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Tackling HR Challenges Through Gamification

Hi! This is Karmen Zabron and I’m the Founder and Chief People Officer at Area of Effect (AoE). As part of the Cohesion Culture™️ team, my role is HR Gamification Strategist.

At AoE, we believe that it’s people that make your company great, and we help HR and organizational leaders create environments where individuals can thrive.

How do we do it?

Much like the Konami Code helped gain extra lives in the game Contra, AoE and our Cohesion Culture™️ colleagues provide “cheat codes” to organizations that guide them in creating better environments for their employees.

We’re huge nerds at AoE, mostly of the gaming variety, and have developed our own unique way of infusing gamification into traditional HR and operational methodologies, resulting in a new and refreshing way of running your business.

Now, to clarify, “gamification” is not just about turning everyday responsibilities into games to “make them fun” or to create a bunch of contests with points, badges, and leaderboards to drive business results.

Gamification is intentionally thinking of your business like a game & your employees like the players.

It’s about deliberately infusing typical game elements – like game design principles that drive player behavior and using things like player types, feedback mechanisms, and gaming psychology –  into your culture and people processes to shape player experience and drive player engagement. (We also use the terms “employee” and “player” interchangeably.)

To show how you can use gamification for your own culture, play along and put on your favorite Game Master hat (or cape, or grab your wand, or whatever it is that you want). Ready? Good. Now, please join me on this quest:

Gamifying New Hire Orientation.

Through this exercise, I’ll give you a high-level overview of the steps, as well as some things to consider for it.

Let’s start, you’ve got a new character (employee) and it’s time to introduce them to this new game (your company and its product). Because the player has agreed to join the organization (game), he/she has voluntarily opted-in to play the game. Having the employee opt-in to play is an important requirement to begin the process of orienting and integrating the new recruit into the work culture.

What elements do we need for this player to be successful and engaged throughout the game?

First, think about goals and purpose. What are we doing here? What’s our mission? What problem was our founder trying to solve when they started the company? What’s our vision? What’s required to win the game? This includes your organization’s value proposition, and how your product evolves.

Second, the rules. What can I (player) do? What can I not do? Where are my boundaries? What are the core values and condoned behaviors within the organization? How much autonomy do I have to make decisions, or to what extent can I make decisions that affect my work before I have to involve a supervisor?

Third, identify feedback mechanisms. In what ways can I (employee) see progress toward the goal? How are my actions acknowledged? How does the organization keep score? Remember, it’s CRUCIAL to consider your player’s specific needs and preferences when designing a feedback system.

Fourth, create a program that rewards players for progress achievement. According to Harvard Business Review’s article titled “The Power of Small Wins”, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered:

“The progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”

To have an effective program, remember to balance extrinsic rewards like salary and time off with intrinsic rewards in the form of praise, appreciation, and acknowledgment. Harnessing intrinsic motivators are known to be more effective and longer-lasting motivators than utilizing tangible rewards and punishment to achieve results.

The steps above will help you create the framework for your new hire orientation. You’ll want to refine the experience as necessary, to ensure that the program meets the overall intent: “How can I best help my employees achieve their goals?”

Once the game is afoot …

Continue getting to know your players. Through conversation and connection, you will learn what their personal goals are, their unique drives, and what motivates them to succeed. [Hint: It’s not always money and status!]

I like using assessments like DiSC, StrengthsFinder, or Predictive Index to supplement these conversations. These assessments are designed to provide people data. Additionally, when shared and integrated across the organization, they create a common language among teams for communicating needs in the workplace.

While it’s not easy, what I love about using gamification is that you can use this way of thinking for almost every HR-related challenge you face. By tackling HR challenges through a gamification lens, HR practices and strategies are intentionally designed to prompt employee engagement.

Plus, there’s always the added benefit of you becoming the ultimate Game Master.

Karmen Zabron  is a Chief People Officer and an HR Gamification Strategist at Area of Effect, a People & Culture consulting company. She has a “Big L” Love for people, workplace cultures, and all things nerdy and fun. Karmen has over 20 years of experience in the people business, having served in HR, Leadership, Sales, and Coaching & Development. She’s a non-traditional HR Thought Leader with experience working in a variety of HR disciplines, including strategy, talent acquisition and development, performance management, engagement, retention, and global employee relations.

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