Monthly Archives: August 2012

inside a mouse trap – “gamification”, engagement and a spoonful of sugar

Ok so it’s been a while since I have posted on here. I could use the excuse that I had a submission for my course or that work was incredibly busy but in all honesty, i’ve lacked the motivation to keep
posting. I had no inherent reason to begin this blog other than to reflect on HR stuff from my course and to hopefully contribute to the on running conversation about what is really the best way to do things. I’d had some lovely feedback from people about my writing but little comment about the content. I began to feel like the guy on the soap box on a busy street of people too busy to listen. If you are reading this, it isn’t a judgement of any readers, just my limited scope of motivators. So let’s try and find a different way to continue this blog, Gamification?

I’ve read a few articles recently about “gamification”, the process of turning work processes into games, for employees. This is something I am curious about, for 4 main reasons. What is the purpose? Why would it work? and what would be the outcome? Also in my former life I was a huge gamer now turned casual gamer.

I could guess at many reasons why this idea has come about. The rise of video gaming in gen Y has spurred some millennial or curious gen X’er to find ways to keep workers interested. An employee in a very grey office wanted to add some fun to the environment. Two competitive colleagues challenged each other and it caught on. It’s a nice idea to make light of what could be very dull work. A previous colleague created a personal game for scheduling. There would be points for completing the schedule, points for adequate staffing and probably a whole list of other points available to her for different facets of a successful schedule. There was no prize though, it was just a bit of fun. For her this was a great method to have some fun with what could be a very tedious task.

But what about using the same principal for a group of staff?

When things become public they gain a set of rules, consequences and expectations. Those used to games will know a prize usually awaits the victor, there has to be a way to track performance quantifiably and there may even be entrance requirements. How do you decide on a prize for a member of staff? Is it possible to allow them to have the recognition and glory alone? There are loads of reports on engaging rewards for employees. While it is easy to declare a prize that everyone will love, even the lure of cold hard cash can’t draw everyone in. A lot seem to prefer non monetary tokens, which may seem more personal. The allotted task has a lot of energy and staff are striving to perform. The “gamification” process seems to have paid off.

But what happens afterwards?

We are in a time of low engagement of employees. There are numerous reports out there about the effect of the recession on our mindset. The golden period of an incentive may only last for a short time. In fact, people may just go back to the way they were before the gamification happened. What reason do people have to continue in that vein? Unless the process is long term people will switch off afterwards. But I have only been looking at this from one angle.

Turning work into a game.

In my opinion, this may be where most managers and HR staff look to make initial changes. On hearing of gamification this is the starting point. But it would be short term. Turn work into a game. Is it any more engaging? A short gamification incentive could be seen as a mouse trap. The mouse doesn’t want to be there so they are lured in with the cheese (they actually prefer chocolate but that’s another story). After this the mouse still doesn’t wan’t to be there any more. This is a tenuous analogy as we are not mice, also, we are not children. Turning work into a game may get people interested but also may lure them into other childish behaviours, and the rational conversations go out the window.

What if we used the process of a game on the workplace?

You may be sitting thinking that is what we have just talked about but there is a subtle difference in both of these. Reward. If we take an engineering team and we want to improve communication we could set up teams and declare a prize for the best project. Short term, may cause negativity after prize giving and only improves communication within the team. On the flip side take every day work and create a forum for the team. Users post problems, questions or breakthroughs. Many forums have scoring systems for amount of posts and then users can rate if comments are useful. You can create user ‘levels’ or badges for achievements. Problems and answers are rated by the team and over time those who have the most to offer are recognised for it. A sort of micro-reward that accumulates. This could even be brought into performance. The subtle difference in mindset creates very different outputs. The cheese may be a lot smaller, but is there constantly and may prove more engaging long term.

Gamification could be a powerful tool and might make things more fun. It might even put some fun back into business. Controllers at the ready….

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