Blog Archives

Applying Gamification in the Workplace

Wikipedia defines gamification as the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts. It applies to non-game applications and processes, in order to encourage people to adopt them, or to influence how they are used. It makes technology use more exciting and engaging, and encourages users to engage in desired behaviors with fruitful consequences to the environment where these techniques and processes are being deployed.

Many years ago, I took a series of courses at Cal Tech in Pasadena at the School of Industrial Relations. One of the courses was applying tools to encourage teamwork and participation. Thereafter, I have attended field trips in organizations in strategic off-sites where we had to do rope walking, free fall, climbing bamboo structures strung together to retrieve flags, etc. Thus, in those days – we applied sports and board games to fuel a shared success environment. Now things have become more technology oriented, and we have thus seamlessly transitioned to some extent from those environments to consumer web based experiences. This does not suggest that the other alternatives are less rewarding; they draw upon other types of triggers but gamification through technology is more accessible and generally less expensive with less overhead in the long run.

 

What are the four key elements in Gamification?

Games generally tend to have four elements that are closely intertwined. Absent any of these four elements and the jury would be out on whether the application could suitably be considered gamified. Clearly, when these elements are being applied to non-gaming contexts, you will find that some of these elements are more watered down or cruder representation of game design principles or applications to actual game play environments. Regardless, all of these elements are necessary conditions that must come into play.

1.Narratives

Games have narratives. They must be able to tell a story. They must place the player or user in a context, make them aware of the context, create a temporal dimension of a past, present and future and provide a theme or a set of themes that the players pursue.

2.Game Mechanics

These constitute the provision of tools and use cases that create PvP (Player vs. Player) or PvE (Player vs. Environment) experience. Common tools like teleporting, cockpit load (number of player controls), in-game user interaction, human-computer interaction, etc. come into play. The mechanics must aptly support the narrative.

3.Aesthetics

People look for rich experiences. In MMORPG, the aesthetics are extremely rich and immersive. In gamified applications, it need not be so. Regardless, users have continued to raise the bar on aesthetics and richness of media to support their interaction. So the trend toward aesthetics will continue, albeit at a lower benchmark than would be in the extreme case of a high quality MMORPG game.

4.Rewards

Finally, games have to have a purpose. The narratives have to have a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a carrot and stick principle in game design. It is a very important component to either persuade people to behave or not behave in a certain manner. Rewards are vanity points awarded for achieving goals that are user-driven or context driven. Either way, it is and will continue to remain the key element in game design.

The myth of rewards!

In one my earlier blogs, I laid out the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This has bearing on the concept of rewards and recognition in the workplace. You can find the details in my blog – “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Impact on Employee Engagement”. (https://linkedstarsblog.com/2012/10/16/intrinsic-and-extrinsic-motivation-impact-on-employee-engagement/

Designing an application with rewards to fuel engagement in the workplace is a good idea. But rewards have to follow a narrative, a storyline. For example, an application that simply awards points and badges based on transactions without a narrative cannot be considered an application that applies all of the elements of the gamification process. It only addresses one element, and in fact, for some it is the least important component. When one focuses the product design around this single component, I contend that you are not really gamifying; you are in fact drawing upon some temporary impulses that are not sustainable and enduring.

Hence, the narrative and craftsmanship is quite critical to gamifying an application and making it relevant for employees in the workplace.

One must adopt the right mix of the gaming elements to ultimately create ends such as stickiness, re-engagement, and deeper levels of interaction, fun, challenge, promoting options to cooperate and also compete, and broadcast success.

Scales:

So now we arrive at assessing the scales to benchmark each of those ends. I am being particular by not calling these tools, since tools are to support mechanics whereas scales are manifestations of an end result. For practical design and implementation purposes, here are a few scales that are common across all games, some of which are quite relevant for gamification in an employee setting. Some of the more common scales to assess or broadcast success are:

1) Leaderboards

2) Achievement levels and measures of achievements

3) Challenges between users

4) Progress Bars

5) Reward Points that have redemption value

To reiterate, for the final outcomes associated with the scales to be meaningful, the narrative is extremely important. Storyboarding the experience in various settings is the key to designing relevant gamified applications. In fact, applying the appropriate narratives concerning particular industries is a very interesting architectural initiative that can be pursued.

Thus, in the case of workplace engagement, if the nuances of the work and the industry were emulated around themes with contextual narratives, it would truly make for wonderful experiences that ignite employee engagement while furthering corporate objectives.

Employee Engagement and Corporate Social Responsibility

We start off with the premise – Human beings are good. Absent any constraints, human beings are inclined toward doing good. It is a fair assumption that have stood the test of time and the institutions, at an aggregate level, have for the most part endured and advanced human prosperity and happiness on account of the fundamental premise.

As we continue to thrive and move forward and forge and foray into new branches of knowledge and gather insights into our worlds, internal and external, we have a little more headroom to reach out and engage and contribute to the well being of other people that may not serve any immediate vested interest. Along the way, people have gathered a mix of different capital of various magnitudes – economic capital, intellectual capital, and social or reputation capital – and hence, they are in a better position today, than any time before, to be able sprinkle this capital across local and non-local communities. Thus, economic capital may translate into micro-lending and charity and endowments, intellectual capital may translate into voluntary time associated with teaching and mentorship, and social or reputation capital may translate into giving people opportunities. There is a far greater degree of awareness of larger issues that impinges on the advancement of the human race … issues around environment, conservation, global sustainability, clean energy, medical, basic infrastructure matters, democratic values, food, et al. And to that end, NGO’s, foundations, wealthy donors, corporations, governments, taxpayers, et al have contributed immensely to all of these causes.

Sometime ago I read this article – The Case against Corporate Social Responsibility in the WSJ. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703338004575230112664504890.html)

The argument was that if corporations ought not to focus on profits and social responsibility since those are competing outcomes that dip into a shared pot of responsibility of enhancing shareholders’ wealth. Yes, the argument has some merit if we were to reduce this argument to fiat consideration. But given the increased awareness of people in a world that is globalized and is under a spotlight of rich social media, this argument carries less weight today than more early years in business history. Talent has indeed become a prized asset, and companies set up structures, with the profit motive in mind, to harness the asset in a needful manner – all to finally serve the interests of the shareholder.  But talent has also become fickle and mobile; it is becoming relatively more difficult to handcuff talent to the steering wheel of an organization. The organization is thus, for the sake of long-term sustainability, have to create structures that will encourage loyalty and engagement among the employees. And thus, the organization has to espouse higher aspirational ideals, which may immediately sacrifice short term profits for long term sustainability. I contend that corporate social responsibility is becoming another factor that will increase in importance over the passage of time.

So how do the flow of such events and the presumption of good tie into employee engagement? To stretch the above argument further, it is important for company to provide a supportive framework to allow employees to distribute their capital, should they choose to do so! I am not suggesting that people must distribute the capital, but I am suggesting that they have the opportunity to do so. And when they do, they aptly get recognized because it is still a capital that is being distributed generally with no expectation of immediate return. The returns maybe illusory with respect to formulating tangible financial metrics, but nonetheless it has a lot of importance.  Thus, it is important that there are channels and applications and systems in place to encourage social good within the ranks and files of the employees.

Here are some interesting facts that you ought to think through.  And these are facts in the context of US only:

1.     There are over 1million charities and foundations.

2.     The total amount of revenue associated with these charities and foundations are over $1.5 trillion.

3.     Almost 50% of the amount is driven by private donations, of which $300 billion are private individual contributions. Private donations represent estates, bequests, etc.

4.     There are over 20 million people employed in charity and foundations in the US.

So clearly this is a big and powerful sector.  And if companies can provide the structure to support the cause of community engagement among employees, that would only mean that they magnify their community footprint, and hence will have access to the new millennial generation that transcends the extrinsic provisions of the employer-employee contract.

Viral Coefficient – Quick Study and Social Network Implications

Virality is a metric that has been borrowed from the field of epidemiology. It pertains to how quickly an element or content spreads through the population. Thus, these elements could be voluntarily or involuntarily adopted. Applying it to the world of digital content, I will restrict my scope to that of voluntary adoption by participants who have come into contact with the elements.

The two driving factors around virality relate to Viral Coefficient and Viral Cycle Time. They are mutually exclusive concepts, but once put together in a tight system within the context of product design for dissemination, it becomes a very powerful customer acquisition tool. However, this certainly does not mean that increased virality will lead to increased profits. We will touch upon this subject later on for in doing so we have to assess what profit means – in other words, the various components in the profit equation and whether virality has any consequence to the result. Introducing profit motive in a viral environment could, on the other hand, lead to counterfactual consequences and may depress the virality coefficient and entropy the network.

What is the Viral Coefficient?

You will often hear the Viral Coefficient referred to as K.  For example, you start an application that you put out on the web as a private beta. You offer them the tool to invite their contacts to register for the application. For example, if you start off with 10 private beta testers, and each of them invites 10 friends and let us say 20% of the 10 friends actually convert to be a registered user. What does this mean mathematically as we step through the first cycle?  Incrementally, that would mean 10*10*20% = 20 new users that will be generated by your initial ten users. So at the end of the first cycle, you would have 30 users. But bear in mind that this is the first cycle only. Now the 30 users have the Invite tool to send to 10 additional users of which 10% convert. What does that translate to?  It would be 30*10*10% =30 additional people over the base of 30 of your current installed based. That means now you have a total of 60 users. So you have essentially sent out 100 invites and then another 300 invites for a total of 400 invites — you have converted 50 users out of the 400 invites which translates to a 12.5% conversion rate through the second cycle. In general, you will find that as you step through more cycles, your conversion percentage will actually decay. In the first cycle, the viral coefficient (K) = 2 (Number of Invites (10) * conversion percentage (20%)), and through the incremental second cycle (K) = 10% (Number of Invites (10) * conversion percentage (10%)), and the total viral coefficient (K) is 1. If the K < 1, the system lends itself to decay … the pace of decay being a function of how low the viral coefficient is. On the other hand if you have K>1 or 100%, then your system will grow fairly quickly. The actual growth will be based on you starting base. A large starting base with K>1 is a fairly compelling model for growth.

The Viral Cycle Time:

This is the response time of a recipient to act upon an invite and send it out to their connection. In other words, using the above example, when your 10 users send out 10 invites and they are immediately acted upon ( for modeling simplicity, immediate means getting the invite and turning it around and send additional invites immediately and so on and on), that constitutes the velocity of the viral cycle otherwise known as Viral Cycle time. The growth and adoption of your product is a function of the viral cycle time. In other words, the longer the viral cycle time, the growth is significantly lower than a shorter viral cycle time.  For example if you reduce viral cycle time by ½, you may experience 100X+ growth. Thus, it is another important lever to manage the growth and adoption of the application.

 

 

So when one speaks of Virality, we have to consider the Virality Coefficient and the Viral Cycle Time. These are the key components and the drivers to these components may have dependencies, but there could be some mutually exclusive underlying value drivers. Virality hence must be built into the product. It is often common to think that marketing creates virality. I believe that marketing certainly does influence virality but it is more important, if and when possible, to design the product with the viral hooks.