Gamification is the practice of using gaming concepts such as competition, scoring points, badging, attaining levels, and winning prizes to get people to perform certain actions. Increasingly, HR departments are using this tactic for things like recognition, onboarding, and training. Competition can be an inexpensive way to provide an incentive to do something that might not otherwise be appealing, like learning about the latest software program your company has bought or reading and signing IT’s data security policy. Gamification can be effective, but it needs to meet certain criteria first:
- There has to be something in it for the participant, aside from the game: Almost nobody thinks doing a training exercise is fun, but most people understand that on-the-job training is ultimately good for their career development. If you make training a fun exercise, where the participant can earn points by answering an online quiz, or make it a competition where those with the highest scores win prizes, now you’re talking.
- It has to actually be fun: The purpose of gamification in HR is to take something that’s not that exciting and make it appealing. If you layer a boring game on top of a boring activity, no one will play. You don’t need to spend the money to build a new version of Angry Birds—just be sure that the game will resonate with your company culture. Few people will fail to appreciate humor, so even using badges with funny names and images will help to make the game appealing.
- It should be social: Competition is only fun if you can see how you rank against your competitors and enjoy the public recognition of having your name in the top spot. Using online leaderboards or allowing badges to be posted on personalized profiles are great ways to get everyone involved. The game will become more ‘sticky’ if people have to check back to see who’s winning.
- There probably needs to be a reward: Unless you’ve managed to make your game as addictive as Candy Crush, you’ll need to provide some other incentive to play. If you have a limited budget, hold a monthly lottery where users’ opportunities to win prizes are directly linked to their level of participation in the game throughout the month. Giving out one iPad or gift card is a lot cheaper than handing out points or cash to every user for every action.
- It has to be promoted, like any other initiative: You can build the most fun game in the world, but if nobody knows about it, nobody will play. The game must be communicated, promoted, and supported by upper management. Public recognition for winning will be a great motivator to get others to participate.
- It has to encourage the right behaviors: Let’s say you’re trying to reduce accidents on your manufacturing floor. Offering prizes to those who have gone accident-free for a certain number of days might not be the best way to go. Why? Because it might encourage people to cover up issues that should be reported in order to “win” the game. Instead you might want to give out badges for reporting potential safety hazards or for correctly answering a quiz about safety procedures. Before you attempt to build any sort of game, be sure you have a clear goal in mind and are able to link the actions encouraged to successful outcomes. Otherwise, you’ve just created a great way for your employees to waste time.