Gamification in the workplace
Building engagement: the rising trend of gamification in HR
Video games have changed our leisure time and now they're set to change our working life as well. Ian Brownhill, managing director of BergHind Joseph discusses how employee engagement can be promoted through the technique of gamification.
You may think the gaming demographic centres on teenage boys, but you'd be wrong. The average gamer is 37 years old and 42% of gamers are women. Online multi-player games are free-form collaborative enterprises -teams involve people from all over the world who often never meet or speak to each other, and may not even share a language. It's an immersive experience that has shaped the consciousness of a generation. And that includes businesspeople who are now entering the ranks of senior management.
How games foster engagement
What could game techniques offer, in the context of employee engagement? Gaming guru Jane McGonigal (see Gaming Can Make a Better World on www.ted.com) believes that games have enormous potential in the real world because they:
- Increase optimism by holding out the possibility of an 'epic win';
- Help to build a social fabric (multi-player games are collaborative; and they encourage socialisation because we like people better when we have played with them);
- Enable productivity (people like to be busy and are happier when playing a stimulating game than when just 'relaxing');
- Create meaning- a basic ingredient of any engagement programme - by making it possible for participants to take on inspiring missions.
(See Jane McGonigal, 'Gaming Can Make a Better World' on www.ted.com)
However, gaming has many other features that can also help to build employee engagement, including:
- Constant feedback which participants receive on their progress through scoring mechanisms - contrasted with the annual or semi-annual performance reviews that are standard practice in most companies;
- Clear success criteria, rewards and most important of all, public recognition - through the use of achievement badges, Facebook-type 'post a comment' features, sport-style leader-boards featuring employee photographs, and reward points as in consumer loyalty programmes;
- Permission to fail, which facilitates learning- a taboo within traditional corporate cultures but acceptable (even celebrated) in a gaming context, for example in war games where players are routinely 'killed';
- The ability to collect and analyse data on performanceenhancing business intelligence software, allowing companies to track progress, see where change is needed and assess ROI.
Examples of gamification in the workplace may include:
Division of staff into teams to earn points towards a set reward for the winners.
Use of awards for high-performing staff members.
Leaderboards to chart progression.
The future: development of soft skills and behaviours
Companies are beginning to wake up to the potential for engaging customers and employees and others on whom their success depends and the term 'gamification' has been coined to describe the use of gaming techniques outside the pure gaming arena.
Media and entertainment companies have led the way so far, using gaming techniques for online product marketing, but during the last two years, interest has spread to so-called 'enterprise' applications. Most are internal systems, operating below the radar, but some enter the public domain when their originators believe that there's a broader corporate marketing benefit. One example is the UK's Department for Work and Pensions, which created an innovation game called Idea Street - a collaborative application that includes points, leader boards and a 'buzz index'. In its first 18 months, the game attracted 4,500 users and generated 1,400 'ideas'.
The first phase of enterprise gamification has focused on core business functions, systems and processes where there is a clear business case and a history of using training and education tools. However, we predict that in the near future, gamification will be used to develop soft skills and behaviours that are equally important to the business but have an ROI that's more difficult to establish, such the development of leadership, cross-functional and international collaboration, and the cultivation of values and behaviours as part of branding and employee engagement projects.
Ian Brownhill: Ian has over 20 years' experience of working in research, project management and strategic leadership roles for a range of organisations including Which?, London Transport and the Prince of Wales's Charities Group.
BergHind Joseph: BergHind Joseph is a creative communication agency that uses design, research and strategic thinking across all digital, print and experiential media, to help ambitious businesses build their reputation www.berghindjoseph.com