by Deanna Ting | November 28, 2014

When it comes to using gamification in the workplace, things can get pretty complicated -- there are innumerable ways to define and describe the concept. One thing that all gamification specialists agree on, however, is that gamification is not just a game.


Gabe Zichermann, Dopamine

"This is not about making everything a game," says Gabe Zichermann, CEO of New York-based gamification agency Dopamine, and author of The Gamification Revolution. "That always trips everyone up. When it comes to gamification, we want to bring the best things from the game world into the real world."

But the name can be a stumbling block. "It's a real challenge to get people beyond that word -- 'gamification,'" says Brian Burke, research vice president for Gartner, an IT consulting firm headquartered in Stamford, CT, and author of How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things. "Gamification doesn't typically look like a game, and if it does, it could demotivate or disengage people. Another challenge is to get senior management that must ultimately approve these things past the notion that gamification is like games. It's really about motivating people."

Creating a game is hard enough, says Rajat Paharia, founder and chief product officer of Redwood City, CA-based Bunchball, a gamification specialist. "Making one with an ulterior motive is even harder," he adds. "Gamification is not about games at all; it's about data-driven motivation."

"If you're going to do gamification, do it for the right reasons -- to accomplish and solve business goals and know those goals ahead of time before you dive in," says Hollander. "Gamification is a lot more than just leaderboards, badges, and trophies. It's not just an environment to earn points. It's about what business results you want to drive and problems you want to solve. You want to make sure that whatever you do aligns with that."

While gamification experts agree that gamification is not just about games, they do differ somewhat in how they view its main objectives and applications.

When Paharia founded Bunchball in 2005, he set out to provide a gamification platform that would use data to enhance and improve performance. "Gamification is about motivating people through data, capturing the data that we generate when we interact with systems, and using it to motivate better performance and drive success," he explains. "It's like having a thermostat for your business -- something that's constantly regulating, monitoring, and driving change."

Paharia adds, "Today, many of us work within formal systems like Salesforce. We have all of these kinds of platforms with structured data. So, gamification is the new weapon that we have to drive better performance that you didn't have before. In the next few years, organizations that are not taking this data and using it to increase engagement and create a better experience will get left behind." This year alone,

Gartner estimates that 70 percent of the world's top 2,000 companies will use at least one gamified application.

For Zichermann, gamification is a resourceful avenue for employee engagement. "It's using the best ideas from games outside of entertainment, borrowing heavily from loyalty programs and games to structure solutions that are designed to increase engagement," he says. "It's creating engagement with people. If we really want to change behavior and create engagement, we have to think about it differently and be creative, and that's where gamification comes in."

For Bunchball's Paharia, "engagement is a byproduct of what we do with gamification. Engagement is too broad to really be measured, so it's never a main goal when we design a program; we want to see better performance."

A case in point, Paharia says, is Applebee's, which has nearly 2,000 restaurants worldwide. "They had all this point-of-sale data but it was always going to franchise managers. Now, however, by using gamification, they looped it down to employees so they could see how they are doing and how they compete. That same data is being given a second life, and being used in a different way to drive a meaningful business outcome. There's no magic behind this -- all this data is sitting there; you just have to know how to use it. That's where gamification can help."

Gartner's Burke, however, says that while there can be some overlap between gamification and motivational incentive programs, they are not one and the same. "At Gartner, we define gamification as the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their individual goals," he explains. Whereas traditional incentive programs offer tangible rewards for individuals who achieve organizational goals, gamification doesn't necessarily have to include those types of rewards, and it's more about reaching individual goals. When a gamification platform can align individual goals with organizational goals, says Burke, that's when you can use gamification to motivate people.

Initially, says Burke, gamification was much more focused on consumer loyalty and engagement. "Nowadays, though, when you look at the total number of gamification applications, that focus has clearly shifted," he says. "Organizations want to motivate employees to perform, change their behaviors, improve their health, etc. Those customer-focused applications haven't gone away, but there's tremendous growth in employee-based applications for gamification now."

At Bunchball, Paharia defines five major uses for gamification: increasing employee sales; improving service; improving training; increasing collaboration; and building loyalty. No matter what your organization's specific goals are for using gamification, there are some universal ground rules for making sure your program is successful. Here's what the experts had to say.

First things first: a good gamification program begins with clear, identifiable, and measurable objectives. "Often, people come to gamification with different goals and motivations, but at the end of the day, the way you should start it is with a mission statement with some measurable outcome," says Paharia. "Don't be vague. Be specific, like wanting to increase channel partner contribution by 40 percent, for example. You need a clear, measurable goal and from there, you look at key performance indicators to measure success."

He adds, "Ask yourself: 'What are the key behaviors that you need to motivate or encourage to move the needle?' This is not just about something you want to try; you need to accomplish a business goal."

When it comes to listing those organizational goals, says Burke, you also need to consider individual goals. "If you can identify where individual goals overlap with the organization's goals, then that's really the sweet spot for gamification," he notes. "A lot of companies are challenged to think that through. They want employees to be more productive, so they will place some kind of incentive on productivity, which sounds like a good idea, and sales contests have done this for decades. But this is not necessarily a good strategy for gamification."

Instead, Burke says, following a model similar to that of Fantasy Sales Team is a much more effective use of gamification. "Gamification can help salespeople follow known successful sales processes. It can be used to provide triggers, reminders, rewards, and recognition to help people do their jobs better and will ultimately lead to increased productivity. So, when a salesperson receives a proposal, and gets a reminder to follow up with that customer, that is more likely to result in a more successful sales process."