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Bringing your ‘A’ game to the enterprise

Bringing your ‘A’ game to the enterprise
May 2, 2013in Business2013-05-022013-05-02businessen
Enterprise gamification is at the top of the Gartner hype cycle. What is it, and why should we care?


The average CEO isn’t given to playing games on the job. Running a company is a serious business. So why are experts talking about gamification? Large companies are already introducing game-like concepts into the workplace – and market research firm Gartner has said that 40% of Global 1000 organizations will be using gamification principles to transform business operations. How does that work?

Games are nothing new in the enterprise, argues Kevin Werbach, an associate professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School. Werbach speaks regularly about gamification in the workplace.

“Games have been part of the workplace for decades, in the form of competitions, icebreakers, challenges, and other mechanisms,” he says. Competition for scarce resources, the accumulation of status, the use of leaderboards for sales teams – all of these are games, in a sense.

But these processes were mostly manual before. They were used on an ad hoc basis, and were difficult to scale across an entire workforce. Organizations would have problems monitoring the results. Now, things have changed, argues Rajat Paharia, founder and chief product officer at Bunchball, which produces gamification software for employee and customer engagement.

The applications and devices that we use are generating data that was not available before. “Now we are doing all of our work through these various systems, they are throwing off activity data. This can be used to measure and motivate instead of doing it via ad hoc paper processors,” says Paharia.

employee motivation

One of gamification’s benefits is the systemization of employee reward, which helps to motivate people in the workplace. It provides what Gabe Zichermann, chair of the Gamification Summit, calls “meaningful virtual rewards for exceptional work.”

These rewards are often emotional, rather than monetary, because in gamification design, status and recognition are usually more important than a few extra dollars at the end of the month.

“That’s really an important dynamic in gamification, and one that organizations are interested in, because it lowers the cost of incentives,” Zichermann adds.

Understanding what employees value is a vital part of the process, says Mario Herger, an enterprise gamification designer, and CEO of the Austrian Innovation Center in Silicon Valley.

“Today, we have a ‘stick and carrot’ approach. You do it this way, and you get a benefit. You don’t do it this way and I will punish you. If you turn it into something that the employee cares about, then you don’t need punishment.”

These incentives can produce measurable results. Deloitte used the concept to enhance its Leadership Academy, which is an executive training program that it uses for consultants. It introduced badges for achievements, and unlocked more complex training courses when basic ones were completed, mirroring concepts found in conventional video games.

game mechanics

These concepts are known as game mechanics and they are a linchpin in gamification. Zichermann talks about points, badges and leaderboards (PBL) as a shorthand for commonly found tropes. But there are others.

‘Appointment dynamics’ require a user to login and participate at predefined intervals, for example, to keep them engaged. ‘Community collaboration’ rallies a group of people together to achieve something in concert. The countdown principle gives people a certain amount of time to do something (hitting a sales target, for example).

Gamification can be used to improve employer engagement, or to get customers more interested. Autodesk used a game to help teach new potential customers about its products. When it found that people were not willing to download trial versions of its 3ds Max product, it created a game-like environment to guide them through product features and compete with each other. Trial downloads increased by 40%.

This illustrates one of the most important components of gamification: setting goals. This may be increasing customer satisfaction scores by a certain percentage, or reducing shipment turnaround times. Key performance indicators should be involved to help measure the results, says Paharia. This mission statement will help to define the rules an mechanics used in the game.

avoiding pitfalls

This is where careful design can help to avoid some dangerous pitfalls in gamification. Organizers must be careful not to misalign incentives, he adds. For example, rewarding contact center operatives for speeding through phone calls may increase the call rate, but it could also reduce call quality, having a negative impact on customer satisfaction. Companies must therefore think carefully about the rules of the game and what they want to achieve.

Another danger is not following through on gamification concepts culturally. A company that treats its employees as cogs in a wheel and discourages innovation systematically will find little benefit in introducing ad hoc gamification projects.

There could also be ethical and legal issues, warns Herger. Companies should ensure that they are not seen to be manipulating employees. A gamification designer may cross the line if they encourage or require employees to “check-in’ to a game outside business hours.

Gartner may be excited about gamification, but it has also predicted that 80% of gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives by 2014, primarily because of poor design. Games may be as old as human kind, but when it comes to folding them into enterprise culture, we are still learning.

“Don’t look at it through the game lens,” concludes Paharia. “Look at it through the loyalty lens.” Done right, gamification will increase employee loyalty, cementing their relationship with the company. That’s one game any management team would be happy to win.

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