by Jennifer Lumba   | December 08, 2014

Gamification has become a popular management buzz word, but is it really so advanced to become a tool? Not if you look under the hood. Smart managers have been using incentives for years. The difference with gamification is that it adds layers, such as competition and consequences for failing to play the "game" well enough.

How can incentive managers looking to better recognize exceptional work use game mechanics to their advantage? Consider these 10 tips:
1. Know your best outcomes. What areas of your business need the most attention? What sort of behavior do you want to encourage? Once you know the gaps in your recognition strategy and set measurable targets, you can put game mechanics to work on your behalf.
2. Develop the rules. No doubt this seems obvious, and it should be. The ugly truth is that gamification fails most often when the rules aren't clear and "players" get punished for ignorance rather than underperformance. Work with leaders who oversee the operations you wish to gamify and then seek input from everyday workers.
3. "Hire" coaches. Maybe you already have some all-star players who overdeliver in key areas. Make these your coaches. Give them the leeway to help everyday workers trying to navigate the "gamified" culture you've installed. Reward efforts that lead to winning performance.
4. Run regular practice sessions or simulations. For some players, just having the rules will be enough. For others, practicing social recognition can be helpful. Don't presume that the most introverted employee is going to be OK with constantly chatting up teammates. Give them alternatives and score their efforts appropriately.
5. Specify rewards. We play games because they're rewarding. Don't forget this principle as you seek to gamify your recognition practices. Instead, create and publicize rewards that come with "playing" well. The better the rewards, the more likely you'll find workers willing to play along and seek the achievements you're after as a company.
6. Be a team builder. Remember the saying, "it's how you play the game?" So it is with gamifying any business process, including your recognition practices. Foster collaboration by developing teams who earn shared rewards. Recognize workers who play well and recognize teammates who perform particularly good work. Good players aren't always necessary to create good outcomes, great players are far more likely to deliver great outcomes.
7. Create challenges. The best games have challenge levels where extra effort and performance yield outsized rewards. Use this principle to boost how your team recognizes great work but keep it simple. A spreadsheet for tracking praiseworthy events -- and the workers who surfaced them -- may be all you need to push a team to new levels.
8. Don't forget consequences! Games aren't static. You can win, or you can lose. Make your process real by introducing consequences for inaction or poor play. Don't overdo it, though; losing a few points for redeeming merchandise isn't the same as public shaming.
9. Preserve the playing field. A good game is always fair. Make sure you abide by the principle by giving everyone at the company a chance to play along. Avoid cliques as much as possible when building teams. And most of all, don't favour senior executives when it comes to doling out rewards.
10. Always (ALWAYS!) make it personal. What do you think of when you hear the phrase "recognition culture?" Is it of a mob of disconnected workers seeking to exploit the rules in pursuit of points? Or is it of a team that prizes authentic relationships, and as such, delivers praise (and necessary criticism) personally and with care? Take special care to recognize workers who exemplify the values of a recognition culture in hopes their attitudes and behaviours go viral.
Work and play don’t always mix. But when they do, the results can be explosive.

Jennifer Lumba is the chief marketing officer of Rideau Recognition Solutions. Built on state-of-the-art technology, Rideau's employee recognition and customer loyalty programs change the way companies recognize employee service and achievement, reward individual and team performance, strengthen customer relationships, and create brand loyalty. Lumba can be reached at [email protected]