Monday, 11 June 2012

Where might Enterprise Gamification not deliver sufficient ROI?

Continuing on from a previous post, this post will attempt to lay out areas where I don’t think Enterprise Gamification will be able to deliver high value.  This is a bit of a tough one for me because I have “drank the Kool-Aid” a little on Gamification and it is a very broad toolset, so very hard to think that it can’t be high value in most applications.  However, I am pushing myself here to think a little critically and to be honest, I have lowered the bar a little and am now thinking in terms of “where the effort to implement and sustain, may outweigh the benefits”.

So, I have looked across functions and processes within the enterprise and I think the following characteristics are where the return on investment for gamifying an activity would be low;

  • Where a high degree of measurement and feedback is intrinsic to the activity.  In this circumstance I would argue that you already have some of the strongest elements of Gamification – the ability to create strong feedback loops – so you have to strongly question why you would expend significant effort to gamify?  The example that springs to mind is project management. I know that there are some existing examples of applying gamification to project management but, I am not convinced. Project Management is already something that is measured, measured and measured, and then you dashboard (status reports) and the feedback loop is huge and omnipresent (status meetings, steering committees etc). Its one big game already in a lot of ways (and as an ex-PM, I can attest that like games it can be fun… and it can be brutal!)

  • Where there is a strong intrinsic motivation that is an essential part of the activity. This is a tricky one to come up with an example of, but I think that this would be a case where you can destroy someone’s intrinsic motivation by overlaying extrinsic motivators through gamfication. See Dan Pink’s book “Drive” for an exploration of the psychology and evidence behind this phenomena.  Now, I know that game design and game mechanics has access to many things that also tap intrinsic motivations (mastery, autonomy etc) so this isn’t as strong a case but I think it still applies. If you had a customer help area (not just customer service) and you awarded points, badges and celebrated “levelling up” according to the people they helped, I think you would find that you would pretty soon see the intrinsic vs extrinsic issue rear its ugly head. Gamification would cheapen the altruistic motivation and satisfaction aspect. (Counter-point: Maybe “quests” would actually help to galvanise and focus a team though… and I guess these same people already get paid which is pretty extrinsic….).

  • Where you haven’t enabled people. This is more of a scenario or environment than a process but it is worthwhile mentioning because it could affect everything. Remembering that one of the key reasons that games work so well to engage and motivate is because players have autonomy and can build and develop mastery; if your people aren’t enabled to do this in the process you are looking at – then you are wasting your time applying any gamification until you fix the enablement issue.  Nothing will frustrate people more than being measured and given feedback on something which they honestly think they have no ability to control or improve – it will be massively de-motivating! So don’t do it!!!

Lastly, there is one characteristic that I strongly believe in, but I can’t quite get my argument to coalesce. High value activities that are delivery based (versus creativity based).  I am sure there is something about this combination that means gamification is mostly just going to get in the way, but I really can’t express it in words. I am thinking things like critical situation management or staging an event (as opposed to creating an event).  These examples have a high degree of in-built challenge which brings the opportunity for autonomy and mastery front and they are so intensely delivery driven activities that there is also a strong feedback loop. That’s as far as I get though… needs more work.  

Reading back, I am not even sure if I have convinced myself but I want to contribute to the debate and get people thinking.  Why? Because as much as I believe that Gamification and the application of game mechanics could be an amazing new frontier and opportunity in the enterprise, I do want to keep challenging to ensure that we don’t think this is some kind of panacea, because I am sure it isn’t. 

Would love to hear other ideas and counter points.  <Crickets!…>

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