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Profiting by Playing Games

Thursday, December 1, 2011
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Are we having fun yet? More important, are we having fun while we increase productivity or knowledge?

Apparently, the workforce at LiveOps Inc., a call-center vendor in Santa Clara, Calif., can answer in the affirmative to both of those questions. And so can employees at organizations as diverse as Hosting.com and the United Kingdom's Department for Work and Pensions.

LiveOps and the other organizations are among the employers that have firmly jumped on the gamification bandwagon as a way to liven up the workplace (no matter where it may be), and boost productivity, learning and innovation -- depending on the objective.

Gamification, which differs from the traditional use of video in the workplace, is based on using game mechanics and game theory to drive behavior by injecting some fun and a sense of community into the workplace.

"Gamification definitely is changing the way we manage our workforce," says Sanjay Mathur, a former partner at Accenture and vice president of product management at LiveOps, which uses gamification to help improve the performance of its 20,000 independent call-center contractors, such as by awarding virtual badges and points for keeping calls brief, collecting positive customer feedback and other performance metrics.

Leader boards then allow the agents to compare their achievements to others, in a fun, yet competitive, context.

"Gamification," says Brian Burke, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, "describes the broad trend of employing game mechanics to non-game environments such as innovation, marketing, training, employee performance, health and social change."

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Gartner predicts that, by 2015, more than 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes.

Spigit, a "crowd innovation" company based in Pleasanton, Calif., specializes "in solving the problem of innovation in the enterprise, getting employees and customers to help solve business challenges in new ways," says James Gardner, Spigit's resident gamification expert.

Gardner says the primary motivation for employees is increased recognition, with the end game being the creation of an innovation-based community of employees and boosted savings.

"This happened by applying psychological techniques of game theory to get ideas, and also to do something with the best ideas," Gardner says.

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