Gamification

Your future HR System will “Persuade” you

It isn’t a new idea that computers, mobile phones, websites and wearable technologies can be built in ways which influence your behaviour or causes you to think in a new way over time. While one could argue that this is akin to brainwashing, when used appropriately it can be very beneficial to end users as well as system owners. Just think how your smart-phone or Fitbit health band has altered your behaviour without you realizing it.

The idea of “persuasive computing” was first coined around 1990 by Standford University researcher Dr BJ Fogg. Much of his current work centres on teaching technology developers the psychology of behavioural change, and how to facilitate behaviour change via their technologies. Hello, isn’t this what HR people are supposed to be good at given that Psychology is the foundation of most HR professionals education? It begs the question as to why HR software vendors have not built their solutions with more “persuasive computing” thinking which could motivate end users to behave in a way that would benefit themself, HR and the organization.

Most HRIS vendors have developed visual dashboards, alerts and many use gamification techniques to encourage end users to do things, but in my view these are largely fear based design principles rather than motivational ones. These vendors are wedded to the “principle of standardization” ~ that a system process should be applied consistently to all users irrespective of their current habits, behaviours or motivation level. We need HR software that takes an individual’s current state as a base-line and uniquely “shapes” the HR software to suit that user. In the process of “shaping”, the end user is more likely to react in a particular way, do things suitable to their current state of behaviour & motivation level all while providing HR with a platform to influencing future behaviour of that individual.

BJ Fogg makes a great point that we cannot do complex things when our motivation level is low. Likewise we have windows of opportunity to do hard and complex things when our motivation level is high. SaaS HR tools in particular gather a lot of important Meta data that could quite easily be used to measure a users’ current state of motivation or other states of mind. When a users motivation is low for example, the HR system should “reshape” to encourage easy activities, while taking advantage of times when the end user has high motivation to get more difficult and perhaps more things done, while at the same time facilitating behaviour change so that these hard tasks become easy over time and can be done when motivation is at a lower level.

As HR people, our goal must be to think outside our rigid and standardisation boxes. To much of what HR achieves in our organizations are “feats of compliance” rather than value adding benefits. This is because we are standardisation-centric rather than employee centric. I would much rather a line manager do HR tasks that he or she is motivated to do, which add real business value and develop correct habits which facilitate personal growth in effective people management than forcing a person to comply to something because “HR says so!” – technology can help us achieve this.

There’s a greater role for HR software than simple process and transactional efficiency. For a tool that has so many components linked to people behaviour, we need vendors who understand persuasion and behaviour change though technology to come to the party.

The Clash of the (Social) Titans is Near

2012 ushered in a new era for HR software solutions. It will be a year that we saw some really big deals going down as the big boys of the ERP world manoeuvred themselves into  strategic positions within the cloud ecosystem. The writing was on the wall and vendors that didn’t have a cloud based solution and strategy (or at least claim they had one) were likely to  face some difficult times financially and competitively over the next three years.

With the advent of HR cloud based tool, we also saw the introduction of social and gamifcation layers being added directly into these new products. Not just as optional extra’s, but often forming the epi-centre of the product driver. Particularly in areas such as Performance Management, where communication and discussion needs between employee and manager were ripe for something new to spur what was typically a dismal failure in most organisations.

As society was settling down to the acceptance of social media as a legitimate means of sharing knowledge, ideas generation and general chin-wags in the work environment, the HR vendors saw the gap to add this functionality into their solutions to drive out better HR and Talent management. And the good thing is it works ~ you have to be prepared to adapt your work environment, leadership styles and accept that the control that was prevalent in hierarchical organisations may not work in a social environment, but if you get that right, there is a lot of good stuff that HR can do. That’s not the problem!

Who owns the social layer?

While the HR vendors were thinking about how to leverage social layers within their products, the Enterprise social guru’s were making strong headway into major organisations. Tools like Yammer have moved many organisations into a new ‘Knowledge Management” and information sharing era – building stronger communities and starting to see good paybacks on tacit knowledge lying wasted around in their staff’s grey matter.This is good too!

So what happens when Mr HR Director goes ahead and purchases a subscription to a new cloud based HR solution that also uses a proprietary social layer tool?  The reality is that many of these tools rely on the end-user using the solutions social layer, not a third party tool. OK, well having more than one social tool is not a big deal, I hear you say, we have more than one in our private lives like Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, so things should work out.

This is where I think the proverbial paw-paw hits the fan and it’s going to get worse. If I look at the emergence of other cloud tools in the Finance, Rostering & Scheduling, Procurement and other business areas~ many of these tools are integrating proprietary social layers into their products just like the HR vendors, and they all have an expectation that you need to use the SM layer.

If I’m a user of the Finance tool and use its social layer, I might find that I’m having to repeat my knowledge post, great idea, message of recognition or piece of gossip on the HR tool – that’s of course if I remember to do that when I next use the HR tool. Not to mention the owners of the Enterprise Social layer who will be putting pressure on all employees to share and discuss on the corporate system. Then of course there is the confusion of whether I said something via email or on a social layer, or was it perhaps a text message.

Who will win the battle?

Maybe someone will come up with a clever technology layer that can plug into all these new emerging social tools embedded within discreet products to help manage the data flow and curb the likely confusion and risks. Until then I can see a number of battles taking place, with someone loosing and someone winning. The looser unfortunately may also see value disappear  from their beloved cloud solution. What we should acknowledge is that custodianship of the social tools is not an HR right!

I think we will be seeing a bit of fur flying in 2013 – a good thing in my view. Its the only way we will see the need for something new to help us manage our changing work places.

Let me know your views.

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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