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There may be whispers of it in the workplace, but if learning leaders haven't heard a lot about gamification yet, they will in the near future. At a recent Annual National Retail Federation conference, gamification was touted as the next form of work-based social media where people interact and socialize around a common bond of knowledge, competitive strategy, and fun.

CLOs (chief learning officers), HR directors, and operations and innovations teams across various industries are learning that integrating gaming into learning and development strategy drives performance, highlights achievement, and boosts engagement.

But gamification is more than newfangled training. Elements of game play engage employees with new knowledge encourage competition among peers and bestow public rewards and recognition on those who excel. It can cover just about any topic: improving operations, cutting logistics costs, challenging employees to understand how their roles contribute to enterprise success.

In the future, managers will see people playing games at work. Gen Y professionals have been nurtured and brought up on gaming. The average gamer is 37 years old.

Gartner predicts that by 2014 70% of global organizations will have at least one gamified application; by 2015, 50% of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify them. Many of the world's largest brands are deploying gamification, including Coke, AOL, Nissan, Nike, and Viacom; and as more studies become available, the advantages to gaming in the workplace will become widespread.

Learning leaders who have made the jump are motivated by different things. But one primary lever promoting gamification is that employee satisfaction, which is closely related to employee retention, can no longer be achieved through financial compensation alone. Ultimately, the big-stick approach doesn't always work, and it is not the only method available to motivate and encourage team efforts. To stay on top of the game, managers must be forward-thinking.

The challenge now is in understanding why gamification is so effective and how to introduce it seamlessly into an organization. Want a better idea of how to make it happen? Keep reading.

The Top 5 Rules of the Game

1. Get executive buy-in and make it count

To make a gamification program successful and sustainable, there must be executive buy-in. Whether it's the CEO or the CLO, it is important for employees to see their leaders support the game and the idea of them having fun at work. Something as simple as a companywide email or a quick mention at a town hall will help the top-down process begin.

2. Explain the rules of the game

If employees do not understand how to engage in a game, they will lose interest. Fully explain the rules and structure so employees are able to set their personal game objectives and know how to track their progress. This step will eliminate confusion and encourage user participation.

3. Create a master communication plan

When rolling out a game, take every opportunity to communicate the objective of the game and how/when/where employees will have access to it. Part of the struggle that companies have early on is creating a game that has a high adoption rate. Take advantage of available channels such as the company intranet and social media to weave in messaging throughout the organization.

4. Reward employees who spread the word

Word-of-mouth can be one of the strongest influencers in human behavior. One of the best ways to boost participation and community within a game is to reward employees who spread the word and inspire others to play. Whether it is a special badge or points, that recognition will help encourage game participation.

5. Ask for feedback, and do something with it

From pilot to full rollout, employee feedback is essential to create a great user experience. Creating opportunities for employees to easily give feedback will provide learning leaders with the insights they need to make game offerings better. For instance, create quick 2-3 question surveys that live within the game or create a field for employees to leave comments. Remember to always reward contributions.

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However learning leaders spin it, gamification is a fast, effective and fun way to train and motivate employees. Be on the lookout for it—or, better yet, be the pioneer who brings the idea to the company.

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image of Whitney Cook

Whitney Cook is an account manager at Inward Strategic Consulting, focusing on gamification and employee engagement in the retail space.

LinkedIn: Whitney Cook