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Gamification: Thinking Beyond Badges to Drive Long-Term Success

08.30.2013
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Gamification has recently become a popular topic within enterprise collaboration platforms – so much so that I think my spell check now accepts the word as valid. As with many other social technologies, gamification first gained adoption in the consumer world with apps like Foursquare, so it isn’t a novel concept, but applying it in a business setting is still fairly new to most people. The key difference is that there’s more to gamification in a business setting than badges and points – it can actually be used to solve critical business problems, such as employee engagement.

As Rajat Paharia points out in his new book Loyalty 3.0, 70 percent of people who go to work every day aren’t engaged in their jobs, costing the U.S. economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity. Done right, gamification offers a unique and effective way to mitigate this problem by giving employees a way to gain recognition for their contributions as they work.

Recognition is the root of gamification. People want to be recognized for their contributions; in fact, they feel they deserve to be recognized. As an informal poll, I asked some of my friends, all under age 40, what would make them happier about their workplace. Although “more money” was the response that would make them happier personally, “more recognition” was the response that made them happier at work.

In today’s world of instant gratification, using gamification as a public recognition tool within an employee collaboration community can be much more effective than quarterly awards. And while every gamification initiative starts with a simple badge and point system to drive initial adoption and engagement in the early stages of your community, your deeper strategy should be geared towards changing and shaping employee behavior to drive long-term business results.

With new technology comes new work processes that need to be learned, and gamification can help drive those desired behaviors. One example is making content easy to search through proper tagging.  Most people forget to tag and don’t realize how important it is for document location, but you can design your gamification module to make tagging (or attaching metadata) a repeatable event so it rewards users for doing something of value to the community. They may start doing this for points, but eventually it will become a habit.

A more advanced example is generating involvement for a real world event in the community. By applying custom badges that can be earned leading up to the event and promoting the event with “limited time” badges, users that may not have been interested otherwise will participate in the event. I’ve seen this happen on one such occasion that produced the largest physical turnout at a volunteer event the company had ever seen.

So what is it about points and badges in a virtual community that make people change their behavior? There isn’t any real value to the points, and badges are meaningless outside of a particular community. Still, conversations about who can post a document first, “… because I need the points,” pop up all over the enterprise when a gamification tool is used. If points go missing or places are exchanged on a leaderboard, it becomes a point of contention for many. This irrational obsession with status and recognition is a powerful tool that a company can tap into to shape behavior in their community.

Using positive reinforcement, recognition, and status in the community are the underlying utilities that gamification employs. And one of the best things about gamification is that you can make adjustments and introduce new badges as you go to achieve desired outcomes and drive changes in behavior.

Are you taking advantage of these tools to engage your employees, or are you losing your share?

Published at DZone with permission of Jive Community, author and DZone MVB.

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