The Cycle of Gamification Incentivization

Looking through the weekly list of Gallup polls, a consistent theme seems to emerge: employees are not engaged. According to recent studies, a staggering 70% of U.S. employees are not engaged at work. When employees spend their work, hours questioning “the meaning of life”, they are not creating any value for the company or themselves.

Disengaged employees might self-explain their lack of interest in their jobs in two possible ways:

  • “My job is not necessary.”
  • “My company doesn’t care about me.”

No employee wants to believe their job is unnecessary and a possible target for cost-cutting initiatives. So they will simply believe that the company doesn’t care. Whether this is true or not, perception plays an important role in building relationships. If an employee believes that the company doesn’t care, then the employee will not care. Such dynamics in an employer-employee relationship leads to lost value and lost revenue – consequences that any profit-seeking organization wants to avoid.

Identifying Problems and Finding Solutions Through Gamification

There are plenty of things that can improve employee engagement. Free lunches, casual dress codes, work from home and similar initiatives can change the corporate culture. However, except for the “fun” work environment, do any of these perks make work more gratifying or help employees do their jobs better? For most, the answer is probably “No”. While having access to free food or beer at work can help a little, it doesn’t fundamentally change employee behavior. The perks are more of a stop-loss plan instead of a value-add approach. In the efforts to create real value for both the employee and the company, many organizations have stumbled upon gamification.

Gamification is the process of creating competition in a work environment through bench-marking individual and team performances and then comparing the benchmarks against each other. In simpler terms, it uses competition to increase performance while adding an element of fun. Now, this isn’t your typical type of game experience that results in everyone hating the banker such as in Monopoly. It’s more of a friendly game of softball that has some prizes for the winners at the end of the season.

A typical scenario might be with a sales team, where all the members are trying to close sales and successful closes lead to game points. At the end of the month, the person on top is the winner and gets some sort of perk whether it’s bragging rights, a badge in the game, or a physical prize. Businesses can take this competition to the team level, like territories competing against each other. Sales managers can use it to push their salespeople to close more.

Problems With Traditional Gamification

Until now, we have been talking about the traditional model of gamification. It’s been proven to work. However, it often rings hollow after a few months. The use and be rewarded’ mentality isn’t strong enough to keep utilization high and persistent. For example, after using it for a few months, your salespeople might stop using the game application and go back to their old ways of peaks and valleys in regards to performance, due to the ‘game’ being a novelty at best. The traditional model of gamification fails because it only solves part of the behavior modification paradigm. The incentivization is lackluster. Employees become disenchanted and user adoption drops. Executives everywhere are looking for better alternatives to engage their workforce.

Going Beyond Traditional Gamification Techniques

For true user adoption to persist at high levels, a more direct incentive program is necessary. There are three effective methods of incentivizing an employee in a gamification application.

Provide Cash Prizes

Everyone likes cash because they can choose how to spend it. While it’s great to give a prize like an iPad or TV, not everyone wants that. Cash give employees the ultimate flexibility with the winnings and people like that choice. This is why millions of people play the lottery. But fewer people play in raffles where the prize is already defined. By giving cash you let people create internal motivation for themselves. They get to determine where the money goes, not the employer.

Provide Gamified Performance Review

Tie the employee’s performance review to the game application. A good game application should provide meaningful feedback about the employee’s performance. Employers should use the application for performance review, compensation, promotion and other merit considerations. Gamified reviews are more data-driven, hence more objective. In the basic sales team structures, this can be a replacement for the QBR, the time consuming and somewhat archaic method of review. Instead of quarterly reviews, real-time performance reviews can be monthly, weekly or even daily. In this gamified review process, besides the employees, management is also incentivized because they can easily align their sales strategy.

Provide Opportunities for Growth

Enable employees to improve at their jobs and the game. If an employee sees that someone is doing better, they could interact with the better player and learn. Further, training can be pushed through the application itself to help employees become more effective at their jobs. Cash and performance reviews can help keep the employees motivated during these training periods.

Evolving Your Gamification Strategy

Gamification gives management the opportunity to make their employees more productive. But it shouldn’t stop there. Management can use the game application to align their strategy across the company. Suppose sales executives believe that their targets on certain products need adjusting. They can alter the point value on given products and let sales groups respond to the new weighing scale. This strategic alignment can happen intuitively. People like to win, especially when there is money on the line. So this whole process can take place organically. Further, management can learn which product mixes, promotions, or incentive programs are most effective at generating the highest revenue in the shortest period. They can continue to hone their strategy according to the feedback they receive. So employees and management will be aligned. It will result in a more productive and engaged environment.

Engaged employees bring in more money, reduce costs due to lower turnovers and create more value for themselves and the company they work for. Implementing a worthy gamification incentivization program is a must for any business.

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