Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Grinding the grind: Gamifying the workplace

I work in the customer service department of a large Australian company. One of the key changes in customer service over the past 5 years (I suspect everywhere) is the transition from a service model to a sales model. The mechanism for doing this has been to gamify the work place. 
And here's the thing, it's being done really poorly. I have a deep interest in games, gaming and why we play them. I subscribe to the Homo Ludens theory that play is a primary motivator in the generation of culture. I also believe that when we are faced by a personal challenge, a key process in identifying, addressing and defeating it is to make it into a game.
So why are games in the workplace done so poorly?
Lack of definition
When you sit down to play a boardgame, watch sport, fire up your console or break out the polyhedrals with your buddies you know exactly what you are there to do. You are participating in a game. You either know the rules or you will be assisted by someone who knows them. The space you occupy is prepared for your upcoming gaming experience and you have a sense of the time allocation available for this session. You are also unlikely to participate in more than one game at a time and that game will be front and central. Try watching sport and playing D&D at the same time, doesn't work. 
In the workplace I see multiple, simultaneous games often with competing or contradictory goals. I see games that are initiated and often concluded without ever being defined. I see games that have poor design and single win conditions so that everyone who doesn't win has failed.
Solution
Games can be excellent in the workplace. Considering that I believe that everyone makes games out of their challenges in order to surpass them, the workplace should have games.
Firstly define your game. This game is to increase customer retention by 3%. Be specific. 
Let everyone know it is a game. All of your coworkers have played and enjoyed a game. I look at the enthusiasm for the sports tipping games at work and wonder what would happen if the same gusto was applied to the actual work games, evidently one is fun and the other is not.
Set a time limit and use it to drive performance. 
Keep the game front and central. Incorporate it into the workspace or it will be lost in the chatter. 
Make sure everyone knows the rules. Design games with multiple win conditions, Leaderboards suck in the workplace for absolutely everyone who isn't the leader. If lifting team performance usually means improving the results of the bottom 30%, will celebrating the results of the top 30% do that? Run one game at a time. If you have multiple initiatives, have them feed into the one game. This way it will be easy to remedy competing or conflicting goals.
Iterate. Change the game when you hit your time limit (but not before). Get feedback, fiercely prune out the un-fun and go again. If you are going to use themes, do it wisely. A recent example in my workplace was a game based on the Winter Olympics. No one cared. Playing as a nation on a leaderboard style game with a winter wonderland Russia did not resonate during a 40+ Celsius summer heatwave in Australia. 
I am interested in what you think. Does your workplace run performances games or gamify to increase engagement and competition (which incidentally I believe are competing priorities)? Do they do a good job of it?