Enterprise gamification: Will it drive better business performance?

Enterprise gamification: Will it drive better business performance?

Summary: Concepts from the gaming industry have become increasingly useful as a way of improving and optimizing how we get work accomplished for our businesses.


Gamification has the potential to greatly optimize the way humans are connected to and go about their work. Like social media, and usually closely integrated with it, gamification is an emerging new field that's still difficult to broach in many management circles because of its perception that it's not an appropriate or serious enough business topic. Yet a growing number of impressive outcomes as well as a burgeoning set of supporting tools and technologies are making it increasingly likely that gamification will find its way into a workplace near you over the next couple of years.

In fact, as enterprise platforms -- particularly internal social networks -- open up to embedded third party applications (such as OpenSocial) and business applications themselves add gaming features, the decision point on whether to apply gamification strategically is approaching for many organizations.

On its face the case for gamification, which is defined here as adding game-like activities to improve non-game contexts, is a strong one and easy to state. Namely, if properly situated in business processes, the incorporation of game features in work activities can reward desired behavior, create more intensively participative processes, track group progress, establish feedback loops that reinforce and accelerate sought after business outcomes, and more. Why does gamification do this? The belief is that it taps directly into the cognitive and psychological predispositions of humans to engage in game-like behavior that they find interesting, engaging, and rewarding. And fun.

But fun isn't something that's generally regarded as very important in the workplace. However, meeting deadlines, accomplishing objectives, overcoming and solving important challenges are widely valued by businesses. Yet that's precisely where gamification and work overlap. The reality is that a lot of modern careers, particularly those in the service industry and knowledge work, often consist of repetitive drudgery -- filled with seemingly endless routine tasks and rote processes -- that can sap the motivation of even the most well-intentioned employee. The premise then is what if such tasks, which are often at the very center of what a company needs in order to operate and compete, could be made more productive and efficient by making them more engaging to the humans that use them?

A combination of design thinking, which is rooted in empathy for the context of a problem, and user-centered design, a philosophy and process in which the wants, needs, and limitations of end users allow for the creation of more effective products, gamification has the potential to greatly optimize the way humans are connected to and go about their work. In other words, if you want work to get done in the best possible way, then it should be designed for the way humans actually work best.

So, in the consumer world, games have long been designed to enthrall and captivate their users for as long possible, providing loosely structured encouragement to reach new heights and achieve intensive, team-based cooperative objectives with a single-mindedness and purpose that all-to-often missing entirely in garden-variety business processes. We are just now fully beginning to realize it's now both 1) possible to achieve and 2) an increasingly well understood discipline to design business processes in the same way.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • Exploitation

    We seem to be skirting around the real reason people are interested in gamification. It holds the potential of getting workers to invest lots of their time, energy and focus for the benefit of someone else. The point here is not to entertain and reward people, but to use gaming methods to harness this focussed behaviour for the "good" of their employers.

    It's a process of convincing your employees to provide more productivity without the annoying requirements of praising them, paying them more money or giving them better facilities. Motivation is reduced to the equivalent of attaining gold stars.

    Games are fun, entertaining and relaxing. Gamification is the dark side of the Force ;-)
    • Interesting perspective

      If you were given the "carrot or the stick" options, it sounds like you would prefer the stick. I think most would prefer the carrot, but there is not an endless supply of carrots, and as more carrots are consumed, less are desired. So how does an employer keep the carrot option viable without having to resort to the stick? As the metaphor shows, the carrot is dangled from a string in front of the mule to get movement. This is what gamification is. It's a cost effective carrot, no different than other techniques (e.g. job titles, perks, ect.) have been doing for many years. The only difference is the use of technology.
      • That's an inference

        But I'll let tonymcs go into more direct detail. For we might both be missing out on some details or wearing proverbial blinders... ;)
    • AGREED

      It's parasitism. Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, and others who acknowledged the value of labor - even Ayn Rand - would all be most upset right now. (and that's my inference.)

      It's not unlike the episode of "The Simpsons" where the public school got privatized, the school educators brought in did less work but covertly encouraged the kids to come up with a new toy and its name ("Funzo", as I recall)... crowdsourcing in action and to a cynical bent as they attacked privatization of education in the process... (which may have been unfair; depending on the issue, private or public schools have issues...)
    • Employee are paid for their efforts however

      Even crowdsourcing does not work unless there is value being created and shared on both ends of the relationship. While gamification might be used by some employers in an attempt to exploit workers, such cynical efforts will generally be identified for what they are, just like any in any dysfunctional workplace. Instead, gamification holds the promise to make work more rewarding and engaging. That's better not just for the employer, but the employee.
    • Gamification is a tool

      It's important to remember that game mechanics in enterprise gamification are not intended to be games or even necessarily fun. At RedCritter, we view game mechanics as a toolset. If you have a culture of exploiting your employees, gamification isn't going to help. However if you have a culture of fostering excellence and learning they can offer new ways to recognize achievements and celebrate victories.
  • A sign of the times

    Nice article. And interesting comment just above - I think it's a valid point that gamification is a way of 'rewarding' people without offering them promotion or more money, which would have been the standard way of rewarding people before the world economy took a dive.

    Perhaps that's why this 'new' concept (which isn't really new) is enjoying so much attention at the moment.
    • Because is redistributes wealth

      from the worker to the entity that's compelling people to crowdsource?

      Why do people fall for it, giving it up for free? Do they not value their own time and labor?
  • "Crowdsourcing" = free R&D

    To coin a phrase,

    "Holy parasitism, Batman".
    • The more successful crowdsourcing efforts have clear value exchange

      For example, Mechanical Turk (from Amazon) pays all contributors with cash, while Innocentive only takes on crowdsourcing projects with significant price tags ($25K) or more. While value exchange is often non-monetary, I only have to point you to the vibrant open source community as an example of how community-based crowdsourcing can produce truly impressive results and everybody generally wins.
  • a disturbing trend...

    The economist Max Kaiser has spoken of a model in which everyone will basically be playing games as work. He doesn't look kindly on the prospects for humanity in such scenario.
  • A Note From IActionable

    Great article and interesting conversation development. At IActionable, we take a slightly different approach to enterprise gamification - it's not about fun, it's about feedback. More importantly, gamification is not as much about the user as it is about the tool or application itself. The addition of game mechanics (we don't much like the term gamification) is a fundamental shift in user interface and user experience - NOT about cheesy methods to drive or herd employee behavior. Our employees too smart and too valuable to be subjected to transparent, self-serving gimmicks - and I'll bet yours are too.
  • As a former interaction designer at IDEO...

    ...I loved this paragraph:

    [quote]A combination of design thinking, which is rooted in empathy for the context of a problem, and user-centered design, a philosophy and process in which the wants, needs, and limitations of end users allow for the creation of more effective products, gamification has the potential to greatly optimize the way humans are connected to and go about their work. In other words, if you want work to get done in the best possible way, then it should be designed for the way humans actually work best.[/quote]

    This is exactly the point of view we've taken since we first started working on our Nitro gamification platform in 2007, and I love that you called it out.

    - rajat paharia
    Founder, Bunchball
  • This is part of a much larger shift

    This concept of rewards, resource utilization and problem redesign all fit together in a way that I believe organizations are just starting to get their mind around:
  • Love the Enterprise Angle...

    ...because as you said, it's a tough topic to breach in those settings because of its less-than-serious perception as a concept and burgeoning industry. Applying the ideas in hip, small companies is an easy fit, but the potential for the enterprise is still largely untapped.

    I'm a big fan of gamification as a former game designer. My concern moving forward is the distillation of the concepts by bandwagoners who throw a bunch of achievements at their employees or customers without bothering to make sure that the product or service underneath is actually compelling enough to be continually engaging: http://shift.pgi.com/2012/shift-to-gamification-part-3-where-its-going/
  • Gamified project management still a tricky proposition in the enterprise

    As the article shows, there's been good traction in the B2C space for gamification, but inside the enterprise, it's a different beast altogether. Leaderboards, points and badges presume you're competing against your peers, and this kind of winners/losers approach that pits you against your teammates only damages morale. In fact, there is good social science to back up the notion that carrot/stick motivators don't provide lasting benefits.

    The key for an effective gamified enterprise system is to rethink the rewards so they aren't win/lose. For example, consider a reward for helping other people on the team, chosen by team vote. As you strive for this award, you are actually making the whole team better by sharing your knowledge and helping people learn new skills. Simple "You closed 100 sales!" targets reward seniority and don't truly make your workplace better. They just make your new salespeople feel worthless.

    We've been using a gamified project management system on projects in-house that we've just opened to the public. It aims to re-imagine the gaming principles that work in B2C, but put them in service of what is truly needed inside the enterprise. Check it out here: http://propstoyou.com

    Alden, CEO Six Fish, makers of PropsToYou.
  • Agreed

    I'm a big fan of gamification as a former game designer.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FucSpGFrbFw
  • A comprehensive presentation about Enterprise Gamification

    You can find a comprehensive presentation about Enterprise Gamification - http://www.slideshare.net/galr10/gam-effective-intro-20131110w