Gaming or Shaming? Questioning the benefit of Gamification in Business

First of all I’m in agreement with many in the gaming community with my dislike of the term “Gamification”. Gamers have criticised the term gamification because in many cases business only adopt the incidental features of games e.g.  Leader boards, points, badges and levels ignore the real reasons people are passionate about gaming e.g.  scenarios, role play, collaboration, strategy etc.

Putting aside my thoughts about the term, gamification is undoubtedly a hot topic. What is noticeable however is the difference between how gaming is used in business operations compared to how gaming techniques are used in training and business improvement activities.

In business operations gaming is still very much of the leader board, points and levels variety. However when applied to business improvement and training games start to include aspects like role play and scenarios and begin to get closer to what games are really about.

This SAP accounts payable example shows a typical use case for gamification within business operations. Leaving to one side the fact that much of this process can be automated using capture technologies, in this example gamification is used to motivate data entry employees to reduce mistakes. For each invoice and line item entered users and their teams can earn points, raise their status and participate in daily or monthly challenges for their team. The reward at the end of the month is a dollar amount that can be donated to a charity.

Many examples of the use of gamification within business operations are not much different from what airline loyalty programs have been doing for years with tiers and rewards. We haven’t been calling loyalty programs gamification.

One of my concerns is that gaming, when used in business operations to create leader boards and assign points, will not just be used to stimulate or motivate staff but will also be used to rank and compare employee performance and simply add additional layer of employee objectives or targets.  The question then is whether this is actually gaming or shaming. Games also have a pretty short shelf life and as a result they should be a temporary measure to try and deliver short term performance improvement and not imbedded permanently in operational processes.

Some of the best examples of the use of gaming within business are in the areas of employee training and business improvement. Short business improvement events, brainstorming and training engagements are ideal for the use of one off games. In business process design Singularity/Kofax, BizzDesign, 21apps all make use of and promote the idea of role play in order to extract requirements. SAP uses role play and simulated meetings to train its mobile workforce.

Fundamentally games are supposed to be short term fun events. The danger of gamification in business is that it becomes “organised fun” (which we know is an oxymoron) and just another target for employees to overcome rather than what games in business should be which is a short term alternative approach to solving a business problem.

2 thoughts on “Gaming or Shaming? Questioning the benefit of Gamification in Business

  1. I totally agree, we need to go beyond points and leaderboards. The Roadwarrior example – while having leaderboards – emphasizes way more the role play and learning. I keep pointing out to my colleagues at SAP that points or competition are not what gamification is.
    I am sure we will see more sophisticated and smarter gamification in the enterprise coming.
    And: I do see gamification not as shaming, but as a chance to expose the experts amongst my employees (like it is done on the SAP community network) and provide through gamification a more objective basis for promotions: from kiss-up-o-gracy to real meritocracy.

  2. I share a lot of the same concerns. I haven’t (to date) articulated them in such a fashion – so, moving forward I think I may leverage this blog!

    Some “games” have been around for quite some time – but they did to have smaller, more loyal followings. Say, Chess, Go, Backgammon, and Poker to name a few.

    Anyway, I think the main point of games is – amusement or enjoyment. It certainly isn’t to do something mundane.

    I think an issue with doing “work” as a “game” is that “work” (generally) requires some mundane aspects. Getting points for doing “mundane” activities is horrible. Also, the rewards really have to be worth it to get people to do “more” of it. (as a side note, I’ve read that the best thing to motivate people with is something more “tangible” or something that would create “memories” and “connections” – what does giving money away to a charity do? Will I ever “see” that benefit? What difference is it making in my life? Perhaps better would be that the winning team gets 1 day off of work (paid) to go ‘volunteer’ at the local soup kitchen. Pictures can be taken, memories created, team building, plus the company is doing charity work that is LOCAL and immediate).

    Also, you may run into some unexpected problems. Maybe they “do more” of whatever but they the quality per X is down. Now, how is that good? Be careful what you measure…it may be the only thing getting done.

    I think a better idea to make work “better” is to make it all more customer friendly. Think of your employees as ‘customers’ instead of forced labor. Make it so the interface that they have to work with is friendly, easy to understand, inviting. “Swipe, swipe, pay!” All transactions should be reduced to that.

    Do you think Amazon would sell as much as it does if it required 14 steps to buy something? Why on earth should it require 14 steps to set a up product to be sold?

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