Nowadays gaming is all the rage, with few people able to spend ten minutes on a bus without cracking out the Sudoku or improving their high score in Angry Birds. Entertainment coupled with a sense of accomplishment has proven a great means of engaging people, so it makes sense that we’re starting to see gaming incorporated into the workplace.
Gamification is a business tool that uses computer game elements in non-game situations. Companies that value sales and customer service have already seen success with this approach, as encouragement and motivation are presented by a points and rewards system, adding competition and fun to a role that otherwise could be fairly thankless and disengaging.
While enterprise gamification has driven positive outcomes in employee engagement, it’s also gaining credence as an enhancer of innovation, change management and collaboration.
Research by MarketTools revealed that 39 per cent of US employees are unhappy, and Gallop found the overall annual cost of unmotivated or disengaged workers in the United States is $300 billion. Meanwhile, findings from the Corporate Leadership Council indicate that ensuring an engaged workforce means you can reduce staff turnover by up to 87 per cent, and Idea Connect found there was a 44 per cent boost to employee performance in companies that have a recognition program in place. This shows that driving up engagement isn't just about social responsibility; it’s about your company’s bottom line.
There are many examples of games programmed with employee appreciation tools so that great work is rewarded or praised, including platforms from Badgeville, WooBoard and DueProps. Badgeville, the California-based tech start-up specialising in enterprise gamification, was founded in 2010 to meet a growing demand for drivers of business performance and workplace reputation management. They believe that the future of business is not B2C or B2B, but B2H (business to human), by “humanising and personalising” the employee experience.
Badgeville's VP of marketing, Chandar Pattabhiram, says he is also seeing rapid adoption in areas like collaboration, forming online communities (such as SharePoint, Jive, Yammer, Salesforce), and workforce reputation management (Oracle, SAP, Workday).
Compliance, user development and change management are big areas for organisations switching to the cloud or launching a new digital strategy.
“Many companies find that as they move from on-premise software to the cloud, they get a much friendlier user experience that is updated frequently, but still struggle to drive adoption of this software. Gamification comes in to help increase adoption and engagement within any enterprise software,” says Pattabhiram.
Ben Gilchriest, digital transformation lead for Capgemini Australia, tells of his involvement with gamification solutions to help tackle cultural barriers.
“When introducing new technologies constantly, our research with MIT Centre for Digital Business found that over half of organisations report that culture is the major internal barrier to getting the levels of adoption that you need for those new technologies,” he says.
When working with a company to migrate 7000 workers to a new knowledge management platform, Gilchriest noted the challenge of poor collaboration across divisions, with users spending too much time looking for documents without accessing the guidance provided.
“In the past they’ve had low adoption rates with new digital platforms – less than 5 per cent take up – so they were skeptical about how much this would actually make a difference,” adds Gilchriest.
Capgemini helped to gamify the adoption of the new platform by sharing statistics on take-ups, monitoring new sign-ups and the quality of usage, and communicating how these details would be shared with directors at the end of each month. Change agents were also used in each division to champion improving the metrics, providing a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
“The results were impressive; the staff took complete ownership of that change. It drove up to 25 per cent uptake just a week after we introduced it. And importantly, over time it created the sustainable change that was aimed by the business, achieving adoption rates of over 75 per cent.”
Collaboration and recognition
In the US, Cynthia Pickering works for Intel’s HR department, where gamification has been used successfully to boost collaboration, encourage assistance and information sharing, while getting feedback from new staff members and interns.
“There was a behavioural side to it as well as a technology side to it, because our culture was founded on competitiveness – up until recently we've been looking to compete internally to keep leading in the area of chip manufacturing,” says Pickering.
“In order to continue to lead and to innovate globally, we really needed to focus more on working together, so we wanted to shift our culture more towards a collaborative culture where people were incentivised to share and disincentivised to horde information.”
Support communities were created to field questions regarding how to use tools or fix bugs, with points and rewards handed out to people who provided answers. Innovation tools and forums mean ideas could be posted for feedback, or for joining ideas together to create something better.
Gaming was also used to garner feedback from new staff and interns as to the preference for tools and access to information or connections.
“There’s also the notion of having some kind of store of exchange where you can actually trade in the points you’ve earned to have lunch with a senior executive, or a more material reward, we’re looking at things that would be appealing to their sense of pride and accomplishment,” says Pickering.
Enhanced collaboration and recognition are the drivers behind the creation of WooBoard – a small startup who specialises in gamification that keeps track of effort and praise in a way that’s visible to the whole workforce.
WooBoard is a fun way to congratulate colleagues for jobs well done by sending them “woos”, with a tally of sent and received “woos”, and a most liked “wooer of the week”. This peer-to-peer recognition encourages that positive interaction and collaboration, as well as highlights the particular strengths of a team or individual, subsequently increasing morale and productivity.
“Some work cultures are conducive to that, but for the most part a busy work place doesn't naturally lend itself to giving recognition, so laying that over a game mechanic really incentivises people to take the steps to engage,” says Colin Wong, Product Manager, WooBoard.
One company that has embraced WooBoard is 4mation Technologies, whom Wong describes as “having that really playful, positive environment” which may be what led them to be ranked 29th in BRW’s Best Places to Work in Australia 2013.
Wong says gamification has the most value when it’s linked to reward programs or integrated in some other part of the business, such as having points systems based on specific company values, giving away prizes, or including high scorers in their weekly newsletter. This helps to promote the best participants and keeping it front of mind.
Getting it right
Badgeville’s Pattabhiram cautions that, before adding gamification, you should determine what behaviours you want to drive and monitor them.
“As a CIO, it's ideal to have a picture of where you want to go with gamification across multiple applications… pick one or two to start with so you're not overwhelmed. For example, focus on your collaboration system and learning management, or start with sales and services. You will learn a lot from your first implementations which you can then apply across your company.”
Another issue is ensuring adequate and consistent participation, which can be challenging for some workplaces. Gilchriest says gamification has to be interesting and adaptive to survive.
“If you want to keep people interested in the game you've got to watch how people use it, how effectively it’s driving outcomes, and be prepared to adjust it as you go,” he says. “You’re dealing with people at the end of the day and how they react can be hard to predict, so you have to adjust the rules and dynamics as you go.”
Lastly, Wong says it’s about incorporating the right balance of company values against gaming mechanics, while ensuring the overall aim will benefit everyone.
“If you strip away the game element, what you’re doing still has to be useful and meaningful for the user. For us, it’s still always about employee engagement and recognition, and those things are just intrinsically important to people.”