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Gamification is the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. (Gamification Wiki, 2012) Though a relatively new field, gamification has been used in a variety of applications albeit in a simpler manner, from driving customer loyalty through loyalty points to improving employee engagement within the workforce using titles such as “Employee of the Month” The latter is an example of enterprise gamification wherein enterprises use gamified systems to bring about internal change. However most such systems are currently heavily simplified and extrinsically focused, only looking to reward employees with badges, which leads to the danger of reducing the employee’s intrinsic motivations. Also, many of the enterprise gamification platforms have only been designed for use in the developed world and hence the need to explore how these might differ for an Indian audience with its different set of motivations and appeal to them. Taking these into account, this paper looks to explore how gamification works and what are the underlying psychological factors and how Indian enterprises can use it in their employee development process. The findings would lead to a proposed enterprise gamified framework for improving workplace motivations and the performance appraisal process currently being practiced in Indian organizations. Lastly we look at the possible limitations of having such a system in place at the enterprise level and explore areas of further development for future research.
A common definition of gamification is “the application of game elements in non game contexts” (Deterding, 2011) At the heart of gamification is the objective of getting the desired behavioral response by appealing to the player’s motivations. A repeatedly used approach is to use the scoring elements used in video games and use them in a different context. Though the term is relatively new, this concept has been in application for centuries in the form of frequent flyer loyalty programs for customers, enterprise leader boards in the sales and customer care divisions. However, in recent years the concept has gradually seen an increasing no. of applications within the enterprise. Some of the examples are listed below –
Intranet – The SAP community network is an internally used community network (intranet) where leader boards for domain experts in every domain is maintained
Productivity Enhancement – Call centers are using gamification techniques to improve representative performance by making use of leaderboards, levels, virtual badges and immediate feedback. The danger could be that it could be used as a tool to constantly monitor and pressurizing them.
Efficiency Enhancement – Efficiency enhancement is about improving general skill level of employees and not just the work related to their job. Helping employees deal with their emails is an example. Companies use gamification elements such as progress bars, virtual points and feedback on time spent for emails to help them deal with this. Seriosity is another company that has created a virtual currency around the emails. This helps employees decide which mails to deal with first and decide the urgency of the emails they are sending out to other employees.
Knowledge Management – Application called WhoWhatWhere is an enterprise collaboration system where consultants are encouraged to share information about what they are working on thereby making it easier for consultants working on similar projects to get in touch with them and seek help
Innovation – The UK Dept of Works & Pension created the Ideastreet, essentially seen as a trading platform for ideas. Employees put forward ideas which have a inherent stock listed price associated with them. Other employees have the option of buying or selling these stocks so that a few of the ideas have a much higher market cap than the others. This has proved to be a well performing solution, with the no. of new ideas being implemented increasing by the tune of 54%.
Recruiting and Onboarding – Gamification is also being used for recruitment for certain managerial positions using online simulation games that depict real life scenarios and test the decision making skills of the players. This competition leads to a pool of best players who are then considered as potential candidates for the company.
All the above mentioned examples of enterprise gamification and gamified systems in general, can be broadly classified according to what user motivations they cater to, which could be intrinsic or extrinsic motivations. The concern with gamified systems that are heavily extrinsically focused such as the one currently employed in call centers, is the long term negative impact that most organizations are not aware of. This is something that shall be addressed in detail in subsequent sections in this paper.
Organisations that offer gamification platforms for employee engagement are growing in developed countries. Bunchball is currently one of the biggest which offers Nitro as a plugin gamification application to Salesforce. The Indian enterprise market however, is currently largely untapped and presents huge opportunities for the same.
Most Indian employees find the current performance appraisal systems in most organizations highly inefficient and unsatisfactory. The current efforts of the HR professionals to improve employee seem to fall short with workplace morale and productivity running lower than desired. Taking these factors into consideration, this paper looks to propose an enterprise gamification model for improving intrinsic workplace motivations and the performance appraisal systems currently in place in Indian organizations.
What are Games?
A formal broad definition applicable to all forms of games proposed by Zimmermann & Salen, 2003 says that “A game is a system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, which result in a quantifiable outcome.”
However, what this definition lacks is the notion of a feedback system. The feedback system can take the form of points, levels, progress bars and serves to quantify the progress made by the user, how close/far the user is from the goal and provides motivation to keep on playing.
In addition to this is the concept of voluntary participation. Be it indoor games such as monopoly, social games, alternate reality games to the most popular sports played today, voluntary participation requires that each one plays the game willingly, accepting the rules and goals of the system with the freedom to enter and leave the game whenever desired. This ensures that the artificially created challenging environment is not found threatening and can be experienced as a playful, safe and enjoyable activity.
All these characteristics of the definition of a game are important and are modelled by Dignan in the figure below (Dignan, 2011):
A definition of a game (Dignan, 2011)
What makes Games so Engaging?
Before we delve further, it is important to explore what is it about games that is so engaging and why it seems to be the answer to current workplace engagement and productivity issues according to us. An important research conducted by McGonigal to explore how playing games leads to human happiness has answers to this question. According to McGonigal (2011) studies have actually shown that “people are at their happiest when doing hard work at the borders of their skill level”. Only when people are continuously challenged according to their skill levels and continuously receive feedback on their work will they have a sustained engagement, otherwise they will end up getting bored.C:UsersmicaDesktopFlow.png
This is also explained well by a central model for the appeal for video games – the concept of flow. According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, people feel best when they are neither underchallenged nor overchallenged but at the right level of skills. And as people learn with time and repetition, challenges have to increase to keep up with growing skills.
The research goes on to say that most of the traditionally considered relaxing activities such as watching TV, are actually mildly depressing. She argues that this is because companies often fail to continuously challenge employees at the right level in a structured way without giving them frequent feedback. In short, it goes on to proclaim that “The Opposite of Work is not Play, it is Depression”.
Empirical studies also show how the responses that games elicit are very similar to real life emotions, if not the same. Even if the reward might be growing more crops in Farm Ville, the reward though purely fictitious elicits an emotional state that happens to be no different from a real life scenario. To summarize there are multiple dimensions to games that cater to different needs of the players and have been segregated as follows –
When it comes to the workplace, at a fundamental level we could conclude that the work in itself not the demotivating factor for workers in an organization. It is more so the lack of one or more of the above needs that results in a decrease in their morale over time. For example a rigid company structure could end up stifling the worker’s need for independence or autonomy. More so, the absence of a continuous challenge that gives employees an opportunity to master their skills and a more regular, robust feedback system that helps them figure where they stand is currently missing. A gamified system would serve the solution for this through continuous feedback on their current skill set and quantifying their scope of improvement. A choice provided to the user at various stages to set their own goals would mean that their need for autonomy is also served to. Throughout this paper, we would henceforth look at building a framework considering these factors.
Using Games as a Form of Behavioural Change
Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford University developed a behavioural model which described three elements Motivation, Ability and Trigger that are necessary for behavioural change to occur. In essence, the greater the user motivation, more the probability of hard to do abilities being performed. Similarly if the motivation for the user is very low, the ability demanded to perform the task must be also very low ie easy to do. C:UsersmicaDesktopFogg.png
Even when both motivation and ability are sufficiently high to reach the threshold, a trigger becomes necessary to be able to change the user behaviour. The model is intended to help designers identify what stops people from performing the intended behaviour.
Game elements go a long way in incorporating this model to change user behavior in the following manner –
1. Game dynamics use positive feedbacks in the form of points, scores, progress, social status etc which help in improving user motivation.
2. Through training and master of skills, they increase the perceived ability of users by making difficult jobs simpler and more manageable.
3. Game dynamics place triggers in the path of motivated users at the optimal level of user ability to trigger a behavioural change.
Gamification for Motivational Design
At the core of the gamification system is tapping into the right motivational factors that drive users. Since the motivators vary for different people, game systems needs to be customized accordingly. Broadly speaking, motivators can be divided into extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators are driven by external rewards such as the desire for power and status. Intrinsic motivators are driven by the inherent joy of doing the task itself instead of using any external reward mechanisms. Such motivators at the workplace might include autonomy, mastery, curiosity and feeling connected to the overall cause of the company.
Traditionally, most enterprises have essentially made use of extrinsic motivators to motivate employees and enhance productivity. But studies show that excessive focus on external rewards results in users losing their intrinsic motivation to perform the task that previously existed, which is not in the best interests of the user itself. If the organization starts using gamification based upon external rewards and then stops the rewards program, it will be worse off than when it started as users will be less likely to return to the behavior without the external reward (Deci, Koestner & Ryan, 2001).
Good gamification practise however emphasizes on intrinsic motivators to help them succeed in work life. Hence the concept of meaningful gamification takes it a level further through gamified designs, with the user at its centre, appealing to his/her intrinsic motivations and with a focus on providing user benefits without any adverse effects in the long run.
Reiss’ Sixteen Motivators (2001)
Despite the many theories in the field, few are based on actual scientific research. One of them was Steven Reiss who in his book “Who am I” comes up with 16 categories of motivators which are collected in a statistical manner using which he tries to explain human behaviour. Among the 16 we found only 11 categories to be relevant to the workplace as the rest were found to be related to basic physical needs such as consuming eating which is outside our scope. The 11 categories are presented below with a brief description of their desire profile and segregated into intrinsic and extrinsic motivators accordingly:
The dominant motivators among this list would be different for the various profile segments, hence research would be necessary to figure out the most important motivators at work for Indian employees which will form the core of the gamification framework to be designed.
A quantitative approach was adopted by means of a survey to capture the relative importance of the 11 Reiss’ motivators found to influence human behavior in a workplace environment. The sample size for the survey was 36 individuals working in different organizations across India. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of the motivators for them on a Likert Scale. After their responses were captured, a regression was run to establish a relationship between the respondent’s levels of motivation in a workplace and the various motivators. The relative importance of the motivators was then established by comparing their standardized coefficients. The process then led us to the motivators that were considered most important by Indian employees in the context of a workplace environment.
Research Methodology Process Leading to the Gamified Framework
These dominant workplace motivators and barriers to adoption insights would then be used to design the appropriate game mechanics and come up with the final gamified system as shown in the figure above.
Analyzing the results of the survey showed us that Indian Employees are motivated by factors such as ‘curiosity’, ‘independence’,’social contact’ & ‘status’ and not factors such as competition or power. This implies that the gamification structure that is created needs to have game layers that focuses on group tasks and freedom of players involved in the game. The game layers also need to emphasize on increasing ability since ‘curiosity’is an important motivator for Indian employees.
On the basis of the results obtained we make the approach to design a gamified framework. Since there currently does not exist a fixed method of developing a gamified system we have given our recommendations based on these results and the theoretical construct described above.
Choosing the Right Game Mechanics
The biggest problem with today’s workplace is the absence of any structured goals that provide an optimal challenge, real time feedback of one’s own performance and how the contribution has an impact at an organizational level. In this context game mechanics serve the purpose of increasing either ability or motivation to accomplish the desired behaviour for the employees through real time feedback in the form of points, progress bars etc and other components.
Since the major motivators in the Indian workplace context have been found to be ‘curiosity’, ‘social contact’ & ‘status’ and ‘independence/autonomy’, care must be taken to see that different game mechanics are in place to cater to these motivations. Hence the following proposition consisting of three different features that serve a different purpose, appropriate mechanisms would be used –
1. Personal Efficiency Model – For Curiosity & Autonomy Motivators
To-do lists and progress bar map to track the employee’s personal goals such as time management, emails cleared, level of project completed etc both to increase ability and motivation. This is done by assigning progress to create incentives for players to complete goals they set for themselves. A sample diagram depicting the same is as given below
Sample Visual Map of Individually Set Goals and Status of Completion
To cater to the employee’s motivation for curiosity, a set of interactive quizzes and challenges of different levels testing his/her knowledge in the domain would be necessary. The levels would be of adaptable difficulty (such as in GMAT exams), based on the performance of the worker in the previous level.
Customisation components to choose personal goals in different competency areas. This provides workers with a feeling of independence and autonomy.
2. Online Stock Market Model – For Status and Social Contact
Idea Resource – A game where individuals come up with innovative ideas in their domain which are listed on the virtual stock exchange. Employees can now buy/sell these ideas using in game currency so that each idea now has a market cap too.
Resource Management using in-game currency as extrinsic rewards for good idea suggestions
3. Peer Recognition and Social Features – For Social Contact and Status
Community features to encourage unexpected positive feedback from peers and improve motivation when individual contribution levels have reached. A similar interface to elicit positive peer feedback on a software called Rypple is shown in the figure.
Social Badges to cater to the player’s need for appreciation from colleagues and flaunt their status
Social Recognition Feature Employed on Rypple.com
Designing a Gamification Framework
There are three major frameworks and models included in this paper for the purpose of coming up with a gamification framework. There are Dignan’s “Game Frame” which describes all the necessary components of a behavioural game (Dignan, 2011), Dr. Reiss “Sixteen motivators” which describes what motivates the player (Reiss, 2001) and lastly Dr. Fogg’s “Behaviour model” which examines how a new behaviour is realised (Fogg, 2011).
Dignan describes a behavioural game as made up by ten components which together design the framework “Game Frame” (Dignan, 2011). The Game Frame allows the designer to look at any behavioural game from the top down, understand its essential parts and see how they together make up a game.
In this paper, Dignan’s “Game Frame” is used as a structure to describe the situation. This structure needs to be filled with information based on our research.
However, to design how the game is played and the available tools for the players, one needs to know what kind of behaviour that is intended (outcome). Before designing how it is played, what currently inhibits the intended behaviour (the obstacles) were investigated from the survey results. The characteristics of these obstacles are then categorised in terms of lack of ability or motivation with Dr. Fogg’s “behavioural model” to investigate what kinds of mechanics that will be most efficient to promote the new behaviour. We now take each element of the Dignan’s frame to explain the overall gamification framework for our system.
The Objective and Activity
The objectives of this recommended gamified framework will be to encourage employee innovation at the workplace, improve the intrinsic motivation of the employee in alignment with the organizational objectives and to put in place a more robust performance feedback system. Reinforce good habits and real-time recognition and rewards. Recognize achievement publicly or give real rewards in the discount coupons.
The main activities of the game will involve entering logs, giving feedback to peers and/or submitting ideas apart from setting custom goals.
The Player Profile
Based on the results that we obtained using our research, an attempt was made to create a profile for players involved in the system i.e. Indian employees. Since ‘curiosity’, ‘status’, ‘Independence’ and ‘social contact’ proved to be the most important indicators, certain inferences were drawn about the behavior of Indian Employees:
Peer recognition and appreciation by fellow employees were significant
Learning and development of new skills acts as a powerful motivator
Employees remain driven if given the freedom to decide their own goals and pace to achieve those goals
Team activities or tasks that involved the organization as a whole generates a lot of interest
The last frame in Dignan’s “game frame” is the outcomes that are generated along the way of the game. The short-term outcomes should primarily be to get individual feedback on everyday activities at work. The long-term outcomes are to get a clearer picture of the career progress, improve employee morale through feedback. The outcomes of the game are to receive immediate individual feedback about the organizational impact of their contributions and to visualize the career progress.
Defining the Feedback Cycle
A significant feedback would be in the form of the community-like feature where employees can give feedback on each other’s personal goal statuses. The motivational factor will be increased by community-driven feedback and intangible rewards. These rewards should be in terms of in-game currency, and badges for reaching a certain personal achievement.
One important part of the competence model is that the employees estimate their own performance. In terms of the feedback, this means that the employees need to estimate the value of their own performances in this system as well. Hence, when logging an activity, the employee needs to estimate how valuable that particular action is.
Defining Resources and Skills
Resources are the drivers of game using which a player moves forward within a game. The resources in the stock based platform for ideas is the virtual currency that players are allotted to buy/sell. Since the currency allotted to players is limited, players must ensure that they allocate it judiciously for ideas that they think will work best. In case of the Gamified feedback system, resources are the badges and points that act as motivators and used to display appreciation for one’s efforts.
Skills are specialized abilities one that puts to use in a behavioral game and can be categorized as physical, mental and social. Our gamified set up requires players to use their mental skills for generation of ideas and continuous learning and social skills that help individuals get their ideas to be popular and well traded.
Certain activities work very well as triggers. For example simple activities like sending notifications to employees that tell him of his weekly performance in a domain vis-à-vis another employee who is working in a similar domain could act a trigger for the employee .Notifications could also tell the employee of his weekly performance over his/her last week’s performance .The direct comparison is such cases could help employees set the pace for the rest of the week.
Should an employee’s performance be revealed to other employees? It is a question that needs serious consideration. Often employees do not like the comparison that comes with the sharing of another employee’s progress and such comparisons could prove to be fatal. An example would be a gamification system based on leader boards employed by Disney for its laundry workers. The real time sharing of information about a worker’s performance and the continuous comparisons hampered employee performance and created a sense of nervousness amongst employees.
On the other hand sharing information is an integral part of the feedback mechanism that allows one to comment and receive feedback on one’s progress.A possible solution to the problem would be to let the employee decide by giving him the choice to reveal his/her personal information to whomsoever they want.
The suggested gamification system has its own strengths and weaknesses. One of the most obvious thing that needs to be ensured is long term engagement. Gamified setups are designed to achieve both short term and long term objectives and therefore needs to be continuously developed and maintained to ensure that players don’t get bored. Emphasis must lie on increasing ability of the players and changing the motivational elements within the structure which involves bringing in new game elements and tweaking existing game mechanics
Another limitation of a stock market like setup for Ideas is that there comes a time when stocks might be traded due to their association with people and not with ideas. There is an inherent danger of the system becoming a personality driven platform rather than a platform being idea driven. The other danger which has already been mentioned is that of a player getting too involved in the game and restricting his concerns to achieving a higher stock price for the ideas selected by him/her and not the ones that can bring a change.
Finally there is the question of participation. Games require voluntary participation from all its players. A platform meant merely for ideas that does not fall within the purview of an employee’s personal responsibility may not encourage players to voluntarily participate. Employees may however be encouraged by their superiors to part of such a set up but this runs the risk of an employee engaging in the system with not much interest. Any social game requires participation and lack of interest to participate can prove detrimental to the setup.
Ideas of System Future Potential and Further Development
Even if the suggested game layer attempts to promote each activity by adding motivational elements, a big focus on increased ability has permeated the selection and design of the game mechanics.
To achieve a greater impact, organizational elements at the workplace need to be included in the system so that in-game rewards have a clear connection to the consultant’s career. One step in that direction would be to incorporate projects as part of the game layer. That would allow log entries to be linked to specific project entities and the connection between the system and what the consultant actually do will be clearer (instituting a more relevant feedback loop). It would also create a good way for project leaders and management to give feedback. The down side, and the main reason that it is not proposed, is that it would bring an additional dimension, raising the commitment and time needed to use the system. There is also great potential in adding team based mechanics into the system. These could be project based teams or made up teams. There are many examples showing that the social component in team-based activities is a powerful way of affecting behavior.
Dedication takes time but enables more ways to create relevant feedback loops, awards more strongly connected to the consultant’s professional situation, in-game currency that can be spent in various ways, team-based structure and challenges etc. It is all a question how deep the gamification system is allowed to permeate through the organisation.
Another important aspect that needs to be considered before the implementation of a gamified system is to identify how it will impact the skill level of employees. Employee skills can be classified into -a) Core skills i.e. those skills that all employees in the organization are expected to have, b)Unique skills i.e. skills that are unique to an individual and c)Future skills i.e. skills that an employee would like to have in the future. A gamified set up works best in situations where employees can put to use their core skills to be part of a team-based activity for the greater organizational good or in situations where individuals can develop future skills as part of their personal responsibility.
While it is imperative that organizations look closely towards data, employee behavior and organizational culture to create a gamification structure that can best support its objectives; it must take steps to ensure that an employee remains motivated to fulfill his responsibilities and does not get lost in the game.
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