Of course, we’re kicking off this piece with the assumption that you the reader, knows what gamification even is. And there is no shame in not knowing, because although it’s been around for a while, it’s only recently that the concept has begun to make serious inroads into the corporate world. To be honest, it’s not even strictly true to say, ‘it’s been around for a while’. The term ‘gamification’ was only first coined in 2002, meaning if the word was a person, it wouldn’t even have done its GCSEs at the time of writing this blog. Gamification though, has been a prodigious pupil. Indeed, over half of a recently polled group of technology stakeholders predicted that by 2020, it will feature in the working practices of most industries globally. Not bad for a teenager.
Simply put, gamification refers to the procedure of inserting game-like qualities into software used for certain business processes. However, the business world cannot claim to be pioneers of this new way of working, rather it is the military and education sectors that jumped the proverbial green light. For some time now the military have been using the traditional ‘first person shooter’ (FPS) game format as a way of training novice soldiers in combat situations, without the associated risks of using live ammunition. For the education sector, gamification has enhanced the inclusion and involvement of previously hard to reach pupils in traditionally unpopular subjects. Platforms such as Mathletics, the flagship product of Australian educational company 3P Learning provide an online environment where participants can compete with others around the world in a series of appropriately differentiated maths based games. As of mid-August 2015, over 21.5 billion Mathletics questions were correctly answered by students from all corners of the globe.
It was never going to be long before the successes enjoyed by the education sectors and the military caught the attention of big business. In fact, in this age of social media, online multi-player gaming, coupled with the innate human need for interaction and reward, they’re no doubt kicking themselves they didn’t think of it first. However, undeterred as they are by their silver medal, industry is now pursuing gamification in a big way.
Why gamification, using real-life examples
An excellent example of gamification in practice can be found with London-based global business consulting firm Bluewolf. In 2012, they launched a gamified Going Social program for internal staff by applying gamification to different areas of employee activity with one goal in mind: promote collaboration by making ‘social’ central to its business strategy. One of the games implemented was within a program called Nitro for Salesforce, which counted points and gave out rewards to employees for every attempt at internal and external collaboration. Employees earned points for sharing content on their LinkedIn and Twitter accounts or by publishing posts on the company blog. They were to find that the implementation of gamification techniques increased productivity by up to 25%.
Cisco, the American multinational technology conglomerate, uses a multi-level training program that teaches social media skills to its employees and contractors and lets them advance through various ranks to acquire the title of a social media ‘Master’, via the completion of over 40 courses. This level/title based approach proved a huge success with hundreds of certified employees undertaking a total of around 13,000 courses.
SAP, a leading Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions provider, utilised gamification techniques to train their sales representatives in the details and intricacies of its complex product line. The intention was to increase the efficiency with which customer enquiries could be answered. SAP implemented ‘RoadWarrior’, a game-show like application that simulates talking to a customer, and awards employees with badges and a place on the leader-board for correctly answering customer questions.
Likewise, Engine Yard, a popular Cloud services platform, found themselves struggling to get their employees and users to study its ‘Knowledge Base’ portal. By implementing a gamification process based on badges, achievements, and missions that rewarded searches and contributions to the knowledge base, they witnessed a 40% increase in ‘Knowledge Base’ searches, and in customer support performance.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Used intelligently, gamification works remarkably well. The examples shown above all used similar methods to achieve their results. Should you wish your business to adopt similar approaches there are certain elements to your strategy that should definitely be considered.
How to introduce gamification
Firstly, decide upon which organisational processes require improvement. Once this decision has been made, allow users to accrue ‘points’ for every time they complete one of these processes successfully. As more staff begin to get involved, keeping score will become important, and they’ll only be able to keep score if they’re succeeding.
Let’s face it, who doesn’t like getting medals? And that’s pretty much what badges are. They are usually implemented as visual stamps that are unlocked when the user achieves designated targets. As may be done with points, badges are displayed on employee’s homepages or profiles for their colleagues to look enviously upon. The badge-awarding system should also make acquiring badges increasingly difficult. This makes it more challenging for the users, helps them maintain their interest, and increases their efforts in the later stages of their L&D plan.
Levels can be used instead of, or in conjunction with, badges. Essentially, they’re a ranking system as might be used in the police or military whereby a certain number of badges equates to a status. Employees can be told when new positions open within the company, that only those with certain levels can apply for. Additional benefits and rewards can also be offered to employees that achieve higher levels.
Once the games are underway, so to speak, public leader-boards should be built to inject even more competitive spirit into the equation. Various metrics can be used to determine how employees can climb the table, how often courses are completed successfully, number of badges earned, points gained etc. A word of warning though, it’s a good idea for leader-boards to only show the top achievers, rather than every employee. If your company has 500 employees, the person stuck at the foot of the table for all and sundry to see, may find it a tad demoralising. You’ll have access to their performance levels, so you can intervene with them without advertising their poor performance company-wide.
What gamification essentially reveals is something we already knew, that people respond to certain triggers; reward, competition, the satisfaction of task completion. The concept shrewdly applied provides these in a unified package that, as has been demonstrated, is generating results across industries that is raising eyebrows. Looking forward, gamification is a business strategy that looks set to become a standard practice, but it’s also how businesses are succeeding now. If your company is looking for fresh innovation, then it could be just the thing to get you – if you’ll pardon the pun – back in the game.