October 12, 2019
Gamification in Employee Engagement
One of India’s largest food ordering and delivery platforms uses gamification to solve engagement of their colossal workforce of over 2 lakh delivery partners. They gamified the attendance, shift completion and delivery times of their delivery partners using Xoxoday. Every time the delivery partners achieved the task of attending delivery for a day, delivered within timelines and completed their shift timings, they were automatically awarded points. These points could be accumulated to buy themselves a product or service of their aspiration - which would otherwise be difficult with just their paycheck. By the sixth month of implementation, the organisation had 86% of its partners engaged and achieving targets. Considering their operational complexity of being spread across 280+ cities and over 270 of these being tier 2 and tier 3 cities, this achievement is laudable. If not for gamification using scalable technology, this reach would have been deemed impossible.
The above case is just one of the innumerous applications of gamification. This technique is now being extensively used in the spheres of marketing, innovation, health, crowdsourcing, learning, community building, social causes and workplace engagement. Amongst these, this article intends to focus on how gamification can transform workplace engagement in particular.
“Gamification provides a huge opportunity to take that 70% of your disengaged employees (with reference to the Gallup employee engagement study) and make them do what you want them to be doing and motivate them to do more,''
Rajat Paharia, Author of the Book ‘Loyalty 3.0’.
Though gamification is defined to be the use of game-design elements like points, badges and leaderboards in non-gaming contexts, Yu-kai Chou, a gamification author and international keynote speaker tells us that gamification needs to be designed around the 'core drives' of human beings.
He classifies these core drives into eight categories: a higher purpose, achievement, empowerment, ownership, social influences, scarcity, unpredictability and avoidance. He believes that the most enchanting of gamification designs necessarily address at least one or many of the above 'core drives'.
That said, Gabe Zicchermann, a gamification expert and public speaker, presents an interesting narrative on the biochemistry of gamification. “Any time you challenge yourselves to do a task, it doesn’t matter how big or small - and you succeed - your brain secretes a magical little bit of dopamine - which makes you feel really good. More you do this 'challenge - achievement - pleasure' loop, the more dopamine is secreted in your brain making you want to do it more. Thus the more you succeed, the more you want to succeed.”
This conclusion about the snowballing of success is the key to all efficient gamification designs and Nordic loops.
The Elements of Gamification
Rajat Paharia in his book Loyalty 3.0, describes that gamification has a few or many of the following ten elements (also known as game mechanics) to it:
- Immediate feedback - The user gets to know whether he is winning or losing almost immediately after his actions.
- Leaderboards - The user gets to know where he is positioned from amongst the rest of the users.
- Goals - The user gets to know where he/she is headed to and what he/she needs to achieve.
- Badges - The user receives badges that are shorthand for past achievements.
- Levelling up - The user is taken through ascending levels of difficulty.
- Onboarding - The user is trained well - all during the course of the gameplay itself.
- Competition - The user is competing with other players or groups.
- Collaboration - The user gets to help and take help from other users.
- Community - The user gets to belong to a community of others who have similar gaming interests.
- Points - The user accumulates points throughout the gameplay.
That said, ticking off the elements of gamification does not ensure a valid gamified solution. The author of 'Gamify', Brian Burke warns us of how a few companies have a misconception that gamification is a magic elixir that can be used to indoctrinate masses to perform the company's bidding. Users can quickly sense poorly designed solutions and would start actively avoiding them, which would lead it to collapse.
Yu-kai Chou and Brian Burke continually emphasize on how a gamification design needs to incorporate ‘core drives' or intrinsic motivations of the user. This means the game architect needs to go beyond game mechanics and study the true motivations of the target users. Along with the business scope, the user’s scope in the solution needs to be constantly evaluated.
Brian Burkes derives the following seven steps that should act as a framework during gamification design - for both architects and business leaders:
The seven steps of Gamification Design (Ref: 'Gamify', Brian Burke)
1. Defining the business outcome and success metrics.
All the efforts put into gamification of a solution necessarily need to link back to a business goal. Thus, the first step while deciding for a gamified business solution will be to determine the business goal that it is trying to solve.
For example, ‘20% faster customer first response time’ could be an ideal business outcome definition that includes a success metric of ‘20% improvement’.
2. Defining the target audience.
Who would be the users of the gamified solution? What will be their ideal profile? What drives them? These are important questions to be answered to understand the target audience in depth. The more this understanding, the more the gamification will address their core drives.
In the above example, the organisation’s target audience typically would be customer service executives. Their job designs are fairly standardized, iterative and homogeneous in nature. Core drives like ‘higher purpose’ and ‘achievement’, if captured in gamification, can break this monotony and introduce higher efficiencies.
3. Defining player goals.
The player goal has to be a subset of the business goal and should ideally coincide with at least one of the typical user’s core drives.
Burke talks of an example of how a children’s cancer treatment centre gamified pain reporting by their patients. The kids are made a part of a “Pain Squad” where they pretend to be a police officer. They are then promoted from rookie to sergeant, to chief as they regularly report their pain levels.
Drawing a quick inspiration, the customer service executives ( or let’s call them the “customer experience brigade” or “client service battalion”) in our example could be given a similar goal - to ‘put out’ or ‘solve’ a query as quickly as possible.
4. Determining the player engagement model.
How will the users get engaged in the gamified solution? Does it make more sense to make it a collaborative or competitive play? How long is it going to last? What form of rewards will be given? These are important questions to be addressed before the design stage.
In our example, a ‘competitive’ engagement model makes direct sense because the executives address customer queries individually. There are ways companies have effectively made customer service gamification collaborative under the assumption of it being impossible for a customer service executive to know ALL the answers to all possible client questions. They create teams of customer executives with mixed specialisations and allow them to tackle queries together.
5. Defining the play space and planning the journey.
The environment the gamification happens is as important as the solution itself. In the context of employee solutions, it is ideal if the ‘play space’ is close to their CRMs and ERPs. The entire journey of the users needs to be mapped, level by level and challenge by challenge.
Customer Service brigadiers could be given faster level achievements while they solve customer queries faster. There could be leaderboards showing the position of each of the brigadier’s achievements and profile badges representing their positions. It is ideal if leaderboards could be reset after a final win - to democratise the opportunity to win and retry. The history of achievements should be recorded both on the profile of the user as well as a ‘hall of fame’.
6. Defining the game economy.
What does the user receive in return of the achievements? How can these be transacted further? How are the records of these transactions archived? The game economy is the engine for all this design to function and answering the above critical questions help define the game design.
Since customer service is almost always a direct component of a customer service executive’s KRA, better efficiencies could be incentivised using their standard performance rewarding guidelines. Points could be used to track the progress and major milestone wins can be awarded using incentive disbursals.
7. Play, test, and iterate.
As like any system design, gamification also needs to open up the feedback loop and understand what needs to be changed to make the user experience seamless. Consistently upgrade the designs and try and test new game mechanics that could work towards better adoption of the solution.
Talk to the customer service executives one-on-one and understand the challenges they face in the game play. Get their feedback on each of the game design aspects. Reinvent parts of it if necessary- say, make it a collaborative game play from a competitive one?
Gamification in Employee engagement
While applying gamification, it is important to understand how it can pertain to each of employee engagement’s major determinants - since employee engagement in itself is a complex mix of occupational phenomenons.
1. Employees’ Individual characteristics
These are seen as the strongest predictor of employee engagement and specifically, the below characteristics are important amongst others:
- Self-efﬁcacy: This accounts to the individual’s perception of how effective his/her skills will be for the organisation and the perception of self-efficacy can be nurtured using gamification that incorporates ‘pats on the back’. Employee engagement software use ‘spot rewards’ and ‘badges’ for this purpose and these have seen enormous results in both reward ROI and engagement.
- Figure 1: An example of how ‘Badges’ are used for engagement
- Resilience: This accounts to an employee’s ability to quickly adapt to the business and cultural environment of the organisation and this adaptation can be made smoother and faster by gamifying the on-boarding and training processes. Game mechanics of ‘collaborative’ ecosystems can help new employees quickly transition.
- Figure 2: An example of how ‘Collaboration’ is used for engagement
- Personal capacities: Positive personal attributes like hope and optimism amount to how employees engage with an organisation. Game mechanics like ‘Onboarding’ can be used to reinforce OKRs and job roles - so as to set the expectation of role very clearly.
2. Job-design related factors
Job design is the second most important element to employee engagement and following are a few characteristics that it consists of:
- Feedback: Giving and receiving feedback is the most significant of all job design features and gamification can very efficiently help nurture a feedback-positive environment. Employee engagement platforms like Xoxoday use ‘immediate feedback’ game mechanics like ‘high-fives’ and ‘+1s’ to get anonymous feedback from the other users. Gamified surveys (filling a survey awards the user with points), feedbacks, polls are proven ways to increase responses and participation. Even the frequency and response time to fill feedback can be tracked and gamified.
- Figure 3: An example of how ‘Immediate feedback’ is used for engagement
- Empowerment & Autonomy: Gamification can provide efficient solutions to nurturing empowerment and autonomy to create engagement. Gamifying workgroup interactions and providing points to take decision independently can be a way to implement this. Points for new ideas, issue discoveries, feedback, innovative suggestions, etc can trigger more work autonomy.
- Opportunities for development: ‘Leveling up’, ‘Badges’ and ‘Leaderboard’ game mechanics are efficient methods to create continuous development amongst employees. Even for leaderboards that are reset, the levels and badges will demonstrate what the employee has achieved in the past. Tying these with appraisal processes and leadership planning further boosts its potential.
- Figure 4: An example of a leaderboard.
3. Perceived leadership and management of the immediate supervisor
Even the supervisors can be the ‘target audience’ for gamification. Designing gamification that track the time a manager takes to resolve issues of the employee, review tasks, the frequency of team interactions, the manager’s adherence to employee induction and wellbeing policies of the organisation, etc. ‘Competition’ and ‘Leaderboard’ game mechanics can be used to implement these amongst managers who are in the same band.
4. Perceptions of organizational and team factors
The psycho-social climate, communication, trust, etc that exists within the organisation is another determinant of employee engagement. Core values form the base to company culture and climate. Gamification can nurture these values through the use of game mechanics like ‘Value-based Badges’. Manager level gamification can be created to track how well he/she communicates and disseminates the long and short term organisational goals to his/her team.
5. Organizational interventions or activities
Gamification is extensively used for employee well-being activities and it has found great results in improving the fitness and overall efficiencies of the employee. Run, walk and workout miles can be tracked and ‘live’ leaderboards can be maintained. People Combine, one of Xoxoday’s clients gamified workout milestones and reduced absenteeism related to health reasons by 50%. They used game mechanics like ‘leaderboards’, ‘levelling up’, ‘badges’, ‘goals’ and ‘points’.
Figure 5: An example of ‘levelling up’
Gamification can even solve problems that were once perceived unsolvable - like when a group of Foldit players solved a biochemical problem in just 10 days, that had remained unsolved for 15 years. This demonstrates the potential of immersive gamification. We have barely scratched the surface of how gamification can be employed to improve engagement. With increasingly digitised work environments - there is scope to gamify almost every aspect of work. Since employee engagement, too, spans across all these aspects of work - gamification should help organisations create highly efficient and engaging work environments.
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Xoxoday is a SaaS commerce company with products for employee and channel management.