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The gamification of the workplace

Gamification – horrible term. Where do they think these words up? So, what is it? Is it a GenY-focused motivational tool or is it reinventing the way employees of all ages learn and retain info? Looking at the name alone you could be forgiven for thinking it is some form of GenY psychobabble, but put this to one side.

A man playing a game on a computer

The debate will continue, not helped by a typical zeal for hyperbole – “Integrating game dynamics into your site, service, community content or campaign, in order to drive participation” is how gamification.org describe this new movement. However I think we are overthinking the obvious.

Gamification is the process of bringing play back into the workplace. This is great – play is one of the easiest ways to learn – in fact, it’s the most rudimentary way of learning. It’s something the author Gavin Bolton described as ‘Process Drama’ when he was observing how children use play-acting to understand the world they are growing into. Play is at the real heart of how we learn – we just tend to grow out of it as we get older.

By 2015, more than 50% of organisations that manage innovation processes will gamify these and by 2014 more than 70% of Global 2000 organisations will have at least one gamified application, according to Gartner Research (2011). Many suggest this is because of the evolving skills of a new generation of workers who have different expectations and are motivated differently than yesterday’s work force. Although this may in fact play a part, the use of game dynamics such as leader boards, progression bars and points-based accreditation is nothing new. People have and will always have a naturally inherent competitiveness. As technology has become an integral part of our lives, its application is entering new bounds.

Once seen as an antidote to playground games and physical activity, computer games are now a huge market for the health sector, with Nintendo Wii and Xbox Connect encouraging even the laziest couch potatoes to pick up a nunchuck and box the air. With this power to motivate and set goals, it is no surprise that the enterprise world is embracing the technology out there that can deliver.

But perhaps the real game-changer is in fact the rise of the social network. Internal social network platforms, such as Yammer and MSN, which can be linked to game applications, create a transparent and open playing field.

Gone are the days your success or failure is monitored and reviewed by your line manager alone. The emergence of the social network in the workplace pitches you against your peers, justifying your worth in the workplace. Scary stuff. Yes, we’re back in realms of the school playground, however it is not marbles we are counting, it is posts, badges, files shared, tasks completed, missions and milestones – and it works.

But it is not just a monitoring mechanism. Companies such as Spigit have used gamification to crowdsource business improvement ideas and scientific puzzle-solving to generate product development concepts; Google has successfully employed gamification principles to reduce travel expenses; and Xerox’s main goal for applying gamification last year was to “engage users, simplify processes, and compete for mindshare“.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, the possibilities are endless. The real key to making gamification work for your business is to first know your audience and second know your goals. Far from just a motivator, when applied in the right way, gamification can help identify employees’ skills and areas for development, encourage thought sharing and keep your people on track.

On that note, Angry Birds anyone?

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