Gamification Programs That Are Designed to Win -- Three Design Elements That Matter

Gamification is the application of video game mechanics--levels, points, fast feedback and more--to workplace activities. The intent is to motivate employees and reward them for focusing on the right behaviors. But if an organization uses the wrong mechanics, or applies them incorrectly, it risks slowing adoption and worse, distracting its employees. 

Gartner has predicted that by 2014, "80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design. "So, let's focus on better structuring the design of a gamification program. Here are three elements you'll want to consider:

1. Business Objectives

You need to kick off your gamification program with a clear definition of success. Here are a few ideas from gamification thought leaders: 

  • Run in silent mode to collect baseline data. Before you 'turn on' gamification, gather information about how often people complete training to add skills, follow processes and perform on key metrics. Now you are in a better position to identify where you want to improve results, and how to measure impact. 
  • Set expectations for program rhythm. Agree on how often you'll meet with stakeholders to revisit your objectives, revise challenges and/or add pursuits. This will help ensure your program stays fresh across time. 

Outcome:Three-to-five defined success metrics with clear milestones

2. Rewards and Recognition

Next you need to determine the types of rewards and recognition that will resonate with your employees. That starts with understanding your employees... iterating on different categories of rewards based on what elicits the right response: 

  • Points (e.g. frequent flyer miles). Not nearly as straightforward as you might think, points come in many forms. They can expire or last a lifetime. They can be instantaneous or unlocked at intervals. Regardless, they are readily understood and easily tracked. 
  • Levels (e.g. karate belts). Employees start at the most basic level (white belt) and as they add skills or complete objectives they advance to more expert levels (black belt). 
  • Badges (e.g. Girl Guides). Employees collect badges in a digital trophy case based on the pursuits they complete and/or the contests they win. This trophy case becomes a source of status that motivates people to continue to grow and seek new challenges. 
  • Surprise and Delight (e.g. Easter eggs). These are hidden rewards that 'pop up' when least expected. Bonus points for clicking on an often overlooked link. A bonus badge for meeting adherence goals for an entire month. Easter eggs keep gamification fun and offer a creative outlet. 

Outcome:Rewards and recognition 'system'

3. Communication of Results

There is a lot of potential real estate to cover here. Who should be allowed to see results (all employees, only supervisors, etc)? When should they be updated (real-time, weekly, etc)? But let's start with what channels should be used to communicate results: 

  • Trophy case. Allow people to showcase their earned points or badges for all to see. Attach it to a social media-style profile page with personal details. 
  • Leaderboards. Don't be limited to the number of names that can fit on a whiteboard in the break room. Present a complete leaderboard so every employee knows where they stand relative to their peers. 
  • Activity Feeds. When levels are unlocked, skills added or Easter eggs discovered, surface that information in a Facebook-style activity feed so all teammates are notified. This can stoke healthy competition and collaboration to support people's achievements.  

Outcome:One single source of truth for gamification results

These are just three of many elements that can be factored into gamification program design. Invest the time upfront to design your program for impact. Start with success measures, define relevant rewards, and settle on one communication channel for results.  

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