“Gamifi-what?” is the general response from HR professionals when I slip this simple, yet powerful concept into a conversation. The misconceptions sit on a broad spectrum. On the one end, the term makes managers cringe, as they visualise employees playing mindless video games when they should be producing productive return on the high costs of human capital. On the other end, I had a colleague admit that his understanding of “gamification” was the inhumane mummification of trophy game after a hunt.
Given the diverse misunderstandings, I felt it apt to take a few steps back and reboot all blogs on the topic back to basics. The term is unfortunate, largely because it uses the word “game”. However it is the “-ification” part of the word that holds the key, not only to understanding, but to engaging, driving and motivating people in the organisations we work for.
To keep it simple, “Gamification” is the application of all the successes of game mechanics/ psychology to non-gaming scenarios. Games have always had a place in our society in the motivation and education of humanity. Think of how Monopoly and Cluedo encouraged a generation to understand the value of investing and harness deductive reasoning respectively. Modern day games apply specialised mechanics to continue to encourage and captivate audiences and it is these mechanics (rather than the game), that need to be considered when formulating HR solutions. There are 4 basic pillars when considering gamification of an HR initiative:
- Challenge – the initiative must propose a challenge; a problem that needs to be solved or an achievement/objective that is desired. The trick is to ensure that successful completion of the challenge should be a win for the individual playing as well as the organisation we design the solution for. In a game world, this could be saving the princess from an evil dragon. In the real world, this could be doing your job according to organisational strategy. The challenge also needs to tell a story ~ and if an organisation is willing, share and tell the story of its strategy; everyone can get involved and participate in the challenge.
- Progress – progress towards such a challenge needs to be visibly tracked, measured and compared. Games use scores, status bars, levels and leadership boards as visual depictions of progress. If used appropriately, HR could use the same mechanics in their measurement and motivation of employees towards their performance goals?
- Status – as we progress through milestones/levels of achievement, a status should be associated with this progress through a title or level (often visual through badges/trophies). However, there needs to be an appropriate prestige associate with that title that is unlocked once they rise to the level. Think of the bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels that the airline industry has used to categorise their frequently fliers and how each level unlocks access to new pools of benefit (or even physical lounges at airports). The applications of this in HR are limitless and I believe have yet to be fully explored.
- Reward –there has to be a very clear “win” for the participant that is meaningful to their lives and jobs. Context is important here and the definition of meaningful reward has to be explored through the understanding of the industry, organisation and individuals.
These pillars are in no way comprehensive, but give you the 4 basic fundamentals. Gamification is actually more prevalent than we think. In fact I would go as far as saying that the corporate ladder is, in itself, a powerful gamification model that has motivated employees for decades. Think about it. The challenge is to get to the top of the ladder. Progress is monitored through performance management and status is provided through titles like consultant, manager, senior manager, associate and director. As you “level-up”, you unlock better offices, challenges, responsibilities and perks and financial rewards is linked to your salary band level.
Not such a foreign concept anymore me thinks ?
To conclude, let’s be clear about what gamification is not:
- The use of video games in the workplace - “Serious-Gaming” is the term used to describe the design and development of video games for the workplace, and the key difference is that gamification application often isn’t as blatant and obvious as a video game (although technology such as video gaming engines may be used if the audience is appropriate.
- Manipulation of employees – if strategically aligned, well designed and successful, gamification is not the use of game psychology to manipulate individuals. I think to suggest that we can blindly manipulate people with game mechanics is a huge underestimation of human intelligence. People know when they are being had, especially by HR. And if they cannot see the relevance, importance and reward of the gamified initiative in the greater scheme of their worklife, they probably will not participate.
- A solution for bad design - If an HR initiative is badly thought out, poorly designed and unlinked to strategy, no amount of challenging, progressing, statusing and rewarding can assist. In fact, it would probably have more adverse effects than the original solution. An HR initiative needs to be strategic, with clear objectives, before gamification is applied. Think of gamification as a toolbox of enablers and not the final solution.
- A passing fad – Yes, the term might lose its “buzz-word” status, as happened with “talent” and “innovation”, however the mechanisms and psychology remain steadfast and may be masked in the future through new technology and applications.
There are many examples of applications of gamification as an engagement tool, and HR departments are only beginning to consider the implications to unleash the potential of human capital beyond the obvious components of HR such as learning & development. Now that the basics are covered here, we look forward to exploring gamification throughout the HR roadmap in blogs to come.