Using Gamification to Boost Engagement. Interview with Rallyware CEO George Elfond.

Tell us the story behind Rallyware. When and why did you create your platform? Who should be using it?

Rallyware has gone through a number of modifications that shaped us to become what we are today. We started Rallyware out of an MIT incubator in 2012. The original vision was to build the technology to help people self-organize around social and political causes to achieve great results together. We spent a lot of time with community organizers and thought leaders understanding the motivational layers that inspired people to do great things. As a result, we built the first version of the product and were able to launch with our first customers – some of the most widely known political organizations in our country.

As we saw great results with our initial customers, we went further and decided to apply our product, knowledge, and expertise for the private sector. As businesses are becoming more and more distributed and less hierarchical, the need to motivate and engage employees and other workforces becomes tremendous. However, unlike for the non-profit sector, for businesses it’s a relatively recent pain point that requires fresh and innovative solutions. By bringing community organizing techniques and introducing deep learning AI-based mechanisms into the engagement process, Rallyware has brought a fresh view into employee engagement field.

Today we are seeing quite an increasing number of customers, including such industry leaders as Samsung Electronics, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and many others benefitting immensely from our work. On average, as a result of Rallyware programs, our customers increase their sales productivity by more than 30% and workforce retention above 40%.

What’s your philosophy on employee engagement?

In the current highly competitive business environment, having an excited, motivated, and engaged workforce is a must-have for any company. We are seeing that the majority of innovative companies understand that. However, many steps that are taken by businesses in that direction do not live up to the high standards of emerging generation of milennials. Our philosophy comes from the realization that one cannot make or order an employee to be engaged. Neither would they get engaged when asked to complete one big initiative in one sitting. Our philosophy is that properly instituted employee engagement programs increase productivity, lower attrition, and promote innovation within a company. Our product learns people’s habits from industry to industry and provides a personalized path for each employee to succeed and become engaged with the company. One has to be very careful, though, in designing those programs, because an improperly designed system of engagement incentives could easily backfire.

What do you believe are the must-have ingredients of an engaged workforce?

The workforce is truly engaged when every member has a choice and flexibility on what they can do, they need to feel they are an integral part of a larger community and goals, and they need to be recognized and rewarded for their achievements. This also needs to be adopted from within the company rather than pushed from the top, so that every employee feels they are a part of the process. If done right, such ingredients open up the deepest levels of intrinsic motivation from the employee base, and that’s what moves the company to the next level. Of course, choosing the right technology systems to implement the employee engagement strategy is an important task as well.

What companies have you observed taking an especially unique or innovative approach to employee engagement?

Different companies come with different approaches. For example, I recently saw Southwest Airlines employees singing and dancing at various airports around the country. The levels of energy and excitement these employees have been showing was contagious – passengers around them started dancing as well, and people were taking pictures and videos. Such well-planned employee engagement initiatives typically result in not only a more engaged and excited workforce, but also a much more engaged customer base, who become their true brand ambassadors. I have also seen our own customer, Samsung, implementing quite a few innovative ideas into their programs, and I’m proud that we are a part of those initiatives.

On the other hand, what habits or workplace cultures seem to cool or kill engagement? Where do companies make mistakes in this area?

We typically see vertical top-down approaches that are pushed down from the very top without a prior buy-in of the employees fail. When a company gives people no choice but to participate in a specific initiative that had been handpicked by their leadership, it oftentimes creates an adverse reaction in people, and even the best ideas collapse. That’s why I usually recommend allowing employee ideas and initiatives come from within as well as giving people a choice of participating in different activities, according to their interests.

Why is gamification such a useful tool for employee engagement?

Gamification enables employees to see their contributions to the company through an objective set of criteria instead of the perceptions of their managers. In addition, once you instantly see how you are doing compared to others in the organization, you start doing more because the competition aspect kicks in. That said, believe it or not, gamification is also a very dangerous tool if implemented with the wrong ideas in mind. Mistakenly, many companies believe that gamification by itself will solve all their engagement challenges, and that tends not to end well. In fact, if companies gamify wrong activities (a common example involved gamifying results rather than actions that lead to those results), gamification can backfire on them and even demotivate their workforces. One needs to be very careful in designing these programs, or better yet, should involve professionals that specialize in the field.

What are some best practices for using these tools? What are the dos and don’ts of using technology to boost engagement?

It is important for the companies to remember why they need employee engagement programs at all. Engagement for the sake of engagement is hardly a reason to invest significant amounts of money and human resources into the program. The idea usually is to improve productivity or some other crucial business KPI. In that sense, we always recommend to first sit down and define 3-5 KPIs to improve, and only then, based on those KPIs, to design the actual program.

It is also important to remember that better employee engagement does not equal better corporate communication, and vice versa. Just throwing in an off-the-shelf tool, such as Chatter, Yammer, or Slack, could significantly improve communications within the departments but will unlikely become the catalyst for the more engaged and energized workforce. Well, at least, not engaged or energized in a directed and meaningful way.

Finally, after you launch the engagement program, it is absolutely crucial to gather employee feedback as well as quantitatively measure the results and improvements in the KPIs that you are trying to move forward. Adjustments to the programs should be based on these measurements.

How should companies be using technology to assist with onboarding?

First of all, there is a difference between logistical onboarding and functional/cultural onboarding (also called orientation). Logistical onboarding, where a new employee needs to sign a number of documents, such as benefits enrollment and compliance forms, is currently solved quite well by a number of great SaaS products.

Functional and cultural onboarding, however, is a much deeper issue, and is also a leading indicator of the employee’s future performance and tenure within the company. That’s the initial step of the employee engagement. We typically see companies that care about employees being properly onboarded and thus engaged from day 1 being about 30% more successful in retaining those employees in the first year.

What trends or innovations in employee engagement, onboarding and workplace motivation are you following right now? Why do they excite you?

The biggest trends we are seeing in the industry are that the workforce is becoming younger, more mobile and distributed, but with a much shorter attention span. Milennials have high demands to their employers in terms of engagement and excitement as well as technologies. Because they care so much about their working environment and have high standards for choosing and staying with their employers, we see employee engagement space to be a tremendous opportunity for growth and innovation.

We are thrilled to be among the leaders of this movement and fortunate to be able to help companies make their workforces more engaged, excited, and happy in their daily activities and careers.

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