[Cross-post] Enterprise Gamification: Beyond the badges (and the hype)




The Time: Right Now 
The Location: In your competitors HQ..

The HR director has signed on for a cloud-based smart-platform that integrates her company’s Rewards and Recognition program onto a secure company-wide social platform. The Learning and Development team down the hall from HR also uses the platform to deploy smart trackers that assigns rewards for training completed and then puts those notifications on the public employee profile in the corporate directory that everyone in the company refers to. The peer group is notified of the achievement in real time and they post notes of appreciation on the message timeline. The R&D group, stationed in another office building, far away from HQ where all the exciting stuff seems to happen, a group is formed on the platform with a target of losing 10 kilos each over the next 5 months with their parameters being automatically recorded with smart devices. When each member reaches a designated milestone, it is automatically broadcasted to group-member’s mobiles. Messages of support and praise pour in and the kilos keep disappearing.

High-five’s are exchanged daily in the hallways as group members run in to each other on the way to meetings. The word spreads. The disappearing waist-lines now become the opening topic of discussion in review meetings before the official agenda is taken up. Senior executives in HQ look at the enterprise level dashboard the platform provides and pat their bellies for one last time before signing up for the weight loss group. Motivation levels are at an all time high (The HR director is smiling). People are collaborating like never before (The CTO is smiling). Medical and Insurance bills are down (Even the CFO smiles – a rather rare event).

A year later, your competitor has doubled revenue and tripled profitability while you are huddled with in a meeting with your CEO wondering how to explain the worst ever year in sales to the stake holders.

Fiction? The answer might surprise you.

Fact: The interest in enterprise gamification is on the rise. If Google trends results are anything to go by, gamification is on the radar of most decision makers these days. Okay, so maybe you wont be huddled with your CEO wondering what happened, but beyond the hype and the rising interest, most organizations are struggling to grapple with the implications of embracing this concept in the enterprise. There is an inherent skepticism associated the relevance and viability of gamification as a strategy to engage various audiences.


The rapid transformation in the technology landscape is one of the main drivers of the rising interest in gamification. Social platforms, combined with mobile and location-based services are behind the explosion of badges and virtual rewards for achieving targets. Arguably emerging technologies like Google Glass and gesture control in the new smartphones and tablets, will take this engagement to an entirely new level in the near future.

Gamification – Over and beyond the mountain of expectations.

Gartner, in its 2012 Hype Cycle report on Emerging Energy Technologies placed gamification in the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”. We are now at a stage where badges for finishing tasks seems to be the one-stop solution to fix all the productivity problems and a virtual medal the panacea for the ultimate employee-engagement program. As with all things that are hyped, nothing could be further from the truth. Gamification will evolve over a period of time, possibly (as the Gartner report puts it) passing through the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ over the next couple years to emerge as an established productivity enhancement tool in five to ten years.

So do you close your gamification projects and wait for the world to catch up? Not quite. With realistic expectations of outcomes and a proper understanding of gaming design, gamification can already deliver substantial business results.

Innovation: Protease, the protein that teased and teased till they Fold’ed’ It.

Scientists had identified that the protein protease played an important role in how some retroviruses, including the HIV virus, multiply. For a decade they struggled with the structure of the enzyme before one fine day researchers at the University of Washington turned to FoldIt – a program that gamifies science problems. Three weeks later (yes, you read that right) online gamers had cracked the code.

Seth Cooper, one of the creators of the program summed up the astounding results thus:  “People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at. Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week’s paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before”

What works for science, can do wonders in the world of business too. From improving productivity by rewarding appropriate behaviour to fostering innovation in knowledge and technology companies, gamification if implemented correctly, can deliver tangible business benefits. In low-skill tasks gamification can be implemented as badges or recognition in the form of virtual currency for tasks done in time and in a desirable fashion. In technology companies, gamification can serve to drive innovation by bringing together people spread across teams to solve complex problems. Combined with social and collaboration platforms, gamification can motivate people to collaborate across teams, functions and geographies in ways that a structured approach could never deliver.

It is not unrealistic to expect that in the future gamification will serve as a means for organizations to engage both internal and external stakeholders (vendors, development partners and even the customers) and leverage their collective knowledge to develop products that deliver the customers needs far better than what the traditional processes can.

Performance Management: The wrong carrot at the end of the stick

Survey after survey comes back with the results that a substantial portion of the workforce is passively unengaged from the company with a significant set of those being actively disengaged. Yet, companies continue to persist with the annual ‘performance review’ while assuming the carrot of a higher monetary compensation will take care of any displeasure the employees have at their work place.

Recent research has established that intrinsic rewards far outweigh the engagement potential of extrinsic rewards. Self-esteem, Peer-recognition are emerging as primary drivers of motivation in the modern knowledge economy. Gamification, mostly implemented in the crude fashion today only focuses on a combination of competitive constructs and monetary (or equivalent rewards). Junket to Thailand for meeting quarterly sales targets, ring a bell?

Gamification, implemented strategically can transform the landscape to help align employee motivations and performance with business objectives rather than limit the rewards to a few top performers at the end of the year. Performance evaluation will become transparent as the platforms become social and open rather than restricted and confidential. In high-tech companies where peer-appreciation is valued more than those from superiors, review and feedback will move from top-down to peer-based. The annual reviews will in effect become real time as genuinely useful ideas are recognized and applauded instantly.

The challenge for the organization however is to remember that gamification should not be used as a means to manipulate employee behaviour rather it should be deployed in the full democratic spirit as a means to motivate. Applications and tools should be organized in such a way that they empower employees to achive their personal objectives in a way that is better aligned with the larger organizational goals.

Personal Development: 20 pushups and counting…

In 2011, Basis Science unveiled the “Basis Band” – an affordable health and heart monitor that can be worn all day long. It has multiple sensors that montior heart rate continuously, along with calories burned, sleep patterns, and other physiological metrics. The device is in turn connected to a web-based personal dashboard that allows users to view the device’s monitoring of their heart rate, sleep, and other parameters. The dashboard then helps users further keep track of their overall health and wellness by offering push notifications, suggestions, and a game-ified experience that encourages one to set goals and monitor progress. Users can even send health dates to friends and family over social networks.

The Basis band is just the tip of the iceberg in what emerging technology and gamification can deliver in terms of personal development of people. Any company that truly believes in engaging its workforce cannot afford to ignore the personal development of its employees. Health and Wellness is one of the most important aspects that companies and people are interested in – with real savings in less absenteeism and lower medical costs and insurance premiums.

Enlightened organizations go the next step and invest in continuous education of their employees and can intelligently correlate their performance over a period of time with the increase in skill levels resulting from continuous education provided either through internal training programs or external certifications.

The future is here.

Combined with emerging technologies like social networks, mobile and location based services, gamification is poised to disrupt the way enterprises operate. The impact will be far beyond the topics touched upon in this post and it is impossible to say what can and cannot be successfully ‘gamified’. Organizations that are consciously aware of this change should have a strategy, prepare an execution plan and cash-in on the changes gamification will bring about. To be ahead of the game, keep a lookout for signs of gamification impacting your industry and constantly evaluate opportunities to use gamification in your company to better innovate, better engage and empower your workforce.

Related Posts: 

Notes to the CEO: Transform your employee engagement strategy

Concepts used in the post have been referenced from various sources (over and above kwench data) including Deloitte Review, Gartner Research among others. Image 1 is of the PacMan game screen and Image 2 is the Google trends snapshot of search term “Gamification” 

This post originally appeared on the ‘kwench blog

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