Why gamification sits at the crossroads of management

Gamification is the crossroads of management

For such a buzzword-y management concept, I’m surprised I’ve only written about gamification once in the history of having this blog. Wharton has a long post up about it now, and one section stands out more than most:

Giammona noted that although he has seen gamification work well in a sales context, often upper management is not even aware of the need for an engagement program. “If you’re trying to talk to an SVP of sales at a large company, they’re not going to be interested in talking about a gamification solution,” he said. “But if you talk to the regional vice presidents, to the people who are managing the salespeople, [they] desperately need” motivational programs.

Let’s unpack this for a second.

1. The Sales Context: Of course gamification — which, is essentially, linking games/prizes/potential perks to performance, like a game — would work well in a sales context, because sales is the area of most companies that is most accustomed to being based on targets and performance.

2. The Chasm: “If you talk to an SVP, they’re not going to be interested.” But … “If you talk to the regional vice presidents, they desperately need motivational programs.”

Here’s what I mean by “the crossroads of management:” typically, a SVP and a regional VP are about one level apart; the latter probably reports to the former. And yet, they have completely different things to focus on. A higher-up person probably looks at gamification and says “That’s a game” (ha) or “That’s a fad” or (worst-yet) “That’s fluffy, we got targets to hit!” The middle-level VP is saying “God, I’ve had my foot on the gas for three years! I have no idea how to motivate these guys! Maybe this could work?!?!?”

The inherent challenge of being around the middle levels at any company is that you get pulled in two directions: you have to manage up (please the big dogs) and manage down (not making life a living hell for the rank-and-file). Rank-and-files don’t manage down and top dogs don’t manage up, so middle-level managers are the only people who are pulled in two directions.

A concept like gamification sits right at the intersection of this problem. Is it soft and fluffy and not something to pursue at all? Or is it a desperate need? Each side has arguments, and each side is valid.

It’s amazing to me that we design organizations in such a way that people one level apart — direct bosses and direct reports, for example — have such completely different measurements and deliverables. How can we expect new initiatives to work if the way everyone is processing them is so different?


Ted Bauer

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