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Workplace Gamification - it’s all fun till someone learns something

Gamification. It’s a real word. The Oxford dictionary website describes gamification as: “The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service”.

In theory it’s actually been in common use for the last five years or more, although it was coined some time before that. 

In practical terms, Gamification means incorporating game elements and mechanics into non-gaming websites and software.

Before I head deeper into what gamification covers, let’s look at some of the truly uplifting examples of how it can be a force for change: 

  • Foldit, a puzzle game from the University of Washington’s Center for Game Science was released to the online community. Within 10 days, 240,000 players had achieved what an estimated 15 years of research was needed to do – find a solution to the structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus.
  • Pain Squad, a game for children fighting with cancer, immersed players into the role of a Police detective.  Along the way they were encouraged to log their pains twice a day for two weeks. Capturing this information was traditionally difficult, but the game’s players quickly gave doctors all the data they needed. Perhaps more importantly it gave the children a new way to manage their pain. 

On a less serious note, can you imagine speed cameras rewarding random non-speeders, and giving fines to speeders? 

Beyond these examples, Gamification is everywhere. It’s also debated heavily – and loathed as a concept in many places. Why? Some believe it is a fad, while others believe that by giving it a name, it’s hijacked a large number of well-practiced techniques and best practices. 

And Gamification is sometimes a high-risk approach… when done badly it can have long term and negative consequences. 

Workplace Gamification

Here, we’re dealing with Workplace Gamification – in other words, using Gamification techniques to foster staff development, empower creativity, encourage feedback and drive/enable learning.

The absolute key point of differentiation here is that Workplace Gamification realises an employee’s natural instincts to share and to be seen by co-workers and/or management. This is quite distinct from being part of an ad hoc community, group of friends or interacting with Gamification elements with goals suited only to an individual. 

Gamification can be implemented in many ways, to achieve many goals. The web is filled with examples – you can engage specialist service providers (such as Badgeville, if you want to go all-in), or work with experience designers to plan something a little more low key. 

Many tools have a set of capabilities that enable Gamification as well. As an example, Microsoft SharePoint has badges and achievement points. 

To give you an example of how it all works, imagine releasing a new practice management tool to your organisation. Gamification could use: 

  • Skill growth trees, to show how individuals have increased their learning around specific modules and functions involved with the new tool.
  • Points, representing key tasks being completed – such as migrating a project over. These could be then linked to a reward scheme.
  • Badges, viewable alongside staff profiles on your intranet and indicating specific proficiencies.
  • Leaderboards to engender a competitive environment amongst teams to encourage training and adoption.

Each of these approaches (and there are many variants and alternatives available) may foster a sense of achievement, altruism or engagement.

Workplace Gamification - it’s all fun till someone learns something

Watch out for the stick

For all of its value, Gamification is not a panacea to counter challenges around lack of adoption, sharing or engagement. It needs significant forethought before being rolled out. 

Here are some things to consider or avoid: 

  • Don’t expect Gamification to instantly change staff satisfaction when it’s applied to repetitive and boring tasks.
  • Much like traditional community tools, gamification can attract individual contributors but not the majority of staff.
  • Processes which are aligned to a policy or procedure can be supported by Gamification, but organisational needs still need to be reinforced. Gamification acts as a carrot.
  • Organisational culture and behaviours can be leveraged, and modified to a degree, by gamification. But if issues exist, no amount of badges and rewards will fix significant problems.
  • Demographics matter. Gender and age both have an impact on what drives involvement in Gamification mechanics. For example, and without wanting to generalise, men can be attracted to competitive challenges.
  • Gamification takes ownership and governance across your organisation. As with any initiative you need the support of HR, IT and the business owner of the tool you’re introducing Gamification to. Perhaps more importantly you need to be very aware of the drivers and fundamentals of social sharing and engagement.

Take the time to assess the risk associated with Gamification alongside the potential rewards it can bring, and the balance of capabilities that is right for your environment. 

Posted by: Brian Lyall, Senior Web Strategist | 08 September 2014

Tags: Web Strategy, digital ecosystem, Gamification


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