Gamification or desperation?

Word Cloud I hate the phrase gamification. To me, its a term that serves little purpose than to give journalists and “pop up” guru’s a hook around which to generate hype and promote their personal agendas. Nope, not a fan. I am, however, a fan of game mechanics, a much better and more meaningful way to refer to this interesting and often misunderstood subject. We should be wary of using such terms and nowhere is this more relevant than in the increasingly popular area of assessment. And here’s why.

The assessment industry isn’t new. It’s been with us longer than I have been alive and its popularity in business through the use of assessment tools provided by the likes of SHL and OPP has spanned my entire career. Arguably, these companies were in their prime when their assessments were paper based. Used largely at the latter stages of selection – shortlist stage to you and I – or to aid development/promotion decisions, they were wielded like intellectual weapons by an army of HR ‘armchair psychologists”. Yes, I confess, I’ve been there too.

When the internet came along, the traditional providers were a little slow in making the conversion online. And whilst there might have been some improvement in data management and accessibility as a result of this move, the existing technology offerings in this space are largely underwhelming and clunky.

For a long time this didn’t actually matter. HR/Resourcing technology has struggled to keep pace with advancements in technology enjoyed in other business functions due to chronic lack of investment. Ironically this lag in the market has been a blessing in disguise for the existing assessment providers as were it not for the sorry state of technology in our field over the last 20 years, they would probably have found themselves struggling to compete a long time ago.

But things are changing. In the last 5 years the technology landscape has changed dramatically. Combine a massive shift to the cloud, a focus on UX at the centre of design and an investment market that now considers the HR/Talent sector in particular as “hot” and you have a recipe for something very interesting indeed.

In my annual pilgrimage to the HR Technology Conference in the US, assessments have gone from nowhere to being the hottest subject in the start up category, (surpassed only recently by data/analytics) and they continue to attract attention. “Culture fit” is the phrase on everyones lips right now and the importance of assessments in the recruitment mix has significantly increased. They are also working their way further upstream in the resourcing food chain into applicant screening. Which brings us nicely back to the subject of “gamification.”

Everyone suddenly wants to “gamify” their application and selection process – pre screening assessments being a prime target. And everyone is in on the game. (See what I did there?!) From the existing publishers to small independent design agencies – designing ‘cool and engaging games’ seems to be at the top of the shopping list. But in my view, this strategy is flawed.

Building bespoke front ends onto existing technology is just not scaleable. Not to mention the fact that ‘games’ no matter how engaging, date very quickly. And creating a ‘suite’ of games to chose from is simply too expensive. Some have tried to answer this challenge by offering configurable “3d avatar” style Situational Judgement Tests (SJT’s). All very well but there’s a slight flaw – they don’t work on mobile devices, the fastest growing medium for job seeker applications.

Incredibly, some vendors have even suggested that:

“you wouldn’t want to hire someone who would do an assessment on a mobile device.”

I know. Words fail me…

Aside from the technical challenges faced by the vendors, putting so much emphasis on the front end of the application when the rest of the process – managed largely by the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) – is so appalling, makes no sense at all.

Jazzing up one area of your candidate experience in this way will only make the rest of your process look worse. Ultimately the answer is to remove traditional question based assessments altogether, and instead make them “frictionless” by using alternatives such as language analysis of an individuals social footprint or other more complete and robust measures of “who you really are”.

My advice to organisations would be to take a step back, take a long hard look at your end to end process and look for opportunities to simplify and improve the overall experience. Oh, and how about applying for a job at your own company and being totally honest with yourself about how the experience feels.

My advice to vendors would be to stop trying to shoe horn the latest fads into your existing platform, it won’t work. If your tech is over 5 years old, especially 10, you should consider re building from the ground up.

Is there a place for better UX and a more engaging assessment experience? Yes absolutely. But investing a six figure budget in cool and funky front end games is not the answer.


  1. “you wouldn’t want to hire someone who would do an assessment on a mobile device.”

    mmmmmm. I wonder who that was 🙂

    Great article fella as always.


  2. I recently came across this post – Does anyone else recall the computer programmer’s “mantra” that was popular in the 1970’s at the very beginning of the “tech revolution” :


    I too am very concerned about the rising global trend and widespread adoption of “HR-bots” (web-crawling search-spider algorithms) deployed to “data-mine the web” specifically seeking (presumed) accurate, relevant, trustworthy, biometric-ish yet unverifed “SOURCE DATA RECORDS” used by HR Professionals & Hiring Managers to evaluate employees’ performance potential during all phases of Recruitment, Acquisition and Management of HUMAN RESOURCES, aka the investment in & management of “talent assets” (fka “human beings” ).

    For most of my career in the pharma industry, I have managed pre-market development-phase clinical trials projects.

    There is only ONE LOGICAL”HUMAN ALGORITHM” for the collection and management of REAL-LIFE DATA that affects peoples’ livelihoods, health and their emotional well being:

    1) the ONE SHARED GOAL that dictates procedural conduct of clinical trials (globally) =

    2) the ONE UNIVERSAL ETHICAL PRINCIPLE of clinicians & medical researchers (globally) =


    4) the ONE UNIVERSAL CONCEPT used to validate code, logic, & database integrity (globally) =



    1) that are proven ACCURATE, PRECISE, and EXACT


    3) that are USED FOR DECISION MAKING PURPOSES in any &/or all contexts


    The current trend in Human Resources is to carefully conduct a thorough “analysis” of all available “employee data & information” in order to make what are perceived to be “well-informed” hiring & HR management decisions.

    There is an overwhelming volume of “falsely-disguised non-data” derived from “data-mining the web.” Many companies place far too much trust in “poorly-informed decisions” bolstered by a false sense of “pseudo-value” in “results” of “blindly” attempted PSEUDLO-ANALYSIS of ERRATA !!!

    Companies need to put forth more concerted efforts to ensure the accuracy of “all available information” being relied upon in making HR decisions that affect peoples’ livelihoods, health and their emotional well being.

    So even though its now 2015, always remember… “GARBAGE IN IS STILL GARBAGE OUT”


    1. Hi Michael

      Thanks for your comment. Totally agree – garbage in = garbage out. Still holds true today. You are clearly well versed in working with structured data and working towards truly valid insight, not assumptions or garbage, which we would expect in the healthcare industry.

      I have to say thought that the I wouldn’t see the rise in “unstructured” data or content and its analysis as a bad thing. I have concerns, like you, but I have seen some powerful stuff come from this. As it happens, righ now, the HR and recruitment industry isn’t really as advanced in this as you indicate in your comment. The vast majority of organisations and their HR/Resourcing teams don’t even have good solid structured data, let alone anything more advanced like unstructured content and ‘bigger’ data. In my view they have a long way to go to get their basic data house in order so they can make proper informed decisions.

      However, I do think that as this matures, we can use these new techniques – privacy issues considered – to significantly increase our insight and our capability to manage people better. Humans are floored, and no where does this show up more than the management of human resources and talent. The conscious and unconscious bias that creeps into every part of people decision making is unacceptable in my view and, from what i have seen over the past 4 to 5 years, the potential of unstructured data sources, big data analytics and “data mining of the web” as you put it to level the playing field and actually bring some objectivity and accuracy to people management is significant.

      Like I said, there are concerns, particularly around data and data ownership, which i think need addressing. But its very early days and the results are very promising.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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