By Gloria Lombardi

Opinions may vary, but there is no denying that the use of gamification inside the enterprise is becoming an effective way to engage staff with their organisations.

“If you want employees to share knowledge and collaborate, you need to have not only a platform but motivated people,” says Mario Herger, CEO and founder of Enterprise Gamification Consultancy LLC.

Herger, who comes originally from Vienna, has been living in Silicon Valley for over 13 years. It was his passion for innovation that brought him to California where many technology trends are born. He started exploring gamification at a time when just a few people knew about it. Then, as often happens, he decided to turn his interest into a profession.

Today, Herger consults, trains, speaks and writes – he has already produced seven books – on everything gamification-related.

The power of reputation

“Putting the tool out there and hoping that people will come is not helpful,” he says. “You need to create a culture of collaboration. Ensure that people express their thoughts and feelings and can discuss their ideas openly. Don’t punish them for what they say online. Instead, encourage further conversations.”

Herger believes that gamification can be very useful to engage employees especially around the adoption of new tools. For example, “many online communities tend to use ‘reputation systems’ to involve their workforce. They give their staff certain types of feedback that allow individuals to build up an online reputation. Even a simple ‘Thank you for the great job’ with points attached to it can work.

“Suddenly, you have some employees who had never shown up at meetings coming up as very knowledgeable and helpful inside those virtual places.”

Beyond games there is empathy

However, many argue the opposite: that gamification is just another management fad and attempt to force staff doing something against their desire. Can it work in the long-term?

Herger relishes the challenge and notes “to make it work, first we need to fully understand what gamification really is and what it is not.”

He starts with a basic definition. “Gamification is the use of game design elements in a non-game context.”

This does not mean playing games. “You look at elements used in games, which are funny and engaging, and you apply them in business context such as a group on an enterprise social network.”

He also likes to stress that “you need to create empathy with the players. Look at their motivations and interests. You are helping them achieve their goals in their working lives, while also benefiting other stakeholders – usually the company, the colleagues and the customers.”

Roadwarrior at SAP

Over recent years the number of organisations investing on enterprise gamification has grown remarkably.

Herger has plenty of examples to share. He likes to talk about Roadwarrior, a game used for training sales reps at SAP. “Selling technology can be a challenge since the industry is very dynamic. It can be difficult to keep up with all the information and changes that need to be processed on a daily basis.”

Here is where Roadwarrior enters the stage. The game educates SAP’s sales staff through a simulated meeting with a customer. Employees learn how and what to respond to customers’ questions, while also improving their knowledge on the technology they are selling. “Offering information about the customer’s company prepares the sales rep to tailor their requirements.”

Sales reps earn badges and points when they answer the question correctly and implement a good meeting preparation. Players also see the progress of their peers and other teams, which sparks further learning.

Ultimately, Roadwarrior fulfils three purposes: “It turns learning about SAP’s mobile applications and technologies into fun. It puts sales reps into simulated meetings with customer, and it lets the players socialize with each other. And, last but not least they serve their customers better.”

Onboarding at HCL

Another good example comes from HCL, a global IT services company with offices in 31 countries and 90,000 employees worldwide. “The company was looking for an online platform that could engage new hires between the day of offer and the day of joining. They wanted to ensure that the new staff was ready from day one as well as better predict their hiring needs.”

HCL used MindTickle’s cloud based platform to create online learning communities for new joiners and deliver pre-boarding content in an engaging manner. “The candidates were presented with individualized tasks and were rewarded with new materials as they completed each task. Learning was treated much like a game where they could earn badges and “level up” as they went through the content.”

This helped to increase HCL’s branding with new joiners, engagement between the company and the new hires and also increase the preparedness of the company’s hires.

The power of smiley to workplace productivity

Smiley Time Recording is an application used by Slalom Consulting, which gamifies the experience of tracking time. Back in 2012, the consulting company needed to find a way to manage their time correctly and promptly. The game they implemented was very simple and user-friendly, yet effective. It tracked the time employees took to perform tasks and it assigned smiley faces on a weekly basis depending on the speed of reporting the time. The game also played on the still-friendly element of “shamefication” – employees were given a crying face and the text “You’re making this hard on everyone” when performing their tasks too slowly.

Silly as it might seem, the game worked. Slalom Consulting ended up with 90% of its employees collecting four smiley faces each month!

But, it’s not about badges

The business world is obsessed with badges. But “a badge is nothing else than a game design element. There are hundreds of them including points, leader boards, stars, medals, currencies and coins, being nominated as an hero and so forth.”

Those are all extrinsic motivators. They all have an appeal to people as they recognise achievements and successes. Yet “they need to be tied to the most important intrinsic motivators.”

In fact, it is the intrinsic reward that really drives and engages people. And, each of us is motivated differently. “It can be belonging to a community, making relationships, having autonomy, having power, or feeling that I am learning something new. The people responsible for gamification activities need to take into account this diverse demography and create games that build upon different motivators.”

“It is like manufacturing cars. How can a carmaker create a positive driving experience? It all depends on the people who need to drive the car and their motivations for driving it.”

Collaboration vs. competition

While tapping into the competitive nature of people has been an obvious approach in gamification initiatives, Herger believes that it is less than ideal for the evolving state of engagement.

“Competition works in the short period, but it is nearly always bad in the longer term. Ultimately it leads to unethical behaviours. It destroys the opportunity of doing things together. There is plenty of research showing that.”

In fact, for him the best gamification activities are the ones that “teach companies to collaborate.”

That is why “focus should be given on doing better work, not beating others. That is how great things are achieved.”

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate