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Is the game up for Gamification?

4th December 2014

A few weeks ago, our Marketing Manager, Robert Yardy was asked to contribute to an article Information Age were writing for the November edition of their magazine. The subject was enterprise gamification and Information Age were asking where did it all go wrong for this technology and why. Here’s what Robert had to say…  I am reluctant to agree that gamification is truly over, however, my fears, and those of many others, seem to have come to fruition. There are clearly plenty of positives to take from encouraging employees to work more efficiently. However, many enterprise gamification strategies have encouraged employees to work harder but not better! For example, I have heard of one high profile travel agent who encourage their call centre staff to deal with as many calls as possible and record the details of the calls accurately with points being allocated for velocity and accuracy.  I am sure that you can guess the many flaws to this strategy already. Would it not be better to strive for satisfied as opposed to just dealt with customers? As well as the example I have mentioned above, an excellent article by Ben Rossi that was posted on this very website back in July details how the vast majority of gamification strategies simply use the employee and do not “empower” them. Instead of just showing an employee is not performing very well, a company should explore why this is the case. Many experts argue that employees do not enjoy feeling like they are under surveillance. They say that this can lead to negative morale which as everyone knows is the equivalent of putting diesel in a petrol car. You can trundle along for a bit but it won’t be long before everything breaks down.

One further flaw in many gamification strategies is that the people who top the leader board, get the most badges, etc are those who were already your outstanding performers. It is arguably more important to motivate those who are underachieving.  Also, many strategies demotivate people once they realise that they have no chance of winning. That’s why it is important that incremental achievements are rewarded. For example, every 10 sales earns a sales rep an award as opposed to just rewarding the most successful sales rep over a 12 month period. This is also effective in motivating staff other than the high achievers. Enterprise gamification strategies should not be implemented just because they are fun. There has to be a recognised business need and business objectives for investing time and resources into a gamification strategy. However, there has to be a fun element to the tasks to really engage staff. It’s not revolutionary to say that people will perform better if they are enjoying what they are doing.   This is where the CIO (or equivalent role) is fundamental. They have to provide clear incentives for employees and ensure that the fun element of gamification is not lost. This often comes down to the personality of the CIO (which in turn links to hiring people rather than CVs but we would need a few dedicated articles for this subject so I will leave it there for now). An excellent example of a successful enterprise gamification strategy that has been widely written about is that of the technology services company Bluewolf. They encourage staff to knowledge share about best practices via social media, white papers and blog posts. Employees earn points for each activity. There is a company leaderboard and various badges to strive for which are converted into tangible prizes. Bluewolf offer constant rewards (incremental achievements) and reset the leaderboard at the end of each quarter which makes it easy for new recruits to get involved.

In 2013 Bluewolf experienced a 57% increase in internal knowledge sharing, a 68% boast in social traffic and a 153% rise in blog contributions! These stats show that enterprise gamification does have a future. It just needs to be well thought through and applied correctly. When I wrote about gamification last year for The Drum, I was worried that organisations would simply jump on the bandwagon without really understanding why they are doing so. I think this has certainly happened. However, I also believe that it is a strategy that should not be chucked on the scrap heap just yet. 

Let’s have a look at a few tabloid style headlines: (1) the US loses nearly $370 Billion annually due to disengaged employees (2) Disengaged retail workforce costs the UK £628 million a year (3) a quarter of the world’s workforce are disengaged (4) employee absenteeism costs the UK  £32 billion a year. Of course simply applying an excellent enterprise gamification strategy cannot, and will not, rectify such epidemics. However, I feel that such statistics explain why so many companies invested heavily in gamification a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, they expected all of their problems to be solved. This obviously did not happen for a variety of reason that I discussed earlier. But, with real life success stories such as that of Bluewolf I believe companies will have learnt from their mistakes and revisit gamification with a greater understanding of the process. I tend to agree with Brian Burke, Gartner Analyst and author of the excellent “Gamify - How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things” when he says:  “In time, when gamification matures, and there are more consistent examples of success, people’s opinions will change once again to become more positive, but at that point, they will be guided by a more realistic sense of the possibilities and limitations of gamification.”

I am very much looking forward to reviewing this subject in a couple of years to see if we have more success stories to report or if the same mistakes are still being made.  To read the full Information article click here.

The original article can be found at