The gamification of business is coming

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the application of game mechanics in a bunch of new areas. Take Microsoft’s recent addition of achievements to development software Visual Studio,...

Gamification of business (source: Flickr CC)

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the application of game mechanics in a bunch of new areas. Take Microsoft’s recent addition of achievements to development software Visual Studio, this aims to increase developer knowledge and use of the application areas they otherwise may not touch. Providing micro-rewards for accomplishing goals is not a new concept, but Australian solutions business BMC Software are currently developing applications that will take gamification to the enterprise. 

Businesses around the globe are struggling with employee retention. In an ever increasing competitive environment for highly skilled workers, businesses need to offer incentives to firstly attract, but also retain employees. There’s also an emerging trend of younger, highly motivated workers that are keen to improve and extend their skills outside their core competency, with the right incentives, they can invest time into solving business problems.

Often the challenge in large established businesses is to influence staff behaviour and engender a culture that isn’t walking out at 5pm, but rather one that is happy to do whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s easy for enthusiasm to be quashed when dedicated, hard working employees see their colleagues be compensated the same while doing only the bare minimum.

Gaming in business

The Science

The science behind having users compete for achievements or points stems from a chemical called dopermine. Released into the brain when challenges are completed, this gives people a ‘feel good’ feeling and encourages them to repeat the task to obtain the buzz again.

Dopermine

Enter the gamification of the enterprise.

Image a business creates a list of business problems that needed to be solved, but wasn’t able to resource adequately. Motivated employees could work on solutions in their own time, for each problem or task they complete, the employee earns points. These points could be presented on a leader board.

While being at the top of a leader board may not motivate all employees, imagine if that leader board was linked to company benefits like access to a gym, movie tickets or company cars on the weekend. Now imagine that your points on the leader board could be used in wage negotiations, the right incentives will drive behaviour.

We can also apply these mechanics to professional development, a typically costly expense for business. Welcome to 2012 where mountains of self-paced courses are available online. Programmers for example can make use of sites like codeacademy where again users are incentivised to compete with points and achievements awarded for completing each exercise.

CodeAcademy

The application of game mechanic, paired with a reward system in business, has the potential to retain an employee that could otherwise be frustrated with a lack of career development.

Challenges

There are of course issues when you apply incentives in the workforce. How do you prevent employees sandbagging regular tasks, so they then become extra credit activities, where they will be rewarded. While this is a concern, it simply serves of a reminder to think through ideas before implementation, rather than a reason not to begin at all.

BMC Software
At the recent KickStart Forum in QLD, I had a chance to sit down with Chief Technology Officer (APAC) Suhas Kelkar from BMC Software. Kelkar explained they are already in development of software applications and services to enable gamification of the enterprise. We discussed a scenario where employees may be asked to enter data into a helpdesk system, but fail to enter resolutions into the knowledge base.

On paper it sounds easy, ask an employee to do a job and they get paid to do it. But what happens if an employee is great in 95% of their duties, are you really going to sack them for not completing a knowledge base item? Probably not. This is the perfect example where the stick stops working, but the carrot may help get the task done.

Ninja

BMC Software are practicing what they preach, implementing a virtual world called The Ninja club. This includes an internal recognition system and allows staff to promote their awards on their wall. Kelkar remarked that its important to consider changing the recognition map, from span of control (number of people), to the span of influence. This means the more someone is contributing to the company, the more they should be rewarded.

This makes a lot of sense given an employee on $40k could suggest or create a solution that saves the business 100k, while someone managing 2 employees takes home twice as much. Also imagine someone who has a large following online, having an employee like this who influences thousands of potential customers is a bigger asset to a company than a similarly skilled employee with none.

Now more than ever, businesses are not their marketing material, but rather the skills and experience of the employees that make up the company. As a prediction of what’s to come, I fully expect the gamification of business to migrate from a closed, internal systems, to public facing systems, showcasing the best employees to the world.

Go to the About page of any corporate website and you’ll likely find pictures of the company board or management team. The reality is, these are rarely the most interesting, innovative and exciting people working inside the company. It’d be a brave, bold step for companies to rethink their corporate sites, but I believe its just a matter of time.

Other examples

Google Australia are actually already using gamification in their enterprise in an environmental effort. If employees use environmentally friendly methods to get to work, they accumulate points. These points can be traded in exchange for the weekend loan of a Mitsubishi iMiev.

We’re all motivated by different things, what’s emerging is that employee satisfaction and therefore employee retention can no longer be achieved, simply through financial compensation. Ultimately the big stick approach doesn’t always work and is not the only available method anymore. Forward thinking managers and CEO’s of the future will employ creative techniques to engage their employees.

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This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn't seeking credit.