Gamification can supercharge your leadership

"If people don’t see any purpose in an activity, they’re unlikely to do it no matter how much you gamify it" -

Gamification is one of the buzzwords of the past few years, but can it make a real difference to your leadership and help you drive performance?

Contrary to popular belief, gamification is not the use of games.

It is the use of a range of methods and techniques, all designed to make activities as compelling and engaging as possible. It’s called gamification because the first people to master these techniques were the video game designers of the 1980s and 1990s.

Read more: Game on: the progress of gamification in HR

Games generally have no purpose other than to keep people engaged and happy, so game designers developed a range of methods to drive this engagement and keep people playing. Gamification takes the best of these techniques and applies them to other activities and behaviours.

The most famous and common of these include points systems, membership levels, and progress markers.

And if you have a loyalty card from a retailer, belong to a frequent flyer scheme, or are a member of LinkedIn, then you will have been on the receiving end of some of them.

There is no doubt that gamification can be hugely powerful in some situations, and there have been some high-profile success stories of companies using it to drive behaviour or culture change.

But how can you tell you if it can help you as an individual leader to drive the performance of your team? Three questions need to be answered. 

Is there a clear target?

Gamification works by introducing new elements into people’s experience of doing something that reinforce their motivation for doing it. This means it can add value in two scenarios.

First, if you want to increase people’s drive to do something, for example submitting timesheets or picking up a phone as quickly as possible.

And second, if you want to change people’s behaviour and motivate them to do something new. Either way, for gamification to work, there needs to be a clear behavioural target. So, the first question is, can you identify a specific behaviour or action that fits one of these criteria?

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Is it personal?

If people don’t see any purpose in an activity, they’re unlikely to do it no matter how much you gamify it.

So, the second thing you need to ask yourself is whether you can clearly articulate a compelling reason why something is important, and critically why it is personally important to the people you want to do it. 

For example, because it will help drive company performance or the regulators want us to may be true, but they aren’t great personal reasons.

Instead, think because your bonus will be based on this, or it’ll keep you safe from the regulator. Something personal.

Do you know what matters to people?

Finally, do you know what motivates your people?

Why they work and – hopefully – enjoy some aspect of what they do. Is it being an expert, successful, or part of a team? Knowing the answer to this will enable you to know what to gamify.

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If they enjoy being experts, then what you can gamify is the mastery of something. If it is being successful, then you can gamify performance targets.

And if it’s being part of a team, you can gamify shared targets or collaboration. Whatever it is, gamification works best when it reinforces what people naturally find motivating.

The real power of gamification

This brings us to where the real power and promise of gamification lies.

It is all too often reduced to a series of techniques applied by a central function to engage people in something they are probably not that interested in. But that’s impersonal. It doesn’t connect gamification to what personally matters to people. 

Where gamification really becomes powerful is when you use it to amplify some motivation that people already have.

This is where gamification can supercharge your leadership. If you use it to explore and engage with people’s personal motivators, then amplify them. Do that, and gamification can be a real game-changer. 

By Nik Kinley, co-author of Changing Employee Behavior, alongside Shlomo Ben-Hur