Research shows 70 percent of business transformation efforts fail due to lack of engagement. My colleagues working at large legacy-era companies might estimate closer to 90 percent. Whatever the case, in an age when transformation is happening at breakneck speeds in the digital landscape, businesses today can’t afford to fail at change. They need to engage employees in such a way that they don’t just sign up for the job—they sign up for the entire ride.
Engagement is not a new problem. It’s just an increasingly important one. For decades, employees have complained about favoritism, lack of feedback, lack of transparency, fuzzy goals—all the things that kill the commitment of employees and corporate culture overall.
Employees want to know how they are doing—and they want to know that what they are doing really matters to someone. That’s especially true when they’re constantly forced to adjust—and readjust—their focus in today’s digital era.
Enter, gamification. This concept of digital motivation through gaming promises to breathe new engagement into employees around the globe—speaking in quick, instantly gratifying terms that we’ve grown accustomed to in the age of digital transformation. So—is it a real team engagement tool—or merely one of many trends popping up in the future of work? I’d say it’s a bit of both—and your company’s use of it will determine where you fall on the engagement spectrum.
What is Gamification?
No, it’s not meant to turn work into a game. It plays on the psychology that drives human engagement—the drive to compete, improve, and out-do—and to get instantly rewarded while doing so. It’s the carrot on the stick that keeps the rabbit keep chasing. The technology is merely the means to put that psychology to work in the business sphere.
What are the Benefits?
If done well, the benefits of gamification can be huge. In 2015, 40 percent of Global 1000 were already using it to help with company transitions. Why?
- It offers real-time feedback. No one likes to be surprised in their annual review. With gamification, employees don’t have to work toward annual goals that are often irrelevant—or forgotten—by the time their review is scheduled. Instead, they can work toward real-time, measurable, meaningful targets, and get upper-level feedback as those targets are hit or missed.
- One of the biggest engagement killers is the fear of favoritism—the chatter about what happens behind the boss’ closed door. Are they picking favorites? Rewarding some hard workers and not others? If established well, gamification can eliminate those fears by allowing employees themselves to see how they stack up against one another and how they are being rewarded for it. They no longer have to fear that their big win will be forgotten. It will be tracked and recognized when it happens.
- Like I said—psychology is part of gamification, and a huge part of that is simply making day-to-day work life more enjoyable.
When Does It Work Best?
Obviously, in jobs where outputs are easily measured, gamification can work in almost any situation—to measure contacts made, complaints cleared, ads placed, or people served. But in my own opinion, there are also two really important areas gamification can serve your company: training and mobility.
In terms of training, companies have the chance to move beyond required—often boring—webinars to more interactive training methods that reinforce policies and culture every single day. Process reminders can be given in real time. Pop quizzes can keep employees on their toes. Teammates can be rewarded for adherence to workplace policies—which makes those policies even more important.
The second place I see a real opportunity for gamification is through the growing mobility culture. Because many managers no longer have a direct line of sight to employees in the office environment, gamification offers a chance to easily track, communicate, and reward teammates no matter where they work. No longer are employees—and their goals—out of sight, out of mind. They’re a constant and active presence on the digital screen.
What are the Caveats?
While some of us work in jobs where it’s easy to “count” performance, many of us work in the gray areas. We write, or communicate, or counsel. In those cases, it’s a bit more difficult to gamify our work lives. Just as you may have learned in your college statistics class, you’ll need to find some workarounds—numbers that represent the goal you’re trying to hit with your gamification process. That could be customer satisfaction or article engagement, for instance—numbers associated with quality, rather than simple output.
The one other caveat I want to stress is just that: stress. The need for employees to have to constantly be “on” or performing at work can cause great fatigue and even the dreaded burn out. The constant transparency can feel like a violation. After all, all of us need to take a minute—zone out—gather our thoughts every once in a while. And we don’t always want other colleagues to know it.
The question then, is finding the right balance of gamification to keep your employees engaged, but not stressed or overwhelmed. Actually, this is a question for almost all digital transformation today—how much tech to infuse, and how much work to keep human. Gamification still requires a culture of transformation to be effective. Engagement still requires strong human leadership and inspiration to stick. No matter how great gaming is, it can’t save a legacy-era company that isn’t willing to break down silos or adopt data-backed decisions. It’s a tool. A cool tool. But as with any new tech today, it needs to be part of a larger digital—and business—strategy to truly make waves.
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Workplace Gamification: Driving Employee Engagement
This article was first published on Forbes.