The workplace can be a serious environment. Deadlines, mounting responsibilities and anxious stakeholders can result in a professional world that isn’t always open to fun and games. But that might be just what your organization needs to increase engagement, productivity, innovation and profits.
More and more research is showing that gamification—the process of using game elements to influence employee or audience behavior—can improve organizational productivity. Marketing magazine recently highlighted an example of successful gamification from the University of Washington. Scientists from the school’s biochemistry department contracted video game developers to assist in their research. What they created was an online video-game puzzle called Foldit that crowd-sources human intelligence and creativity. Through gameplay, Foldit enabled its users—many without any scientific background—to make some impressive achievements, including redesigning proteins and small molecules. Some believe gamification strategies such as this could lead to greater medical discoveries in the decades to come.
Video game developers say the method works because games motivate participants to overcome challenges and their achievements are rewarded, providing a sense of accomplishment and creating more incentive to play (which explains why so many hardcore video gamers forgo food and sleep to continue playing for hours on end). Now, businesses and organizations are finding that gamification can improve communication, creativity and innovation. Toymaker LEGO provides a gamification service called LEGO Serious Play that, according to its website, uses the iconic multi-colored bricks to “create metaphors for real business issues which allows you and your team to visualize situations and address complex issues without simplifying or losing the important details.”
Marketing magazine writes that gamification is proving to be successful across industries, from telecommunications to sports to digital music. Verizon, Nike and Spotify are just some companies that have recently utilized gaming strategies to help turn big profits. The most famous example is probably the McDonald’s Monopoly sweepstakes promotional game. Around since 1987, the annual contest brings two iconic brands together to hook millions of customers, a strategy that has proven to be lucrative for both brands.
But customer engagement is different from employee engagement and gamification is not a perfect science. For organizations interested in bolstering engagement with gamification, Mitchell Osak writes in the Financial Post that “managers need to focus on designing good games and ensuring employee buy-in up front.” Osak recommends a business approach based on the following five principles:
1. Choose your application wisely. Good gamification applications have a defined work flow, are measureable and are embraced by all employees.
2. Design games carefully. Games that are too easy give incentive to cheat, while ones that are too difficult threaten employee adoption.
3. Focus on intrinsic not extrinsic rewards. Gamification works because of intrinsic motivators such as competition, not extrinsic rewards like cash prizes, which lead to short-term engagement but longer-term burnout.
4. Adopt a “learning by doing” approach. Every organization operates differently. Begin with a pilot project to gauge what works before rolling out across the enterprise.
5. Keep technology in its place. “Managers should first prioritize getting game fundamentals right before choosing which technology to use,” writes Osak.