In which things like Badgeville and gamification destroy the office world

There’s a broad idea called ‘gamification’ — essentially, turning something fairly tangible (education, business) into a game that can be tracked and lead to rewards. It’s obviously a controversial approach and the data on it is a little bit not all there, but companies like Badgeville, which specialize in it, are doubling revenue year-over-year — so more people are going to take notice. Here’s kind of a summary of how it can work, via The Wall Street Journal and their VP of solutions and design:

Here’s one scenario Sims describes. “Sometimes sales guys tend to not care about the details, they just want to close the deal and get the money,” he says. Managers, meanwhile, might want salespeople to do more: accurately enter their clients’ information into a sales tracker, assess the quality of sales leads or track how often they are going to sales meetings. Badgeville’s software can give points to salespeople who add in that information, turning what would otherwise be an annoying part of their jobs into a point of competition.

Badgeville can do stuff like offer rewards for following managers’ travel preferences (American Express does this), living healthier lifestyles, and even smiling more at the office (your co-workers can give you points/badges if they notice these things). The broader idea is (a) making something tedious/boring/annoying into a trackable game and (b) figuring out small ways to reward people without massively jacking up their salary.

This has all become a trend line in the corporate world too, especially on the training side; there, the idea is that by increasing the notion of competition and delivering faster feedback, the organization can benefit. Here’s one key quote from that article:

“The basic structure of video games — having to master one level before moving to another, repeating an action numerous times, and receiving feedback in the form of results about what works and what doesn’t — mirrors how skills are developed in real life,” says David Maddocks, president of WorkSmart Education.  “The added benefit for the workplace of using games is that employees practice in a safe situation and not on live customers.”

On surface, I actually think the idea of gamification is cool and interesting. Maddocks is right — how you move through a video game and how you move through life are often pretty similar processes (well, ideally). My concern is that ultimately, the management of this type of process is probably going to fall to Human Resources, because logically it would (as it’s tied to training and development). The problem therein is that gamification is another aspect of work life without direct revenue ROI, and HR in the modern era is all about establishing themselves as a potential revenue center around people. Tracking badges and points is essentially more admin and clerical (personnel) type work, and I feel it would ultimately get lost in the shuffle of things that are more important to managers, and the programs would fade. That might be overly pessimistic though. The other potential concern is that recruiters and middle managers could sell a potential employee on the “perks and benefits” of a given company, and those perks end up being … badges that can get you $10 discounts on Amazon for smiling more. That works for some, yes, but we’re not talking about Google ponying up to retain their best people here.

Some are bullish on the future of gamification:

Others? Not so much:

You’ll see a lot of different approaches to gamification in the speaking circuit world, including:

That last one is from Dreamforce (a SalesForce conference) this past year and features Steve Sims, who works with Badgeville and gave one of the above pull-quotes in this post too.

The overall world of gamification is interesting — we do need better ways to train employees, engage employees, and track employees through their initial phases at a company. Whether modeling game design is the best approach probably remains to be seen, but could it be an interesting organizational design trend line for the next decade? Yes.

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Interesting post. Being an educator that laments the everybody gets a trophy learning environment we so often see, this does worry me a bit. The micromanaging of your number of smiles disconnected from larger questions of a fair employment environment would worry me if my company adopted it. And I can’t believe that the dark flip side of consequences for non trophy winners wouldn’t eventually come to the party.

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