Rewards, not for the faint of heart
When organizations look into gamification, they probably do so because they are thinking about implementing some sort of long-term change in their companies. What most of them do not know is that around 80% of designed business games will fail to meet desired objectives due to poor objective planning. Some of this comes from the fact that using rewards does not reinforce important concepts or crucial information. For all its worth, rewards will only get them short-term changes.
So what are the exact evil perils of rewards based gamification? Research has shown that by rewarding employees with badges or any other type of physical/virtual reward, we can actually be demotivating them while impeding their creativity. In plain terms, rewards are a means of motivation, in order to get someone to do something. Once you stop supplying rewards, the person has no incentive to continue doing whatever it is you were asking them to do. According to Daniel H. Pink, contingent rewards can actually reduce performance and creativity when they are needed. The best way to see this concept at play is to refer to the candle study problem conducted in the 1960s. In the study, participants were presented with the task of fixing a lit candle onto a wall with only a candle, a book of matches and box full of thumbtacks. Some participants were told they would receive money based on how fast they solved the problem (if they solved it at all), while the others were offered no type of reward. Researchers found that participants who were offered a reward had a lower success rate than those who were offered no reward. How is this possible? If anything we have been brought up thinking that rewarding someone will more often than not motivate them. It turns out that when any type of reward is used, internal motivation is replaced by the incentive, which in turn has a negative effect. To further analyze the study, the participants that were offered a reward thought about the incentive so much that they did not truly concentrate on achieving the task at hand. You might say that it should be easy to focus on the challenge ahead of you, but when your unconscious is thinking about what awaits for your once you finish, it is hard to deliberately counter argue this point. Not to mention that it could possibly damage the person’s ambition to accomplish tasks without rewards.
Does this mean we shouldn’t reward our employees, or use rewards based gamification? Not at all, especially when it comes to routine work. While the use of rewards may decrease creativity, they are best used on everyday tasks, as they can enhance performance. They make dull tasks more exciting and present a challenge to them. This is also the reason why companies have invested money in gamifying internal processes. Think of it this way: when walking home from school did you ever pretend that the cracks were full of flowing hot lava, and so you then had to skip them in order not to die? This childhood concept is the same as in the business world. As a child you added some spark to your walk home by adding “challenges” to yourself along the road. For employees that do routine work day in and day out, the use of rewards are perfect as it gives them an incentive to perform faster and more efficiently while keeping their drive and concentration up.
Rewards aren’t necessarily a bad idea. They need to be used when the objective is to implement short-term changes or simply to stimulate a mundane task. For effective long-term changes, one should focus on applying (or creating, for those who are developers) a playful and information based space. Your employees will be doing something just because it is fun (and not because you are holding out a carrot in front of them), which in turn will not only help them find the business game more meaningful but aid in them retaining more information. So, if you are thinking about using business games hoping it’ll bring in stable changes to your company, please leave the treats at home.