Gamification has potential to drive change programmes in organisations

Our desire to build high performance companies, improve communities and consume better goods, services and experiences forces us to pursue ongoing change. Not surprisingly, new change management programmes are launched regularly by companies, government departments and non-profit organisations. Most of these programmes are launched with significant energy and enjoy visible leadership support but don’t often succeed.


We are living in the age of “easy distractions”—they are served directly to our phones. We spend hours with our phones because the most compelling apps create an experience of playing a game. Insightful and successful change leaders recognise that change delivered through a more “palatable wrapper of fun” can deliver superior and sustainable engagement. This cognitive judo of battling distracting fun with purposeful fun can improve tough odds leaders face. This is the thesis behind gamification.


Gamification is the application of game-design elements in non-game contexts. Based on our experience of supporting large change programmes with ambitious leaders, we have identified six critical gaming mechanics.


Clear goals: Leaders must specify goals with extreme clarity. This forces discussion on strategic choices; and wherever necessary, trade-offs need to be made. Leaders must choose, and be upfront about these choices.


Simple rules: Change champions must clarify boundary conditions, roles for the individual/team and how one wins the “game”. It is common for companies to create complex rules. Rules that require long memos don’t work. People will interpret rules in their own way; change leaders are then surprised that rules were not well understood despite sending “organisation-wide memos”.


Well defined progression: A sense of accomplishment and associated mastery is the secret sauce of engagement. Reducing the effort for first level accomplishment is a gateway drug to pull people into the programme. Olympic coaches have to set the bar high as there are only three medal winners. Successful change leaders need to find the “hero” in everyone. A smart progression map balances effort needed with due recognition.



Incentives and recognition: Smart incentive models avoid common pitfalls such as lack of linkage to strategic goals and undue focus on short-term goals. Gamification opens up a new spectrum for leaders to rethink incentive design and bring in elements of “progressing every week or month” and “competing with self or comparable peers”.


Feedback loops: Organisations can sometimes confuse annual performance scorecard with feedback. High achievers in every walk of society need feedback. It needs to be individual-focused, actionable and real-time.


Social networks: Creating social networks can meaningfully amplify the impact of other mechanics. Public recognition in achievements, whether big or small, keeps people engaged.


A well-designed change programme embeds many of these elements together to create a significant ongoing, bottom-up rather than a top-down, momentum that is needed for the change to succeed. Organisations often succeed with small gamification pilots but fail when scaling up the programme.


Embedding gamification in a digital platform can help overcome this challenge of scale-up. Digital tools allow real-time visualisation of entire game-goals, rules, progression and recognition. Change managers can use data analytics to drive specific behaviours and most importantly help create habits. Nudges implemented through app notifications, SMSes and alerts can be built on existing “social media habits”. This allows change leaders to guide desirable behaviours and set new habits for the organisation.


The power of gamification lies in its ability to change behaviours. It puts people at the centre of the change programme, and only people deliver change. As we strategise for the year ahead, change leaders should consider using gamification in achieving their transformation goals.