It was not so very long ago that the notion of playing games at work conjured up images of colleagues sneaking in a hand of Solitaire during a slow moment. Now gamification, the use of game mechanics to make non-game activities and environments more engaging and fun, is invading organizational life on a number of fronts. And it's going to be big. How big? A much-quoted Gartner report on the topic predicts that by 2014, "a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application."
In the realm of HR and gaming, Marriott has recently made news with its launch of a game - My Marriott Hotel - to drive employment branding and support its recruiting efforts. Learning and development is another area presenting a fertile field for gaming applications.
What about rewards?
Gamification offers a potential means to draw in employees and engage them in a reward program. To get some idea of the ways this might work, consider what Gartner identifies as the four primary ways that gamification drives engagement:
1. Accelerated feedback cycles.In the real world, feedback loops are slow (e.g., annual performance appraisals) with long periods between milestones. Gamification increases the velocity of feedback loops to maintain engagement.
2. Clear goals and rules of play. In the real world, where goals are fuzzy and rules selectively applied, gamification provides clear goals and well-defined rules of play to ensure players feel empowered to achieve goals.
3. A compelling narrative. While real-world activities are rarely compelling, gamification builds a narrative that engages players to participate and achieve the goals of the activity.
4. Tasks that are challenging but achievable. While there is no shortage of challenges in the real world, they tend to be large and long-term. Gamification provides many short-term, achievable goals to maintain engagement.
So, the potential is there. But the same rules about smart reward plan design still apply - groovy mechanics aside. Catchy tools are no substitute for clear-eyed discovery and problem definition. In his article on the topic, one of my favorite sages, John Sumser, shares his worry about our ability to stay grounded in rigorous process and sound practice in the face of this new trend.
You can bet that gamification is going to figure prominently in the misguided attempts to automate stakeholder commitment.
Instead of wondering why we ask employees to do stupid things, we are about to be deluged with gimmicks that try to motivate with fake money, fake status and fake accomplishment.
What's your take? Can we - will we - use gamification to help connect people in thoughtful and authentic ways to our biggest performance challenges, and to support our sharing the rewards of that collaborative success? Or will we fall into the trap of simply grabbing the next shiny gold ring?
Ann Bares is the Founder and Editor of the Compensation Café, Author of Compensation Force and Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC, where she provides compensation consulting services to a wide range of client organizations. She earned her M.B.A. at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School and is a bookhound and aspiring cook in her spare time. Follow her on Twitter at @annbares.
Creative Commons image "xbox-pad-for-windows-05" by Futurilla