Podcast 20: Should gamification be part of a larger strategy?

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Welcome to this week’s Question of Gamification. I’m An Coppens, I’m your show host, and I’m also the CEO or Chief Game Changer at Gamification Nation. This week’s question is asked to us from a variety of clients, and it typically goes something like this, is gamification or should gamification be part of a larger strategy?

When we get asked that question, it’s typically because people have heard that gamification is a thing. They like the concept, they like the fact that we can bring some of the game and play-like feeling into an organisation. But often it also means that they haven’t thought through why they want to implement gamification in the first place.

Start with why

I would say or answer that question with, yes, gamification should always be part of a larger strategy. In fact, I would even say strategy comes first, as opposed to gamification comes first. Now, gamification can be the strategy. I mean, that’s also possible. But in the end of the day, you need to have a reason why you are engaging in gamification, why you are even going there. You need to understand if it fits for your culture, if it fits for the type of problem you’re trying to solve.

Although I feel that gamification has a lot of power and a lot of benefits. It doesn’t fix every single problem that you may encounter in an organisation. Sometimes it’s simply a case of revising benefits, revising employee rules, or even very simple things as changing things around in an environment. It could be interpersonal related. The one thing you can’t gamify is your boss, typically speaking. At best, you can gamify the process, but gamifying people is another story altogether, and gamification in the best form should always be voluntary.

Make it voluntary

If it’s imposed, then as soon as that becomes known, it also causes a backlash of why people don’t want to engage or they rebel against it, or they game the system, etc. When you’re looking at gamification as a part of your employee facing strategy, I would definitely say it needs to be part of a well thought out strategy, whether that’s employee engagement, whether that is a very specific onboarding call, an onboarding strategy, whether that is showcasing how your organisation is a leader in the field. There’s a variety of reasons and a variety of things you may want to do as part of a strategy, and gamification could be one.

What we see gamification do and where it plays in and ties into strategy, is that it enforces or reinforces the message of your strategy.

Gamified on-boarding strategy example

Let’s give an example. Usually examples work better than me talking about the conceptual side of things. Imagine you have an organisation where people thrive when they’re self-sufficient, when they’re self searching for answers. Now, when people join the organisation, they didn’t always know that. Gamification was introduced to help them through and teach them from day one, “Actually, in this organisation, it’s up to you to make your career what you want it to be.”

What did the organisation do? Actually, they looked at staff turnover and they saw the ones that thrived were the ones that had adopted and became self-sufficient. The ones that left, and left quite miserable in some way, felt that they were left to their own devices and didn’t know what to do. They were never taught that, actually, self-management and self-sufficiency is the way to success. That was the strategic input then, that basically made the company decide, “Okay, we want to apply a gamification strategy to solve this.”

Now, they did test out other strategies as well. What they came up with was, from day one, and I think it even started before, the person joined the company, they were sent access to an app. In the app you received instructions, a little bit like a treasure hunt: “On day one, please find X place in X building, and meet person Y.” When they met person Y, person Y scanned their app, and basically they were given the next clue, the next instruction.

That way, they figured out that actually in order to succeed and in a very subtle way, they were being trained to say, “Actually, to get places in this company, this is what you have to do. You have to find your way. You have to find where things are, who the people are I need to speak to,” and sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it was a little bit harder, sort of hidden encryptic clues and all of that.

From a design perspective, that’s an ideal scenario to design with, because we have a very clear strategic objective, we can measure the before and the after, and you can set very clear indicators. Having people go through the onboarding adventure or quest or whatever you call it, gives you an idea of whether they’re able to make it to the very end because some of them may struggle. The ones that struggle are the ones you can immediately flag, “Okay, we need to mind them a little bit more than maybe the perfectly self-sufficient ones.

The perfectly self-sufficient ones probably got there anyway, and would have made it regardless, but they also give you a good indication that they might be that high potential person that’s going to thrive in this environment, because we know from previous analysis, that that was the kind of person that would. In some sense, making gamification the tactical approach to the strategic objective, I think is where it works best.

Gamification in learning should have choices and consequences

As a trainer and coach, I often used games and gamification as a tactic to bring more difficult concepts home, and to make people realize actually how you behave in a certain situation will have an impact on how you’re perceived later on. Strategy games, role playing games, so many on the market, will guide you through a whole number of dilemmas choices, and in the game they always have consequences. I see the same happen in a work environment. There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have consequences in a workplace-based gamification for onboarding, for promotions, for learning, you name it.

There should be choices in it, some that are more ideal, some that are less ideal, and some that are outright not desirable. Those chosen ones, if choices are made, there should definitely, by all means, be a consequence. Whether that’s a loss of a life in the game, or what it does, actually, deduction of some points or privileges, those things should be there. I think in today’s society, a lot of young people get nicknamed with old, under-privileged, et cetera, but think about it the other way.

Most of the kids that are entering the workforce today have played games at some point in life. Whether they’re actively playing online games, computer games, mobile games, or they’re engaged in sports, in my view, they all qualify. In each of those scenarios, they have learned to deal with failure, they have learned to deal with consequences.

Yes, they may have come through a softer part that they got to, where they needed to go with less struggle than maybe their previous generation or back in the good old days or whatever you call it, the war story that’s being bandied around, but they also have learned through the play that, in some cases, bad decisions have bad consequences.

Don’t, I suppose, put them in cotton wool, don’t hold back. If there are desirable behaviors and undesirable behaviors, let them know which is which. Because in the end of the day, we’ll only ever learn if we fail, and maybe that’s too harsh a statement. Some people learn from others very well, and learning from their role models, but a lot of the firsthand experience has given us insight because of the things we did wrong. Usually, it’s not because of the things we did right, because there, we don’t know for sure if we actually did it right or we were just lucky. Consequences feedback should be part and parcel of it.

Is gamification part of a strategy?

To answer the original question: is gamification part of a strategy? Yes, it should always be, and where possible measure it. Any good strategy usually comes with some element of resource management, some element of choices, that you’re weighing up. Then, if you weigh up, that gamification may be a good strategy to follow or a good tactic to follow, then it should have been made because the culture was right, people are open to play. The thing in the work environment, gamification will very often just look like nudges or an app that encourages you. It may not look like a Full On World of Warcraft or Monopoly or whatever other game you can think of.

It’s always way more subtle than that. It’s often just a simple guidepost through a process that gets you places. When you think of play in the workplace, I would say, don’t drive it too crazy. I saw one thought leader recently mention on LinkedIn, “Nobody comes to work looking to play.” Well, maybe. I would say, most of us come to work to do a good day’s work. If that can be done in a fun and an exciting way, that’s so much more appealing than if it has to be done in a really boring and non-exciting, non-motivational way.

Where I see gamification fit into that equation, is that it can actually make a process more interesting and encourage behaviors that you see as useful for the organisation. I mean, yes, we borrow concepts from play, does that mean it’s a Full On game? No, it doesn’t have to be. It can be, but absolutely, it doesn’t have to be. It has to be fitting with whatever culture you have going, has to be fitting with the people that you have, and it can be collaborative, it can be competitive, it can be any which way.

Those are the strategic choices you should be making when you’re deciding that gamification is part of a strategic mix, and when it’s part of the strategic mix, which of the things are you enhancing, which of the things would you like to put lesser focus on, how are you going to roll it out? There’s a whole strategic set of questions that comes with implementing gamification. It’s part of a strategy, usually an overarching strategy, that’s bigger than gamification itself.

Then you need strategic decisions at gamification level also, which are more choices around, “Okay, do we go collaborative? Do we go competitive? Do we go inclusive? Do we go specific groups? There’s a lot, a lot of choices that need to be made when looking at a gamified process delivery and gamification in the workplace.

I hope that answered the question, and I look forward to our next question. If you have one as burning and that you haven’t really dared to ask, by all means, send it our way, and I will do my best to answer. If you like our podcast, by all means, give us a great rating on whatever system you listen to us. Thank you for listening to the Question of Gamification.

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