Gamification: It’s About Strategy, Not Luck

In a recently published report on enterprise gamification, my colleague explores the latest trends in the use of gamification to drive behaviors and effect desired outcomes. I found it inspiring that in this report, one in five early adopters of gamification are HR executives, pointing to the early but strong interest in the benefits derived from people processes infused with social and gamification capabilities. From recruiting and on boarding to sales collaboration and innovation delivery, gamification concepts are manifesting in a growing number of processes, driving results and, in some cases, providing completely new approaches to traditional HR processes. However, as the old adage says, “be careful what you ask for; you just might get it.” If not carefully defined, the behaviors you drive through gamification could result in unanticipated outcomes.

Creating New Value with Gamification

From a talent management perspective, we are seeing the emergence of entirely new people-centric business management applications. One example is in the area of “social goals,” where the top-down hierarchy of traditional line-of-sight goal management processes are abandoned in favor of user- and team-driven goal creation, sharing of goals and feedback across parts or all of the company, and gaming approaches to encourage status updates, feedback and collaboration amongst impacted and interested parties.

Another example of emerging applications stemming from the gamification of social processes is “social performance.” Here, the oft-maligned performance review is replaced (or at least augmented) with a continuous, real-time experience that is open to employees across the organization for ongoing coaching, feedback and recognition. Individuals are able to comment on one another’s performance by creating badges and hence creating recognition. In addition, because these badges can become part of the individual’s profile, they also build that individual’s reputation, and thus begin to have more intrinsic value for those seeking to develop their personal brand.

“Command and control” models are giving way to “Open and Engage” approaches to people processes. The gamification of these new social processes is helping drive increased adoption, employee engagement and ultimately, business outcomes.

Mitigating Risk of Unexpected Outcomes

Gamification can drive business outcomes, but here’s a caution: these business outcomes can be outright failures if an organization’s approach to gamification is not carefully designed to drive long-term behavioral impacts and is not regularly monitored for results.

Take for example the case of leader boards for content sharing. A focus on the highest contributors alone can result in high volumes of relatively poor content – certainly not the intended goal. Adding a ratio that measures “rating to volume contribution” can help promote higher quality postings, and is one potential augmentation to this gaming tool. However, if this leader board is housed within a sales collaboration community where the intention is to foster peer-to-peer mentoring, you may find some members spending too much time on content development and reviews vs. actually selling!

The potential negative impacts of gamification are similar to those resulting from commonly deployed incentive plans in organizations today. When the focus is on pure monetary or extrinsic rewards, the results are often short term and focused on the metric. Examples of this include sales representatives positioning solutions that drive high commissions yet do not match customer needs; or service personnel tackling only the easiest customer problems to increase their “time to close” incident rates. As gamification expert Dr. Michael Wu of Lithium has repeatedly stated, “The two strategies that make gamification sustainable are if the gamified behavior generates long-term intrinsic value to the user or if the extrinsic rewards serve as reinforcement to the users’ intrinsic motivation.”

In addition to designing gamification incentives that reinforce a user’s intrinsic motivation, it is important to monitor the actual results from the game-enabled process on a regular basis. Due to the real-time nature of gamification, organizations can quickly assess activity and results, make adjustments to a program’s approach as needed, and just as rapidly re-launch the adjusted process. This regular review and adjustment of gaming initiatives is an important mitigating factor to the negative situations described above. By its nature, gamification is not a launch and forget concept. It is a system for driving engagement that should be monitored for activity and results on an ongoing basis.

Transforming Processes, Transforming Results

Gamification can enable organizations to move from a process-oriented focus to a results-oriented focus across its most strategic people processes. Both the rewards and risks of gamification can be significant, and hence a well-crafted strategy is paramount for success. Gamification is not a game, but it certainly can be fun and engaging while adding serious bottom line results.

What do you think? Are you using gamification concepts in your talent acquisition, development or retention strategies today, or are you considering them? To what extent are you considering extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards and motivations?

Get the full report on “Demystifying Enterprise Gamification for Business”, by R “Ray” Wang, from Constellation Research, Inc., at
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