Gamification Basics

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World-class gymnast Dan Millman wrote in his 1980 book The Peaceful Warrior that “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” What does this have to do with gamification you ask? Well, until recently, most organizations used gamification as a tool to motivate employees through competition – assuming that one’s primal needs to separate oneself from the rest are what drive motivation.

Today’s enterprise gamification takes a broader and more modern view of human motivation, understanding that it goes beyond points, badges and leaderboards, and that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation. Gamification isn’t a magic potion that makes work mesmerizing. It is much more than points, badges and leaderboard… Research shows that using game mechanics which carry a meaning and provide a sense of mastery and autonomy can create super-engagement.

The additional “new” here is that gamification can also change culture, communication and performance management. These are the less-cited results of gamification but we thought we’d list them. Using gamification “right” has a lot of other great, unintended consequences. Here are 10 that are perhaps less known, but worth their weight in gold:

  1. Objective data/Transparency

    Implementing gamification requires automatic collection of objective performance data. Data about the productivity of sales people, call center employees, training and use of knowledge collaboration. Regardless of what enterprise app you are using as the basis for gamification, the actual collection of the data, the decisions of which KPIs to measure and the consistent measurement have value in and of themselves. Suddenly, you’re not rating employees based on what their managers say but based on real, hard data. The results can be surprising sometimes – showing hidden top performers. Additionally, employees understand objectivity and their perception of the data as objective and transparent makes them feel the rules of the game are fair.

  2. Gamification is simpler for managers

    The same objective data that is integrated into the gamification app is also helpful for managers. It gives managers accurate and unbiased information about all employees — a single source of truth for performance tracking needs.

  3. Feedback

    Once performance tracking is automated and tied into enterprise applications, periodic performance updates (we recommend measuring a person-team against their own benchmark and not in a leaderboard) become great feedback mechanisms. Automatic (and therefore objective) updates can be used to provide periodic leaderboards and other gamification feedback mechanisms. Whether these occur on a daily or weekly basis, they give constant individual and team-based feedback. They also leave hope for change – “if I didn’t do well today, I can do well next week.” Feedback – and a lot of it – is the spine of many gamification benefits, since it tells people how they are doing.

  4. Recognition

    Never underestimate how important recognition is for the happiness and engagement of employees. Gamification can single out top performers in certain segments, people who’ve progressed relative to themselves — and not just in comparison to others, top teams, and more (that’s why simplistic leaderboards are bad – they don’t recognize relative improvements). All in all, this gives the feeling that employee performance is noticed, appreciated and individual.

  5. Mastery

    Mastery is the fuzzy feeling that “I am getting better at this” — a sense of progression that is provided by result tracking and comparisons that are inherent in any gamification solution. Mastery is learning something new and experiencing flow – described by the state where we feel in command of what we do, execute tasks effortlessly, and perform at our best. Flow was discovered by researchers at the University of Chicago. Doing well and sensing mastery are what underlie work related happiness.

  6. Gamification motivates everyone

    Employees can work against personal benchmarks, get recognition based on their relative improvement, be rewarded for completing training tasks, and more. The important point is that if done right, gamification can provide clear progress reports to everyone, not just to the people at the top of the leaderboard.

  7. Gamification provides clear calls to action

    By integrating with enterprise apps, gamification not only provides employees with immediate performance feedback, but guides them as to what they should do next. It is also great for new hire onboarding. Performance can be improved through using a series of steps that bring the employee on the path of improved performance.

  8. A sense of autonomy and choice

    Good gamification implementation gives credit to the fact that play is voluntary; while work is not voluntary and gamification isn’t play, good enterprise gamification implementations give users autonomy. Users can choose the path they wish to take – a training path, a balance between KPIs or doing the extraordinary thing that will earn them “karma” points. The ability to choose is a strong driver of engagement and motivation.

  9. Training

    eLearning is on the rise and for good reason. Rather than shuttling employees to training classes, gamification can be integrated with on-the-job training that is available to employees during quiet times or when their performance is below par (as a way to earn points). eLearning is more engaging than reading papers and the use of quizzes simulations and other mechanics is very efficient and has better measurable results.

  10. Gamification drives balance

    Often, employees need to balance conflicting expectations. For instance, customer service employees need to resolve issues fast and get high customer satisfaction ratings. By tracking many service elements and highlighting the need to improve and balance them, employees can do a better job at balancing short handling times with resolving customer issues. By tracking many KPIs gamification can help employees and the organization find the right kind of balance for optimal performance.

Organizations have much to benefit from gamification, therefore stay focused not on “fighting the old, but on building the new” – a new culture and new performance and goal setting habits.

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