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How to use gamification to engage employees

Rich Hein | June 7, 2013
More companies are adopting gamification to improve engagement with both employees and customers. Learn why gamification is an evolution in management practices, how to get started and where career opportunities lie.

Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users, according to Gabe Zichermann, author of the upcoming book "The Gamification Revolution" and founder of Dopamine, a consulting agency focused on gamified campaigns for employees and consumers.

"People may be motivated by getting a gift card, but what really drives them is recognition [as well as] status, access power and stuff (the SAPS Model), "says Zichermann.

The problem with stuff is that it doesn't scale very well and over time people want increasing rewards for the same activity in order to feel motivated. It's a common feature of humanity called "habituation." Habituation means you've become immured to a stimulus over time," says Zichermann.

How does gamification fit in with managing a tech staff—or any staff? Status, access and power are virtual rewards, things like recognizing employee achievement. These are things that can scale cheaply and easily versus "stuff" and cash. That's part of why businesses are attracted to gamification—it scales.

The other part of it involves making work increasingly fun by leveraging the concepts of gamification. "It's about figuring out ways to create alignment with incentives and motivation. You increase productivity [and] performance and you can attract a higher-quality employee, this next generation of employees or millennials generation who bring with them their increased technology skills," says Zichermann.

Why Gamification Works: The Mechanics
Remember your first paycheck? It was pretty exciting and felt awesome. Today, you probably make more money, but you don't get as excited about it. That's because it's the same stimulus over and over again. Every type of reward will need to increase in intensity over time due to habituation, which is part of the behavior of economics, according to Zichermann.

Rajat Paharia, founder of Bunchball and author of the upcoming book "Loyalty 3.0: How to Revolutionize Employee and Customer Engagement With Big Data and Gamification" lays out what he refers to as the 10 key mechanics of Gamification:

  • Fast Feedback
  • Transparency
  • Goals
  • Badges
  • Leveling up
  • Onboarding
  • Competition
  • Collaboration
  • Community
  • Points

"Game designers have known how to do this for a long time. All the way back from Pong in 1972 up to modern day Call of Duty, they have had every piece of data about how users work and behave in their systems, and they've been able to use that data to get players to perform better," says Paharia.

Bunchball realized that game designers have all this data and they've learned how to leverage that data to improve performance of players. "We thought, can we take it out of the gaming world and use it to motivate people to do anything better," says Paharia.


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