Implementing Gamification in your Workplace Part 2/4: How to Onboard & 7 Things to Avoid When Implementing Gamification at Work

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen

Onboarding gamification

We recently asked you why you were part of the Octalysis Explorers Facebook group or joined the Kickstarter for Octalysis Prime. The largest segment of responses fell into this category:

“I want to implement gamification in my workplace.”

Maybe this is even a goal for you in 2017. This is part 2 of a 4-part series (here is Part 1: Getting Buy-in from your Boss).

Once you complete this article, move on to Part 3.

The following is my thought process and recommendations for a human-focused redesign.

Please note: I will reference the 8 Core Drives throughout this post: 

Who are you?

Whether you’re a leader, team manager, experience designer, product developer, or hustler might change to what extent your proposals and ability to onboard are successful. But don’t let your position in your organization hinder you. And don’t assume that if you’re the CEO everyone will immediately jump on the train.

If you’re a team manager, you might have already seen the article on Octalysis for Team Managers, or our post on motivating salespeople.

From here, instead of prescribing the details of how to proceed, I’ve made a list of actions and situations to avoid. Proceed with a balance of enthusiasm and strategy!

7 things to avoid when implementing gamification at work

  1. Starting without buy-in from your boss
  2. Forgetting about motivation (the core Drives)
  3. Not understanding player types
  4. Going too fast
  5. Embarking without allies
  6. Not being ready for different speed/adoption by players (super users, etc)
  7. Not being committed (when you start something, show up every day)

1. Starting without buy-in from your boss

If you’re an employee, your boss or manager will be a key ally, from motivation to operational requirements through to funding. Make sure he or she is on your side! (Here’s my previous article, Part 1: Getting Buy-in from your Boss).

The Strategy Dashboard can be a very valuable conversation starters. Tools like Sketch can help you create mockups once you reach that stage (and if you have a software-focused gamification design).

Also, if you haven’t, check out more about the Discovery phase, since implementation requires your organization already be aware of the power of gamification. And YOU are going to help them discover this exciting news (if you haven’t already).

2. Forgetting about motivation (the 8 Core Drives)

Gamification is so much more than badges, points, and leaderboards. You need to have a baseline understanding of all of the 8 Core Drives (even if you don’t always remember the numbers for them).

You can, however, use the Octalysis tool as consistent visual artifacts to give your design backbone.

If I was proposing 20% at my office, I might begin with the following exercise, envision a shared place to share projects with a community facilitator sharing news and giving feedback on interesting projects.

3. Not understanding player types

What are the people in your organization motivated by? Do these motivations vary from person to person? What about from season to season? Are certain times of the year more or less stressful?

These questions can help you understand how to design and implement your changes.

If you like, you can check your preparation by creating personas.

The workplace is also full of Anti Core Drives.

For several years, my brother Mark has contemplated leaving work as a risk manager and crude analyst for an energy commodities trading firm to follow his passion of creating and producing music. When asked why he won’t, he cites losing progress toward a prestigious and lucrative role as an energy commodities trader, among other things. His Desired Action (to live a life making music) is fueled by Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, but that Core Drive is first dampened and then repeatedly defeated by its Anti Core Drive. In this case, the Anti Core Drive is Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment.

Knowing these personal stories can help you adapt your design even after you’ve implemented (or learned from customer surveys or experiments with early designs).

4. Going too fast and flying blind

Make your onboarding actions easy and looped to give people confidence as they get into the system.

If you’re not using metrics to monitor early users, you’re flying blind. Define at least one primary metric and collect feedback, even if that feedback must by design be qualitative (hopefully you have some way of a quantitative feedback).

5. Embarking without allies

If I was implementing 20% Time at my organization and using a forum-based sharing and collaboration space, I would definitely give someone the role of Community Facilitator. This person will be involved in making sure everyone has a great time, stays motivated, and ultimately adds value to each others’ experience. (If your employees don’t add value during 20% Time, then your company won’t reach its Win States).

Remember, early adopters or users of your gamification implementation can help mobilize and help others. You probably already know who those people will be. Ally and align with them.

6. Not being ready for varying speeds

If you’re not ready for growth you might miss an opportunity to make your gamification implementation a great success.

Think: “This may not happen, but if it does we will do this and this and we’ll be ready for the growth.”

Once again, your allies can be called to your aid if your gamification implementation goes better than expected early on.

7. Not being committed

Remember why you wanted to do this and why your boss was bought in. Be consistent with what you say you will do and deliver.

As a reminder from Part 1, your boss could be interested in his own promotion or status (Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession), or she could be a very curious person who is eager to experiment (Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback AND Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity).

If you don’t know what your boss is motivated by, you need to do some detective work. If you have regular meetings with your boss, you can simply ask: “What’s most important to you in the next 6 months, 12 months, 18 months?” Or “What are you most concerned about in regard to the business in the next 12 months?” These are just starting points that could get a conversation going.

Get started with Onboarding

Avoid the above, good luck, and look forward to the next part of this series: Part 3/4 about preparing and managing your gamification implementation at work for the Scaffolding phase!

Implementing Gamification in Your Organization Part 1/4: Getting Buy-In from Your Boss

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen, based on knowledge shared by Yu-kai Chou. 

Workplace gamification interest is growing

We recently asked you why you were part of the Octalysis Explorers Facebook group or joined the Kickstarter for Octalysis Prime. The largest segment of responses fell into this category:

“I want to implement gamification in my workplace.”

Maybe this is even a goal for you in 2017. With this feedback, we’ve decided to kick off a series about implementing gamification in the workplace. This is part 1 of a 4-part series. (If you’re a manager yourself, you might have noticed this, although it is very specific to using Level II Octalysis for manager-employee relationships.)

Continue reading Implementing Gamification in Your Organization Part 1/4: Getting Buy-In from Your Boss

Why Commissions Hurt Productivity and Job Satisfaction


This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen

The Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences Goes to…

Contract theory is evolving. This year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences went to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström for their contributions to contract theory.

In the 1970s, Holmström’s informativeness principle helped define how a contract should link an agent’s pay to performance-relevant information. In the 1980s, Hart made contributions to a branch of contract theory known as incomplete contracts.

Together, their body of work helped us better understand multi-taskingmoral hazard, and simply put, how to best design contracts for desired outcomes. Multi-tasking tackles the problem of short- vs long-term thinking, while moral hazard refers to actions taken that do not serve the benefit of the contract (but that the contract does not deter).

Sound familiar? Octalysis is all about understanding human motivation to best drive desired actions.

In discussions with Yu-kai and through videos he’s shared on Octalysis Prime, I’ve learned and come to share the opinion that we are very early in the quest to understand human motivation and apply this understanding to our lives and work.

New research is starting to suggest commission-based compensation frameworks actually reduce productivity and job satisfaction, especially in the long run.

In this article, we’ll examine these new findings from an Octalysis perspective. So get your Octalysis Glasses ready! Continue reading Why Commissions Hurt Productivity and Job Satisfaction

Guest Blog: The Employee Rewards That Really Count

Image of Google gear showing extrinsic motivation at play as Employee Rewards

An internship at Google- examples of extrinsic employee rewards. Image by frakkin from Reddit

Guest Blog Author Bio

TechnologyAdvice is a market leader in business technology recommendations. The company provides free and unbiased research and analysis of IT options to help businesses of all sizes find the solutions that best fit their specific technology needs.

Employee Rewards That Really Count

One of the biggest issues when it comes to designing a reward program for sales teams is that everyone is motivated differently.

Some people prefer extrinsic rewards – physical things such as vacations, bonuses, salary raises, trophies, or swag like the image above. Others would rather receive intrinsic motivation through recognition and public attention. Studies have been conflicted as to whether an extrinsic rewards system or an intrinsic motivational system is more effective. So how do you decide what to offer? How do you find out what your employees really want?

According to a report issued by the Incentive Research Foundation, the key to successful employee motivation is to have a well-designed program that equally emphasizes both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

In other words, offering raises, bonuses, and other forms of compensation is a great starting point, but a successful sales incentive program should go beyond that point.

The key to your employees finding value in the program might have nothing to do with the actual reward at all.

Continue reading Guest Blog: The Employee Rewards That Really Count

Gamified Training in the Corporate Workplace

Gamified Training

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.

Gamified Corporate Training

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.