A Gartner analyst’s new book tries to explain how to get the most out of the technology

It’s NHL playoff time in Canada, a two-month period when many of an organization’s staff — well, many of the male staff — will be periodically surfing the Web or yakking during business hours about the team they’re following.

Some managers fret that employees are wasting their time playing games. But there’s another kind of play organizations are increasingly willing to encourage staff to engage in — in fact they pay big bucks for it.

Called gamification, it covers a wide range of online games staff are asked to play to get points or small rewards for a variety of reasons: To learn new skills, contribute ideas, to understand how to work better together or merely to improve their health.

Gartner research vice-president Brian Burke has been studying the industry for four years and has just written a book, “Gamify — How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things” (Bibliomotion, US$24.95), to help organizations understand how to use the technology to get more from employees, customers and communities.

“It has fundamental value in terms of engaging and motivating people”, said Toronto-born Burke in a recent interview from London, where he has lived for several years.

However “organizations don’t completely understand it,” which accounts for a number of failures.

Organizations often use the cloud-based games — one of the most well-known is Badgville — to rally help desk and sales staff.

At the same time the organization hopes playing the game aligns with its goals: A better educated staff, a more collegial atmosphere, ideas for new products and services or a healthier (and therefore happier) set of employees.

One of the biggest reasons gamification fails, Burke says, is not understanding that games have to be designed to help people attain their goals, he stressed, not the organization’s. Ideally, they align.

To simplify his argument, if an employee doesn’t want to lose weight, a game isn’t going to work.

Or, to put it a different way, tell the staff that they’ve complained the existing software doesn’t let them do X, but the new one will — and the game will help them learn. Don’t tell them that the new software is expected to make them Y per cent more productive.

The game also has to engage people on an emotional level, he said, which will spur them to continue. The best example he cites is the love/hate relationship people have with Nike Plus, a Web site that encourages participants to engage in exercise to gain points or meet goals.

Gamification isn’t only for business leaders, he said. IT leaders need to rethink how they can design solutions for engagement rather than just efficiency.

“It’s going to have a transformational impact in a lot of different areas,” he said, building relationships with employees and customers, as well as online education courses.

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