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The power of play: How to get the best out of gamification

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4th Feb 2015
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Ian Dowd discusses how the ‘power of play’ can push your productivity and employee engagement.

Motivation in the workplace is one the of the most important, and at the same time most difficult, things to achieve. Motivated employees are more engaged, more productive and loyal. They are also less likely to leave the company even in challenging times. Over the past few years, there have been numerous strategies and approaches to boost motivation, chief among them the concept of gamification.

In an effort to simplify the lives of employees and make their work experience more enjoyable, more and more companies have been applying game mechanics and game design techniques to work processes. However, as a recent report by Gartner shows, managers and business leaders are of different opinion when it comes to the future of gamification. In a survey quoted in the report, 53% of people predict that gamification will be a widespread concept by 2020, whereas 42% think that gamification will not become a larger trend. With opinion so divided, it’s worth looking at whether gamification really is just a marketing fad or whether there’s something to the theory that such an approach to work can improve participation and motivation.

In order for it to become a valid management strategy, companies will have to change their understanding of gamification and how they implement it in everyday business. It needs to be clear that work is no game and that there is a serious background to the concept. The focus of all efforts should be to enhance the employee’s work experience and apply a more creative approach to business processes. The goal is to bring out a natural desire in employees to engage in collaboration, interaction, healthy competition, achievement, problem solving, self-expression and altruism – all characteristics that are automatically triggered in gaming situations.

If we are looking at gamification from this more general point of view then it becomes obvious that it does not make sense to introduce gamification to isolated business operations. Gamification should rather be a part of the overall corporate culture. As a holistic concept and part of the vision and corporate behaviour of a business, gaming techniques will be able to encourage collaboration, trigger engagement and competition and improve the overall employee experience.

"In order to successfully implement gamification in the corporate strategy, business leaders also need to be clear...that [gamification] is no gimmick."

It has to be taken into account though that, especially in the modern workplace, managers and business leaders cannot make the assumption that everyone is familiar with the concept of gaming or social media. Whereas millennials will be accustomed to the idea of social media platforms, the same cannot be expected from older generations. So, while introducing gamification as an overarching concept to the company, managers need to be aware that they might need to take a different approach with the various generations in their offices.

In order to successfully implement gamification in the corporate strategy, business leaders also need to be clear that there is a valid and professional background to this approach and that gamification is no gimmick. They need to be aware that even though people are extremely engaged in the various manifestations of social media, we also see people moving on more quickly. Even hugely successful platforms such as Facebook experience a decrease in their user numbers.

To ensure a professional approach, companies should also make sure that the introduction of gamification has a long-term value. If, as mentioned in the beginning, employees do not notice a considerable improvement in their overall experience, it is highly likely that the initial novelty factor will wear off quickly and things will return to what they were before.

While gamification might be effective in theory how can you measure its success? It is all a question of making gamification part of the overall strategy. And that means implementing it in business processes and creating KPIs. If people are more engaged, work more efficiently and collaborate, there will be visible results. This is where data analytics come into play. Just as any other management technique, gamification should be measurable through an increase in productivity, good employee retention and improved business outputs.

If companies want gamification to be more than a visionary concept or a passing marketing fad, then the key is to make it part of the overall corporate culture and strategy. The focus has to be on enhancing and simplifiying the employees work experience to ensure long-term effectiveness. In combination with clear objectives and goals, gamification has the potential to be more than just a gimmick and can be a valuable tool to improve employee engagement and productivity.

Ian Dowd is a director at NGA HR. Ian has 15 years experience in the technology sector and is currently Marketing Director for UKIE region at NGA HR, formerly Northgate Arinso.  He speaks candidly about topics including the role of technology in HR and people management, cloud computing, the consumerisation of IT, gamification, talent management, HR strategy, business analytics, employee engagement and the user experience

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