If you are in corporate training, this statistic should concern you:

  • 70% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged (source: Gallup)

Gamification is often touted as a sure-fire strategy to increase employee engagement, because people like points, right? But there is a dark side here: many gamification implementations fail.

In 2012, Gartner predicted that by this year, 40% of Global 1000 organizations would “use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations.” But a little while later, Garter also predicted that 80% of gamified implementations would fail. That’s a huge number, and it has caused many to argue against gamification as a whole — why should companies spend any time, money, or effort on something that will fail eight out of 10 times?

But let’s look a little more closely at that number. According to Gartner, these implementation were not doomed to fail because gamification is a bad concept altogether. They were doomed to fail because of “poor design” — because the tools of gamification were being used incorrectly. Now this was just a prediction, and I haven’t seen any recent statistics about whether or not it has come true, but I don’t doubt it. Because while gamification is a based on a relatively simple concept — making training (or any other work activity) more like a game will increase motivation and engagement — it is surprisingly difficult to do well. Or, rather, it is surprisingly easy to do poorly!

So, if you are thinking about gamifying your training, here are three things you need to do to make sure your training is one of the success stories.

Gamify the right things

In almost every description of failed gamification I’ve seen, the top reason for the failure is a failure of the gamification to align with business objectives. Translated, what this means is that the designers gamified the wrong things.

Gartner analysts suggest that gamification can be useful for meeting three broad types of business objectives:

  1. Changing behaviors
  2. Developing skills
  3. Enabling innovation

Let’s focus on the first two here, because they are related.

Gamification is an excellent way to change behavior, which includes developing skills. Because this is true, for gamification to work, you need to make sure you gamify the right things.

For example, if you have a training course, what is the desired learning outcome: that learners consume the content or that they can apply what they’ve learned to boost sales, or learn a new technology, or whatever happens to be the end goal? This is a simplistic example, but if you were to gamify only the content consumption, such as awarding points for watching videos, you may have just motivated your learners to play the videos on mute while they are doing something else. In contrast, if you gamify a task, such as working through tutorials, it becomes much more likely that employees will actually learn that task.

Make sure that everyone can win

When people hear the word gamification, they often immediately think of a competition. Indeed, leaderboards are considered one of the staples of game mechanics. But leaderboards are a double-edged sword: they are highly motivating to the people at the top, but they can be extremely demotivating to the people at the bottom.

Adam Hollander, CEO of sales gamification platform Fantasy Sales Team, wrote in Fast Company that as a sales manager, he was always looking for new motivation tactics, so he would “constantly run sales contests and offer bonuses” to his reps. But, he noticed a couple of problems:

  1. The same reps won every time. And these were the reps who were already performing at a high level. Hollander wrote: “these were not the reps I wanted to motivate. Ideally I wanted to incentivize everyone else; not the reps that would perform anyway.”
  2. Reps stopped caring once they fell behind. “The day I rolled out a new contest, everyone would get excited about it. But inevitably, reps would fall out of contention, at which point they would disengage and stop caring about the contest.”

Winning needs to be something that everyone can achieve. Rather than individual contests, consider group competitions. Or, better yet, have winning be an individual pursuit that isn’t tied to a contest at all, such as beating a level. You can still have rewards, but they should be rewards that everyone could conceivably achieve.

Understand that gamification isn’t always the answer

There are some very good reasons to gamify, but just like any other learning solution, gamification isn’t always the answer. Here are a couple of times you shouldn’t gamify a training course:

  • The content is inappropriate. The most common example here is sexual harassment training. Just don’t do it.
  • There is too much content to deliver. As Julie Brink wrote in Training Magazine, “This would make the game too long and possibly confusing.”
  • Your learners really don’t like it. Games are not motivating for all learners. Before rolling out a huge gamification initiative, test it out on a smaller scale. If it doesn’t succeed in motivating your learners, do it differently or try something else. You can’t force people to have fun!

Ultimately, I believe that gamification can solve many of the engagement problems companies have today, particularly in training. To learn more about gamification and how to do it well, check out my other articles on the topic. Also explore these great resources from the Capterra blog: The 15 Best Gamification Resources for Trainers and Educators.

Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.


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