Blessed to travel

When I set up Gamification Nation, my intention was to bring a feminine voice to what at the time was a very (‘young white”) male-dominated space. I still think there is plenty of space for more diversity and the more I travel the world talking about gamification, the more I feel that this is important.

All the movements towards diversity and inclusion of gender, age and race are a sign of the times we live in. I personally feel really blessed to be able to travel and meet people from different cultures in their own environments and find it immensely enriching. It is rare to find fellow travellers who stick to their rigid narrow view of the world, whereas for the untravelled this is actually much more likely to be the case.

The conversations I have in social settings around motivation, what people consider helpful and unhelpful, what is acceptable and encouraged in a culture and how one culture differs to another, is what makes up a worldview that is constantly evolving. In exploration, there are new ideas, there are new perspectives and the understanding that there is no such as thing as only one right way to do anything.

If you have never lived or worked abroad, I urge you to take the next available opportunity to take a trip. On that trip challenge yourself to explore the local culture and meet people from the area in their favourite places, not just the touristy hangouts. I love it when I can hear stories from their world of work and life. I do my best to taste local foods insofar that it is available gluten-free.

Is it comfortable to do this? Not always, there are times where you find yourself in strange situations, but then when you have helpful local people with you it rarely turns out to be a disaster.

When I look at hosting gamification design workshops in all different cultures, similar challenges come up with a local flavour to add complexity to the mix. I always advise people to work with the base they have as resources and work outward from that starting point. The longer-term vision for your design may require breaking it down into bite-size steps that the local culture and organisation can work with.

Local flavours can impact the scale you work with, the types of engagement that is acceptable or not and much more importantly the way you communicate your strategy to engage and motivate. What is interesting is that most organisations worldwide have some common denominators, such as systems and traditions passed on from the industrial era, which are no longer as relevant for today’s society.

I feel that collaborative cultures in time will take over from highly competitive ones. I also see strength in the blend of influences, where gender, age and race are working together to creatively brainstorm better ways forward. The important value shift being for the greater good of all of us and not a small privileged power hungry few.

I also find that as business owners develop international strategies, spending time in the local economies that they are targeting is of vital importance, otherwise we are ony imposing our worldview onto other people.

So far games have been a factor that brings people together, just like sports can and food for example. Getting people into a setting where they can have fun and share is always enriching for me and I always wish that it is for everyone else in the room too.

As I write this, I do feel privileged that I can share my perspective and I hope it will inspire some to take on board that diversity and inclusion by design has a fundamental role to play in society and how we work and live for the long haul.


Winning with low hanging fruits

In every strategy session around gamification, learner or employee engagement or even digital transformation, we typically find that there are some low hanging fruits ready for picking. They can range from existing policies or ways of working that should need a simple tweak to rethinking the process so it is more efficient for all involved. Even simply removing the most frustrating parts out of a process can be enough to create a quick improvement in your target objectives.

In any given workshop with a strategic or design intent, we always find the high-level longer-term objectives which will take a bit of effort and research to put into place. But in each, we also find that by talking through a stumbling block or a process, that there are ways of helping people along without heavy investment or research. It is often the first time a whole team has spent time looking at improving the process or spoke in a facilitated discussion with a higher level purpose in mind.

When there is no facilitator in the room and it is business as usual, hierarchy or experience or even territorialism tends to rule. That doesn’t mean people do this with malicious intent, but it does mean the real truth is sidestepped or not deemed too important. No matter what size the organisation is, very few are able to look independently at how things work between teams to improve efficiency. Often someone will feel targetted and then entrench their perspective.

A good facilitator will enable the discussion to remain non-people targeted but focused on improving the process. It means all teams can be vulnerable without having to give up territory. Strategy implementation design is so much about people and less about systems or even processes even though you need all of them.

Delivering a new strategy takes effort and involvement from a whole range of people: clients, beneficiaries, employees and on occasion external reviewers. Open-mindedness and feedback are important for all involved.

The choice of low hanging fruits to start with is also an interesting discussion. Typically the decision points include budget, ease of implementation and impact it will achieve. Taking even a first step after a strategy or design thinking workshop is vital and low hanging fruits provide a good opportunity to show that you do want to change. You also want to schedule to other longer-term activities, but there may be a delay in implementation and results, which may make some people think that nothing is happening and momentum is being lost.

The thing about creating change is always taking the first next step.

When employee retention is not a linear thing

In our work with employee engagement and gamification of HR, we come across the request to work on staff retention through creative ways of showing career path options that may not be linear. Most of us when joining an organisation want to feel that we are doing meaningful work and that we are progressing. Progression in a traditional set-up is often called moving up the ladder. In most organisations, the number of opportunities to move up will be less plentiful the higher up you go. When some employees feel they no longer have the opportunity to grow and improve their skills, they move on to other organisations.

When we are asked to become involved in these situations, we, first of all, want to read some of the exit interviews and look through the number of open positions in the company for the last 12 months. Personal career goals are a key driver in decisions by individuals, but also the perception communicated on possibilities to gain more skills. Narrative on the ground will tell you very quickly how people feel about working at your company and their ability (real or perceived) to do new things. Staff turnover often has more than one reason, for simplicity in this post we will focus only on the feeling that there is no room to grow or move up in the company.

In any career, you may have to step to the side before you can move forward. Think of a labyrinth or maze, often one chosen route may not work, so you may have to backtrack and find a new one. Moving back and stepping to the side doesn’t have to mean that you have to drop your salary, even if in some cases it will happen, but it always means you need to learn new skills to be able to step up. What we identify is a playful way of communicating those skills and the opportunities for growth.

In one organisation we created different mountain paths where along the road you will pick up specific skills. As you went higher up in the organisation the lovely forest path changed to a more windy mountain road with hairpin bends and finally a Mount Everest style ascent. Each road has a skill set associated with it and it is up to the individual to provide proof of competency in the skill and the associated actions.

For another company, it looks more like a honeycomb with stepping stones and distinct levels of skill to achieve in each honey piece. The rollout of the communication about opportunities has been through a digital quest and in the honeycomb case, we are working on a board game and training managers to be game masters to communicate the message across all teams.

From a gamification perspective, we decide on the strategy based on the company culture, the levels and routes of communication open to us. We also explore other elements of job design such as rotation, enlargement and enrichment. Depending on the options available we advise on the best way forward.

The type of gameplay we choose is driven by what we feel will have the most impact. Up until this year, the idea of board games wasn’t one that companies accepted, but something in people’s mindset seems to have shifted and we are now creating our 3rd one in 2018 alone. In a digital age, hiding behind email and other electronic messaging tools is very common. As a leadership trainer, I often walked groups to the opposite side of an open plan office to talk in person to the person they were so frustrated with on email. So it comes as no surprise to me when managers tell me they want to encourage more face to face interaction in a specific office and boardgames lend themselves well to this purpose.


What should be in your gamification design document?

In the games industry, the game design document is the one living document where all the information regarding the game, gameplay, characters, win/lose conditions, etc. is held. In our work, we adapted this document for gamification use. When you think about a gamification design document (GDD), it serves as a reference document for everything to do with your design. You would give it to developers and platforms, to help you create the intended solution. All game mechanics, their associated measures, storyline, characters etc are described here. When you iterate the design, it should also be documented here for future reference and ideally with reasons why you adapted it.

In gamification our objective is often business related, so the first heading in the design document is project objectives. Then when there is a theme and overarching storyline that is the second heading. We don’t include the user profile in the GDD but do link to it so we can refer to it if needed. Then we go into the detail of the gameplay and game mechanics. For each of these, we indicate how levels are achieved, how many points need to be accumulated to achieve a new level, what the triggers are for earning points and what messaging goes with this. It is highly detailed.

You would want anyone picking up your work to be able to continue from where you left off and for a developer to be able to build the game from it.  In terms of format, it often takes the shape of a Word or Excel sheet with lots of headings or tabs, for quick reference later. For a client, it may be overwhelming to see this. We tend to explain the high-level decision points in a more visual way and provide the detailed GDD as an appendix.

What do you use as your working design documentation?