Gamification has become one of the most hyped terms lately that is used almost everywhere where it is necessary to drive better results. Being perceived by many as just another millennial fad, it has actually proven to be effective in various fields. To keep up with the trends, a lot of companies follow the early adopters’ example and implement gamification practices into their workflow. However, the results are not always what is expected or satisfying.
Why is it that practice does not match theory? Gamification experts are still very optimistic about combining game elements with different activities and business processes. For instance, Brian Burk, Research Vice President at Gartner, says
"Gamification creates entirely new engagement models, targeting new communities of people and motivating them to achieve goals they may not even know they have.”
Brian also states that one can engage and motivate people across all kinds of activities by using game mechanics and elements (such as badges, points, levels, and leaderboards.)
However, some of the problems with gamification are that many companies
- Do not go further than using these simplest game elements that lay on the surface,
- Apply other companies’ practices that may not work in their environments
- Do it too forcefully.
It turns out that most employers, according to The State of Employee Engagement in 2018 survey, believe less than 70% of their employees are engaged, and about a third report that fewer than 39% of employees are engaged. At the same time, over 90% believe there is solid evidence linking engagement to performance. For some reason, companies sometimes forget about this when implementing gamification techniques.
Gamification does not just boost performance, it does it through increasing engagement which cannot be achieved when employees dislike the introduced system. To improve engagement and productivity, changes must be implemented as gently as possible so that the whole implementation process brings additional fun as it is intended to be and is not perceived as something painstaking, useless and overhyped.
Here are some tips to implement gamification successfully into your company:
1. Make sure to eliminate possible reasons for employees’ disengagement
Gamification is not a panacea, but rather the icing on a cake. If the cake is bad, it is better to bake a new one instead of adding more icing.
Look for any systemic issues, analyze the efficiency of business processes, and check if your employees’ basic needs are satisfied. If you propose people to play for better results when many important problems remain unsolved, it may provoke justified anger among them.
Some questions you should ask yourself before trying gamification:
- Are the people that work for you are paid at the market rate?
- Are they provided with basic benefits that protect their health and well-being?
- Do they have a schedule flexible enough to find the work-life balance?
- Are there are opportunities for vertical and horizontal career growth within your company?
It may be that there are several issues in your business strategy making your employees’ efforts less effective and resulting in them not wanting to contribute as much. For example, your internal communications are too bureaucratized and a lot of time is wasted on unnecessary and annoying things.
Therefore, you should evaluate your company as an employer in terms of salary and non-salary compensation required by law. Then, it is necessary to check your non-wage related motivation factors. If you find gaps there, fill them first because gamification is not meant to solve these core problems.
2. Consider your audience
To make successful products, game creators spend a lot of time on defining their target audience. For example, it is obvious that some people would never even look at shooters, but are willing to spend hours on casual games. It is because game genre preferences depend on peoples' personalities.
It is logical to assume that the different mechanics used for gamification at work are effective for different groups of employees. For instance, your sales department will most likely enjoy competition elements while the need to beat colleagues can be demotivating for accountants.
If you build your team of people with common values, it might be easier for you to figure out what mechanics might work for them. This is a great reason to find out more about your staff! Maybe they need to feel more a part of the team, or perhaps they prefer staying autonomous and exceeding their own achievements.
So this is where Karl Kapp’s definition of gamification comes in handy. He says it is “a careful and considered application of game thinking to solving problems… using all the elements of games that are appropriate.” It means you do not need to blindly apply certain game mechanics that were successful for other companies. Analyze what would be appropriate for your people.
3. Survey your employees
Your employees can surely help you with designing the gamification process. Being its participants, they have a right to share their opinions and give valuable advice. Show them you care about what they think. Many people are reluctant to embrace changes, but if you explain your goals clearly and ask them to contribute, that’s a different story.
If gamification is a new experience for your employees, do not expect from them to have a clear vision of what they would like to have implemented. The first survey should contain mostly closed questions. Make sure you provide as many options as possible. Ask general questions about employees’ needs like:
- What rewards do they prefer?
- What emotions help them drive better results?
- What responsibilities do they find the hardest to perform?
- Whether they want to participate in side projects and so on.
It wouldn’t hurt to find out whether they like video or board games, and if so, which ones?. Perhaps, there is an avid community of avid Dungeons and Dragons fans in your company. Using characters or something else that reminds people of their favorite games in your gamification project will greatly help increase the engagement level.
After the survey, you should discuss all the propositions at the general meeting. Otherwise, your employees may feel they are treated like children you are trying to trick into conducting their work duties more effectively. After the meeting, it is necessary to use pulse surveys each time you apply new game mechanics. When your employees are aware of how the whole process looks, you can ask them more open questions and get more in-depth feedback
4. Start with a soft launch first
It is not necessary to engage all your company departments at once. You should see how it works on a smaller group before scaling it.
Most likely there will be volunteers eager to try innovations, and they will pioneer in testing your gamification project. Alternatively, you launch it within one or two departments.
Implementing different mechanics step by step, you give yourself a possibility to roll back inefficient changes fast and save a lot of time. This approach is also good for trying a variety of gamification options at the same time.
5. Take your employees’ feedback into account
Besides analyzing the actual results, it is necessary to consider your employees’ feedback. Regularly ask them what they like and what they dislike about new practices. Their opinion shared in the first survey can change with time. They can come up with new ideas, become more tolerant about something or vice versa.
According to Gartner, gamification is supposed to accelerate the process of feedback cycle to maintain a high level of engagement. It can be also used for motivating employees to give constant feedback. For example, you can reward them for commenting on your initiatives with virtual prizes. There is also an option to give them the chance to become game creators that decide future gamification processes for your company.
The bottom line
This is a checklist for a smooth implementation of game mechanics. Basically, you need to justify innovations and find the best approach to introduce them. Remember that gamification has not become a common thing in every company yet, so it is perceived as an “add-on”, something that requires additional effort. That is why the implementation process needs to be smooth and gradual.
If introduced suddenly, it will not be warmly received by your workers. Check if they have enough time and resources to invest in new activities first, and then collect the necessary information about your employees to personalize their experience. Design game mechanics based on their needs, try several tactics and variants to choose the best ones and constantly improve them in collaboration with the project’s participants.
If the gamification system is designed well, then the previous steps will show your employees that your innovation pays off.
Adam Wakoski is a freelance writer specializing in marketing, productivity and eLearning, who writes for several sites including https://www.paperwritings.com/. He often offers his help to EduTech startups.