Using gamification in your engagement program

Engaging and motivating your workforce — it’s not like it used to be

With apologies to Bob Dylan, the employee engagement times are a-changin’. Not only are workforce dynamics different now from decades’ past, the best ways to engage, motivate, instruct and connect with your employees are substantially different from as little as three years ago. Top companies are using gamification to engage their local and distributed workforces.

Have you kept up?

Old school = failing grade

Employee engagement is your no-longer-secret weapon to improve your bottom line. In any successful employee engagement program, the key is to effectively motivate employees to achieve their goals. What used to work in rigid, hierarchically structured business environments (old school) does not always work as well for today’s more mobile, more flexible, more willing to job-hop, often geographically distributed workforce.

In other words, you need some new tools.

Enter gamification. What is gamification, exactly? Simply, gamification entails applying competitive, game-design elements and game principles to (business) tasks.

Games and gamification strategies are everywhere: Rewards programs (Starbucks, Discover), airline frequent flyer programs, hotel frequent traveler programs, mobile health / ehealth devices (FitBit, Nike+) and company wellness programs. And it’s not just for consumers or external stakeholders.

Employees from every generation, culture and gender share basic desires to be rewarded, enhance status and feel like their accomplishments are noticed.

Employers are turning to gamification to introduce, or sometimes reconnect, their employees with their goals. And gamification may be a solution responsible for some myth-busting: It’s not just for millennials. Competition and the desire to be rewarded for achievement are not recent phenomena. baby boomers, generation X, generation Y alike are more motivated to participate in goal-tracking programs that are fun, engaging, responsive, easy-to-understand and highly visible.

Why does gamification work?

Gamification powers the motivations and desires that exist in all of us for community, helpful feedback, accomplishment, and reward.

At its core, gamification motivates behavior. Community and shared participation are key. Employers use gamification to more effectively engage with employees (and other audiences) to inspire them to participate, collaborate, share and interact in activities —strengthening company culture and employee longevity — two key bottom-line contributors.

The genius in gamification strategies is that they’re addictive.

Introducing game mechanics into goal setting/tracking makes it more compelling for participants to return to again and again. And, there can be unintended benefits.

Case in point: Dana Sandstrom, a communications manager at a mid-sized organization with geographically distributed employees, pursues a business objective of strengthening relationships and increasing coordination with a parent organization. The two organizations identified a need to increase awareness and distribution of public-facing content and social media messaging among the parent organization and its sub-organizations.

The old school way might have been a simple edict: Just do it. Find and share/amplify each other’s messages. Fortunately, a smarter way forward was enacted.

“We use a software program that allows us to post content and positioning statements for social media channels in one hub created for company communicators, sales teams and communications-inclined business leaders,” said Sandstrom. By itself, this initiative probably would not have been enough to generate the desired increase in message sharing and coordination.

“I like seeing myself atop the leaderboard.”

“What makes this really work are the game points applied to each user every time they post or share content. The leaderboard automatically updates achievements and can be viewed at a glance. I like seeing myself atop the leaderboard,” added Sandstrom.

So does Sandstrom’s boss, which was an unanticipated bonus. “My manager, a woman who had little previous experience with gamification, saw the immediate appeal of the leaderboard tallies. ‘Make sure you’re up at the top,’ she told me. For her, the leaderboard tallies became a quick, easy and measurable way for her to show leadership that we are upholding our commitment to increase message coordination throughout the organization.”

Sandstrom added, “Without the gamification aspect, I think our participation levels would be lower. But when you make a game out of it, more people contribute outside of our usual power communicators.”

The monetary benefits of gamification

Adding gamification to your employee engagement program delivers real impact to your bottom line. Here are three ways:

1.      Speed up the ramp up

The faster your sales team can get up to speed, the faster they can start producing. Gamification principles are easy to grasp. They tap into basic human needs fed by dopamine, which control’s the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. When you start your sales producers off on the right foot with a fun, social learning experience, all you need to do is get out of the way.

2.      Training that sticks

The best training is the kind that doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. Gamification can help. By making real-world business scenarios into games, like McDonald’s does, gamification pays dividends year over year.

3.      Real, long-lasting employee engagement

Gamification drives participation and true employee engagement in a social environment. It can bring together sales, marketing, operations, customer service — even the c-suite — into a common social experience. One of the most appealing aspects of interactive gamification is that it compels people to compete and/or work together, enhancing the organization’s social bond — a core value for teams of every kind. Even football teams dealing with generational differences, technology adaptation barriers and a hypercompetitive environment.

What to demand from a gamification platform

Keep these three principles in mind:

1.      Meaningful connection to your business

Mere badges and points don’t work for long. Your employees will respond to business initiatives that are truly integrated with game principles — which will create better results. Begin by clearly defining business objectives and then analyze whether gaming principles can be used to meet them. The focus should be on job performance and content mastery, not game play.

2.      A highly visible, simple leaderboard

Because activity does not equal success, you need to be able to easily determine who is having success — and who isn’t. Perhaps more importantly, your participants need to have easy ongoing access to their and their peers’ performance to keep those competitive juices flowing. Map out challenges so that games are not only entertaining, but actions and achievements are visibly linked.

3.      Fun

Test it out. Is it fun to do? Fun is your way in to your audience. No less an authority than Michelle Obama has this to say about the value of having fun: “First you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen. So I’m always game for a good joke.” See if it revs up your dopamine.

If it isn’t fun for you, it probably won’t be fun for your employees. And if it isn’t fun for them, it’s just one more thing they’re told to do. Bah. Humbug.

If you haven’t yet moved into the gamification world, you have a number of options. If you are already a believer and are looking for a new boost to your employee and customer engagement efforts, reach out to us. We’d love to help you sort out what will work best for you.

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