Relatively few companies have explored the use of games in business environments. It’s rare for companies to take gaming seriously as games are often only thought of in the context of “productivity killing” applications like Farmville and Angry Birds.
Let’s focus on two reasons why games can work in business:
- Games make work more fun and are an effective way to motivate people and create collaborative environments.
- Almost anything can be turned into a game so we need to expand our collective definition of gaming beyond the individual games that we can quickly recall (like Farmville and Angry Birds) and instead focus on the mechanics of games.
Today, let’s explore how companies can embrace gaming to increase productivity, improve collaboration, make work more fun, and align teams behind purpose driven activities.
- We hate Mondays.
- We love Fridays.
- “Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend.”
But why? Why is it that work feels like a chore to so many people? Probably because it is a chore, it’s not fun, there’s no incentive, there’s no progression.
Consider how people that love their job talk about versus those in the daily grind. It might sound like the following:
- “I love the challenge and it’s always changing” vs “it’s monotonous”
- “I believe the work I do makes a difference” vs “my work is meaningless”
- “I’m acknowledged for my efforts” vs “my boss is a jerk and takes all the credit”
One of those is living in a world of wins, while the other just goes through the motions.
The introduction of game mechanics into a work environment can help to motivate employees by altering the ways in which people do their work, relate to the purpose of their work, and get acknowledged for their work.
Consider the virtual environment of online games. There is a story, there are fantastic characters, there are achievements, there is teamwork, there is customization and creative problem solving, there is social proof. All of these factors are exactly what good companies have in their DNA.
Making Work (Or Anything) Into A Game
There are a multitude of game dynamics that have been identified, you can find them here. But let’s look at some very practical examples of how to make work more challenging and gamified, provide purpose, and more effectively acknowledge people.
Simply laying out work into a sequence that, upon successful completion, results in a reward, can make the same tasks more interesting and provide much needed recognition that can be objective driven, rather than subjectively-acknowledged.
Even in the case where someone has the same task to do everyday, the work can be gamified.
As an example, imagine you’re a server at a restaurant and your job is to fold napkins before each shift. Each day the restaurant has a competition to see how many napkins can be folded in 15 minutes before the shift. Servers are given the opportunity to compete against their previous record. Let’s say Amy has an average of 25 napkins folded before each shift, if she can beat that by 25%, the restaurant will buy her dinner. If she can double her output, she can bypass folding napkins for her next 5 shifts. This is one example of how to take an otherwise monotonous and “meaningless” task, give it meaning and make it fun. You can even encourage collaboration by making team challenges and getting people to work together to accomplish a common goal.
Tell A Great Story
Explaining work into the context of a larger narrative can help to give employees a sense of purpose in their work. Purpose-driven organizations tend to come out on top and if you don’t believe that, just take a look at the Gamechanger 500, I’m sure you’ll recognize some of those companies.
Part of what makes an online game so engaging is the high stakes and riveting story. If your company simply “provides accounting services,” you will not motivate your employees nearly as much building “the premier accounting service in the state.” Furthermore, if that mission is extended further so that a portion of the proceeds from the company’s success directly benefits a social cause, employees can easily draw a connection between daily tasks and something more significant. This can help boost morale, employee engagement, and employee retention.
Achievements, Progression and Removing Subjectivity
Human beings all crave recognition and acknowledgement, and game mechanics can provide that. Earning points for your work can provide meaningful acknowledgement for individuals regardless of the task. If you don’t believe it, you can see that it already exists in the form of titles and salaries. These are just another form of “leveling up.”
However, without carefully considered game dynamics, the system of leveling up is often broken. In game-like, objective-driven environments, people are more likely to be self motivated than in environments where recognition and reward are subjectively awarded by a superior. When subjectively determined, individual bias can get in the way spanning the gamut from bigotry and racism, to ego and insecurity, the much less severe “I just don’t like that person very much.” However when people can be rewarded by completing tasks in game environments, those factors can be removed and instead employees can grow at their own rate. This removes hierarchy in favor of meritocracy.
Imagine your job is a community manager at a bank, and you’ve been given the goal to increase engagement on the company’s Facebook page. One way for the bank to accomplish that goal is to incentivize that goal:
- Increase the company’s Facebook Page engagement from an average of 6% to an average of 12% over the course of the next 3 months, and the company will provide you with an additional paid day off and a $1,000 increase in your social media marketing budget.
This is a data driven activity. Facebook provides that data. You either hit that mark or you don’t, it’s binary. Furthermore, the reward is clear so at the end of it, there is no need to have a 90 day review and discuss compensation.
What will happen?
Imagine the aggregate effect of a more motivated and empowered workforce in any company. What would happen if we all looked to make work more like a game?
And while we’re on the subject, if you want to be more inspired by the power of games, watch these videos:
Games can solve real world problems
Your life NEEDS games
Understanding game dynamics all around you