Make a Game of It: Strategies to Improve Employee Engagement

Photo via iStockPhoto.com/Baris Simsek
Photo via iStockPhoto.com/Baris Simsek

We all have been engaged at some level of gamification throughout our lives. In business, big brand companies have been using gamification techniques for decades to improve sales and brand loyalty as well as increase customer retention.

Today, the name of the game is retaining employees and increasing their level of engagement. Engagement is paramount to create a better ambassador for your brand and increase the loyalty of your most important customer — your employee.

Making priorities like financial target achievement, skills development, and team cohesiveness a focus for your team members — as it is for your organizational leaders — is at the crux of achieving peak performance.
“Gamification” is proving to be one of the most effective ways to bridge this gap.

The stats are staggering as to why gamification should be one of your top initiatives. Recent employee surveys have detailed the issues in the current workforce: $11 billion is lost annually in the United States due to employee turnover, while only 16% of the U.S. workforce is “fully engaged.”

Here are the steps to creating and implementing a gamification plan.

Step 1: Create the Environment

Creating an environment of healthy competition where stakes are measured, rewards are earned, and everyone is driven toward a common goal move the needle more quickly than simply creating a stick- and-carrot environment where rewards can quickly lose their luster.

Healthy competition also has the added element of creating a buzz around strategic initiatives that can have your teams thinking and talking (positively) about work, even when they are off the clock. That’s a sign of an engaged workforce and the signature of an organization, not just a place where people work.

Step 2: Gain Buy In

The most effective gamification strategies come from soliciting the people who will be playing the game.

A recent survey by TalentLMS found that the great majority of respondents were in favor of point systems, multiple difficulty levels, real-time performance feedback, online learning, and leaderboards that allowed them to compete with colleagues.

Step 3: Establish the Rules

Gamification is not only about contests, it’s also about applying game-design elements and principles in non-game contexts. These techniques will turn a temporary pop in numbers into sustainable success:

Keep it simple: The strategy should be easily explained as to the concept, the actual game, and the goal of the game.

Focus on both the individual and the team: To get every level of your team involved, you should incorporate not only individual achievements but also a team-focused element. This helps build a team environment; everyone has a stake in the outcome — individually and collectively.

Solicit game ideas from the group: If your team is part of the process of creating a gamification strategy, ask for ideas to create a higher level of engagement. It also promotes ownership on their part to improve the sustainability and success of that particular strategy.

Make it voluntary: Participants should have the option to participate. Forcing someone to participate will only increase his or her level of disengagement. A proper strategy — with employees assisting on the development of the strategy — will help reduce the number of team members not willing to participate. Be patient, they will come around.

Keep an eye on the prize: There should be a goal to each of the strategies. This goal should be able to be measured, attained, and easily explained to all of those participating.

Step 4: Keep a Scoreboard

As outlined in “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey, keeping a compelling scoreboard engages your team by reporting if the team is winning or losing. The keys to an effective scoreboard include:

Use an engaging method: Remember, you are motivating your frontline; these are people-focused workers who are not always numbers-focused. Thus, printing up sales reports and tacking them to a cork board is not an effective way to motivate. After the first few days of the report being on the board, even if you post an updated report daily, people stop taking notice.

Make it visible to the team: Does your team have access to the program and then sign on and log in to see the score? If not, it’s not visible to the team. The team is the organization — from the C suite to middle managers to the frontline. Not all will have quick access. You want your scoreboard to be quickly accessible, easily viewed, and able to be updated daily.

Highlight the right metrics: If your organization is like many others, there is a constant threat of analysis paralysis. Many metrics often change depending on which report you use or who you are asking. Focus on the base metrics that impact the overall numbers.

For example, if you are measuring revenue, is there a volume component that your frontline cannot control? If so, move to a more accurate measurement, such as revenue divided by transaction or revenue divided by rental days. It evens the playing field — an agent who works a busier shift may generate more revenue but be far less effective in your sales process.

Demonstrate the leaders: You should be able to tell at a glance whether the team is achieving its goal or how far it has to go to meet its goal. The use of a thermometer measurement is a fast way to do this.

Photo via iStockPhoto.com/RawPixel Ltd
Photo via iStockPhoto.com/RawPixel Ltd

Step 5: Maintain Engagement

Mary is a top performer and wins every contest. She’s at the top of every scoreboard, and the rest of the team members know they are playing for second place. Remember, the goal of gamification is to keep everyone engaged and to move the numbers by generating higher productivity levels from mid and lower performers.

Avoid the pitfall of creating contests where people are knocked out of the game; it doesn’t do well for achieving real-life results.

To keep everyone involved, try implementing a raffle. Team members earn chances to be in the raffle through effective offers, generating sales, or achieving key metrics. Obviously, the more chances you have the better your chances of winning, but even your low performers have a chance to win right up through the end of the game.

Another engagement tool is to have team members post their personal best transactions on the game board. It’s a way to have them keep striving for higher levels of service and sales, and it shows the rest of the team what is possible.

Step 6: Make Them Accountable

People will work hard not to let their boss down, but they will do almost anything not to let their peers down. Create an environment of accountability where everyone is pitching in to achieve a common goal.

Even if there is a healthy team-versus-team competition, it can be structured so the lower performers of a given team can score the highest points for their team.

Lower performers have a better chance to win this one: Most improved team members compete against a baseline that they set the previous month (or first two weeks of the month) compared to the second two weeks. But don’t announce this contest until the first day of the contest — no sandbagging!

What Motivates You?

The key to gamification success is to find out what will motivate your employee. Then you will be able to deploy the strategy that will work best for your organization.

Gabe Zichermann, who is considered the world’s expert on the subject of gamification, sums up the concept like this: “Gamification techniques strive to leverage people’s natural desires for competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, and closure.”

Games to Implement Today

Here are three games you can apply to focus on specific elements of the service and sales process: product knowledge, customer service, and incremental sales. They were designed to get all of your employees engaged, no matter their performance level or experience.

“Who’s The Product Guru?”

This game is focused on increasing the product knowledge of your staff and their presentation of the products to your customers.

First, determine the duration of the game; we suggest at least a week. Throughout the game, employees will be asked specific questions regarding product knowledge: What are two unique features of the Chevy Impala? What are the benefits of the collision damage waiver? Why would it be convenient for our customers to take prepaid fuel? Present the complete protection package in 10 seconds or less.

For each correct answer, the player is awarded one point. You will need to have a scoreboard set up to track each player’s progress. At the end of the game, the player with the most points would be deemed the location’s product guru and hold that title until the next time the game is played.

You could also have multiple winners depending on the size of your staff. Prizes don’t always have to be money, as they could be things such as reserved parking, a paid day off, movie passes, or lunch. We suggest being creative and mixing up the prize pool to get all of your associates engaged.

“Caught Ya!”

This game is solely focused on customer service.

The leadership team will always carry “Caught Ya” coupons on them. Each time you see an associate deliver an aspect of great customer service a coupon would be awarded. Behaviors that could be rewarded include smiling at the customer, maintaining eye contact, properly identifying a customer’s need, and going above and beyond to assist a customer.

The coupons could be redeemed for prizes such as lunch with a manager, gift cards, or a movie day in the office. Again, creativity for selecting prizes is important to maximize associate engagement.

“Product Poker”

Product Poker is focused on incremental sales. Although this game requires a bit more effort than the previous two games, it can be a great deal of fun for the team and produce excellent results.

To play Product Poker, you will need the following items: several decks of playing cards, a bulletin board to post everyone’s poker hands, a grand prize (cash, gift certificates, days off with pay), and a list of selling goals you want your associates to achieve.

The type of goal will determine how many cards the associate will get for reaching that goal. The harder the goal, the more cards they get. Here’s a possible list of goals:

• CDW and SLI on the same agreement: one card
• CDW and prepaid fuel on the same agreement: one card
• $30 a day upsell: one card
• CDW and a $30 a day upsell: two cards
• Complete protection package: two cards
• Complete protection package plus a $30 a day upsell: 3 cards

Each time an associate achieves a goal, he or she gets to draw the number of cards indicated on the list and post the cards on the bulletin board. At the end of the game, the person with the best poker hand wins.

Product Poker should be played for at least a week. We have found the best timing of the game is toward the end of the month. This will help boost month-end numbers and also get the next month started on a strong note.

One of the great things about Product Poker is the element of luck, which will keep all of your associates motivated to play and sell. Although it is pretty likely that top performers will get more cards and have better odds of winning, the top performer isn’t always guaranteed to win.

About the Author

Mark Hart is a performance director at Frontline Performance Group. Tom Diaz is vice president, operational excellence at Frontline Performance Group.

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