Since the emergence of American sitcom Friends in 1994, I have been affectionately renamed ‘Monica’ by most of my friends. However, this nickname is not derived from an obsessive compulsion to tidy, which anyone that has ever sat next to my desk, been a guest at my house or a passenger in my car will affirm. Instead, its roots lie in my killer competitive streak. Whilst not everyone might share my ‘aggressively competitive’ nature, there is no denying that the majority of people, nay, all people enjoy playing some form of competitive game. The desire for achievement, recognition and entertainment is simply human nature and it is on these inherent desires that gamification hinges.

The name of the game: what’s it all about?

Gamification is the application of game design and mechanics to non-game situations, such as activities in the work place, so as to make the activity more fun and engaging. However, the most appealing function of gamification, at least from an employer perspective, is as a behavioral influencing tool. Relying on the same principles of psychology that makes gaming so compelling, gamification can motivate employees to perform specific tasks that are aligned with corporate objectives. Check out our Customer Experience blog  for other interesting articles about gamification.

But is it just balderdash?

Despite the recent hype around gamification, the theory isn’t really anything new. ‘Leader boards’ have existed in sales teams since before I was born and it could be argued that employee incentive schemes exhibit some form of game mechanics. However, Jeff Coghlan, CEO of gaming company Matmi, explains that it is the emergence of new technologies presenting opportunities for gamified applications that have increased the relevance of gamification.

As with all new trends you will inevitably come across some cynics. But with Gartner predicting that in under 2 years over 70% of Forbes Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified process, and the credibility implied by adopters such as Marriott, Omnicare and Deloitte using it to support their recruitment, learning and development and knowledge management practices, perhaps credence should be given to the benefits of gamification rather than dismissing it as another techy buzzword.

UK Government – getting in on the game

My favorite example of gamification in the workplace is DWP’s ‘Idea Street’, an online platform with game elements, designed to decentralize innovation and illicit ideas from employees across the organization. In an interview in the Guardian, David Cotterill, DWP’s director of innovation, sets out the principles of the game:

  • Employees are rewarded with points or ‘DWPeas’ for coming up with ideas.
  • Employees can earn more ‘DWPeas’ by developing their ideas further or contributing to a colleague’s idea.
  • ‘DWPeas’ can be spent in return for help from the innovation team by way of templates, tools or advice to further develop an idea.
  • ‘DWPeas’ can also be invested in promising proposals and “shareholders” will see a return on their investment (in ‘DWPeas’) if the proposal is selected for implementation but lose ‘DWPeas’ if the proposal is rejected.
  • Finally, a ‘buzz index’ is available which recognizes contributors /ideas that are the most popular.

Whilst the platform may be virtual, the business benefits are very real. DWP has over 6,000 employees actively engaging with the tool and over 60 ideas have been implemented thus far, expected to save DWP more than £20 million by 2014-2015. The platform also motivates employee collaboration which is added value.

Three key principles to success

 ‘Idea Street’ highlights three principles that are key to the successful application of gamification:

  • There must be a variety of interaction points

In this case, users can interact with the tool by coming up with, building on, commenting on, or even just ‘investing’ in ideas – allowing for creatives and non creatives alike to be engaged.

  • There must be frequent feedback

Frequent feedback is required to maintain engagement. Where feedback is slow or non-existent users will lose interest. In this example, whilst the ultimate feedback might be whether the idea is implemented by the innovation committee, users can gain real-time feedback via colleagues’ comments and suggestions and the ‘buzz index’.

  • ‘Missions’ must be sufficiently challenging yet achievable

In this case the overarching ‘mission’ is to get your idea implemented but there are other short term missions so as to maintain engagement.

Choosing the right game

Perhaps the most important principle is that gamification is not ‘one size fits all’. Forgiving the blatant stereotype, knocking colleagues off the top spot of a very visible office leader board might be what gets your sales team up in the morning, but it may not be as appealing to your IT team.  Also, despite the ‘Monica’ in me, even I might scoff at getting points for completing my timesheets on time. So, although there can be real benefits in applying gamification to the work place, in terms of employee engagement, morale, influencing behavior, and even profitability, it has to be tailored to your own employees desires and motivations in order to be successful. So before you rush to unleash your employees’ ‘inner Monica’, you must first ask, “What motivates my employees?”, and “What do my employees want to be recognized for?”