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Using Gamification to Engage Employees and Unlock Their Potential

The science behind motivation is reshaping the way we engage employees. Gamification has crept into the big picture management conversation, suggesting the use of game mechanics as a way of fostering resiliency and drive in the workforce. Yet the process is a lot more than fun and games.

Using gamification to engage employees takes clear strategies and an understanding of how game mechanics motivates people to take action. Here are the cornerstones that every manager needs to know:

Understanding What Motivates People

Despite employee individuality, the motivation behind their actions barely differs from person to person. Behavioral research finds five intrinsic motivators influence every activity we initiate:

  • Autonomy (Wanting control of a project or situation)
  • Mastery (Wanting to improve their skillset or understanding)
  • Purpose (Wanting to make a difference for a person, project, or company)
  • Progress (Wanting to achieve new milestones toward goals)
  • Social Interaction (Wanting to connect with others)

Depending on the types of behaviors and results a manager wants to encourage, these five motivators are blended to achieve the desired results.

For example, if a project manager is using gamification to engage employees as a way of improving the application user experience for an internal-facing application, certain motivators will be more important than others. Progress and Purpose may be the primary focuses, but emphasizing Mastery can expand technical frontiers and Autonomy can drive coding sprints. Focuses depend on what you want from your employees.

Setting Achievements over Rewards

Rewards only earn fickle engagement. Money, gift cards, or prizes get a diminishing return of effort from employees. Over time, they become desensitized to the initial reward and require greater incentives to achieve the same work. Though the above incentives are usable, they should never be the focal point of your strategy for using gamification to engage employees.

What’s the most meaningful way of engaging people? It comes down to a sense of visible achievement. In the world of gamers, this often comes in the form of badges signifying that a player has achieved certain milestones. In the business world, this can happen through a structured plan or even a customized gamification platform.

Employee actions are tracked and their results are monitored. From there, employee achievements are measured against themselves and the overall business impact. Measuring them against others is only effective in certain positions and scenarios (more to come on that). That level of transparency engages employees in the larger business perspective and pushes them into action.

Using Data to Drive Growth

Is it a surprise that data is important in gamification? Robust data gathering is indispensable when using gamification to engage employees. The same reporting or big data analytics used to conduct business intelligence ends up being a central part of the team engagement.

Business leaders looking to gamify engagement need to know what KPIs are worth tracking. To narrow down the field of data points, answer these questions about which metrics matter most:

  • Which metrics need the most improvement?
  • Which metrics provide clear side-by-side measurements?
  • Which metrics directly correspond with the desired end results?

Once the metrics have been decided, it is important to determine the right tool for reporting and tracking. Certain CRMS, most productivity tools, and all gamification platforms authorize employees to check in on those metrics and consciously renew their efforts.

Making it a Team Function

Team involvement provides a basis for motivation that gamification leverages. Research shows that “simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges.” When a business is using gamification to engage employees, the best results come when there is mutual encouragement versus gamified competition.

Experts warn against haphazardly implementing competition into any corporation. Creating winners and losers often forms divisions in an otherwise collaborative environment. The trick is to create an environment where the team roots for their fellow employees to surpass their own personal performance rather than lifting a leader above the rest. That way, employees are more willing to share techniques and strategies rather than horde them.

How Using Gamification to Engage Employees Even Helps Hiring

As an added bonus, effectively using a gamification plan and raising the level of employee engagement reaches beyond your internal team. In fact, it often impacts the success of your hiring strategies.

When a gamification program has been used successfully to increase engagement (some strategic efforts result in up to 50% increase of targeted employees), candidates recognize the end results. Positive or negative energy is almost palpable.

In the end, it’s the companies that make a habit of introducing employees to potential candidates that see considerable benefit. Through this introductory interaction, the type of atmosphere of engagement gets communicated indirectly. And the positive energy which employee engagement brings to the table encourages candidates to more confidently take the next step in the hiring process.


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