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HR needs to up its game

In 2011, Gartner predicted that by 2015 more than 70% of the biggest global companies would use gamification in at least one application. Now Capita has recently said only 41% of organisations are aware of the concept, let alone actively using it.

There has been a missed opportunity for HR to enhance staff engagement with gamified tools and programmes, which can also generate greater value for money from projects and initiatives. However, this is only when it is correctly applied, and where the tool meets the needs of the business. 

It should not be used simply because it generates publicity or harnesses new technologies.  In my opinion, it’s time for more organisations to learn the rules and start playing, so HR can be more effective at helping the business to win.      

As a summary, gamification is ‘the use of game elements and game-design techniques in non-game contexts’ (Werbach and Hunter 2012). In other words, it is applying ideas inherent within video games, such as rewarding success, collecting points, and being able to make meaningful choices to determine an outcome, but to everyday activities. 

A noticeable example of this is the smartphone running application, Nike+. Individuals can track progress, compete against friends in monthly challenges, and receive real-time encouragement and feedback while running. It’s designed to improve the overall experience of running for the individual, by engaging them in an interactive and personalised system that rewards them for running, and incentivises them to obtain a higher monthly score to earn virtual trophies. It’s been highly successful – as of 2013 more than 18 million runners use the app regularly.

But how can this be relevant to HR? By using gamified ideas when designing processes and systems, we can increase the likelihood that the workforce will be engaged in them, by transforming what may be considered cumbersome tasks into fun, interactive and rewarding activities. For example, Cafcass is currently commissioning health and wellbeing specialists to provide individual advice, support and exercise classes for staff members, to encourage a more preventative rather than reactive approach to sickness. 

To support this we will be designing an interactive online portal that covers a range of metrics relating to individual health and wellbeing. Discussion groups will be available for staff to provide support and advice to each other, as well as to promote organisational challenges, such as cycling a total distance in a month or walking a certain number of steps in a day, with virtual awards available to individuals and teams who manage this. 

Despite its potential, however, the majority of attempts at gamification in an organisation fail – Gartner (2012) predicted this figure could be up to 80%. Why is this? Certainly there is something to be said of the excessive expectations some have placed on the concept. But I believe it is because of unclear business case behind many gamified systems in organisations. 

Gamification is a tool like any other, and its success or failure is dependent on the strategy behind its design and implementation. It mustn't be shoehorned into projects just because technology is now available that enables it, but applied to initiatives based on a business need, and designed with careful thought on whether it is the most appropriate method for the workforce.    

It is HR's duty to ensure that it is doing everything it can to effectively support core business priorities. Gamification is another tool we can harness for our benefit but, as with any system, it should be used only when it is appropriate and where it will have the most impact. As a profession we should be looking to harness it more effectively, to ensure its success and to support higher staff engagement levels across organisations. HR practitioners: it’s game on.

Jabbar Sardar is director of HR and organisational development at Cafcass. He was ranked 6th Most Influential Practitioner in the 2014 HR Most Influential ranking