Get in the game

How game mechanics can unleash winning performance from employees
By Steven Green
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/09/2013

Gamification remains in play as a tactic for engaging, motivating and recognizing employees. Enterprise gamification takes elements from computer gaming and integrates them into a business to encourage a desired behaviour, such as productivity or retention.

More than one-half (53 per cent) of 1,021 respondents to a survey by the Pew Research Centre feel there will be significant advances in the adoption and use of gamification by 2020, particularly in areas such as communications, education, health and work.

While most employees start out motivated, too often the spring in their step ceases. A staggering 70 per cent of employees are not engaged, according to a 2012 survey by Gallup.

This means the majority of workers are simply putting in the hours, caring little about their employer’s overall performance. Not only does corporate culture suffer from this lack of engagement, so does the bottom line.

Engagement is the organizational grail — it’s what so many companies strive for, and most struggle with. And game designers have it figured out, with people spending endless hours playing games such as World of Warcraft, Angry Birds and Farmville.

Mix work with play

Accenture is a great example of an organization that has used game mechanics to drive business value. A global management and consulting firm with 260,000 employees serving clients in more than 120 countries, its gamification strategy is driven by a social collaboration and learning team.

Since 2007, they’ve guided its maturity from simple leaderboards to measuring, understanding and articulating the impact collaboration is actually having on the organization and, by extension, customers, according to Thomas Hsu at Accenture, in an online interview in June with Gamification Co in New York.

Profiles, microblogs, activity streams and communities are just a few of the social tools available to employees to help them find the people and skills they need to get work done and build a personal legacy within the organization.

Accenture added a points structure and badging program to not only motivate employees to make use of these resources but also master them. Challenges further educate employees about the proper use of these tools and allow them to build skills and profile in the process.

For Accenture, the game is a means to an end, an opportunity for employee engagement, talent development and business performance.

Gamification boosts employee performance by socially recognizing, and thus leveraging, progress.

This creates the great “inner work life” that differentiates a top-performing employee from one who is simply going through the motions, as explained in The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.

Routine workday events directly affect inner work life and can impede or encourage growth. The small wins are important. When progress is recognized, competitive advantage follows.

Celebrate small wins

Research has continuously shown the best way to motivate employees is to recognize their achievements. Successful computer games align personal passion and commitment to task completion. Well-designed games recognize progress and this encourages players to continue to engage, inspired to meet the next challenge — this is key for the employer.

From badges and points to leaderboards and levels, there are many ways to introduce game elements to the workplace. But gamification is much more than play. For measurable results it must provide:

• social recognition: Psychologist Abraham Maslow recognized this as a fundamental human need more than 70 years ago, as seen in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Game designers get this — and organizations must embrace it.

• performance feedback: An employee views her work as meaningful if there is a sense that progress is being made. She needs to know where she stands, what she is doing right and where she can make improvement. Yearly reviews are not enough — real-time feedback is the goal. Gamification can deliver this by acknowledging small, everyday wins.

• two-way dialogue: Conversation fuels participation. When you give people the opportunity to declare opinions and compare with others, you connect them more deeply to your organization.

• personal legacy: Gamification recognizes achievements and encourages collaboration, creating a visible scorecard that builds an employee’s profile and reputation.

Applying game design in the workplace can transform it. But elements such as badges and levels are simply the outer shell — it’s social recognition, performance feedback, two-way dialogue and personal legacy that, when integrated correctly, encourage engagement and open the door to measurable wins.

And it’s critical to know your audience — not all employees will respond to the same motivational triggers. To some, collaboration may be more effective than competition, so a variety of game mechanics are necessary for gamification success.

Steven Green is the Toronto-based founder of TemboSocial (formerly PollStream), a provider of interactive engagement and community-building solutions. He can be reached at, (416) 588-7324 ext. 113 or, for more information, visit or

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