The concept of “carrots and sticks” has existed since the beginning of civilization. The questions that flummox business leaders are:
1. When should we use carrots (aka rewards or incentives) and when should we use sticks to improve employee performance?
2. What is the optimal reward or incentive that nudges employees to adopt desired behavior?
3. How can businesses get continued gains from employee loyalty programs?
Let us revisit Roger’s Bell Curve of adoption. When confronted with new products, ideas, technologies, etc., some people adopt very quickly as “innovators,” others follow as “early-adopters,” others are “middle-adopters,” and the rest are “laggards.” As shown in the diagram below, the distribution of “types” tends to follow a bell curve. In addition, behaviorists have demonstrated that individuals tend to suffer from status quo bias when making decisions—i.e., they prefer the status quo and move from one segment of adoption to another only after calculating the effort to change (also known as mental accounting) and assessing the reward for change (also known as anchoring). Mechanisms need to be developed to “nudge” individuals into overcoming these decision-making frictions. These mechanisms include Gamification.
As we all know, rewards—ranging from employee-of-the-month parking spots to Pink Cadillacs (Mary Kay) to company-paid trips to Hawaii to bonuses—incentivize top performers (i.e. innovators and early-adopters) to go for the win. When companies introduce pure Game Mechanics gamification (digital or non-digital) to employee settings, top performers continue to win. Innovators and early-adopters embrace pure Game Mechanics because it introduces “fun” into their initial risk-taking behavior.
In short, the use of pure Game Mechanics as a nudging mechanism can suffer from a “top performers’ curse,” in that it simply incentivizes these employees to behave the same way they would have behaved without the “carrot.”
What carrots will change the behavior of middle-adopters? Why do real-work, data based, points-badges-and-leaderboard (PBL) mechanisms fail when it comes to employee engagement? I attribute this failure to a lack of understanding of the Rogers’ Bell Curve when designing Gamification nudging mechanisms.
When designing nudging mechanisms, the key questions to ask are:
1. What behaviors do you (the employer) want to see from the employees?
2. What workarounds (or recidivism to non-desirable behaviors) need to be prevented?
If the employer has good answers to these questions, he/she can create mechanisms that nudge middle-adopters to the desired behaviors. In short, employees get the carrot and the employer gets the win.
Serious Games allow middle-adopters to go through the “unlearn and relearn” cycle faster. This, in turn, enables them to trust the change and adopt faster. This is why Serious Games-based mechanisms work so well with respect to employee engagement. An interesting example is provided by Persuasive Games iconoclast Ian Bogost: Cold Stone Creamery required all new hires to practice their ice cream scooping technique with a game simulator before serving customers. This produced faster on-boarding of new employees and higher employee retention.
At PAKRA, we find that when Serious Games are used in conjunction with Game Mechanics in real-work processes, it provides even more sustainable success than when Serious Games are used in isolation. The results that we see when our clients use both Serious Games and Game Mechanics are given here.