The 5 Easiest Ways to Fail with Gamification

Gamification—the application of game design motivational techniques to non-game situations—is significantly changing our business environment. An increasingly sophisticated and diverse workload results in often-changing roles for employees, who are already spread thin. New tools and software have been created to help manage advanced CRM processes. But these tools introduce complexity as much as they reduce workload. Many employees fail to adequately learn and use the tools provided. At the same time, employees expect more from their workplace relationship; they want accelerated levels of feedback, progress, and challenge, and they are more likely to lose interest and become disengaged than ever before.

Gamification offers a solution. Game mechanics make tools and processes more rewarding and provide a necessary layer between employee motivation and company policy. But there's a caveat. While gamification has the potential to become an integral part of the workplace, it must be done right. Considering how difficult it is to build a hit game, it should come as no surprise that building successful gamification within a work environment is no different; there are many more ways to do it wrong than right. From small mistakes that waste your time to disasters that turn your users against you, following are the five biggest mistakes to avoid.

Don't Use Money as a Motivator

Despite what many people assume, rewarding your employees with money is one of the worst ways to motivate them. Research, as summarized by Daniel Pink's famous TED talk, states that extrinsic rewards rarely work. Introducing money automatically makes the activity about money—other motivations, such as taking pride in a job well done or collaborating as part of a team, are set aside. Your employees will assess the work asked of them as a cold financial proposition. Money has a way of changing the context of a situation; too little is insulting and demotivating; too much is stress-inducing and kills creativity.

Look for what your employees inherently value: things like their ability to demonstrate unique skills, overcome tough challenges, accomplish goals. Build a system of public reputation for success. If you do that, your employees will be much more motivated to achieve than if you give them a $20 gift card.

Don't Make It Cheesy

Just because gamification borrows game design techniques doesn't mean it needs to look like a game. The basic concepts are simple: measure behaviors, set milestone goals, visualize accomplishments (badges, etc.), but even with such a simple premise, there are many options. With an audience of children, bright colors and a Wild West theme might be perfect. But in the workplace, a theme should be minimal. The workplace is real; careers are real, so treat them that way. Imaginative analogies can add color (for example a top salesman being known as an "assassin" because he's killing it), as long as they'e not too over the top.

Take extra effort to ensure that the reasons for recognition are clearly communicated. If Mike earns a badge for being the top salesman of the quarter, let everyone know how much he sold and what percent he was over quota. If Jane was ruthlessly efficient in moving 

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