It’s Thursday, 5:30 a.m., and I’m two miles west of Roswell, New Mexico. I’m 868 miles into my twentieth bicycle journey across the United States. The sweat is dripping off my face onto the concrete floor of my basement gym. Yes, I’m in my home in Utah—and I’m also just outside Roswell.
You see, I know that to stay healthy, I need regular exercise. My problem is that I really don’t enjoy exercising. What I do enjoy is achieving big goals—like riding my bike across America. So, nearly every day, I ride. Some days, just a mile or two; on others, it may be as much as 30.
I record my mileage on roadmaps that I’ve mounted on my basement walls. Amazingly, I have biked over 50,000 miles in the last 25 years, crisscrossing the U.S.
I doubt I will ever say that I love biking (especially in the confines of my basement). I’m not even particularly motivated by the health benefits I’m enjoying, although I’m glad to have them. What is highly motivating is the visual scorecard my maps provide and the cumulative achievement they represent. The maps keep me engaged!
My commitment to the consistent engagement required for my exercise program is significantly enhanced by gamifying an otherwise unappealing task. Behavioral scientists have learned that gamification, when applied properly, can also be used to improve employee engagement in our businesses.
Gamification is defined as “the application of typical elements of game playing (point scoring, competition with others, etc.) to other areas of activity. Gamification is exciting because it promises to make the hard stuff in life fun!”
Gamifying is understanding your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and regularly and continuously tracking them in a way that is meaningful to your team. Here’s how one of my manufacturing clients gamified a program for cleaning up and organizing his plant floor to eliminate significant wasted time and money.
The initial effort to bring order to things was huge, and when it was done, the CEO recognized that no one was anxious to exert the daily effort to maintain the improvements made. After considerable discussion, the executive team tried increasing motivation using a clever daily scorecard: a diagram of the plant floor overlaid on a whiteboard in a prominent area of their facility. This schematic showed each workstation to be evaluated by management.
Daily, each workstation deemed to be well maintained received a green sticker. If that workstation received green stickers every day for a month, an award was given to all team members for that station. Initially, these awards were as simple as candy bars or tee-shirts; if they remained consistent over the long haul, gifts might be as much as a $25 gift card. Ultimately, a few teams even received plaques for consistent performance over a year or more. These they proudly mounted in their work areas.
If a workstation didn’t pass muster on daily inspections, managers posted a yellow or red sticker on the whiteboard diagram. A yellow sticker was a warning that immediate improvement was required. If poor maintenance persisted over more than 24 hours, a red sticker was posted. That triggered a visit from management to determine the nature of the problem causing performance to slip. Employees were apprised that three red stickers could result in termination.
Initially, employees greeted the program with cynicism, and even a bit of fear. However, as workstations began to organize to assure that daily maintenance actions were performed, they started to enjoy the game.
Soon, they were taking pride in their work areas, and a friendly competitive spirit emerged. Each team strived to assure that there was no break in their “green-sticker days.” This even manifested itself in onboarding new employees. When a newcomer joined a workstation team, teammates quickly let them know that they needed to carry their share of responsibility for workstation maintenance.
Notice the ways that gamification focused employee engagement for my client:
- Feedback was regular and continuous, reinforcing the importance of the desired behaviors.
- Performance and its associated scorekeeping were made highly visible.
- Managerial recognition regularly drew attention to desired outcomes and their associated rewards.
- Undesirable tasks were transformed into attractive and fun processes in the business.
As leaders, we have the continuous challenge of engaging our people. Consider gamification as one way of increasing engagement in your business.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.