To worsen the problem, the workplace is changing rapidly as a new generation of employees is filling the office space. As a cherry on the top, the world is becoming more and more mobile and social every day.
One of the things that L&D managers are trying these days to effectively overcome this challenge is gamification.
Several gamification success stories can be found across industries and verticals in the corporate world. The gamification market worldwide has grown from $242 million in 2012 to roughly $2 billion by the end of 2016 and is set to touch a figure of $11.1 billion by 2021.
A conclusive study by TalentLMS revealed that 87% of the employees are more productive, 84% are more engaged, and 82% are happier at work when gamification is used. This holds true across industry, role, gender, and age.
If you’ve decided to adopt gamification in business training for your organization, you’re in good hands.
In this guide, you’ll discover a strategy to implement the increase in engagement and productivity through gamification.
You’ll learn what gamification is, how it helps in improving learning and training outcomes, how you can prove the value of gamification in your organization, and how you can handle objections to your gamification initiatives.
But before we begin, I want to reassure you of something.
So many resources make gamification complex. They scare L&D managers with technical jargon, focus on advanced elements, and rarely explain anything beyond theory.
I promise you, this guide isn’t like that.
In the following pages, I’m going to break gamification into its most basic parts and show you how to use all its elements to construct a successful gamification strategy.
Keep on reading to understand gamification, or jump ahead to the section that interests you most.
At its core, gamification means applying the principles of game design to activities and environments that are non-game. With the help of gamification, we can modify the behaviour of the user by encouraging them to take some actions and showing them the path to mastery.
The goals of gamification in corporate training are to increase the active interest of employees, their engagement with the training at hand, and to change their behavior.
Gamification improves the delivery of training content and the way in which employees interact with the training. This in turn helps in driving business outcomes with the help of increased productivity, motivation, and workplace satisfaction.
Let’s take an example to understand gamification.
McDonald’s brought in a new cash register and ordering system that was quite different from the one they’d been using so far. In order to train their employees on this system, they decided to go with gamification.
This involved creating a game that had challenges identical to real-life situations, timers, scores, and feedback. The gamification of the training allowed the employees the comfort of making mistakes and learning from them. It was also fun enough to keep the employees engaged and complete the training.
In this example, learning how to work the new cash register and ordering system is a non-game activity. The fast-food chain is a non-game environment. They’re not inherently fun either. But by applying the principles of game design to this activity, McDonald’s tried to make the training engaging.
What was the outcome?
According to Kineo, GBP 23 million was the revenue impact attributed to this gamified training.The success of gamification when it comes to improving learning experiences are becoming more and more evident.University of Colorado conducted a study on the impact of simulations and games in adult learners, participants in gamified e-learning experiences scored:
14% higher in skill-based-knowledge assessments
11% higher in terms of factual-knowledge
9% increase in retention rate
Why is Gamification Becoming Important in Training Programs?
This figure is in line with what the learning and development departments are reporting at several companies. If the training isn’t engaging enough, the employees might not:
retain what they learned
complete the training at all
see the value in training programs
In turn, the training programs won’t help in achieving the overarching business objectives.
Traditional corporate training programs have become ineffective. Training methodologies conventionally used by companies are very limited:
The path to mastery is unclear, making it difficult for the employees to commit to the training program
There is a limited scope for collaboration between employees and the training misses out on the benefits of social learning
Failing is frowned upon in a traditional corporate training program. This discourages the employees from becoming autonomous and punishes creative thinking
There are no intrinsic motivators as the training itself provides no enjoyment or feeling of accomplishment
All over the globe, organizations and companies are observing an increase in the millennial workforce. This group of employees needs a different approach to keep them engaged.
“No matter how easy you make it to access, or how brilliant the learning programs are, training is simply not the first thing people think of doing when they have some free time.”
James Sanders, Manager of Innovation at Deloitte Consulting
Future-forward learning and development teams have started using gamification to improve employee engagement and overcome the shortcomings of traditional training.
While the focus is on increasing employee engagement with the training material, the added benefits of gamification in corporate training are too good to pass on:
Creates easier avenues for employee recognition
Provides a clear path to mastery
Promotes employee independence
Develops critical thinking
Improves training retention
Helps in retaining talent
Helps in creating a learning community
Reinforces company’s brand among employees
Role of L&D Managers has Changed
Typically, L&D managers have been using the following framework to succeed in their role of coaching and developing talent:
Identify skills gaps
Come up with training programs
Get employees to take the training
Measure the effectiveness of the training
But the workplace itself has changed over the years.
The workflows have become more complex and dependent on each other, teams are now globally dispersed, the work environment has become cross-cultural, and different kind of employees are entering the workforce (part-time, consultants, working from home).
All these changes have made it necessary for L&D managers to work with systems that enable them to:
Encourage the development of communities
Make it easier to carry out conversations and collaboration in the workplace
Break down organizational silos
Gamification for corporate training can be effective in achieving these goals for L&D managers and solidifying their role as coaches, moderators, and mentors.
Gamification creates a community of playful competitors who can be motivated to collaborate with each other when required.
L&D managers shouldn’t look at gamification as employees playing games. You should understand the underlying value of gamification in the context of business transformation.
How does Gamification in Corporate Training Enhances Learning?
Gamification uses several game mechanics and design principles that are used in video games to create an immersive experience. These mechanics and principles in gamification directly influence employee behavior and engage them.
When employee engagement is high, their ability to retain and recall increases as well. With gamification, employees show high levels of engagement as they learn and have fun at the same time.
In fact, 80% of employees surveyed by TalentLMS in 2018 already admit to enjoy using gamification software at work. In the same survey:
89% stated that a score system would boost their engagement with the training program.
82% said that they’d like multiple difficulty levels and explorable content in training.
62% stated that they would be motivated to learn if leaderboards were involved and they had the opportunity to compete with other colleagues.
Let’s look at some of the ways in which gamification makes for a better training methodology over traditional training methods.
Gamification Gives Employees Instant and Transparent Performance Feedback
An important element of an engaging learning experience is feedback: do something and you should know whether it was the correct move or if you need to do it differently the next time.
Instant feedback tells employees whether the decisions they made were right or not. This allows immediate learning reinforcement. This is also a great way to up the learner engagement and retention quotient.
This can be as simple as having and displaying a leaderboard after every quiz so that the employees know how they’re performing as compared to their co-workers and friends.
Feedback components like points and leaderboards also promote friendly competition.
Friendly competition helps employees to better internalize the content. They relate to it differently than just going through some material that will help them with their job or watching a similar video. These are non-interactive teaching components with one direction communication.
Leaderboards and score-keeping allow employees learn from mistakes. They remain motivated to adjust their course and master new skills in order to succeed at the game.
In gamification, it’s okay to make mistakes and let the feedback guide the employees to make better decisions next time.
Gamification Personalizes Learning Experiences
The learning path that an employee should take must be left to them. There is an important connection between learner motivation and self-determination. According to research, motivation is directly related to whether or not learners have opportunities to be autonomous.
Having choices allows employees to establish ownership over their learning, which in turn fosters a sense of responsibility and self-motivation.
Gamification in corporate training achieves this kind of personalization by giving employees choices to explore the parts of the training material that is most meaningful to them.
With the help of branching scenario mechanics of gamification, non-linear training can be provided which will make the experience more personal for the employee.
Gamification Offers Intrinsic as well as Extrinsic Motivation
Motivators are very important to keep the employee engaged with the training program, complete it, and retain the behavioral changes or training content.
Intrinsic motivation refers to doing an activity for the sake of doing it, not for rewards or consequences. For example, socializing at the pub with friends because it is fun.
Extrinsic motivation means doing something in return for some reward other than the satisfaction or happiness that the activity itself brings. For example, socializing at the pub with your boss to get invited to his inner circle.
Extrinsic motivators have existed in traditional training programs since long in the form of certificates and performance improvement markers. The effectiveness of extrinsic motivators is well known as well.
69% of the employees surveyed by Harvard Business Review in 2014 said that they would work harder if their efforts were recognized and rewarded.
Extrinsic motivators aren’t missing in gamification. A cost-effective extrinsic motivator in gamification can be badges that can be exchanged for real benefits like free salted caramel latte at the cafeteria.
But gamification gains an edge over even traditional e-learning programs by helping employees develop intrinsic motivation as well. And this makes all the difference because employees are mostly motivated by intrinsic motivational factors (43%) versus extrinsic (38%) when completing a boring task.
They’re also motivated more by intrinsic factors (45%) versus extrinsic (37%) when completing a challenging task.
Gamification Promotes Collaboration
Community and collaboration is an important learning factor. After all, we’re social animals.
Stimulating curiosity is fostered when employees are encouraged to work collaboratively with their managers and co-workers in finding answers to their questions in inquiry-based learning environments.
This translates well to gamification for corporate training.
Gamification allows you to make employees feel like they’re part of a team or community on their journey. They can learn from their personal journey as well as from a collaborative one.
Collaborative gamification allows employees to explore various paths to solve a problem together and come up with innovative as well as unique solution that wouldn’t be possible for individual to implement on their own.
In this way, by providing incentives to employees, offering rewards at different milestones, and creating healthy competition, your training program will soon feel the positive impact.
The learning environment that gamification provides is not just informal and effective, but also safe and apt to reinforce learning.
The increase in autonomy and curiosity that gamification offers compels employees to retain the training and the change in their behavior long after the training has ended.
Free from fear of failure and the consequences of failure, employees can come up with creative ideas and test them without any sweat.
All the changes boost productivity because engaging with work becomes pleasant and happy.
How to Successfully Implement Gamification in Corporate Training
In their 2012 press release, Gartner predicted that gamification had enormous potential. In the same press release, they noted that by 2014, 80% of gamified applications would fail to meet business objectives, mainly due to poor design.
Several businesses at the time were trying a “chocolate covered broccoli” approach to gamification. They simply added a few elements of gamification like points, badges, and leaderboards to their existing training programs and called it a day. It must come as no surprise that their “gamification efforts” fell flat.
For a gamification project to be successful, you should plan strategically and implement carefully.
Identify Your Players and Design Their Journey
Gamification isn’t arbitrary. In every gamification project, understanding the target audience inside out and designing the training that they’ll enjoy is the key to success.
This can be accomplished by creating a player persona profile which is similar to user persona that designers use in their design projects. The characteristics, behaviors, and needs of the employees that are to be trained should be documented in this player persona.
A player persona should contain all the information that will help identify and classify them so that you know what excites them, what makes them curious, and what motivates them. Typically, a player person contains:
Demographic information like their age, gender, marital status, and location.
Professional information like industry, title, professional goals, pain points, and challenges.
Psychographic information about the work culture at your organization (formal or informal and structured or unstructured) as well about the player (competitive or cooperative and solo player or team player)
Here is an example of a player persona:
Understanding the player type will help you apply only the most appealing game mechanics.
For example, if you are designing a training program for sales reps who like to compete and are solo players, prominently displaying the leaderboard and handing out badges will motivate the employees. You can then make these game mechanics central to the player journey.
Once you’re done creating the player persona, you should design the training program with this kind of player at the center of your focus. This type of player-centered design for gamification was first suggested by Janaki Kumar and Mario Herger.
The kind of player you have to train dictates what the specific gamification goals will be, what kind of mechanics you’ll have to apply, and how success will be defined.
Create SMART Gamification Goals, Tied to Business Needs
The goal of your gamification efforts should be identified with care and should always be derived from the overall business goals that your organization is focusing on.
The business goals should drive all your gamification endeavors and should be used to motivate your gamification team.
In order to come up with a meaningful gamification goal that ties to your organization’s business needs, you’ll need to:
Understand how business needs are to be met by the organization
The business goals for your organization are usually high-level and cannot be directly used to create goals for gamification. You’ll need to go deeper and understand how each department will try to meet the business goals.
For example, your company might want to increase the close rate of sales reps.
In order to achieve this goal, the marketing department might decide to create more bottom-of-the-funnel content that your sales reps can use to close the clients. The sales department might want their sales reps to overcome objections in a better way.
You’ll have to interview stakeholders to understand the behavior change that they desire in the various departments and in the organization. This way you can understand what you should expect from the gamification program.
A competitor analysis can also help you understand how other organizations are trying to meet the same business goals with gamification.
Examine the current training situation
The best way to obtain information about the current training scenario in your organization is to actively observe the training programs and conduct interviews with employees, instructors, and training managers.
By conducting employee interviews, you’ll develop an understanding of what they desire from training programs and how they can be motivated.
Create a SMART goal for the training program
Now, you’ll be in a position to come up with a mission for your gamification project. Framing it as a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goal will help you in creating a mission statement that can be shared with all the stakeholders and your team members.
Let’s continue with the scenario discussed above.
Your company wants to increase the close rate of sales reps. The sales department has identified that sales reps aren’t able to adequately handle objections. They’re not well-versed with the benefits and ROI statistics of the solution. Their persuasion skills are low as well.
L&D can help by training the sales reps with advanced objection handling.
But you notice that with the traditional training program the participation is only 40% and 70% of those that do participate abandon the training after 3 weeks.
Here is how you should go about framing your SMART goal.
Specific: Instead of “We want to improve the efficiency of the training program” use “We want to improve engagement and course participation”
Measurable: Make sure that whatever specific activity you state in your SMART goal is trackable and measurable.
Attainable: This is important as we usually set ambitious goals which can be difficult to achieve. You should set an attainable goal but be prepared with a stretch goal as well.
Relevant: If you take time to understand how your business goals are going to be met by your organization, you’ll come up with a relevant and meaningful goal.
Time-bound: Time you’re going to take to reach the goal should always be specified. Having a particular time-frame in which you have to finish a task allows you to break that task down into smaller chunks that can be completed over time.
Following these guidelines, your SMART gamification goals can be:
Now you know what success with gamification will look like. If these targets are achieved, they’ll directly impact the business outcomes and lead to growth. It’s time to design the training.
Apply Required Game Mechanics to the Training
Once you understand what the training goals are and what kind of employee has to be trained, you can start applying the game mechanics that will drive the gamification goals in your training program.
Game mechanics transform the training program into gameplay that is enjoyable and engaging. Unless you’re familiar with the gamification goal and player profile, you won’t be able to apply the game mechanics that will change employee behavior for the better.
You might also consider hiring outside help that can help you apply the game mechanics to the training. You should consider these factors before starting the project in-house:
Understanding of Motivation Theories
Before you can successfully apply game mechanics that will alter employee behavior, you should have an understanding of the various motivation theories that have given rise to these very game mechanics.
For example, a constraint such as a deadline is a game mechanic that prompts employees to take action. Too many constraints will demotivate people who game to socialize or who game to explore various nuances. Too little constraints will demotivate people who like to be competitive and look for avenues to get ahead of the competition.
Required Tools and Processes
Adding game mechanics to a training program requires gamification software. While you can add some very simple game mechanics like a leaderboard without these, for more effective game mechanics you will need specialized software.
Apart from the tools, there will be considerable UI/UX designing required to create a playful learning experience. A sloppy UI design process is worse than not doing gamification at all.
Typically, your first ever gamification project can be simple and can be completed in-house, provided you have the necessary knowledge and tools. But outside help should be considered for further projects in order to improve results and sustain the program.
Take Continuous Feedback and Improve
Once the gamification project is live, it’s time to start taking feedback from the employees and fine-tune the program. The success of any training initiative depends on a sustained improvement in business performance. This long-term success isn’t possible without making appropriate changes when required.
Here are some of the ways in which an iterative gamification project can make a difference:
Better Quality of Gamification
Continuous development relies on automated tests and employee feedback. You can easily implement fixes or roll back changes that aren’t working out.
Avoidance of Risk
Rolling out game mechanics, new features, or new rules and gameplay in steps allows you to slowly change employee behavior while not exposing them to something that can be alienating.
Budgeting Resources Properly
Your personal goal with gamification in corporate training should be to create and start running a minimum viable training program. This will allow you to get off the ground and use the initial success to get the buy-in for larger gamification initiatives.
How to Measure the Value of Gamification in Corporate Training
The benefits of gamification are well-documented. Organizations have been able to measure direct ROI improvements as well as behavioral upliftment that cannot be directly measured.
But measuring the return on investment of gamification activities is no mean feat:
Calculating the investment itself can be a tedious task
There are external factors affecting the outcomes
The baseline can be subjective
There might be no historical data to compare the results with at all
Predicting the business impact might not be as straightforward
An important thing to note is that gamification itself doesn’t affect the business outcomes directly. Instead, gamification in business training helps by modifying employee behavior in a way such that the new behavior helps achieve the business goals.
As such, you cannot pair gamification goals with business KPIs directly or measure the value of gamification through business KPIs.
Measuring the value of gamification in your organization will be a two-fold task:
You’ll have to measure the effect that gamification has on the behavior of your employees. Here you’ll use gamification metrics such as increase in engagement or retention.
Then you’ll have to measure the impact that the behavior change has on your business. Here you’ll use business metrics such as increase in sales or LTV
Measuring Behavior Changes
Let’s look at some of the common metrics you can use to track the performance of your gamification efforts.
One of the ways to measure gamification is to check employee participation in the training program after gamification was implemented.
If you can’t do before-after comparisons for the same training material, you can compare employee participation in a gamified training program against another program that doesn’t use gamification (blended learning, classroom learning).
Getting people to participate is good. But many people log into gamified training programs because they’re a novelty. After the novelty factor dies out in 1-2 weeks, people might stop logging in.
The real test of gamification is sustained engagement of the employees with the training program. You can measure this by:
Number of repeat players
The average number of actions each player takes
Player progress through the course
Participation and Engagement metrics are quantitative measurements that can help you understand how gamification directly improves employee efforts.
But gamification indirectly improves employee behavior as well by improving motivation, retention, autonomy, communication, collaboration, team spirit, and workplace enjoyment.
Unfortunately, these cannot be explicitly measured by some metric. But with the help of employee surveys, you can get a qualitative measure of how well gamification is working in your organization.
If in this survey employees state that they enjoy training programs with gamification, that’s a clear win.
Measuring Business Impact
After you’ve evaluated the effect of gamification on employee behavior, you should measure how this change in behavior has impacted business metrics.
The actual metrics that are tracked will vary from organization to organization and depend on the business goals. But the effect of behavior changes that gamification brings on them should be clear and measurable.
For example, you should be able to show:
how the 60% increase in engagement affected sales
if employees say they’re better motivated now, customer satisfaction surveys should also indicate an improvement in customer service
an increase in training program completion rate also improves the time it takes to close a sale
Measuring Return on Investment
Ideally, when calculating the ROI of gamification, you should have a “control group” and measure their performance before the introduction of gamification. This will give you a solid baseline from which you can measure the performance improvements.
Then you can compare the business KPIs before and after gamification to show the ROI that gamification brings.
In order to more accurately calculate the ROI, you can further put a monetary value on metrics that don’t have a value assigned to them. For example, you can give some monetary value to customer satisfaction score by taking into account the revenue loss from customer churn and revenue gain from customer retention (LTV).
Like with any other ROI measurement, attribution modeling can be tricky with gamification. But the first step to proving gamification ROI is simply nailing down the fundamentals of metrics – specifically, which to measure and when.
How to Handle Objections to Gamification for Corporate Learning
Now that you know what gamification is, how it helps in corporate training, and how to implement and measure it, you can make your case to get the internal buy-in for this initiative and get your team excited about it.
But like with all good, disruptive ideas, there will be doubts, confusion, and objections. Not to mention the myths about gamification that are rampant among executives who are already wary of traditional e-learning.
Let’s explore some of these objections and how you can tackle them with the help of facts and statistics.
Adults Don’t Like to Play Games
The most common objection to gamification is that only kids and teenagers like to play games and so gamification won’t go down well with working adults.
Yet, according to a 2012 Entertainment Software Association, average game player is 30 years old, 68 percent of gamers are adults, and 47 percent of gamers are women.
This blows all misconceptions about gamer demographics out of the water. Not only do adults like playing and learning from games, women enjoy gaming almost as much as men.
With more and more digital natives and millennials making their way into the workforce, the way organizations operate has to change. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Outliers, these employees will have put in 10,000 hours in online gaming before turning 21. As such, they expect the same interactive experience at the workplace.
In the survey conducted by TalentLMS in 2018 it was found that as employees got older, they said they were more likely to be productive with gamification.
In fact, research from Gamification Nation found that 70% of senior executives even play games during work hours.
Gamification will Make Employees Lazy, Just Like Games Do
Games create such an immersive experience that gamers stay motivated to play the game for several hours every week and continue even after “beating the game”.
This might sometimes mean that they skip doing chores or other activities. But that’s only because as compared to games these other activities feel boring or mundane.
Being highly motivated to keep playing games doesn’t make someone lazy.
In her book, Reality is Broken, Jane MacGonigal states than an average World of Warcraft spends 22 hours every week playing that game. This presents a wonderful opportunity if you can harness this dedication and commitment to solve problems at work and increase productivity.
University of Washington researchers did the exact same thing by creating an online puzzle game called Foldit. The aim of the game is to fold proteins and come up with high scoring solutions which might related to real-world structures. The researchers can use the final solutions with relevant proteins to fight diseases and create biological innovations.
57,000 people participated in the game and matched or outperformed computer simulations. In 2011, these players helped in understanding a virus responsible for AIDS. This problem was unsolved for 15 years and the players cracked it in 10 days. This is a testament to the power of games and gamification.
When used strategically alongside scientific principles of repeated retrieval and spaced repetition, gamification can bring about the desired behavioral change effectively.
Gamification Won’t Fit in Our Corporate Culture
Every organization has a unique culture. In order to be an effective gamechanger (pun intended), corporate gamification strategy and planning should be done with the company culture in mind.
You should consider what unique parts of your culture should you incorporate into your gamification training programs.
At your company, your employees might like socializing and recognition more than material rewards. Your gamification project can revolve around the social aspects of
gaming and rewards might include things like an endorsement from the VPs on the winner’s LinkedIn page.
Some managers and executives can be worried about competition that gamification might bring with it. They might say that competition among individual employees can hamper team spirit.
But not all gamification is about competition. Gamification can be cooperative and collaborative as well. It all depends on what your target audience really wants.
If your employees crave competition, incorporating competitive elements won’t harm their relationships with their co-workers. On the other hand, if they’re laid back and like exploring instead of competition, creating an experience where they can explore together with others should be suggested.
Over to You
Although gamification is quite promising, it is up to the L&D managers to effectively plan and implement the gamification program.
Showing the benefits, uses, and examples of gamification should get you the executive buy-in.
By measuring behavior changes due to gamification and then impact of those changes on business, you can prove the ROI of gamification and succeed at your role.