It’s Not All Fun in Gamification

It’s Not All Fun in Gamification

In a recent overview of gamification technologies at Employee Benefit News, John Soat looked at the growing number of ways in which organizations are gamifying HR processes. Soat highlighted three areas in which gamification is most promising: pre-hire assessments for recruiting, training programs for current employees, and encouraging participation in wellbeing initiatives and other benefits programs. Game-like tools are popular and effective because they are fun and engaging, so employees are more likely to use them voluntarily, even outside working hours. This impact on engagement, Soat hears from vendors, is part of the often intangible ROI their clients see from gamification.

This is a trend we’ve been following both here at Talent Daily and in our research at CEB, now Gartner, for several years now. Looking at how various organizations have gamified their processes, we’ve discovered some surprising use cases for this approach and developed a robust understanding of what makes gamification initiatives most likely to succeed.

In the training space, it’s interesting to note that companies aren’t just using gamification for entry level or technical skills. In 2014, we profiled GE’s Experienced Leaders Challenge: a week-long, immersive development session for experienced GE leaders designed to help them develop a leadership mindset aligned to today’s inherently unpredictable business environment. A key part of the program is a simulation that lets leaders practice navigating common challenges and observe the unexpected consequences of their decisions or actions. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can check out the full case study here.)

We’ve also seen organizations experimenting with gamification to drive behavior, not just assess competence or teach a new skill. For example, in 2013, then-CHRO of Sears Dean Carter told us about his company’s efforts to gamify key employee tasks through scoring, leaderboards, and badging. In 2016, we profiled DirecTV’s Gamified Failure Sharing Platform which uses a system of challenges and rewards to encourage innovation and risk taking – two behaviors the organization needed more of from employees. (Corporate Leadership Council members can read Carter’s CHRO Quarterly magazine interview here and the DirecTV case study here.)

For all the interesting success stories we’ve heard, however, we’ve also seen ways that well-intentioned investments in gamification can go wrong. Here are two questions organizations should always ask before making a new investment in gamification:

What specific value does it contribute to your desired outcome?

The simulation in GE’s leadership program isn’t there just to make the program more fun; it’s there because it provided an opportunity for leaders to practice a new form of decision-making in a low-risk environment that couldn’t be produced as well another way. In making a case for a gamified solution, be sure that you can articulate why it is better than an alternative at assessing candidates, building skills, or driving participation—not just more entertaining.

Is it easy to use?

Our research on digital learners shows that the “effortlessness” of a learning experience is much more important than how “enjoyable” it is. Begin with a focus on making an experience accessible, easy to consume, and easy to apply to real work, rather than simply asking “How can we gamify this?” A game can be fun while also being time-consuming and complex, making it more likely to frustrate employees than facilitate learning or drive new behavior. Whether the goal is to deliver learning, boost productivity, or help employees navigate organizational processes, our research shows that an effortless experience is the surest driver of success.

CEB Learning and Development Leadership Council members can read our Digital Learner study here.