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Five Gamification Techniques for Business

Updated on September 26, 2014
Convivial: (of an atmosphere or event) friendly, lively, and enjoyable. Definition from Google.
Convivial: (of an atmosphere or event) friendly, lively, and enjoyable. Definition from Google. | Source

Engagement, productivity and quality

When designing an enterprise application or business process, incorporating simple gamification techniques can encourage participation, increase productivity, and improve quality.

Gamification borrows engagement techniques from the world of gaming and Game Theory. It works because it taps into our need:

  • For reassurance – Are we doing ok? On the right track? Have we achieved what we need to achieve?
  • To track progress – How much have we completed? How far do we still need to go?
  • To compete as motivation to excel – How are we doing compared to others? What is our score? How are we doing now compared to how we did last time? Are we getting better? Can we do better?
  • To belong to and work as a group – How is our team (tribe) doing compared to the others? How can I help my people do better?
  • To support and reassure others – How can we show support for, or approval of, deserving others?
  • To "play" with others in a friendly, fun and active environment.

Despite its gaming origins, gamification techniques don’t have to be implemented digitally. It is widely used on today’s social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

For an application, it makes sense to integrate gamification components within the on-screen environment. But real-world implementations – like a large sign or printed material on a noticeboard – can be equally effective.

Progress indicators: one step at a time

Progress indicators and step by step prompts are a great way to show a user what has been achieved, what is yet to be done, and what could be done in order to go the extra mile.

Progress indicators encourage action:

  • Seeing our progress towards our destination helps maintain a sense of momentum and can keep us going even when the going gets rough.
  • Breaking down actions into smaller achievable steps make the actions more do-able; and so we are more likely to do them.
  • Providing small triggers to encourage us to put in an extra effort can often manifest that effort. Just like a personal trainer!

An example that came into mind immediately is Hubpage’s “Need Some Goals?” widget. It sits in the side bar when I am writing a hub. And quietly gives me an update on the word count and media use. Surprisingly I do find myself unconsciously working towards the next tick!

These indicators are typically used in the context of the specific tasks they are designed to support only. They are also typically private to individual users only.

Earning points: get an overall feel

A points system that automatically aggregates informal measurements across a range of activities can be a useful way for individuals (and their managers) to gauge how they are going in general.

With so many metrics in the typical workplace, a simple “fuzzy” measure can make it much easier to get a quick sense of how well we are doing. This can reassure as well as encourage us to do better.

Earning points is good for activities that can be easily measured. Points can be earned for meeting productivity goals, attending professional development events, or contributing hours to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) targets.

To make this even more tangible, you can set up a system that allows earned points earned to be traded for extra time off or gift certificates.

Depending on your team dynamics, you may or may not want to make this point system public. It can be tricky to decide what to measure and how to calculate these scores. You don’t want to over-think and over-complicate this; it is after all meant to give a broad sense of where someone is at.

Talk to your people and find out what they think!


Leaderboards: ready set go!

The points earned by individuals can be consolidated into team scores. These aggregated team scores let groups compare their performance against other groups and/or historical records.

This technique is often seen in safety-conscious industries like mining and construction. They typically take the form of safety stats that track the number of accident-free days.

Such leaderboards are useful in situations where numbers for directly comparable activities can be easily collected and tallied.

Leaderboards engender group spirit and collaboration. Think Formula 1 teams!

Leaderboards are also great for encouraging friendly, constructive, competition between groups. The emphasis here is on constructive.

Leaderbiards are not for every situation or organisation. If your team morale is not good, or collaboration between your people is lack-lustre, encouraging competition may be divisive.

Depending on your situation, you may not want to compare individuals this way on a public leaderboard. Again, it is important to understand and consult your people.


Merit badges: marks of excellence

Merit badges are not just for kids!

Much as we think we are above such simple tokens of acknowledgement, many of us do get a buzz from receiving them. As long as they are given with genuine intent, and not as a hollow tactic.

Merit badges can be used to recognise personal achievements, such as meeting targets, completing courses and contributing to knowledge creation. They are the little bright “well done” markers of our progress through a project.

This technique can also work well for activities that cumulatively achieve a greater outcome. An example can be a multi-stage project to render an organisation carbon-neutral.

Badges can become a nice personal record of achievement. Individuals however, may or may not wish to display their badges publicly. Your system must spirt this. Care also needs to be taken to accommodate those who may not have as many opportunities, or the desire to earn badges; to avoid unnecessary ill will.


Likes: pats on the back

Being social creatures, we are hardwired to support and nurture the people in our group.

“Like” buttons may be pooh-poohed for encouraging shallow social interactions on sites like Facebook. But this does not negate their usefulness as a quick way to send someone a show of support, pat on the back, or just a click of goodwill. And they do seem to be very popular!

When paired with tally counters, “Like” buttons also function as badges; publicly showing recognition by the group for our valued contributions and knowledge sharing.

Not surprisingly, this technique is particularly useful in a social media-enabled intranet, with applications or discussion forums that have a body of active users.

“Likes” can also be implemented on a noticeboard using stickers, or by putting beans in jars (where each bean represents a “Like.”)

Accept and embrace that not everyone will participate with equal enthusiasm. Consider allowing users to hide the likes they received, or to hide the originator of the likes. Facebook has taught us the importance of giving users full control over what they want to show the world.

Caveats: don’t forget people

Don’t make participation mandatory! Forcing participation in just about any activity is guaranteed to result in resentment; best intentions notwithstanding.

Be wary of the temptation to integrate KPI metrics with your gamification techniques – do it with extreme caution and lots of open user consultation. A side effect could be your people spending time gaming the system itself!


Don't build a game...

... unless you are actually building a game. (And there are opportunities to use actual games in a business context.)

Gamificiation is not about literally turning your application or process into an actual game. Doing so can send the wrong message and alienate your users.

Gamification can take your application or process to the next level of productivity and quality. It is however, not a magic cure, nor does it replace empathic user engagement and good solid design. It needs to help; not hinder.

JETpapers (Just Enough Theory) are condensed, technical knowledge for busy business people who want to make better-informed decisions, work more effectively with experts, and implement practical improvements.

© 2014 Zern Liew


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