What is “gamification,” besides another example of turning a noun into a verb? The reference is to online games. For some, “gamifying” a meeting could mean including, say, a smartphone-based scavenger hunt as an icebreaker or a trivia game as a learning tool.
For Michelle Pokorny, solution vice president, employee engagement and recognition, and Jerry Klein, senior solution design strategist, at Maritz Loyalty & Motivation, a division of Maritz Inc., Fenton, Mo., it’s a much bigger concept.
“Gamification means taking elements of game-like experiences, the dynamics and mechanics, and applying them in a business setting to drive more participation, attention, and social interaction,” Pokorny says. She and Klein are interested in breaking down what is appealing, addicting, and rewarding about online games and weaving those “mechanics” into employee engagement programs, reward programs, and meetings. “It goes beyond games,” Klein says, “and ties into the latest science on what makes people tick.”
What Drives Behavior
Some of that science comes from authors Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School. In their 2003 book Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, they outline four motivators behind human behavior: The drives to acquire (gain resources and status), to bond (build relationships), to create (do meaningful work, contribute to something bigger that oneself), and to defend.
According to Klein, the drives to be connected to others, to create, and to contribute are as strong or stronger than the drive to acquire, which is why including various game elements can work so well to increase employee participation.
“Adding gaming elements incorporates more interest, fun, and reward, including more visual and shared accomplishments,” he says. And just as a YouTube video might go viral, the hope is that other employees see the behavior the company wants to model and it catches on. “It’s a way to get people engaged and energized, to build processes that give people more motivation for what they are trying to do anyway.”
Game Theory, Brain Theory
Pokorny says that Lawrence and Nohria’s four drives match up with the four profiles of game players as defined by legendary game designer and researcher Richard Bartle: the killer, the achiever, the explorer, and the socializer. Not surprisingly, she notes, “game designers tap into our innate motivations to collect, to seek challenge, and to compete.”
In motivation design, Klein says, “you create an experience that leverages the game experience. Look at the mechanics that meet those drives.” Some already are familiar to people—earning points and reaching certain levels are part of many loyalty programs.
Maritz expands these concepts to guide employees’ relationships with their companies. Virtual “badges” or other symbols allow them to share their achievements socially, and leader boards tap into their drive for competition. “The goal is for participants to feel they are part of an engaging, long-term journey,” Pokorny says.
That could extend to meetings, as long as the connection to the overall strategy is maintained. “Using game elements could conceivably make any meeting more engaging, and increase participation and attention—if well-designed,” Klein says. “The distinction is that ‘gamification,’ applying game science as an engagement strategy, involves using these elements on an ongoing basis. There is continuity, leveling, dynamic design additions or modifications based on how people are interacting with the experience, etc. Games tend to have a fixed set of objectives, participants, timeframes, and outcomes. Our approach is more focused on incorporating game mechanics into an ongoing experience, on engagement strategies vs. discrete games.”
Design It Right
As with all employee engagement efforts, a strategy using gamification must be well thought out and meaningful in order to succeed. In addition to the expected earning of badges or levels, there should be elements of “surprise and delight,” says Klein. Maybe after the fifth time an employee takes a certain action, for example, that employee gets unexpectedly recognized for it. Or a new challenge is revealed. A best practice is to start with some mechanics before you plan your entire engagement strategy. “What is it that people are responding to? You must always watch behavior,” says Pokorny, and be able to adjust to take advantage of whatever engages them most.
Another of her keys to success is to “always make the program specific to your company’s core values and the activities that drive individual and company success. And it should relate to how employees interact with each other on- and offline. The employee recognition experience goes beyond technology tools. We look to engage people around all behaviors tied to business results.”
Finally, Klein emphasizes that any engagement strategy, gamified or not, must be led from the top. Without senior management endorsement, your success will be limited. One Maritz client sends achievement notices on the CEO’s letterhead. How achievements are announced “depends on the culture of the company,” Klein says, but could be in an e-newsletter, a print newsletter, on an intranet, or all three.
And remember, Pokorny says, “There’s no reason ‘fun’ has to be the opposite of ‘work.’”
Find more at the Maritz Web site.