Gamified Training in the Corporate Workplace
The corporate workplace is a harsh place. Well, harsh as in very few employees wake up every morning excited to go to work. More often than not, employees simply attempt to survive through the dreadful week of deliverables, reports, and politics, so they can finally have fun on the weekends.
In most environments, there is hardly any incentive for employees to work harder or learn new skills beyond what it takes to keep their paychecks. As a result, employees often only work hard enough to earn their paychecks and to not lose their jobs.
In fact, Gallup’s 142-country study shows that only 13% of employees are categorized as “engaged” with their work. In comparison, 24% of the workforce categorized as “Actively Disengaged,” which means they are so unhappy with their work that they minimize their productivity, spread negativity, and even sabotage productive efforts that require them to do more work to “keep their jobs.”
If you think about it, this means that a quarter of your company is poisonous! How can any organization be competitive at anything if 24% of the workforce is undermining itself? Of course, it’s actually not the employees’ fault they are disengaged. Companies like Zappos and Google are known to get their employees motivated, driven, and excited about work on a daily basis. From my own experiences as a Gamification Designer, I firmly believe that everyone has the capacity and the longing to become motivated and driven for something that is worth their cause. It’s bad environmental and cultural design that turns good employees into toxic cells.
Of course, you don’t need a Gallup study to know how disengaged employees are at work. Just think about how often people close to you complain about their work or their bosses. Think about how the movie Office Space is such a great hit because people can actually relate to the frustration and disengagement of the characters in the movie.
Why does all this matter? Because research has shown that the companies with disengaged and unmotivated employees on average only produce 50% of the profits and only 40% of revenue growth compared to companies with engaged and motivated employees.
If you knew you could double your profits and improve your revenue growth by 250%, without opening new markets and without introducing new breakthrough technologies, but simply making your workplace more engaging and motivating, would you do it? Of course you would.
What if I told you this would require your employees to “play” at work? I can immediately see many people shaking their heads and responding with, “But we don’t want our employees to play games and get distracted at work!”
Somehow, they forgot about the 250% revenue growth that comes along with this “distraction.”
Gamified Training: Playing is Learning
Developing competence, or ‘learning’ in other words, is one of three basic innate needs of human beings, along with creating autonomy and striving for relatedness. This “intrinsic motivation” for developing competence is what makes humans (and other primates) curious and makes us want to develop skills.
However, much of the prevailing educational and training system gets in the way of our innate desire to learn. Training often damages our intrinsic motivation to learn because of the dominance of extrinsic motivation (reward-dependent motivation) for results such as scores and passing rates.
Sir Ken Robinson, who has made the study of creativity in learning his life’s work, has observed that instead of fueling creativity through play, education systems actually kill it: “We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies. Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement”.
Our economy is gradually shifting towards a creativity-based economy where, increasingly, added value is created by non-linear problem-solving activities. Many non-linear activities like accounting are slowly being outsourced to low-income countries or are being taken over by computers. Education and training need to prepare for that new economy where problem-solving, innovation, and creativity is key. And through many time-tested studies, we learn that extrinsic rewards actually wipe out creativity. We are built to function at our best when autonomy and purpose are ingrained in our activities.
This is where a gamified workplace can motivate employees to do tasks in fun and engaging, while maximizing their learning and retention.
Gamified Training: Wired to Learn
As mentioned above, our brains are wired to learn. Even games stop becoming fun when there is nothing left to learn. But we are also wired to learn in certain ways.
Our brains are not designed to be motivated towards reading long pieces of text, sitting through lectures, or going through a large deck and taking quizzes.
Rather, our brains like to learn by doing, trial and error, watching other people do it, and through stories. The part of our brain that dictates motivation came way before the invention of written text, but tribal villages were fully engaged in trying new methods and listening to their tribal elders share stories of their past.
Unfortunately, the things we needed to learn in a corporate environment in the last century became exponentially more complex and abstract – operations, management, accounting, HR, and systems; but the technology and medium of learning did not catch up to the learning materials. We were always stuck with text, pages, and slides.
This finally changed when we saw the invention of modern games. With advanced gaming platforms and Big Data methodologies, this is the first opportunity where we can revolutionize training by delivering immensely complex materials and subjects through immersive environments where people can learn by doing, by observing others, and learning through interactive storylines.
Gamification makes grunt work fun
One of the most interesting things about games that people don’t realize, is that they often consist of repetitive actions.
In Role-Playing Games (RPG), leveling up often involves killing the same monsters in the same stage over and over again for hours or weeks.
Gamers call this ‘grinding’ and it is fun and addicting. Children wake up behind their parents’ back at 3 am in the morning to level up (which demonstrates amazing “work ethics” for these children who commonly are referred to as having “No discipline and no persistence”). In the real world, similar repetitive workload is called grunt work – doing the same activities over and over again for hours upon hours. Grunt work is perceived as boring and torturous.
Even mobile-social games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush involve extremely repetitive movements: match 3 gems; match 3 gems; match 3 gems; fling out the bird; fling out the bird; fling out the bird. It’s almost a wonder how people can literally spend four hours a day on that for months.
If games can get kids to voluntarily do hours of repetitive work, it can likely get anyone engaged to anything. But it has to be designed well in order to work. Unfortunately, Gartner Research predicts that 80% of the gamified products now under development will fail due to bad design. Why is that?
A lot of failed Gamification design starts with adding what we called the “PBLs” – Points, Badges & Leaderboards to their work processes. On a bigger scale, people just think about how adding game elements into the system will automatically make it successful. This is when you see people believing that calling a task a “quest” would make it fun and engaging.
It’s important to note that, a game can have all the right “game elements” but still be boring or not motivational. In fact, every single game in the market has “game elements” and “game mechanics” in them, but most are still not engaging or successful. It’s fairly naive to think that once you plug game mechanics into your company or product, it will be successful. Good Gamification does not start with game elements but starts with our Core Drives.
Enterprise Gamification in Training
Many educators and policy makers still strongly believe that there is a lot of Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment in current training and education systems. However, if that were the case, students and employees would feel extremely excited when there would be an assessment, because that would be a new opportunity to feel developed and accomplished!
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. People (even good students!) abhor tests and do it just because they have to (Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance). Very few people look forward to assessments.
Luckily there has been quite an increase in interest in applying Gamification in education and training.
There have been a number of excellent attempts to introduce compelling gamified education products on the market that millions of individuals now use to bring FUN back into learning!
As mentioned above, the modern training challenge involves engaging employees, stimulating their interests, retaining their attention, and maintaining a positive attitude in a nurturing environment.
Key to these goals is the effort to maintain a rich communications environment that encourages feedback and reinforcement, not only between the training environment and employees, but also between the employees themselves. These socially interactive mechanisms, with the proper level of control for encouragement and discipline, can be designed in effective ways to create “fun” learning situations.
Example in Gamified Corporate Training
One great example of Gamified corporate training is done by one of my clients, Morf Media. Morf Media sets out to gamify various training activities for financial institutions such as SEC Compliance training, Fixed-Income Derivatives, and new Dodd-Frank regulations.
As imagined, this material is extremely dull, yet important. As a result, Morf Media created a immersive learning platform that makes sure customer employees are learning by going through a variety of scenarios, utilizing their creativity and seeing feedback, as well as accumulating points and scores towards meaningful stats that the employees can feel proud of.
Adhering to the intrinsic motivations explaining in the article, the platform prevents the employees from reading long pieces of text, but has the employee become a rising star in a simulated company and utilizing interactive onboarding tutorials to teach them the skills to help all their coworkers resolve the most pressing issues that will determine the company’s fate.
It is this type of game-play that allows children to memorize more details than the periodic table, gamers to resolve 15-year HIV virus protein structure problems in 10 days, and employees to accumulate competitive skills and stay engaged in the workplace.
Training Gamified Correctly can make all the difference
If we successfully gamify education and training, then “assessments” will be seen as an exciting opportunity for employees to unlock new materials and skill-sets instead of always being a distraction from their work.
Not only will training be more fun, engaging and interactive, it will also prepare our firms for a new economy where creativity and problem-solving will become the competitive advantage over factual knowledge.