Tag Archives: Gamification

Workplace Gamification: 4 Roads, 4 Destinations

Destination Gamification

Destination Gamification

Thanks for reading this continuing series that summarizes my observations of the current state of gamification as a workplace strategy.  While organizations can become myopic and may “feed” off their own ideas and understanding, my role affords me some opportunity to remain detached from any myopia.  I became introduced to many different journeys and strategies and try to observelisten, and [hopefully] inform organizations constructively.

In this series I’m assimilating what I have heard from many into the four very distinct “roads” that organizations are taking in their workplace gamification journey.  The first was “Learning Event Gamification,” the second “Native Application Gamification,” and this post will address the third – “Destination Gamification.” This is a market segment where the interpretation of gamification involves providing a separate platform where users would log in to “be gamified.”

In many ways, Destination Gamification is a natural evolution of the first two roads and I believe it has emerged in response to certain market dynamics.  Keeping in mind that this road is by definition a destination for users/employees, once there, they would typically experience the following properties:

  1. an environment focused on one business process (like compliance, onboarding, sales performance, etc.),
  2. an environment usually (might even say always here) focused on one aspect or benefit of gamification such as sustained engagement, recognition (aka “kudos”), or reputation,
  3. probably some kind of story (aka “narrative”) such as a race car narrative or a plot-line narrative (e.g. a quest or journey),
  4. possibly even some integrated content or learning that they can consume relating to the single business process (see #1) and likely incorporating the narrative (see #3).

These properties can be quite liberating for an executive business sponsor in many respects.  For example, this approach allows a business function to acquire a gamification solution “off-the-shelf” that’s pre-built for the typical needs of their function.  They can do so without much effort and/or cross-functional participation.  And, as an added bonus, they are usually easy to “pilot” and relatively easy to implement.

Ironically and unfortunately, these liberating properties are at the same time limiting — and even paralyzing — for an organization’s gamification strategy.

Where It’s Limiting

After careful thought on each of the properties above you can likely infer some limitations with each.  For example, the very nature of a targeted, largely off-the-shelf system will limit its extension and scalability.  But if I had to pick one, I would go back to the definition of this road – a separate platform where users login.  In opinion, this is a big one.

Maybe it’s just me, but the genius of gamification or any type of digital motivation – and the key to its effectiveness – is in its subtlety.  Nobody wants to be gamed, manipulated or tricked.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the use of game mechanics in any sort of application or process constitutes tricking people or is any form of questionable ethical practice.  Yet, when the “gamified experience,” is a destination unto itself, isn’t that effectively what’s promoted?

I don’t believe gamification, or the gamified aspects of an application or process, needs to be (or even should be) advertised and/or promoted as such.  In fact, I kind of bristle when I hear, “We’re launching gamification to our employees.”  If done well, gamification shouldn’t to be launched or advertised. Otherwise, isn’t it just another campaign?

Another logon.  Another place to go.  Another place to check.  Another “system” to adopt.  Another platform to “juice” with reminder emails.  Another platform where usage has waned after six-nine months.  And worse, for those employees that are middle or low performers…the very ones you are trying to reach…among whom are the cynical and skeptical — the scepter of suspicion and trickery is raised.

Why It’s Potentially Paralyzing

Going down the road of Destination Gamification and its limiting properties – particularly those mentioned above – can lead to gamification paralysis.  I’ve witnessed it.  There are really too many pitfalls to address in a post I’m trying to limit to 1,000 words.  Yet, if you think through some of the points I have raised, I believe you could imagine how paralysis may set in.

For example, think about the fact that Destination Gamification lends itself to very short (often free) pilots and POCs (proof-of-concept).  What functional stakeholder could resist such an offer?  Not many.

So they embark down this road.  “We’ll see if gamification is for us in one month with little effort and little to no cost.” Sounds awesome.  Yet the reality is that regardless of success or failure – however that is measured for the pilot – a true workplace strategy for the organization is likely doomed.

If successful, which is all too often measured by “feelings” and no real metrics and in timeframes far too short for any behavioral analysis, time will chip away at the initial excitement and the fact that some employees aren’t in to “being gamified.”  Others keep forgetting to go there, some don’t like the narrative, and still others just drop off (did I mention it’s a one-size-fits-all behavioral design?).  On initial launch [bristling right now] – when excitement is the highest – 100% of the potential users won’t be reached, and an informed guess would predict you’ll be lucky to have sustained participation over 30-50%.

Paralysis achieved. “Gamification? Yeah, we tried it.”

Thanks for reading this installment.  If this is the first post you have read, please check out the introduction to this series for the proper context.  As always, I’m looking forward to any comments and discussion.

Misconceptions about Gamification

Rules for any Workplace Gamification Strategy

Workplace Gamification: 4 Roads, 4 Destinations

Native Application Gamification

Native Application Gamification

This is the second of what I have observed to be the four common and distinct paths in workplace gamification today.  The first and most mature of the four is what I call Learning Event Gamification which was defined and discussed here.  The second is what I refer to as Native Application Gamification.  It’s a bit more recent but increasingly commonplace.

You know this if you have observed the incorporation of basic gaming mechanics into commercial software by just about every software vendor today.  If you haven’t noticed, then I’ll provide an example, which you might have looked at earlier today. The  LinkedIn “profile status bar” is my favorite and simplest example.

How many of us have logged in only to see a partially colored progress bar indicating that your profile is woefully incomplete?  I’ll bet just about everyone clicked to at least investigate how it could be improved and if relatively painless, you made the necessary adjustments to achieve as high a score as possible.  Why?  Because no self-respecting professional wants to be “incomplete”, right?  You have probably experienced the wave of satisfaction that rushed over you when LinkedIn acknowledged you with an “All-Star” profile!

Okay, if you can’t tell my tone is a bit sarcastic but it is true.  For LinkedIn, it accomplishes what I’m guessing is a key objective – [more] complete profiles.  For you, a feeling of satisfaction and/or accomplishment – however fleeting it may have been.  Nevertheless, it’s a great example and starting place to understand Native Application Gamification.

The list of examples could go on and you can probably think of a few examples yourself.  On one level, it’s quite telling to see just about every major software provider doing something in this area.  It’s a testament to the core-level behavioral impact that gaming techniques can have on business activity.

However, on quite another level I believe this is only holding back the effort and putting up somewhat of a smokescreen on the ability for business stakeholders to recognize the full value that gamification can offer.  In the context of a real workplace strategy for gamification – which is the main topic of this series of posts – this path presents at least two “stuck points” for organizations.

Stuck Point #1: Limited Function

Any number of examples all have a common characteristic – very basic or limited function.  While this might be fine for what the software vendor wants to accomplish (more on that in the next “stuck point”), it’s not going to come close to driving real employee engagement in the workplace.

For proof, we could go to their respective forum discussions but instead let’s go back to your LinkedIn profile.  Seeing an incomplete status bar was probably enough “nudge,” for you to do something.  At a minimum, you probably investigated what was lacking in your profile.  If the fixes weren’t too onerous, you might have even taken some actions to clean it up.  Or, maybe you didn’t.

The point is that while the simple status bar provided a nudge, it didn’t necessarily accomplish the objective and certainly didn’t provide sustained engagement.  While it has most likely been an incredible ROI for LinkedIn and significantly improved their adoption metrics – a [more] complete profile being one – it has probably done little for your long-term engagement with the platform.

Stuck Point #2: Handicapping the Value

We are seeing more and more software companies incorporating basic gaming techniques into their platforms.  As such, organizations deploying these platforms need to remember their objective for doing so.  To the extent vendors have incorporated some basic game mechanics is solely to drive adoption on their platform.  While this is potentially great for the software vendor, it provides little sustaining or long-term impact for the company.

The fact is, any “lift” provided by these efforts are very short-lived – measured in days and weeks.  But the more fundamental issue (if that weren’t enough) is the handicapping of the value potential.  In other words, the real value that a well designed gamification program offers is employee engagement and sustained [intrinsic] motivation.  Therefore, why just shoot for platform onboarding and usage?

I don’t really think that Native Platform Gamification measures up in any way to what could be considered a bonafide workplace strategy.  Instead, recognize it for what it is — turn this on if your platform has it, but be prepared to hit a roadblock in 1-3 months when you wonder, “What do we do now?” and users complain, “What’s next with these points/badges?”

As before, I welcome your comments and experience as it relates to this growing gamification segment.  Next up is the third of four manifestations of gamification in the workplace that I have called “Destination Gamification”.

Misconceptions about Gamification

Rules for any Workplace Gamification Strategy

Workplace Gamification: 4 Roads, 4 Destinations

Learning Event Gamification

Learning Event Gamification

Thanks for reading my first post introducing a market assessment of how companies are approaching gamification as an employee engagement strategy.  I consistently observe four paths on which companies embark and the first of those four is what I call “Learning Event Gamification”.   This is the most evolved of the four and based on some of my own assessment and characterization may be one of the more controversial.

This approach seeks to make a learning event more engaging or fun by incorporating game-like techniques or even going so far as to turn it into an actual game.  There’s no question that otherwise boring, page-turner computer-based training is measurably more consumable when it layers on a narrative (story-line), leveling up, points, challenges, missions, peer-collaboration, and the like.  But it’s not just for online learning…

In-person/offline events are increasingly “gamified.”  You may have recently attended a conference where you got points or badges for visiting different booths.  At the end of the event, there might be a drawing for prizes based on achieved missions. Who hasn’t come home with more chachkies in their suitcase when motivated by these basic gamification techniques?

Not surprisingly, Learning Event Gamification is most popular among the HR/L&D/Talent professionals and it has been around for several years.  Personally, I first started hearing about it as a market concept in the L&D world in 2013.  It was around that time that vendors started promoting gamification as a discrete genre in corporate learning and it was the first time I heard the term “serious games” in the context of corporate learning.

This “road” can definitely lead to better knowledge transfer and lasting retention – two of the holy grails in corporate learning and development.  While every discrete learning event probably isn’t worthy of this approach, it’s definitely a viable tool for the L&D professional and it has significantly contributed to the body of work that proves there is something to this “gamification” thing.

But to my L&D friends I would ask why stop there?  If gamification drives [desirable] behavior and forms [good] habits, why limit its benefit to discrete, time-limited learning events?  The challenges that companies face today around engagement are much further-reaching than high feedback scores on a single learning event (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

It’s possible that there is a broader tendency at play. Learning leaders have long been criticized for being too myopically focused on their delivery responsibilities without connecting them to the broader business goals. While this has been more openly addressed and corrected in recent years with the help of organizations like the Center for Talent Reporting, forward-thinking leaders should be leveraging their positive results with gamification (in learning) and championing the broader application opportunity to affect key organizational goals and processes.


When considering Learning Event Gamification in the context of the broad employee engagement challenges facing companies in 2016, I might categorize this one as less of a strategy and more as a tactic. Regardless, it’s a viable and proven tool for the learning and development professional and potentially a convenient springboard for broader workplace gamification efforts.

Next we’ll look at the Native Application Gamification road. It’s newer on the gamification scene but increasingly prevalent and I expect soon to be pervasive in any software application where greater adoption and usage is desired. It will be a good opportunity to introduce the “DIY” movement as well, so stay tuned!

The Learning Event Gamification road provides an opportunity to begin identifying some common misconceptions and general rules to consider. What follows are a couple of summary lists that we’ll start here and add to as we go through the other roads. Your comments and feedback are welcomed.

Misconceptions about Gamification

Rules for any Workplace Gamification Strategy

Workplace Gamification: Four Roads, Four Destinations

I have spent most of my professional career in the software world of employee engagement, long before the millennial influx led an “employee engagement crisis” in the workplace and long before software solutions pinned their value creation to driving better employee engagement even though they did…

I was on the front lines of “CBT” and advocated how better content and visual stimulation directly correlated to engagement and retention. I have seen the rise, and in some cases the subsequent decline, of a virtual alphabet soup of software applications (e.g. LMS, TMS, HCM, LRS, etc.) with lofty intentions related to better employee engagement. I have witnessed the evolution and proliferation of technology-aided engagement for both the knowledge worker and production worker alike.

In my [still] humble opinion, the reason why this thing called “gamification” is so intriguing, completely different and wildly promising is because it actually taps into human behavior. For the first time, we have a proven – yes proven – method to drive workplace engagement at the most basic, most intimate, most human level.

Intimidating? Sure. Fantastic? Absolutely. Realistic? Yes.

Unfortunately, the promise and hype of gamification has led to a virtual “spaghetti junction” of interpretations for what a real workplace gamification strategy looks like.  I’ve heard dozens of functional leaders explain how they are approaching workplace gamification and what I’ve heard coalesces around four primary strategies.

Workplace Gamification Strategies

  1. Learning Event Gamification
  2. Native Application Gamification
  3. Destination Gamification
  4. Business Process Gamification

Unless they haven’t yet dipped their toe in the gamification waters, it’s always one of these four.  They each have some advantages and disadvantages that we’ll explore in subsequent posts.   Maybe more interestingly, we’ll also consider two realities I’ve observed.  First, they don’t lead you to the same place.

Second, at least one or two are less strategy and more tactic.  Without acknowledgment and identification, these realities can be giant roadblocks toward realizing gamification’s true value and benefit for the organization.

These four roads are offered with intended objectivity and for purposes of adding some measure of clarity to the maze of workplace gamification.  Undeniably, a healthy dose of fear, uncertainty and doubt persists among executive stakeholders and would-be business sponsors when contemplating a gamification commitment.  In my experience, this provides some needed context when evaluating the resource they might allocate for a project so hopefully this will help reduce some of the “FUD” that exists.

If you are a “gamification expert,” I’ll be curious the hear your experience if you are so inclined to share. If you have already embarked down one of these roads, you can objectively compare and contrast with the other roads. Finally, if you are just now considering whether to journey down a road to explore how gamification might contribute to your employee engagement strategy, I offer my field observations.

Stay tuned for a brief look at the first road – what I call “Learning Event Gamification” – and subsequent posts further developing, defining and differentiating this workplace gamification quagmire.