Gamification: It’s not a game…

ramificationMan at back: “Yes, id like to take issue with what that guy sitting at the front said”.

For reference purposes, I was the man at the front and this is the reaction I get more often than it should when you get me started on ‘Gamification’ in HR and Resourcing.

Gamification, is fast becoming the latest “must have” despite the fact that in my experience, many who want it have little idea what it really is, how they should use the principles and perhaps most importantly the implications of doing so.

So what is this ‘gamification’ we speak of, and why is it so important to get it right? Here’s my definition for gamification:

“The use of game mechanics or principles to influence behaviour.”

There you go, that’s it really. Despite what many may tell you, it’s not that complicated or even new. As unwitting consumers, organisations have been using “gamified” processes and services for years, nay decades. Loyalty cards and schemes, service sign up rewards and bonuses, recommend a friend – these are all examples of where game mechanics have successfully been built into our daily routine as a consmer. If you have kids at Scouts or Guides like me, then they are participating on one of the oldest gamified processes of the post Victorian era.

Yet when we apply the same principles to the internal organisation – for employees or job applicants – which was the subject of the event mentioned above – we often make a pigs ear of it. In my experience this is both because we do not understand it fully (we rush head long into the latest fad) and we lack the skills to make it work.

Back to the event in question. The speaker had spent 15 minutes outlining a game they had proposed to build for a client that would measure the behaviour, values and motivations of job applicants. Ultimately this was an assessment, but with game mechanics built in to make it appear like a game. This included problem solving mechanics and so on which, again, are absolutely fine. So far so good.

The glaring issue was the fact that they were proposing to build in social sharing and competitive leader board mechanics into the game. The implication here was that as a candidate, you could do this game more than once, try and improve your score and openly compete with others in doing so. Eerr.. Stop right there!!

As a specialist in assessing behaviour and predicting performance, this is a no no. When assessing an individuals’ personality, intellect or behaviour, the assessments for these elements should only be done once, and only once.

If you were assessing a candidate for a job, or an internal employee for development purposes would you allow them to take a personality test multiple times until they are happy with the outcome? Would you interview them over and over again until they displayed the right behaviours? Would you allow them to take intellect assessments over and over to get the highest score possible? No, of course you wouldn’t. So why all of a sudden are we proposing to do this in online assessments?

Don’t get me wrong, game mechanics have a huge role to play in enhancing an organisations people strategy and processes. Using these kind of mechanics – social sharing of content, endorsing positive behaviours, reward mechanisms, Leader boards, problem solving and so on – can dramatically increase the success of behaviour change programs or the levels of employee engagement around their development. There is also a place for them in resourcing too, but it has to be in the right place.

If you are thinking about the whole area of game mechanics and gamification, or one of your colleagues/bosses/team is starting to bang on about it then here’s a few important points for you to consider:

Look beyond the hype and do some proper research

Don’t get caught up in the madness. Do some proper research and start by looking into the term “game mechanics” rather than ‘gamification’. That way you are more likely to get to the factual information and science behind game principles than lots of articles talking nonsense.

Avoid inappropriate use

To my point above. Whilst there may be an argument for building in some social sharing mechanics particularly if you want to incorporate the assessment as part of an attraction strategy, do not under any circumstances let your strategy be led by “it will be engaging and cool and funky”. Assessing an individuals potential is not a game and should not be treated as such.

Don’t try and dress up a turd

It is quite incredible how much an organisation is willing to invest in a “game” when the rest of their candidate facing career presence – their online career site and job pages, their application process – is frankly a mess. Don’t believe me? Ask your candidates! Fix the basics. Don’t drop the finest chocolate brownie onto a plate of turds and assume that will make eating the whole thing more palatable. They are not that stupid.


Building a relatively simple interactive animation or multimedia type “game” or simulation will cost you tens of thousands of pounds. To build a more sophisticated assessment, with some proper science built in will cost you 6 figures easy. In many cases it is far better to build in some simple game mechanics along the whole of the applicant journey to make the overall experience a better one than spend your entire budget on one specific element. Not only can this vastly improve your throughput rate (It works, I can prove it) but it can save you a ton of cash too.

Re think your attraction strategy

In my experience, a poorly executed attraction strategy is the root cause of a lot of the problems you may be trying to address through the obsession with Gamification. Our research shows that success depends on finding the right people with the right behaviours, values, motivations and intellect for your company and role. Ask yourself how well the WHOLE of your resourcing process does this, especially the earliest stages

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the explanations within this blog. I too see the “must have” of gamification and – neuroscience; I see the links between them too; my knowledge of both sits around the edges, so I guess I am ill informed to make an opinion; probably like most of us. I agree that not knowing enough about either (whilst I appreciate you are not talking about neuroscience) makes both a risky business.

    I see another raft of stuff being *done* to employees; so it still feels like Taylorism. Someone else deciding, arriving at the magic answer, manipulating, making money.

    Why is there so much resistance to what is both the most simple and the most difficult part of being human and the most effective way to bring about results, efficacy, effectiveness and engagement – open, adult, inclusive conversation.


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