IAM Talking: Gamify for the Win with Kevin Werbach and Dan Keldsen




Today, the topic is Employee Engagement, and specifically, about Gamification. 

Welcome to IAM Talking, a periodic podcast interview series, with your host, Dan Keldsen, Chief Innovation Officer at Information Architected.

Today IAM Talking with Kevin Werbach, an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, as well as the co-author of the new book on Gamification, “For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business.” For more information on the book and Kevin’s gamification related work, head over to GamifyForTheWin.

Can you design for behavior? If so, why? And why not?

Gamification provokes negative reactions from some people – and in this interview, we discuss why that might be. Is it a matter of defining the space properly? Knowing the levers?

From Kevin’s book, “For the Win,” there are four core questions he recommends that a gamified experience should look at BEFORE trying to gamify.

  1. Motivation – where is the value in encouraging behavior?
  2. Meaningful choices – are the target activities you’re considering, actually interesting to do?
  3. Structure – can the behaviors you want, be modeled through a set of algorithms?
  4. Potential conflicts – can you essentially avoid conflicts that would “game the system” of an existing motivational structure – regular payroll, bonus structures, etc..
Even for evangelists (such as Kevin and I), being honest about where gamification is appropriate and useful, is key to nurturing what is still a relatively early discipline (or set of cross-disciplines, as we’ll discuss in a moment).

21st Century Behavior Management vs. 20th Century Behavior Management

Given the long involvement in research and work in gaming and game-related areas that both Kevin Werbach and I have spent, it was heartening to find that overlapping our backgrounds popped out many of the deep links across disciplines that I was looking to expose. Highlights of that conversation:

Dan Keldsen:

“There’s this whole movement, where we’re really trying to understand behavior, motivation… and what actually gets people to do things, other than just hoping that they will do things. [...] whether as marketers, or as managers, or as parents [...] why should people want to do this, why isn’t whatever we’ve done to manage our employees, or to do marketing, good enough? Why should we Design for Motivation?”

Kevin Werbach:

“It’s a very good question, and one piece is that we’re not necessarily saying ‘throw out everything you’ve done in the past, it’s all junk – we have this magic new secret that the kids these days have learned playing video games, and it’s going to change everything.’ One thing that we do very explicitly in “For the Win” and in the other work that I’ve done in gamification, is try to be thoughtful and serious about this and not just be hyping something because it’s the hot new thing. I think ultimately that’s counterproductive.

It turns out gamification done right ties into very well established research in psychology, strands in marketing, strands in management… but what’s interesting is that the people in those communities, generally speaking, don’t understand or appreciate the power of games. And conversely, the people that understand games, don’t understand those other things.

There were some fascinating things at this symposium we had (a year and half ago or so), where we had some of the world’s most renowned game designers there, and psychologists, and business experts and so forth, and they all kept saying, ‘Well, we understand what you just said intuitively, in this area, but no-one who does game design actually knows these psychologists, and the marketers, and so forth…’ and so we’re trying to put all of these things together.

So yes, a thoughtful marketer realizes that psychology and behavior matter. And this is in some ways, another tool in the toolkit. Where we think that it’s helpful to talk about design in particular, is that design is kind of a way of thinking. Approaching problems first of all in a human-centric way, so this is not about doing things TO people, this is about figuring out how to serve people’s needs… in ways that ultimately benefit the designer (companies are doing this to make money), but if you put yourself into the shoes of finding a way to help customers be more motivated and engaged in what they’re doing… that’s going to help me as a marketer, but also my customers as well. And then design gives you a kind of process, and in “For the Win” we have a particular design framework and specific steps to take, but generally speaking, the idea is you have to understand your customers, and your business needs, and go through an iterative process of setting up your system, understanding that you’re not really going to know what’s going to work until you have people testing it and interacting with it, and so forth.”

Are you running behavior and motivation experiments?

As we’ve said in past interviews and research around gamification…

Gamification may, in fact, more rapidly destroy an already crippled and failing experience, and just as the many failed games of the world can point out – even professional game designers, with past success, don’t always understand what makes an experience worth playing, and what motivations will drive the positive behaviors you’re looking for, while minimizing the risk of people gaming the environment in negative ways.

Given what is being revealed through gamification experiments as a whole – our recommendation would be to start with some experiments to see whether your belief in current motivation techniques (coupons or loyalty systems in marketing, bonuses, salary and promotions in human resources, etc.), warrant a fresh look, through a gamification lens (or series of lenses, more likely).

Comments or Questions?

Gamification is not for everyone, every situation, and when it comes down to it, you or your organization may not be ready for this.

If you are interested in gamification, particularly for employee engagement purposes, register now for a free 30-minute consultation on whether the scenarios you’re looking at, are the right targets for successful gamification.

Any public questions, comment below, and we’ll answer and discuss together.

Listen now!

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  • Harold Gardner

    I am not sure this can be designed into every business situation, but where it fits seems like an awesome boost.

    • http://www.informationarchitected.com/ Dan Keldsen

      Harold - Thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree. There are many times when gamification is not appropriate, and the wrong levers can be pulled. But done well, it can provide a great boost to the right behaviors.

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