Monday, March 11, 2013

Don't Game your Employees


I want to talk about a 12-letter word that really drives me crazy.  It’s the buzzword of the year: Gamification. Gamification was coined by Nick Pelling in 2002, according to Wikipedia.  What does this word mean, and is it really the way of the future? Or has it jumped the shark?

Gamification, as defined by Wikipedia as "Gamification is the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness, and learning."

How exactly does Gamification improve engagements? Sales teams have always used a form of Gamification—they call it sales incentives, but let’s not be nitpicky. Yes, sales incentives are a nice goal or target, but money, vacations, cars? At a certain point the incentive desire runs out. Staying employed however never goes out of style.

Picture yourself working for a large company that has offices around the world. You love your job and your company (stop laughing), and yet you find yourself going through the motions of your day-to-day work. You do your job well, and customers love you, and your blog is top notch. What does the company offer you to keep you interested? Maybe they promote you but there is no game in that (well, there is, but let’s not talk about politics).

What would you suggest they do to keep you engaged? And what if your company has 10,000 or 100,000 people in it? Do you think HR can keep up with the individual Gamification-type incentives for each person? Some companies have found a way to reward everyone along the way, but blanket “gifts” are not the same as ones deserved by individuals. But this is the crux: what if you don’t care? Gamification doesn’t necessarily succeed in improving this user's engagement.

Gamification: the way of the future?
I am not so sure that Gamification really works in other areas either. Martin Keen from the great IBM Redbooks organization recently wrote on this blog how his view of Gamification can make you do almost anything, but I take the opposite view.

My view is shared by Jane McGonigal, who recently spoke at the IBM Connect 2013 event in Orlando. McGonigal, according to Wikipedia, “has distanced her work from the label Gamification, listing rewards outside of gameplay as the central idea of Gamification and distinguishing game applications where the gameplay itself is the reward under the term ‘gameful design.’”

Playing a game, and doing so until you beat it, may make you feel great. We all do this at some point, but then what if we do not? It took my son three years to beat my high score on our pinball machine, but do I now have a need to beat his score? Not really, because maybe I am not that competitive. This is my point: Gamification may not work in the ways expected because your staff or your customers may not care about your Gamification. They may care only if there is a truly valuable prize at the end. PS - my son asks me daily when will I play again and beat his score.

Can Gamification work for someone who is not interested in winning or lacks a competitive drive? Klout tries to encourage people to be more active in social media. Their system is in my opinion not valid, let alone even based on a practical algorithm, because it measures your social ability. What if you just use LinkedIn, for instance, as much as others use Twitter or Facebook? You lose, or have a low Klout score, so there are no perks for you.  What if you take vacation for two weeks and do not login anywhere or anytime?

In business, I believe feedback is actually more important than Gamification in providing incentive for workers. Unlike say a sporting game, in the workplace you usually don’t have the option to do a task over or try again. If I win or lose it makes no difference in the grand scheme of the company or my bonus. While I enjoy some competitive situations, what I like to see from a company is better training and development of employees. Useful feedback trumps Gamification for me.

What if I am a Type A personality for only a few items in life instead of everything? Are you trying to use Ggamification to change habits or get check boxes ticked off on your goals for 2013? I made everyone write a blog post, do a youtube video and open a Linkedin account, there we got social. Check.
Gamification to develop skills

I don’t think gamification works well for skill development either. You can pay for training, set up an online learning system and watch everyone’s progress to completion. Hopefully the employees actually watch it and don’t just answer the questions at the end because they were written for easy passing. Certification tests can be cruel or they can be easy—but in either case what you get at the end if you pass is usually a digital certificate to print. Or, maybe a bonus if your company does that type of reward for the effort.  What should you get? I don’t know, but something more rewarding than that. (We should put this one up for crowdsourcing, I bet we could get some great ideas. If you think crowdsourcing works, this is possibly another blog post topic someday.)

Since most people are sheep and follow their leaders or do what they are told, we can’t fault the companies for trying to impose Gamification to incentivize them. However, for those of us who are on the fringe and are more vociferous and less easy to manage, we may need a stronger level of Gamification. Reining us in will cut against the grain, but letting us run amok may not work either. But as long as we are producing, bringing in more sales or views to our blog posts, the only game in town is our jobs, I guess.

Want to use gamification with better design to enhance your applications? Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner, predicts that by 2014, 80 per cent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily because of poor design:

“The challenge facing project managers and sponsors responsible for gamification initiatives is the lack of game design talent to apply to gamification projects. Poor game design is one of the key failings of many gamified applications today.”

And I agree wholeheartedly. If you run a sales game, are the only people that can win in sales? What about your customer support reps who keep those customers happy? What do you do to help them? A virtual badge? I don’t think so. Plan your games corporate wide, but be realistic, so anyone can win and be a part of it.

I do what I do because I enjoy it; no Gamification comes into play or likely would if I was exposed to it. If you need to incentivize me, the Gamification reward should include a free trip to IBM Connect in Orlando in January. For that I would be game to play.