Magazine article Talent Development

Game On: A Primer on Gamification for Managers

Magazine article Talent Development

Game On: A Primer on Gamification for Managers

Article excerpt

Managers face serious tasks, problems, and challenges. They require a fully engaged workforce, yet Gallup has revealed that engagement levels may be as low as 30 percent around the globe. Gamification is rapidly being integrated into our contemporary ways of working, along with employee engagement and social media. And on many occasions, the three are woven together because games are engaging for players, and this same experience of engagement attached to work is sought-after in the workplace.

But many managers believe that games interfere with work because some disengaged employees launch Candy Crush or Angry Birds on their mobile devices rather than perform the work expected of them. How can managers be expected to embrace gamification with so much already demanding their limited attention and energy? As one manager told me, "We have gone from doing more with less, to doing everything with nothing."

Not a fad

Gamification--the use of game thinking and game mechanics attached to work--is infiltrating workplace practices and cannot be dismissed as superfluous. Gartner predicts that by 2015 the online gaming industry will be worth $112 billion globally and that within this year more than 70 percent of global organizations will have at least one gamified application.

"The cases for using gamification are numerous and growing," writes Prithvi Shergill of HCL Technologies in a January 2014 Wired article. "SAP uses games to educate its employees on sustainability; Unilever applies them to training; Hays deploys them to hire recruiters; and the Khan Academy uses it for online education." Shergill refers to a 2013 report by the Aberdeen Group that reveals that organizations with gamification in place improve engagement by 48 percent compared with 28 percent for those that don't.

In the January 2014 issue of T+D, Siddhesh Bhobe, CEO of eMee, and I shared the story of how gamification eliminated the drudgery of yearly performance appraisals while supporting strategic objectives, and contributed to meaningful insights into what drives performance. eMee's gamified appraisal system saved one company 28,000 worker-hours while lowering attrition, improving customer ratings, and increasing employee satisfaction.

What makes games engaging?

Employee engagement embraces our connections at work. This includes our connection to the work itself, our connection to our managers and leaders, our connection to one another, and our connection to the organization.

When we fully engage in work we may experience the state of flow popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Flow creates intense and focused concentration, a balance of challenge and skill, a merging of action and awareness, a loss of self-consciousness, a sense of personal control, a distortion of our sense of time, and an experience of an activity as intrinsically rewarding. These factors also are designed into most game platforms to make them engaging for the player or participant.

Jane McGonigal, one of the world's leading experts on gamification, states that, overall, games have four traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. It is helpful to remember these four traits as we proceed because it is easy to get lost in the complexity of gaming and lose sight of the fundamental attributes that spark engagement.

Although gamification in the workplace may appear to be a brand-new concept, that simply isn't true. The platforms have certainly evolved from a piece of chalk to massive multiplayer online games, but many of the principles and practices are timeless.

Charles M. Schwab, the American steel magnate, in the early 1900s wrote about the practice of gamification in Succeeding With What You Have. He recounted the following story.

Schwab was concerned about production in one of his steel mills and asked the day foreman for the production number, or "heats" produced, by the day shift. …

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