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.)
When United Airlines announced earlier this month that it was replacing its quarterly performance bonuses with a chance for eligible employees to win prizes in a quarterly drawing triggered by reaching certain performance goals, the blowback from employees was swift and fierce, forcing the airline to quickly backtrack on the plan. By swapping out the modest quarterly bonus for a chance of up to $100,000, United President Scott Kirby had hoped to make the bonus program more exciting for employees, but the Kirby and the rest of United’s leadership misjudged how employees would react to what many saw as a cost-cutting measure that would make it harder for most of them to earn bonuses.
What happened at United can serve as a learning opportunity for other CEOs and rewards leaders, underlining the risks the come with using gamification to motivate employees. Workplace games can sometimes be more effective motivators than cash, as “winning” offers a form of social recognition that financial rewards don’t. Employees can write off losing out on a cash bonus as the price of taking it easy at work, but recognition that is visible to one’s co-workers and serves a social function can motivate them in a different way.
Gamified motivation tactics can also be cheaper and more cost-effective than extra cash, the New York Times‘ Noam Scheiber points out, even if the only prize the game offers is a compliment from the boss. United’s mistake was not in introducing a gamified element to their rewards program, per se, but rather in what it took away to make room for it. In other words, the psychological rewards of winning a competition can be motivational when they come on top of regular compensation, but they can’t be a substitute for it:
“Shareholders and management get the monetary rewards, and ‘meaning’ and ‘excitement’ are consolation prizes that go to workers,” said Caitlin Petre, an assistant professor of media studies at Rutgers University who has examined similar practices at media companies. “This is very much in line with my understanding of how the gamification trend in workplaces operates.” …
Springtime is always a busy season for home improvement and gardening businesses, so the largest of these businesses in the US are embarking on massive hiring sprees to fill tens of thousands of seasonal positions, some of which will turn into permanent roles. The Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the US, plans to hire 80,000 employees for the coming season, while its main competitor Lowe’s is looking for 53,000 workers.
To assist in this massive recruiting drive in the context of a historically tight labor market, Home Depot is launching a series of new technological tools to help it recruit and onboard tens of thousands of new employees as efficiently as possible. In a press release last week, the company described an app that allows candidates who have submitted applications to self-schedule their in-person interviews at their convenience. The press release adds that 80 percent of candidates have used Candidate Self-Service since Home Depot began piloting the app in November:
Candidate Self-Service is the latest in a series of enhancements The Home Depot has made to its application process. Last spring, the company saw a 50 percent increase in candidates after rolling out its 15-minute application, Mobile Apply and Text-to-Apply capabilities.
McDonald’s made headlines last week when it revealed that it would be accepting job applications this summer through Snapchat, in an effort to attract more candidates in its key age demographic of 16- to 24-year-olds. Recruiting through social media is a promising tool for companies looking to put job opportunities before the eyes of younger millennials and Generation Z, as that is where most of their media attention is focused—not TV, newspapers, or job boards.
Another millennial-targeted innovation in recruiting is gamification, where candidates prove their skills and compete for jobs through online platforms and mobile apps where they solve puzzles or participate in simulations that demonstrate their ability to do the work. The latest example of an employer gamifying their hiring process is Jaguar Land Rover, Amie Tsang reported for the New York Times this week:
The carmaker announced on Monday that it would be recruiting 5,000 people this year, including 1,000 electronics and software engineers. The catch? It wants potential employees to download an app with a series of puzzles that it says will test for the engineering skills it hopes to bring in. While traditional applicants will still be considered, people who successfully complete the app’s puzzles will “fast-track their way into employment,” said Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors of India.
All of these new, tech-savvy approaches to recruiting are deliberately meant to appeal to a younger crowd, but not every applicant is a Snapchatting millennial raised on video games, Steve Boese points out in his take on McDonald’s “snaplications,” and employers who rely too heavily on these novel techniques might find that it has an unexpected and potentially unwelcome impact on age diversity in their organization:
While virtual reality technology has yet to find a market as a mainstream consumer product, it has begun to catch on as an enterprise learning tool, the Wall Street Journal’s Betsy Morris reported last week. According to the Journal, “businesses are taking to it for training in industries from construction to medicine to sports,” with executives saying custom VR software can offer a cheaper, safer, and more effective way to train new employees by immersing them in real-life work scenarios.
One major company going all-in on this technology is Walmart, which the Journal reports is planning to expand VR training to all 200 of its training centers this year after a successful pilot project. Tom Ward, a Walmart vice president, tells Morris that the retail giant is using VR to let trainees practice spotting problems in digital recreations of real stores, for example, or to give them a preview of what a holiday rush looks like.
At CEB (now Gartner), we have also found that learning and development professionals are increasingly seeing the potential of VR as a training vehicle. Our latest research on learning technology finds that it is the top learning channel where L&D professionals plan to invest most in the future (compared to 13 other learning channels such as e-learning modules, mobile learning, and learning portals). This data is particularly interesting since L&D professionals ranked VR lowest on adoption compared to other learning channels. CEB Learning & Development Leadership Council members can read the full research in our 2016 L&D Innovations Bullseye.
At First Round Review, New Relic’s CIO Yvonne Wassenaar shares how her company used simulations to navigate a challenging period of growth and change:
Wassenaar, then the SVP of Operations, set a goal: Drive understanding and alignment across the top 30 company leaders so they could all more effectively execute and support each other in the move to enterprise. To prepare the simulation, Wassenaar partnered with BTS consultants and asked for input from the finance team, with about 15 people who were interviewed in advance of the exercise. The process took about six weeks.
The setup of a simulation was simple: Teams competed against each other running the company over a three-year period. “Done right, it’s a lively and engaging process. We played three rounds, and each round of the game represented a year. In each round, teams made a set of trade-off decisions and investments that were run and scored against expected trends built into a premade forecast model kept secret from participants until the simulation. To keep it interesting, we threw unexpected events that required teams to react, like a competitor making a hot acquisition or a sudden security breach,” Wassenaar says. “After the simulation, the teams were scored and ranked by highest revenue, profitability and customer satisfaction. Then the teams debriefed and examined their performance. At the end of the ‘three years,’ the team with the highest weighted score won.
Measuring job candidates’ qualifications with skills tests rather than by their résumés is one strategy employers are using to try and make their recruiting processes more accurate, more fair, and less biased, particularly when it comes to tech talent whose abilities are relatively easy to assess. In some cases, these skills tests take the form of online games: Facebook and Unilever are among the organizations that have been experimenting with gamified recruiting, and a startup called Scoutible is using video games to match candidates to employers by assessing their cognitive skills, personalities, and psychological profiles. Quartz’s Ananya Bhattacharya profiles another game-based hiring platform, tailored specifically to programmers, with an additional competitive twist:
San Francisco-based CodeFights offers a gamified coding platform for job-seeking programmers to reach recruiters by performing well—but also anonymously—on coding challenges. First launched in 2014, the platform offers coders the opportunity to battle each other, or bots, and earn points for accuracy and speed. High performers who reach a “critical point” in the game are then given the option to connect with employers. Last month, the company released its newest mode, a level-by-level solo game in the style of Candy Crush, called “Code Arcade.” …