By Melody Moore, Talent Consultant, Hay Group

Shakespeare wrote that “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players.” Advocates of gamification would agree that we’re all players but revise the analogy to suggest our entire world is in fact a game. Gamification is a growing trend. It takes elements of game play – points, competition, levels, recognition, rewards – and translates them to other contexts. For many companies, it is proving a useful tool to support employee behaviour change and help achieve strategic goals.

Brian Burke, an analyst at Gartner, who wrote the book ‘How gamification motivates people to do extraordinary things’ predicted that 70% of Global 200 organisations would have at least one gamified app by 2014. He suggests that these gamification initiatives started in marketing departments, so have tended to focus externally on helping consumer brands acquire new customers or strengthen relationships with existing ones. The next step for businesses, he suggests, is to look to internal gamified apps that focus on employees in an effort to improve performance and engagement.

This is where I believe the true potential for gamification lies. Many companies focus heavily on developing their strategy but then skimp when it comes to implementation. As a result, a large percentage of organisations fail to realise their strategic goals. This is not because the strategies are unsound but because they lack the right resources and commitment to put them into practice. This is where gamification comes into play…

Why ramification works

Games can be addictive and engage with our innate need to achieve. Take video games, for instance, which encourage us to get caught up in the flow of competing against standards (internal or external), solving a unique problem or mastering a challenging environment. Companies can use the addictive nature of games to focus individuals on certain activities and, as a result, align employee behaviour with strategic goals.

At the same time, gamification can help deliver behavioural change. Managers often have the best intentions to practice a new leadership style or improve the climate for their team. However, they frequently fall back into old, familiar habits. A well-designed app based on gamification principles can keep these behavioural changes top-of-mind, making it engaging and personally satisfying for managers to keep practicing and working towards being more effective leaders.

Play to human motives

To successfully build and deploy a gamified app that promotes strategy implementation, companies must have a solid understanding of their strategic objectives. Just as important, however, is the need to understand the personal goals of the audience that will use the app.

In the 1950s, psychologist David McClelland came up with a theory of motivation that explains human behaviour, based on the interplay of three social motives: the desire for achievement, affiliation and power. According to McClelland, the balance and the relative importance of these motives differs from one individual to the next. For that reason, well designed gamified apps should appeal to all three human motives, with something in the game that will engage and motivate each individual.

1. The achievement motive, for example, is aroused though gamification by giving players a clear standard of excellence against which to measure their performance. Gamification apps make players personally responsible for outcomes and provide immediate concrete feedback from a credible source. Points and awards enable people to monitor their progress and encourage them to stick with the app and try to improve their behaviours.

2. Alternatively, people who are driven primarily by the affiliation motive have a concern for establishing and maintaining close personal relationships. Aspects of gamification tools, such as social networks, appeal to this through the ability to interact with colleagues who can provide support and encouragement. It can be very useful in terms of leadership development to have people working together and supporting each other to become better managers.

3. Finally, people for whom the power motive appeals are concerned with having impact and influence. For these employees, social networks, public recognition on leader boards, discussion groups and comment boards built into gamification apps provide an opportunity to have their progress recognised and an impact on other players.

The key is to build an app that appeals to all three motives. If used widely, gamification can prove an effective tool to support strategy implementation across an entire workforce, regardless of how diverse it is. When smartly designed and deployed, gamified apps make it enjoyable for individuals to change their behaviours and learn new skills in ways that collectively help the organisation to achieve its strategic goals.