of those who come to them with needs and/or ideas (Sinaceur, 2010)—in this case, the volunteers, who work at their own pace but who also support the company's vision and ultimate goal.  

The challenge management faces is how to better utilize and motivate the core volunteer base and more efficiently harness their skills to produce better outcomes related to productivity.  As Anderson and Brion (2014) observe, “power is a critical resource for organizational actors,” and the company's power is rooted in its volunteers—it just needs to be drawn out (p. 67).  Servant leadership provides a framework and working example of the importance of working together and working for a cause and is a strong motivational factor for workers who “buy in” to the values, vision and mission of the company.  Promoting these values, vision and mission can be part of the role of the company's culture developers, guided by the theory of servant leadership to unite the individual volunteer and groups of volunteers/gamers (the networks) to the leaders and their goals.

The suspicious and negative attitudes of leaders as displayed by those frustrated by the volunteers' pace and lack of good follow-up ideas for games is a major issue that must be addressed among management as this type of communication is antithetical to the idea of servant leadership (Oza, Srivastava, Koukava, 2010; Bolton, Becker, Barber, 2010, p. 537).  As Pearce and Doh (2015) point out, collaborative social initiatives can have a high positive impact on outcomes.  By promoting a culture of collaboration and servant leadership, the company can harness the core values that propelled it this far and drive the organization in a meaningful way to meet the objectives identified by management.  Those objectives should be clearly defined for stakeholders and volunteer workers so that they know what the aim is and why it matters (Friedman and Miles, 2012).  In defining them for the volunteers, they are also defined for the managers themselves, who must adapt to the vision presented by the firm and conform to the cultural attitudes and conviction developed as most appropriate:  in this manner, management can best expect the kind of changes it needs from volunteers—in changing their own mindset they set the tone and pace for their volunteers (Boaz and Fox, 2014).  To this end, a policy of incentivizing can be pursued so that volunteers within the community feel appreciated for their creative contributions.  Positive and negative incentives are always present in any firm for workers; identifying these and assessing how each works to motivate employees and what managers can do within the servant leadership model to make these incentives most effective is a priority (Ding, He, Wu and Cheng, 2016).

Thus, recommendations for the company are as follows:  1) the firm should adopt and implement a strategy of servant leadership and reaffirm its original core values, mission and aim; 2) it should promote the work of volunteers as this is a strong community that essentially drives the market for the company; management of the volunteers will be facilitated via servant leadership principles; 3) within this framework, the unified management team should develop a culture oriented towards serving the needs of others, which is consistent with the overall aim of the company in terms of gaming—to give gamers a unique, non-violent gaming experience that is developed by users and for users.

These recommendations can be implemented by taking the following steps:  first, the firm should reaffirm its core mission and values, identifying and defining them both for the firm's leaders and the firm's volunteer workers.  This should be published both internally and in a press release that is intended to highlight the valuable work of the volunteers and to thank them for all their input.  The aim of this step is to unite management and personnel as well as the many volunteers who have contributed to the success of the company thus far.  This will also show an evident commitment on the part of leadership to the values and mission that made it appealing to the marketplace and the volunteers in the first place.  

Second, leadership should make clear its decision to stick to its original business model and that anyone who does not want to support this direction should amicably part ways with the company:  all hands must show that they are working to make this model succeed.  This will help to solidify the company's sense of self and provide a better environment for working on strategies to achieve the company's goals rather than entertaining ideas of changing the company into something different (i.e., something more corporate).  The narrative that the company has to tell investors is one that works:  its core community is a vital asset that any firm would love to have—abandoning it to develop a more corporate culture would be to undermine its most vital asset.  Investors will come because the asset is one that truly is important.

Third, servant leadership training will be implemented for management as part of their pledge to adhere to the original business model and to better manage the volunteers.  The workplace culture must also develop a servant leadership code that management can rally around and implement in their daily interactions with one another and with volunteers.  A culture of positivity and service and appreciation is key to the company's future success.

These interventions may proceed immediately with a request by the CEO to have all personnel attend a meeting at which the company plans to reaffirm its commitment to its core community and continue with its business model of using volunteers.  The challenge that the CEO will have to acknowledge is how to motivate volunteers to be even more involved and diligent in the creative process:  this will be the challenge and the CEO should state that the company invites all personnel to offer solutions with the one rule being that the company does not want any solution that strips the volunteers of their sovereignty and freedom to create.  What the company is looking for is a motivating tool—and servant leadership is the key to that.

Another challenge to implementation may be the few leaders in management who disagree about the firm's business model and want to replace it with a more corporate model.  These few leaders can be offered the opportunity to stay and work with the company in its original business model context or if they feel strongly about their views they may be allowed to part ways with the company, as their resistance can be the catalyst to change (not of the mission but of the culture) (Ford, Ford and D'Amelio, 2008).  The CEO should express the desire to see them stay and be part of the solution, but ultimately the choice is theirs.

3:  Concluding Statement

The framework for approaching this case is the ethical culture framework in which the values and mission of the company support the vision and direction and the core community of volunteers adheres to that vision because it impacts them directly and they play a direct role in bringing that vision to fruition.  The theory of leadership that the organization can implement in order to produce the desired results is servant leadership.  The company's main problems are that it has not efficiently managed its volunteers, which has led to a spirit of disaffection among management, some of whom are now looking to change the business model.  What needs to happen is the company needs to better manage its volunteers and more effectively and efficiently engage with them and bring them into the development process.  This can be achieved by adopting a strategy of servant leadership, which places the needs of the volunteers first and at the front of the company's mission.  The second problem the company faces is ensuring that all leaders are on board with the reaffirmation of the company's core values, mission and business model.  Proposed interventions include publishing internally and externally the company's reaffirmation of its mission, values and direction, relying on the work of volunteers and thanking them for their role.  Management should then commit to the course as outlined in the original business model.  Lastly the firm should implement servant leadership training in order to orient leadership towards working with and for the volunteers to achieve the desired outcomes.

What I have learned about organizational behavior from this module is that organizations have a culture that needs to be vitalized and revitalized when demoralized.  Problems may arise to make stakeholders question the validity of the company's original course, but identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the company can help to show what really needs to be addressed—in this case, it was the management approach to its volunteers.  I can re-evaluate my past experiences in the light of this revelation and see that sometimes the problem is with how we lead—thinking exclusive leadership is required when really inclusive or servant leadership can be more effective.  What I will take away from this to apply to my career is the idea that as a manager I can really best serve my company by leading through serving others and helping others to maximize their potential.  It is like being a leader in assists in basketball—a humble but highly prized and valued position.

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