The Power of Play
Engaging employees in gamification multiplies your capabilities and accelerates the speed with which you can transform your business and solve your thorniest problems.
Few executives tasked with transforming their company would characterize the effort as “fun”. For most leaders, transformation is serious business – an imperative for driving growth and achieving a competitive edge in a hypercompetitive marketplace. Yet for all the investments and urgency which underpin corporate change efforts, their success or failure ultimately hinges on a deceptively simple factor: whether the people in your company decide to do what you’re asking them to do.
“If employees fail to change their behaviors, even the best-laid transformations are doomed.”
It’s a stubborn truth that has stymied leaders for decades and spawned a sea of research into employee engagement and change management techniques. Still, 70% of transformations—along with the untold revenue and profits they could have yielded—fall by the wayside. Perhaps not coincidentally, 70% of employees do not consider themselves engaged at work1. It seems traditional change methods may have met their match in the disengaged modern employee.
Fighting Apathy with Apps
Enter gamification. Simply put, gamification infuses elements of game-playing into business processes in order to motivate, modify, or reward distinct behaviors.2 It takes the biggest threat to enterprise transformation – human psychology—and leverages it to achieve positive business outcomes. Common examples include leaderboards that rank sales managers progress toward a revenue target, or virtual high-fives which let colleagues and leaders recognize project milestones in real time. By focusing the attention, energy, and competitive spirit of employees on a specific task or initiative, gamification enables businesses to implement change more quickly and less expensively. At the same time, it increases employee loyalty and engagement – a critical business driver, proven time and again, to be linked to improved operational efficiencies; higher employee productivity and quality of service; better customer satisfaction and retention; and increased revenue and profitability.3
Brain Games Drive Results
Though the term wasn’t used until 1978, the building blocks of gamification have been around for more than a century. It was 1912 when Cracker Jack first started putting prizes at the bottom of their boxes of caramel corn, making every consumer an instant winner – and more than 23 billion boxes later it’s clear they were onto something big. By the 1950’s similar tactics were influencing billions of consumers worldwide.
With the birth of computer games in the 1980’s, educational scholars from MIT and Stanford started looking at how games inspire players to think critically and solve problems. As technology opened the floodgate of possibilities, gamification was applied to everything from helping pediatric cancer patients, to fighting piracy in the Horn of Africa, to controlling motorists’ speed in Sweden. By 2011, global revenue from gamification marketing, software, and consulting reached nearly $100 million; and in the same year, a group of 600,000 online gamers figured out the structure of an AIDS enzyme, using crowdsourcing to accomplish in 10 days what had thwarted scientists for 10 years.4
“As technology opened the floodgate of possibilities, gamification was applied to everything from helping pediatric cancer patients, to fighting piracy in the Horn of Africa, to controlling motorists’ speed in Sweden.”
Raising Your Game to Keep Employees Engaged
Keeping pace with the speed of tech evolution, gamification is now firmly embedded in our everyday lives. Our wearable fitness trackers, mobile budgeting tools, and online to-do lists alternately remind, reward, and shame us in real time based on our behaviors. Our social posts are instantly liked, shared, ignored, or commented on by all of our contacts. As our lives outside of work become more gamified, employees are ratcheting up their expectations of how they experience technology at work. Traditional training sessions and one-way communication channels are no longer enough to drive adoption of company initiatives. If “agility” is going to be more than a corporate buzzword, leaders need to rethink how they roll out change in their organizations.5 It’s clear that many already are. The gamification market is expected to be worth more than $11 billion by 20206, and 70% of firms on the Forbes Global 2000 list will use at least one gamified application this year.
The Payoff for Well-Designed Play
What does gamification look like in real life? The variations are endless. Ford Motor Company in Canada used gamification to help sales and service teams learn about new car models and financing plans. By turning employee testing into a game, they awarded points and badges and prominently displayed them on leaderboards in their online learning portal. Not only did participation in the training skyrocket 417%, Ford also saw improvements in sales and customer satisfaction. Salesforce developed a game to increase user engagement and drive more robust use of its platform – a common challenge among CRMs. Salespeople begin as “Chicken Hunters” and work toward “Big Game Hunter” status as they use more and more features of the Salesforce platform. Customers reported that compliance with Salesforce best practices increased by as much as 40%. Taking a philanthropic slant, Microsoft created a game called Communicate Hope which was geared toward improved productivity. The game awarded points based on feedback and bug detection during the critical testing phase of new products. The twist? It enabled employees to convert their earned “rewards” to charitable donations.7
“Gamification at an enterprise level should elicit engagement, not force it. Likewise, not every enterprise program requires gamification in order to be engaging.”
Examples like these reinforce that, much like the achievement itself, the desire to achieve can be a powerful motivator which drives engagement and performance. As Gamification by Design co-author Gabe Zichermann puts it, “gamification is 75 percent psychology and 25 percent technology.”
While games can be fun, mandated play isn’t play. A heavy hand can leave employees resenting an activity they might otherwise enjoy. Gamification at an enterprise level should elicit engagement, not force it. Likewise, not every enterprise program requires gamification in order to be engaging. Some initiatives are exciting and high-value enough on their own. Consider using focus groups to gather feedback and determine what employees want and the motivation they need to stay engaged. Make sure the game you’ve created is something which amplifies core elements of your culture and leaves employees with a positive association to the initiative.
Assembling Your Team
Reinventing your company’s future can be a daunting task, even for the most passionate change agents. But you don’t have to go it alone. Engaging employees in gamification multiplies your capabilities and accelerates the speed with which you can transform your business and solve your thorniest problems. Likewise, engaging an experienced partner to hone your approach to gamification can smooth the way for accelerating your change initiatives.
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