The Future of HR with Gamification


When one first encounters the term ‘Gamification’, the impressions and images created in ones mind tend to focus around the word “game” – Images of your 14 year old son spending hours in front of his game console protecting the planet from a group of renegade creatures with fire power that would impress any military leader. It’s these images that for many HR people is a trigger to dismiss the notion that the principles of gaming have no place in the realm of HR or HR Technology.

If I cast my mind back, HR has actually used gaming principles in much of its work, particularly in areas like learning. Think back to some of the training courses you have attended, where you had to work in groups to create an output that was compared to the other groups, or your team output may have been ranked or voted as ‘best’ , your facilitator may also have used a visual display of how teams were tracking overall against each other. You may have attended an assessment centre where you were ‘playing out’ the role of a manager or at the end of a training session you received an award for being the ‘best participant’. Outside of the learning space, gaming principles have been applied to recruitment and performance management, and typically result in a form of recognition.

Gamification is really talking to the natural human needs and desires to achieve, compete,be recognised, have some control over the outcome and be entertained. The advent of technology has allowed these human needs to be expressed through computer based games – its a highly successful industry, to the extent that it has over taken video and DVD as the number one form of entertainment in the UK.

So the question is, can these computer based gaming methods and approaches that satisfy human nature and instincts, be transposed into the broader HR technology environment? The answer is absolutely yes, but not necessarily in all parts ~ and it should be focussed on peoples behaviour, not the HR system per se. I asked my colleague Andrew Butow, who has great experience in gamification to identify some of the critical success factors for gamification in HR technology. He suggested the following:

  • people interact with the tool frequently
  • people have a variety of interaction points
  • there exists a community that people care about recognition in
  • interaction points are easily quantified
  • adoption is a high priority
  • frequent feedback is important

These are valuable guidelines and should prevent organisations trying to add gaming principles that wont have any value. As an example, if you were thinking about adding gaming principles to your HR ESS system, it probably wont achieve its objectives as ESS is not a frequently accessed tool in most companies, nor does it add any value to place me in position “1” on the leaderboard for changing my home address. However if you had a knowledge management tool, or were using tools like Yammer, gamification could be a very clever way of building a culture of knowledge sharing. Saba has recently announced a product that does just that (see article). I can also see gaming being applied in the areas of recruitment (eg. Referral schemes, or agency effectiveness), Performance Management ( recognising excellent behaviour, sales achievements, accolades received from peers), Learning ( turning e-learning into a business simulation game, your contributions to knowledge sharing and mentoring).

What HR does not want to do is use gamification as a form of control or mechanism to get staff to comply to HR administrative needs – gone are the days of being the ‘People Police’ – if used in this way, it is likely to backfire and create negative perceptions of the HR function. I also think that gamification needs to be integrated into a company culture – for people over 35, the gaming principles wont be new, but the application through technology will be. The younger generation will easily accept and play along (excuse the pun), but older employees will need encouragement and assistance over time (remember to move from an in-box on your desk to email days).

Let the games begin !

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4 comments

  1. I very much agree that the gaming principles will help learning, team building, and a few others. For example, in a marketing course, a situation was to be set up and presentation/s made as to how the purpose is achieved, You also had to prepare for possible questions.
    As rightly said, the gaming does not apply in every area; else it would be a waste of effort and resources.

  2. Great, concise but valuable article. The understanding that if we use games in the HR environment to add to the policing of employees is key. Games are there to engage and if there is a perception, fear or suspicion that all we are doing is gathering information for the next appraisal or hearing then we will not achieve engagement.

  3. Interesting article. I can see this being applied in HR education at many levels, especially the full time (HR) student who has little idea of work let alone how HR operates in various environments. The idea of building simulations and then introducing issues which the student has to respond to, as “HR Manager”. Also useful for part time students.

    It can also be utilised when inducting junior HR, or prospective line managers into HR or people issues in an organisation

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