yukai chou gamification

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.)

Experience with implementation

Yu-kai has consulted with many companies on designing and implementing gamification into products and organization design.

For this 4-part series, we will loosely follow the Octalysis Level II framework of Discovery, Onboarding, Scaffolding, and Endgame. In other words, we will be treating the implementation of gamification at your company as a game in itself! (If you’re looking for product-level case studies, here’s one on Audible.)

If you haven’t, check out more about the Discovery phase, since that’s where we’ll start today. Why Discovery? Because implementation requires your organization is aware of the power of gamification. And YOU are going to help them discover this exciting news.

This blog post will be a starting point (and some of the details from Yu-kai’s workshops) where Yu-kai goes into detail about the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard. Because the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard is so powerful and proven, I’ll also give a snapshot of it at the end of this article.

Let’s get started.

The Strategy Dashboard for Gamification Design

Starting with human-focused design

Yu-kai was voted the Gamification World Conference Gamification Guru of the year in 2014 and 2015 (and among finalists in 2016) at GWC’s annual conference in Madrid. Despite this recognition, Yu-kai still emphasizes how much of what he shares is about humans. Ultimately, gamification design is a way to help people reach Desired Actions that support or move them toward a Win State. In teh context of workplace gamification, this Win State is best if aligned with your company’s business objections.

Because of the human element, Yu-kai likes to talk about human-focused design (not to be confused with human-centered design). Games just happened to be the first area where we figured out human-focused design in a deep way. Now we’re applying those learnings (which relate to behavior science, motivational psychology, and persuasive technology, among others) to other areas!

The punchline is that unless our brains change, we will be designing for humans for some time to come. Even though neuroscience research is improving, there is SO MUCH more we don’t yet know.

But let’s get back to what matters to you. The first steps in building the foundation to implement gamification at your workplace.

What it means for you, personally

What gave you the idea to implement gamification in the first place? It’s important to start with this to make sure your motivations are in the right place.

For your own motivation, it’s probably best if your desire to implement gamification aligns with your career and personal goals (it will give you exposure, new skills, or implementation experience), so that you will have the passion/motivation to stick with it to make the implementation of the gamification experience a success.

BUT, you are ultimately selling or pitching to your boss/manager/leader (and potentially upward to their boss/manager/leader), so the Win States (which we’ll get to soon) need to align with your boss and her boss and so on up the hierarchy.

In short, the WHY behind implementing gamification should be EASY for everyone to understand. The Win States (business objectives) and how the gamification design helps the group or company reach them should be clear.

How open is your organization to implementing gamification?

Every company from startups to large corporations is different. Business is different from country to country. Just because you work for a startup doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get gamification implemented quickly. And just because you work within a slow bureaucratic behemoth doesn’t mean you can’t implement gamification with speed.

Take a careful look at your organization and assess its willingness and readiness for some form of gamification implementation.

A Target story

My unofficial (organic) mentor at Target was a digital education trainer on the organizational effectiveness team.

Around 2006/2007, Dan noticed Target and Target employees weren’t very digitally savvy. He began leading a movement to change this. He felt improving the general level in understanding digital would level-up the organization in many other ways. (Note: this was

(Note: this was not a gamification implementation, but in retrospect, this story definitely was a case study in how to approach implementing something new to an organization that wasn’t necessarily excited to implement that thing.)

Dan took his time, gained allies, and gradually implemented his plan. He started with small internal workshops, then expanded his team to expand his reach with this internal workshops. Gaining clout, he then designed in conjunction with Hyper island a digital workshop to get the highest rungs of the organization up to speed. Eventually, got big social players like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest to visit the Target campus in Minneapolis.

(Later, Dan founded his own company, The Late Majority–the company provides custom training experiences for companies adopting new digital practices, fully recognizing that every company is at a different readiness to change.)

A closer look at early adoption

What can we learn from Dan’s story? It’s that large scale implementation can start with just one person with passion, but it usually doesn’t succeed unless allies help along the way and, ultimately, the organization buys in.

Dan found early allies who were early adopters of digital and naturally digitally savvy and practical with their approach to using everything from consumer apps to business automation. This allowed him to set up a mentor-mentee series where even senior leadership could be mentored by anyone in the organization who was eager to help. This empowered many people in the company to step up and help the greater cause (Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling).

What he found was there were pockets in the company (as a company is made up of people) that were early adopters in digital, and they could be rallied to a cause when empowered to help.

In some cases, these pockets started experiments of their own, which Dan could use as case studies to further his cause with important people in the organization. As I mentioned above, Dan eventually built up enough wins to go bigger and bigger with Hyper Island and with events with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and others.

Knowing yourself

What are you an early adopter in?

Chances are, you aren’t an early adopter in everything. Usually, people are passionate about a small subset of things or categories or products, and are early to those, but otherwise represent the late majority in most things. (It’s pretty hard to be first in everything!)

Note: This is not restricted to adoption of new technology. It could be ANYTHING. Depending on the organization’s size, there may be pockets of the company where experimentation is frequent, and others where traditional processes dominate.

The decision-makers within each category will also have their own appetites for new things regardless of the framework they exist within.

For example, I’m early to new writing, planning, and editing software as well as new science fiction and fantasy books. But I’m in the late majority in most everything else!

Homework: How do each of the leaders in your company view gamification? What is their level of education about it? Have they reach conclusions based on headlines or through actual case studies?

Who is your boss or manager or leader?

What is your boss or manager or leader motivated by?

This question brings us back to the basics of Octalysis. Which Core Drives motivate her?


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.

Homework: Explain the Core Drives that motivate your boss, manager, or leader.

Introduction to the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard

The Octalysis Strategy Dashboard is a constantly evolving document that clarifies the most important aspects of your gamification campaign by focusing your attention on the critical elements that will ultimately direct your efforts for maximum impact.

In other words, understanding your company’s or team’s Key Performance Indicators can help you start the necessary work to build your gamification design. Without this WHY, you probably won’t proceed very far in persuading anyone to start a discussion about implementation.

The Dashboard encompasses the follow:

  • Business Metrics, leading to Game Objectives
  • Users, leading to Players
  • Desired actions, leading to Win-States
  • Feedback Mechanics, leading to Triggers
  • Incentives, leading to Rewards

If you want a Head Start (CD2) on the next article in the series, I encourage you to read the full article about the Octalysis Strategy Dashboard.

Gaining Allies

Okay, you’re back.

In Yu-kai’s Real Life RPG videos on Octalysis Prime (only for Octalysis Prime community), Yu-kai talks about recruiting allies to help you make things happen.

If we consider Dan Phan’s Target story above, it’s easy to see how Allies helped him accelerate acceptance and implementation. In a small way, I was also one of Daniel Phan’s allies in his digital transformation journey at Target. I helped keep people in my part of the company aware of the knowledge he was sharing, and physically brought people to meetings and workshops.

Getting buy-in from your boss

This is probably what you came to this article for. You’ve done your homework, gained allies, studied the Octalysis framework and human-focused design, and now you’re to the crux of the matter.

Don’t forget about your boss’s Core Drives as you enter this discussion. And know the context (your team’s KPIs).

You’re probably eager to dive in. But for something so important, consider a gradual approach.

Pre-selling. Depending on your boss, sharing case studies on the power of gamification (even months in advance of your actual pitch for implementation) could be a simple step to getting buy-in later.

Then get it on an agenda with your boss or manager or leader. This signals you mean business.

If you’re not much of a salesperson, consider brushing up on your persuasion and sales skills. Simple exercises with a friend or coworker or ally will prepare you to anticipate questions and prepare for the best counters to your already rock-solid plan

Make it easy

If you are the one pitching a gamification implementation, you will probably also be active in implementing that same gamification design.

This is a good thing. You can establish yourself as an expert and someone capable and skilled enough to take charge of or (at minimum) significantly contribute to the implementation.

Smuggling in gamification

Maybe you know there is a boss/manager/leader with an adverse reaction to gamification. If you mention gamification you know you won’t get anywhere.

In this scenario, consider channeling your inner Han Solo and smuggling in gamification…remember, ultimately a better definition for gamification is human-focused design. Building your Desired Actions toward Win-States (objectives) is the foundation of any design.

Do you really believe?

If you’re prepared (with a plan and allies) and deliver a great pitch, you’ll be well on your way to implementing gamification into your product, business, or organization. But what if your boss isn’t open to it? What if your manager is, but senior leadership isn’t?

Then run an experiment (do it for free on something of small significance, to prove it out)

If you really believe in the power of gamification to change your organization (or even a small part of your business processes), then consider taking it on your shoulders. “If this fails, then you can fire me, but if it’s successful, I want credit.”

Because there’s no need to rush. If you do it right, will help your company over and over again. Which brings me to the last section of part 1 of this series.

The long game and the path forward

Take it slow. Build allies. Gain alignment. Make the pitch. Only then are you ready to begin onboarding and implementation, which includes preparing all facets from technology development to education of the people to make it happen. More on this in the next post!

This will be a 4-part series on implement gamification in the workplace. We’re just getting started. Here’s the plan going forward:

(This article) Part 1: Discovery–Building a Foundation for Gamification Implementation Discussion

Part 2: Onboarding–Beginning Your Implementation

Part 3: Scaffolding–How to Implement Gamification at Work

Part 4: Endgame–How to Sustain a Culture of Gamification Implementation and Human-Focused Design in Your Workplace

Your part in all of this

Are you attempting to implement gamification in your workplace? Have you already tried?

Every situation is different. And workplaces will continue to evolve.

Tell me about your experience with workplace gamification in the comments. Let’s start a conversation. It’s a great way to learn and hone your thought process. Chances are, someone like you is facing a similar problem. Let’s do this together! And if you really want to get involved, we’ll see you in Octalysis Prime.

See you in the next article!

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