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How to Avoid the Dark Side of Gamification: Ten Business Scenarios and Their Unintended Consequences

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Abstract

The problems that may arise from gamification have been largely ignored by researchers and practitioners alike. At the same time, use of gamification in recruitment, onboarding, training, and performance management are on the rise in organizations as businesses turn toward technology to meet their objectives. This chapter investigates drawbacks of using elements of games in each of these applications through a series of scenarios describing different gamified interventions. For each scenario, a discussion follows regarding potential problems with the intervention, how psychological science may explain this, how these errors can be avoided, as well as future directions for gamification research. Employee motivation is noted as a critical concern in gamification, and classic theories of motivation are utilized to help explain why some interventions may fail to motivate desired behavior. For training design, a popular area for gamification, practitioners are urged to consider the intended training outcomes before designing a training program with gaming elements.
Chapter 19
How to Avoid the Dark Side of Gamification: Ten
Business Scenarios and Their Unintended
Consequences
Rachel C. Callan
1
, Kristina N. Bauer
2
, and Richard N. Landers
3
Abstract The problems that may arise from gamification have been largely ignored
by researchers and practitioners alike. At the same time, use of gamification in
recruitment, onboarding, training, and performance management are on the rise in
organizations as businesses turn toward technology to meet their objectives. This
chapter investigates drawbacks of using elements of games in each of these
applications through a series of scenarios describing different gamified interventions.
For each scenario, a discussion follows regarding potential problems with the
intervention, how psychological science may explain this, how these errors can be
avoided, as well as future directions for gamification research. Employee motivation is
noted as a critical concern in gamification, and classic theories of motivation are
utilized to help explain why some interventions may fail to motivate desired behavior.
For training design, a popular area for gamification, practitioners are urged to consider
the intended training outcomes before designing a training program with gaming
elements.
19.1 Introduction
Gamified interventions have become increasingly popular, but there has been a dearth
of discussion about potential problems that may come along with these tools.
Gamification can be described as using elements from video games in a non-gaming
1
Corresponding author: rjohn104@odu.edu. Affiliation: Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA,
USA
2
Affiliation: University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL, USA
3
Affiliation: Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA
2
application to enhance user engagement and experience (Deterding, Sicart, Nacke,
O'Hara, & Dixon, 2011). From this definition, we can imagine an almost infinite
number of possible applications of gamification in the workplace. Any process that
impacts employees could be gamified to improve engagement or experience, from
selection and recruitment to training and performance.
It appears that organizations are doing just that as M2 Research has projected that
$522 million will be spent on gamification solutions in 2013 (Meloni & Gruener,
2012). Further, the use of these tools is expected to continue to grow with Gartner
predicting that 40% of Global 1000 organizations will be using gamification to
transform business operations by 2015 (Pettey, 2012, October 24). Although to many
it seems gamification may be a panacea to organizations plagued by employee apathy
toward training programs and performance systems, researchers have recently begun
discussing the dark side to these interventions.
This “dark side” is the negative impact that these interventions may have due to
unanticipated consequences or side effects that render them less effective or, in the
worst case, counterproductive. Gartner has suggested that by 2014, 80% of
gamification applications will fail to meet business objectives due to poor design
(Pettey & van der Meulen, 2012, November 27). Given the $522 million projected to
be spent in 2013 on gamification interventions (Pettey, 2012, October 24), one can
easily imagine the amount of money that is wasted on poorly designed interventions.
Since the demand for gamified interventions does not appear to be slowing down in
the near future, we need to turn our attention to why these interventions fail. Gartner
has offered some suggestions for why an intervention may fail to meet expectations
(Burke, 2013, January 21). The first is that rewards may not be seen as desirable to the
employees, which is reflected in the common approach of simply adding badges or
points to an activity or process to gamify it. The second is that organizations
sometimes decide to adopt gamification before they actually know how it will be used,
which causes the intervention to misalign with business objectives. This results in
adding gaming elements that may not make sense or may be ineffective because the
organization was in a rush to be part of the trend. The final issue is that the
motivations of the employees need to align with the goals of the organization within
the gamified intervention.
In the remainder of this chapter, we will touch upon these broad issues as well as
how gamification failures can be explained by psychological research. This chapter
contains ten scenarios that will be used to illustrate some of the ways an organization
may include gamification within an intervention. These scenarios cover four broad
topics from the personnel psychology literature: recruitment of applicants, onboarding
new hires, training employees, and employee performance management. For each
scenario, we will discuss why the intervention may fail, how this relates to the
psychological literature, and how the intervention may be improved upon in order to
avoid these potential pitfalls. It is our hope that by highlighting areas for concern
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within interventions, we help practitioners utilize gamification more effectively and
reduce the risk of an unsuccessful intervention.
19.2 Recruitment
19.2.1 Scenario One
Organizational leadership wants to motivate job applicants to explore their recruitment
website to learn more about the organization’s history, values, and vision before
finally applying. To do so, they decided to add gamification elements to the
recruitment website. Applicants sign in to the site and earn points and badges for
visiting the different areas of the site and completing the application. These points do
not factor into employment decisions, but they are displayed so that the applicants can
keep track of their own progress.
19.2.1.1 Potential Problems
One of the biggest issues of this approach is that the rewards do not match the
organization’s goal of learning more about the organization. Instead, visiting the areas
of the site alone is rewarded. Presumably, the organization wants applicants to view
these areas of the site so that they are more familiar with the organization before they
even begin the application process. The end goal in this case could be to entice people
to apply who would have been strong candidates but would not have applied due to a
lack of knowledge about the organization. Another possible goal could be to give
applicants a realistic job preview to ensure that those who apply understand the
organization, which has been found to have a small correlation with outcomes such as
turnover (Phillips, 1998). Thus, those who would not fit well with organizational
values and vision would self-select out of the hiring process. In both cases, the
underlying goal is to motivate applicants to learn about the organization via the
materials provided on the company website.
The primary concern when dealing with motivation in this case is that attempts to
shape behavior through rewards without ensuring that behavior and rewards are linked
is risky. At its core, we could say that this organization is attempting to use operant
conditioning to shape behavior such that applicants will see that learning about the
organization is linked to these rewards (positive reinforcement), which then encourage
the applicants to continue learning in order to earn more rewards (Skinner, 1953).
However, the organization is committing a common fallacy by assuming that
applicants will see the learning as the target behavior, rather than just clicking on as
many links as possible. As the intervention is described now, the target behavior is not
learning. In order to motivate learning about the organization, knowledge would have
to be rewarded. This could be accomplished by giving applicants points for scoring
high on a knowledge test about the company after viewing the website.
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An additional problem in this context is that scoring points for an applicant could
ultimately deliver contradictory information to applicants. The organization is
rewarding job seekers for viewing the website, but the rewards do not factor into
hiring decisions. This could be confusing to many applicants as they are visiting the
site with the hope of earning a job, the ultimate positive reinforcement for job seekers.
Without a tie to this desired outcome, points really mean nothing. This issue also taps
into Vroom’s (1964) expectancy theory of motivation. Specifically, one of the key
components to behavioral change is that the actor values the reward. In this case,
points and badges offered may be of little value to a job seeker. With any gamification
intervention, one should consider what the desired outcome is and whether that
behavior is actually being motivated by the proposed intervention. If the intervention
fails to change the behavior, which must be measured, another approach should be
taken.
19.2.2 Scenario Two
An organization wants to make applicants feel more excited when applying for their
positions and wants to make their job offers seem more enticing once they are
received. To do this, the CEO has suggested applicants compete with one another
during the application process. She argues this will make the application process more
interesting for applicants and the competitive atmosphere will encourage those who
receive offers to accept them immediately. A system is designed in which applicants
sign in with an anonymous username, which is then linked to their scores on the
measures included in the selection battery. These measures could include scores on
application blanks, knowledge tests, personality tests, and other selection devices. For
each measure, the applicant receives points based on his or her performance and his or
her total score is posted on a leaderboard that all applicants are able to see. The CEO
sees this as a promising program and is very enthusiastic about applicants completing
the measures and following the leaderboard as they go through the application process.
19.2.2.1 Potential Problems
The first major problem with this scenario is the motivational issues discussed in
Scenario One. The organization should want those in the application process to
provide truthful responses to selection measures, not to simply move up a leaderboard
based on their performance. This issue is additionally relevant to the applicant faking
literature, which considers the conditions under which applicants give untruthful
responses and the effects on the predictive abilities of the selection measure. A recent
meta-analysis found that other-rating of personality had significantly greater predictive
validities than self-ratings of personality (Connelly & Ones, 2010). The researchers
suggested this may have occurred because people (intentionally or unintentionally)
often misrepresent themselves to appear more socially desirable, which can decrease
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the effectiveness of selection measures. Although faking is generally considered a
given for measures such as personality (Hough & Johnson, 2013), it is likely unwise to
create an intervention that explicitly motivates applicants to fake as we know that
people are very capable of distorting ratings when they are told to do so (Viswesvaran
& Ones, 1999).
A second issue that we could anticipate from the intervention described is that
applicants would actually use the leaderboard to their advantage when making salary
negotiations. The literature has shown that the best applicants are fickle and drop out
of the selection process during recruiting delays (Rynes, Bretz, & Gerhart, 1991) or
when they receive negative information about the job (Bretz & Judge, 1998). Although
no studies have yet investigated gamification of recruitment, it is easy to imagine how
job seekers may believe that if they are at the top of the leaderboard, they are the
organization’s best choice and deserve premium treatment as a result. Thus, applicants
could expect not only higher pay or better benefits but also faster contact for
interviews and a guarantee of a job offer. If the top applicants find that the
organization is not able to meet these expectations, the organization could quickly find
itself driving away the top of its applicant pool. In short, this intervention would likely
not produce the effects the CEO had hoped for because undesired behaviors are being
motivated and the applicants are given more information than is standard in a selection
setting, which could then be used as leverage against the organization in the selection
process.
19.2.3 Scenario Three
The Director of Human Resources at an organization has recently learned that
applicants recruited through employee referrals may be better employees than those
recruited through more traditional means, such as job ads. As a result, he has decided
to incentivize employees to refer prospective employees through a gamification
intervention. In the proposed intervention, an employee earns one point for each
applicant who lists the employee as referring him or her to the organization and 10
extra points for every referred applicant who is hired. A leaderboard will be created
based on the point totals and distributed to all of the employees so they can see how
they are doing compared to their coworkers. The director believes this leaderboard will
create the motivation needed to boost the number of employee referrals and anticipates
this will have long-term effects on the productivity of the workforce as these referrals
are hired.
19.2.3.1 Potential Problems
This system again suffers from the issue of whether the desired behavior is actually
being motivated by the intervention. The work of Skinner (1953) suggests that in order
to change behavior, the reinforcer needs to be directly related to the desired behavior.
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If the behavior desired by the organization is for employees to recommend people for
employment who are subsequently hired, this needs to be rewarded explicitly.
Although it appears on the surface that this is the case, consider how easy it would be
for an employee to have people who are unqualified apply for a position compared to
how difficult it is to identify a friend or acquaintance who would actually be likely to
be hired for the position. This suggests that perhaps only having referred a qualified
applicant should be rewarded, rather than simply referring a large number of
unqualified applicants.
A related issue is that creating a leaderboard such as this could distract employees
from job duties. Although leveraging employees to improve recruiting can be a
valuable technique (Moser, 2005), it is generally not the employee’s primary
responsibility. Care should be taken to ensure it does not become a distraction. In this
case, the points really only have a social reward of appearing higher on the
leaderboard, rather than a tangible reward such as monetary compensation. If the
employee finds achieving job-related goals to be more motivating, this should not
distract from the employee’s duties. However, this should be a consideration when
motivating employees to perform tasks outside of their job dutiesthe rewards should
be weighted such that it reflects the amount of effort the organization wants the
employee to put toward the task. This goes back to Vroom’s (1964) theory, which
suggests that if the employee sees the reward as valuable and linked to his or her effort
of referring applicants, he or she will be motivated to participate. Again, the key issue
to consider when attempting to motivate employees is identifying the behavior that is
desired and reinforcing that behavior specifically while considering the unintended
effects of the intervention on behavior.
A final issue here is that the literature linking employee referrals to job
performance is mixed (Rynes & Cable, 2003), with the relationship between turnover
and referral source showing a stronger relationship such that employee referrals are
less likely to turn over than other applicants, once hired. Rynes and Cable (2003)
identified two possible theories in the literature for these effects: (1) employee
referrals are likely to have more realistic information about the position and (2)
employee referrals serve as a sort of prescreen because employees may be more likely
to know other people with similar qualifications and attributes. These theories have
both been supported to some degree in the literature; applicants with employee
referrals have more realistic job information than walk-ins (Blau, 1990) and employee
characteristics are related to referral characteristics (Kirnan, Farley, & Geisinger,
1989). However, the positive effect of employee referral (versus walk-ins) appears to
diminish post-hire (Kirnan et al., 1989), which suggests any claims that promoting one
recruiting source over another will have a dramatic effect on productivity are
unfounded.
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19.3 Onboarding
19.3.1 Scenario Four
A tech company utilizes a voluntary web-based onboarding process to acclimate new
hires to the organization. This process includes training on topics such as the
organization’s core values, the organization’s history, and the functions of the
organization’s different departments. The organization has noticed that participation
on the website has dropped off in recent years. The leaders of the organization believe
that forcing employees to complete the process goes against the company’s free-
spirited culture, but they hope that making the website more engaging will increase the
likelihood that employees will participate. To do this, the leaders decided to frame
progression through the onboarding website as the adventures of a knight, played by
the employee. The “knight” needs to complete “quests”, which are the various
onboarding modules on the website. When the employee completes a quest, he or she
receives an award from the “king and queen” (the company itself) for a job well done.
19.3.1.1 Potential Problems
There are two potential issues with this kind of intervention. The first is that the final
goal is for employees to learn about the organization, but this is not being measured or
motivated directly by the intervention. The reward structure in the onboarding process
only rewards completing the modules (which may just require a few clicks of a
mouse), rather than actually learning about the organization and applying this
information on the job. The issue is not only that of reinforcing the desired behavior
(Skinner, 1953) but also that learning outcomes should be measured in order to
determine the effects of an instructional program (Kraiger, Ford, & Salas, 1993). If
learning is not measured, it cannot be rewarded. Perhaps more importantly, without a
measure of learning, the organization cannot determine if the onboarding process
effectively teaches new hires about the organization. To improve this intervention,
learning measures should be included at a minimum, and post-tests should follow each
module. Post-test performance could then be the reinforced behavior, which would
serve to encourage employees to study and retain the information in the training
materials.
The second problem is that this kind of widespread use of strong game fiction may
not be accepted well by the employees. In the virtual worlds literature, researchers
have suggested that poor trainee attitudes toward virtual worlds due to their novelty
may indirectly and negatively affect both trainee reactions and learning outcomes
when learning in virtual worlds (Landers & Callan, 2012). Gamification is similarly
novel in organizations, and as such, employees may not welcome gamification
interventions, potentially resulting in poorer outcomes. Organizational representatives
should be sensitive to this issue when applying gamification to the workplace.
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Computer-based testing research suggests that computer privacy concerns are related
to age, procedural justice, and test taking motivation (Bauer et al., 2006). Although
research on gamification in the workplace is limited, gamification collects a great deal
of personal information as well, and attitudes may be similar. One change that may
ameliorate this effect would be to make the intervention more directly related to the
workplace. For example, the game fiction could require employees to collect parts for
the company’s best-selling piece of hardware by performing well on the post-tests
with the goal of “assembling” the product once training is complete. This job-related
story may make the gaming elements more appealing to employees than the unrelated
story of the knight.
19.3.2 Scenario Five
An organization has new employees complete an online week-long orientation
program before beginning their new jobs. Feedback from the orientation reveals that
new hires find the program to be tedious and boring. To make the process more
interesting, the organization decided to gamify orientation. Employees create a
fictional 3D character to represent themselves in the online orientation on the first day
and subsequently participate in the orientation as this avatar who earns points for
completing “challenges” (e.g., completing modules, filling out profile details, setting
up accounts) and correctly answering questions about the orientation materials.
Employees with the top scores are recognized at the end of orientation.
19.3.2.1 Potential Problems
This attempt at gamification represents an improvement over the previous attempt to
gamify a web-based, new hire training because learning assessments are included as
part of the challenges employees are expected the complete. Thus, the organization has
a mechanism to monitor whether employees are acquiring the appropriate level of
knowledge and skills. However, there is still a concern that the gaming elements could
pull focus from the task at hand. Kanfer and Ackerman (1989) theorized that
individuals have a limited pool of attentional resources that can be devoted to on-task,
off-task, and self-regulatory behaviors. If the addition of gamified design elements
pulls attentional resources to the elements themselves (i.e., resources are devoted to
off-task behaviors), new employees will not learn as much from the assessments.
Furthermore, similar to the way massed practice (or “cramming”) has a detrimental
effect on retention (Donovan & Radosevich, 1999), a new employee that becomes so
engrossed in the gamified system that he or she goes through all content in a short
amount of time may retain less information than if gamification had not been used.
Another issue that an organization may face is whether the motivation gained from
using the avatar offsets the time spent making them on the first day, particularly for
older workers who may not be as technology savvy as younger workers. An important
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avenue for future research is identification of the types of employee that are motivated
by gamified systems. If some employees are demotivated by the use of avatars, it
would be wise for organizations with such employees to invest resources in an
alternate strategy for creating a more engaging orientation.
19.4 Training
19.4.1 Scenario Six
An organization has implemented mandatory online sexual harassment training. The
organization’s leaders recently learned that one of the most common problems faced
by organizations implementing such training programs is compliance, and found this
to be the case in their organization as well: only 35% of employees have completed the
online training program by the deadline imposed by Human Resources. To improve
employee motivation, the training designer decides to gamify the training by
incorporating a game element: game fiction. Training modules are presented as
“quests” with “monsters” to defeat in the format of post-training knowledge tests.
With successful defeat of a sufficient number of monsters, each quest is complete, and
the trainee gains a “level”.
19.4.1.1 Potential Problems
One of the most common early application areas for gamification is education (e.g.
Landers & Callan, 2011; Tay, 2010, March 18), which is likely one of the reasons the
designer would choose this approach. Instructors take any of a variety of game
elements theorized to improve learning or motivation to learn (Bedwell et al., 2012)
and apply them to the classroom. In the business environment, this application of
gamification to student learning shifts to that of employee training and development.
However, just as gamification can result in negative outcomes in child instruction, it
can also produce negative results in adult instruction.
Although the spirit of this training designer’s idea is appreciated – to make training
more fun and thus increase compliance extant theory suggests that it may bring
substantial risks. Organizational justice theory describes three general perceptions
related to how people perceive the way they are treated: 1) distributive justice, the
perceived fairness of the treatment itself, 2) procedural justice, the perceived fairness
of the process leading to that treatment, and 3) interactional justice, the perceived
appropriateness of the way information about the treatment was delivered (Greenberg,
1990). When employees believe they have been treated unfairly, they are more likely
to engage in counterproductive work behaviors (like theft), reduce their organizational
citizenship, and place less trust in their organization (Cohen-Charash & Spector,
2001). By adding additional impositions upon employees to complete training that
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they are already reluctant to complete, fairness perceptions may be negatively affected,
ultimately leading to such negative organizational outcomes. Instead, the organization
would likely be better served by implementing traditional training compliance
techniques, like improving organizational and supervisor support (Noe & Schmitt,
1986). Thus, we contend that gamification is best restricted to training contexts in
which both the training itself and participation in the gamification component of
training is completely voluntary.
19.4.2 Scenario Seven
An organization has a substantial catalog of online courses available to employees, the
purpose of which is to encourage employees to engage in self-directed learning as their
time and interests allow. A training designer notices that usage of the self-
development website is low; few employees ever log in to complete one of the
optional courses. To improve the website’s attractiveness, this designer implements a
gamification platform, assigning badges for a variety of activities which appear on
user profiles. This includes reading descriptions of course offerings, participating in
practice activities, posting on the website’s discussion boards, and completing course
knowledge tests, among others. Rankings are developed based upon badges earned to
encourage employees to compete with each other.
19.4.2.1 Potential Problems
Operant conditioning is frequently cited as the basis for gamification efforts, and yet
this perspective suggests potential harm in the case study above. According to
behavioral psychology, when psychological rewards follow a target behavior,
engagement in that behavior will increase (Skinner, 1938). Gamification is often
implemented using this strategy, awarding points and badges for engaging in some
target behavior. However, nearly a century of research on operant conditioning has
been quite clear: only the target behavior is increased, and other behaviors may
decrease in favor of the target behavior. In the case above, rewards are provided for
reading descriptions, completing activities, posting on discussion boards and
completing tests. This does not imply that employees will enjoy the courses more,
learn more from the activities, participate meaningfully on discussion boards, or learn
more in courses. Because these activities are not rewarded, they are unlikely to be
increased by the system described above. The challenge for gamification designers is
that the behaviors they want to reward (e.g., motivation, meaningful participation,
learning) are difficult to measure accurately and automatically. For example, deep
understanding of learned material (e.g., as demonstrated in writing), quality of
discussion board posts, and motivation to learn cannot currently be judged by a
computer automatically and accurately, and thus cannot be rewarded in any current
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gamification system. Rewarding proxy behaviors will only encourage those proxy
behaviors. More explicitly, the learner with the highest score is not likely to be the
user that has learned the most. Training designers implementing gamification must be
careful to reward precisely the target behavior they wish to encourage; if this precise
behavior cannot be rewarded, gamification should not be used.
19.5 Performance
19.5.1 Scenario Eight
An organization is having trouble getting managers to complete performance
appraisals on time and with enough detail to be useful for improving employee
performance. To improve participation, the organization awards managers points
based on timeliness of their reviews and how much detail they include in the
evaluation. The point totals are published during the performance appraisal season to
encourage managers to compete to turn in their appraisals quickly.
19.5.1.1 Potential Problems
One initial problem an organization will face is developing a system to assign points.
It is fairly straightforward to assign points for the speed with which a manager submits
his or her performance evaluations. A simple example might be: 10 points for early
submission, 5 points for on time submission, and negative points for late submission.
However, it is more difficult to assign a point value for quality as there are relatively
few good measures available (Murphy & Cleveland, 1995). Although the length of a
submission would be a quick way to assign points, using length as a metric can reward
managers who are wordy but not necessarily accurate. Having human resources
personnel code responses will be subjective and time consuming, and immediate
feedback is integral to gamification.
Related to the difficulties developing a point system, another potential problem is
that quick appraisals do not necessarily lead to accurate appraisals. Organizations need
to be careful about what, specifically, is being rewarded. If an organization rewards
speed more so than accuracy, quick appraisals may translate to an incomplete
assessment of subordinate performance, the use of biases or heuristics to make
performance judgments, and generally inaccurate performance evaluations. Research
suggests that accurate ratings are a product of spending more time observing behavior
(e.g., Favero & Ilgen, 1989; Heneman & Wexley, 1983), and it is ill advised to create
a system that introduces biases into the rating process.
Performance appraisals also provide extremely sensitive information to the
subordinate or ratee and have been the basis for employment discrimination lawsuits
(Werner & Bolino, 1997). Currently, there is no known research or case law on the
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gamification of a performance evaluation system. An organization should be mindful
about gamifying a performance evaluation system that may inadvertently introduce
bias or reduce accuracy as such a practice has not been empirically or judicially
supported.
19.5.2 Scenario Nine
An organization wants to use gamification to enhance employee motivation for
completing the performance appraisal process. Employees create avatars that move
through the performance appraisal process all year long as the employee completes his
or her job duties. The job itself is framed as a game with each job duty the employee
completes being framed as a “quest”. Using the general premise of Call of Duty (a
popular first-person perspective game) as an example, a job might become a game
where a soldier is tasked with helping his country win the Cold War. Each job duty
would then be a quest to eliminate enemy soldiers or gather intelligence information.
As quests are completed, the character moves up in levels. The organization believes
this will allow employees to be involved in performance appraisal year-round and
provides motivation without the need for bonuses.
19.5.2.1 Potential Problems
One of the major problems an organization would face when attempting to gamify the
performance appraisal process in this manner is developing the game fiction. The
development of appropriate game fiction would require a considerable amount of
resources and time. For example, an organization must decide what level of game
fiction is appropriate. A well-developed story line may be costly, in terms of paying a
writer, and may also detract from the work itself as employees become invested in the
story. On the other hand, an under-developed storyline may not be believable or
motivating. Another key decision an organization would face is what kind of story line
to apply. In the example provided in the scenario, there is a masculine undertone,
which could dissuade female employees from becoming fully invested in the game
system. The use of employee focus groups would be required to develop a storyline
that is motivating to all employees.
Regardless of how well developed the storyline is, another potential problem is that
some employees will just dislike having gaming elements added to required work
systems. As mentioned in previous scenarios, there are employees who would prefer to
keep work and play separate. In this specific case, the entire evaluative component of
the job is gamified, which potentially increases alienation of employees who are
opposed to making a game out of work.
Furthermore, in this attempt at gamification, completion is being rewarded, not the
quality of the work. As described above, we need to tie the behaviors being rewarded
to the actual desired behaviors. Before implementing a gamified performance appraisal
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system in this manner, an organization would be wise to do a thorough cost benefit
analysis as the payoff may not outweigh the time it takes to design and participate in
this system.
19.5.3 Scenario Ten
A sales manager has implemented a leaderboard to help motivate the sales team to
improve their performance. The leaderboard rank orders all employees on the team
according to the dollars in sales for the week. The manager posts the leaderboard in
the office so that everyone can see who is bringing in the most sales and try to
improve their standing.
19.5.3.1 Potential Problems
One problem that an organization faces when implementing a leaderboard is
determining the metric on which the leaderboard should be based. Basing the
leaderboard strictly on the dollar amount of sales could be perceived as unfair and
would be an inaccurate measure of job performance. Campbell, Gasser, and Oswald
(1996) make the distinction between job performance (organizationally relevant
behaviors that an individual performs) and performance results (outcomes of
performance not entirely under each employee’s control). Sales can be considered a
performance result. For example, an employee may happen to have a territory that
easily nets many sales while another employee has a more difficult territory. This
would result in the former employee easily beating out the latter employee on the
leaderboard not because of different sales techniques, but solely because the assigned
territory is difficult. In this case, adjusting the dollar amount by the size of the territory
would be paramount for the success of the motivational influence of the leaderboard.
Additionally, dollar amount in sales is just one aspect of job performance. Other
aspects of job performance, like customer satisfaction or working with other
departments to ship products quickly, are also important for organizational success.
The leaderboard is a sign to employees that the organization values sales, which could
send the message that other aspects of job performance are less important. Without
proper monitoring or reward mechanisms in place for these other aspects of job
performance, employees’ overall performance, and hence organizational success, may
suffer.
Another problem is that the leaderboard could potentially have negative
motivational consequences. If an employee is consistently at the bottom of the
leaderboard, this would be a sign of negative feedback. Repeated negative feedback
leads to downward goal revision and decreased effort among other negative outcomes
(Mikulincer, 1988, 1989). Thus, employees who perceive that they will never be at the
top of the leaderboard may disengage from their work, ultimately negatively impacting
organizational performance.
14
Leaderboards typically demonstrate individual performance. An interesting caveat
to the ease with which a leaderboard can be implemented is the case of a team-based
sales environment. In an advertising agency, for example, a team works together to
develop a product for a client. A large advertising agency will have multiple teams and
potentially employees on multiple teams. In team-based environments, the
organization would need to determine how to represent performance on the
leaderboard. Research suggests that the level of feedback has an effect on the
relationship between team goals and performance (DeShon, Kozlowski, Schmidt,
Milner, & Wiechmann, 2004). Team members who receive team-level feedback tend
to see improvements in team-oriented performance while those who receive
individual-level feedback tend to have higher individual performance. However,
performance is best when team members receive just one form of feedback, which
suggests the level of the leaderboard feedback should depend upon the type of
performance the designer is attempting to enhance.
19.6 Conclusions
The scenarios described above highlight many of the concerns expressed by Gartner
(Burke, 2013, January 21). The fictitious organizations often adopted gamification
without linking it to organizational goals and/or employee motivations. Although these
scenarios were all fictional, it is important to emphasize that these kinds of design
errors appear to be common in gamified interventions. According to Gartner, this is
the rule, rather than the exception (Pettey & van der Meulen, 2012, November 27).
Since organizations are becoming more eager to adopt gamification (Pettey, 2012,
October 24), the warnings included in this chapter are timely.
Many of the recommendations above focus on linking gamified interventions back
to basic psychological research literatures and their “best practices”. One area of
research that was brought up repeatedly is motivation. Organizations who wish to
improve employee engagement may be quick to assume that gamified interventions
will motivate employees, but this is not necessarily the case. Human motivation is
complex and as a result a number of theories are used to explain how motivation
affects behavior across situations, including but not limited to goal setting theory
(Locke & Latham, 2002), operant conditioning (Skinner, 1953), and expectancy theory
(Vroom, 1964). Whenever an organization is seeking to motivate employees, one of
the first decisions to be made is which motivational theory will best inform the
designer in this situation, given the intervention’s goals. From there, gaming elements
that work with the theory can be identified, such as utilizing a leaderboard to activate
goal-setting. By relying upon literature to inform design decisions, rather than
choosing the “latest and greatest” technology and then deciding how to use it,
practitioners can improve the likelihood that an intervention will have the desired
effect.
15
This issue is echoed in the training literature, which suggests that the training needs
assessment should guide training design (Brown, 2002). Here, the training literature
informs the needs assessment, which then informs the design. It is important to note
that in a rush to embrace new technologies, many organizations are applying this
process in reverse: allowing the design to inform the needs (Burke, 2013, January 21).
This backwards thinking is not only bad for the organization, but could make
gamification the next Second Life, which experienced a similar faddism before being
abandoned by many organizations (Semuels, 2007, July 14). By following best
practices from the literature, not only can practitioners inform the gamification
literature, but also ensure that gamification is viewed as a useful tool, rather than a
passing trend.
16
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