CXO

How gamification can help motivate and train employees

Here's a look at how companies are using online gaming techniques to advance employee skills and confidence.

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Image: iStock/Bimbimkha007

Regardless of industry sector or company size, managers face daily challenges of training new employees and continuing to grow the internal knowledge base among existing employees. They also face the problem of staff always going to the same people (usually highly compensated, high demand people) for answers to questions. This ties up resources and can cause work delays.

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So how do you get new and existing staff in your projects, at the help desk, in customer service, or even in sales to expand what they know without having to constantly go to the same old people?

Many companies have turned to the gamification of their knowledge and support systems to improve employees' desire to learn, and also to aid managers in motivating and developing employees while building teamwork and staff bench strength.

Bunchball, a gamification provider, defines gamification as "the process of taking something that already exists, such as a website, an enterprise application, an online community - and integrating game mechanics into it to motivate participation, engagement, and loyalty."

There are systems of gamification like Jive which integrates game playing mechanics like earning badges, levels and prizes, into existing business systems in order to better engage, motivate and teach employees.

Here is how gamification worked at Cisco:

The company wanted to encourage employee participation, self-learning and knowledge sharing in its Cisco Learning Network.

"At that time, the network was more than a decade old and had more than 850,000 users," said Mahal Torres, who was then administering the system, in a Bunchball case study. "With that kind of volume, it was no surprise that administrators were frequently overwhelmed with questions. We knew we needed a way to encourage users to answer one another's questions."

Cisco incorporated gamification into its learning network so that employees could learn subject matter, test on it by answering questions, and then earn certifications for mastering certain knowledge areas. Employees began at a grassroots level and then built their game reputations up by becoming members of specific study groups, and then advancing to specialist or expert classifications on a given subject.

The net effect was that employees began to cross-engage with each other, work silos broke down, and the question load on administrators was reduced.

Gamification has been used most successfully in cases where an employee base is widely distributed geographically (such as a field sales force), and knowledge about the products, the company and production schedules is needed. Customer service and the IT help desk are also areas that have benefited from gamification.

For managers interested in taking a look at gamification to help motivate and educate their staffs, here are several best practices:

  • Develop your business case first. You can do this by identifying an area of knowledge that would enhance your staff's ability to produce at higher levels if more people had the knowledge.
  • Develop metrics so you can compare "before and after" results for gamification. Frequently used metrics are: reduced time spent answering questions by your most expensive (and in demand ) staff; increases in employee engagement in online training and knowledge sharing; and improvements in staff execution of tasks and projects.
  • Next, design a gamification approach that focuses on the information, mastery and/or sharing that needs to be attained, and the test batteries that need to be developed to enable employees to meet certain mastery levels. Most managers do not have these skills. Instead, they engage training consultants or educational experts who then develop the approach.
  • Determine (probably with the help of a consultant) how to integrate your gamification tools with your in-house systems.
  • Start small and then expand your approach. Throughout the process, you should constantly solicit information from your employees on what's working well and what isn't.
  • Finally, measure. Did you meet your expectations?

"Adults learn best through experience and reflection," wrote Dr. Kelly Monahan, Cary Harr, Marjorie Knight and John Crump in a 2016 Deloitte white paper. "Serious gaming can provide an additional mechanism to acquire experience and reflection in a safe environment. In addition, the learning environment can be customized to specific scenarios, enabling leaders to acquire skill sets through repeated problem solving with near-real circumstances."

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About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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