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Naveen Narayanan

HCL Technologies

Global Head Talent Acquisition

Read more about Naveen Narayanan

How gamification is altering the fabric of business and HR


Mickey Mantle, the American Baseball Player, very aptly remarked, "It's unbelievable how much you don't know about the game you've been playing all your life”.

Now imagine we press pause on our own lives for a moment and contemplate this statement. Every new aspirant seeks a career which is challenging and fulfilling, a game worth playing. But what is the game, and how exactly must organisation play it if they are to make the right hire?

The talent game

It’s important to remember that it is not just the aspirants and employees who are wary of ‘The talent game’. Organisations are slowly recognising the potential implications of fighting tooth and nail in the game of acquiring, developing and retaining talent in a complex global market scenario. Playing a game is dependent upon you understanding the rules and the underlying constraints quickly and using them to your advantage. For instance, poker is played based on rules of probability where the odds against a “straight” is 254 to 1 while against a “flush”, it is 508 to 1. Similarly, in HR, the rules are simple – get the right talent at the right price, develop it according to your needs and retain them while keeping them productive and happy.

According to a 2013 survey report by the Aberdeen Group, organisations face intense pressure to efficiently bring on more new talent to meet company growth objectives (49%), address the shortage of critical skills in the market place (44%) and innovate their new hire programs (29%). Traditionally, the purpose of the HR department has been to find the right profiles of candidates, choose them based on some questions asked, train them through readymade modules, sermonise about the organisation ”culture” and leave them at their desks. Following this, fingers are crossed hoping they will stay and contribute to company growth.

Introducing gamification…

This is where the new concept of gamification comes in. Gamification, like the name suggests, selectively uses the mechanics which bring out people's natural desires for competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, and closure when faced with a real life situation in form of a game. The ways in which we play these games, and demonstrate these characteristics can tell businesses a lot about us and what makes us tick. For instance, a software firm can host a engaging contest such as a coding challenge to assess the candidates on their coding skills. Traditionally, traits such as entrepreneurial spirit, quick decision making and problem solving attitude are taken at face value based on answers to interview questions. However such an evaluation does not, crucially, ensure the right decision is made. Gamification offers the opportunity to simulate the working environment and create a selection technique that chooses the right talent. For example, The Hotel Marriott has launched an app which makes candidates virtually perform hotel service industry tasks. This gives insights to the candidates on what the real work is going to be like and also, helps sieve out the applicants who do not have the patience or aptitude for such a job, basically sieving the gamers from the rest.

Today, many companies provide ready-to-deploy gamification solutions, which can go live in weeks. These modules focus more on the badges, points and leaderboards rather than the visual stimulation as seen in conventional games or the same old discount coupons and cash prizes. Leaderboards specifically infuse the feeling of constructive competition, achievement and help network with peers, which is a stronger driver of behaviour than the proverbial carrot.

Linking behaviour with organisational goals

Gamification is offering unique ways to relate candidate behaviour to organisational goals. So, instead of stating to an employee that he ‘meets expectations’, in reality it is better to say he did not clear the level 2 in the game and hence, had a particular relative ranking as compared to others. Instead of storing up performance ratings, HR managers can create transparent leaderboards with badges attached to each level where an employee knows how he is doing in his business unit, region, country or globally. If an organisation has an internal social media portal, the conversations and chatter around the game could be redirected to create employee engagement watering holes.

Organisations have evolved from initially using these platforms as branding avenues alone to leveraging them for the entire HR value chain- attracting, engaging, onboarding, training and retaining prospective candidates. Identifying and targeting talent pools differentiates the organisations that win from the ones who have no clue what hit them. Companies are soon realising that HR practices based on the “One size fits all” principle hold back the business from ensuring quality of hire, right culture of the organisation, employee productivity and eventually satisfaction to the customer. Gamification applications are most effective when they are customised to various industries and their needs. For example, some firms leverage their employee base by making the current employees ambassadors and lead generators in the recruitment effort by conducting gamified events across campuses. This achieves all the benefits of “crowdsourcing”, foremost among them being creating a very effective brand for the organisation.

The gamified new hire programs are personalised, engaging and represent the innovative outlook of the company the hire is stepping into. Instead of sitting through a couple of days of lectures, e-learning modules or videos, the new hire can play a game which will give him all the information he needs, connect him to his peers and have fun on his first day of ‘alleged’ work. SAP uses games to educate its employees on sustainability, Unilever uses games for training, Hays uses it for hiring recruiters and the Khan Academy uses it for online education. According to the survey report by the Aberdeen Group, organisations with gamification in place improve engagement by 48% as compared to 28% who do not have gamification in place and improve turnover by 36% as compared to 25%.

But be warned…

Gartner predicts that by 2014, more than 70% of global organisations will have at least one ‘gamified’ application, which can range from mastering a specific skill or improving one’s health. Gamification throws up a plethora of possibilities owing to the advent of social media and increasing focus on analytics. However, Gartner also says that 80% of the gamified applications will fail if not designed correctly. A word of caution here would be that gamified modules, based on performance, work best for roles that are relatively repetitive in nature. It also works well for roles with clearly measurable outcomes and well defined metrics. Locating the right talent pool and engaging specific segments by customised games promises to be a pragmatic solution to HR woes across industries.

Eric Berne, the author of “Games people Play” wrote, “A loser doesn't know what he'll do if he loses, but talks about what he'll do if he wins, and a winner doesn't talk about what he'll do if he wins, but knows what he'll do if he loses.” Hence, in conclusion, gamification is changing the very DNA of HR.

It is quite simple – one must know everything about the game one is playing and be the best at it. Life is a game and this a time as good as any for playing to win! Game On!

6 Responses

  1. Most gamification will fail say Gartner!

    Gartner may have predicted a lot of gamification, but it is also predicting a lot of failure – 80% of current projects according to this post: 

    Games are very complicated – do we want the behaviours of Snakes & Ladders ( luck is all) or Risk ( strategy counts for a lot) or understanding of investment ( Monopoly) ?

    Games can be very demotivating ( Monopoly for one…) as well as motivating.  There is still a long way to go to understand gender bias in terms of gaming, particularly on-line games. 

    Games can provide great learning, designing a game out of real work, that must deliver real results is a different challenge. 

    Despite all these caveats. I agree that the more work can develop intrinsic game motivators, the easier it will be to make progress.with the work.  Thinking hats on….

  2. Gamification

    That is a good idea. But the caution is to assume that a commoditized App at lower cost, taken off the shelf will make a huge impact to the organization. Ideally, we should look at business problems and a back end of analytics before even attempting gamification. Also, the question of org culture and its readiness to accept this is critical

  3. Gamification

    Expecting magic from gamification is wrong. Starting with a business problem, a hypothesis which is backed by analytics and then putting it on a gamified platform is what makes it successful. In my company, we have started using it for engaging candidates who have accepted offers of employment. We have seen a significant jump from what we put in our hypothesis

  4. Off-the-shelf

    Off-the-shelf software Is a very interesting concept, kind of like a games console for career and workplace progression. 

    I do agree with first comment – the ability to roll out gamification is currently ahead of the ability to define the reasoning behind it, assess the impact on employees and measure the bottom line benefit to the business.

  5. Available Off-the-Shelf?

    Given that many company values & competencies are very similar (integrity & ethics, teamwork, communication etc.), perhaps there is a market for developing some off-the-shelf games to address employee behaviour in these areas. This would also make it much more affordable as opposed to having customised bespoke games which are likely to be very expensive.

  6. Cost versus return in terms of talent economics
    Huge potential for gamification to be further explored given easy deployment via smart phones, tablets etc to leverage ever connected work force etc. in terms of talent economics time to design, deploy and evaluate impact still in my opinion requires further hard evidence from business case point if view

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Naveen Narayanan

Global Head Talent Acquisition

Read more from Naveen Narayanan

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