Keep employees engaged and motivated with games and friendly competition


Turning knowledge of key company metrics into a game can make them more accessible and relevant. It can also foster more ownership of company outcomes.

Image: iStock/AntonioGuillem

When speaking with Quicken’s VP of marketing, Linda Itskovitz, about her team’s recent “virtual offsite” to Bora Bora, she also mentioned how she had been working on gamifying some of her team’s marketing metrics. One concept was that of a casino room, in which participants could place a virtual bet on a target range for a particular metric, whether around customer satisfaction scores or adoption and download rates for various products. She also created a trivia game, with questions like “Do we have more downloads of a particular product on Father’s Day or Administrative Assistant’s Day?”

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While this might seem a bit frivolous, it activated her team’s competitive nature as individuals tried to make enough correct bets to win prizes that ranged from bragging rights to Amazon gift cards. This turned a rather boring task—studying metrics and keeping aware of them—into a fun activity. The obvious side benefit was that the people competing in the games would closely follow key team metrics, watching their every move with the passion and interest of watching your favorite stock or sports team’s performance.

With the blessing of the CEO, she is extending this concept to other parts of the organization. Marketing can now “bet” on other team’s key metrics, just as leaders can follow and place their own virtual wagers on marketing’s key performance indicators (KPIs). This has not only created an awareness and interest in KPIs across the company, but allowed people to see the impact of their actions across the company. A technology change in IT, for example, that seems otherwise rather mundane, might have an outsized impact on sales metrics. This impact might have gone unnoticed in the past, but if the project manager who owns the change now is closely following sales KPIs, she might be pleasantly surprised to discover the impact of her work.

The power of games

Gamification is nothing new, and was a hot topic a few years ago, but seems to have fallen out of favor as many of the gamification concepts were overly complex, or became intrusive. Companies that put counters on point-of-sale terminals to create a scoreboard of who was processing the most transactions discovered unintended consequences like cashiers ignoring basic customer service in order to process the most transactions, or in some cases, employees rebelling against being so closely monitored and tracked against their peers. In other cases, gamification required complex data capture, analytics, and new technology tools to monitor and share results.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

With basic KPIs, however, the complex measurement mechanics are likely already in place. Your company surely captures sales figures across product lines, systems uptime, and perhaps more complex metrics like customer acquisition costs or incremental cost of sales. In Quicken’s case, the “gamification system” was little more than a shared set of Google slides, where individuals could place their bets on various metrics. Linda let her creativity shine, adding casino-themed images and cheeky language to her slides, but there was nary an analytics engine, complex user interface, or development dollar expended to add a games layer to otherwise rather boring company metrics.

Human beings love games, as evidenced by the trillions of dollars that flow through the sports, gambling, and gaming industries. I would have laughed someone out of the room a decade ago who told me that serving as a manager of pretend football teams would be a nearly $8 billion industry, but history has repeatedly proven that we’re wired as a species to compete.

Launch your own gamification experiment

With little more than some creativity required to get started, consider how you might gamify some of your organization’s KPIs. Find something as simple as a whiteboard, real or virtual, and write out a key metric and a bet on whether it will rise or fall. Will your IT spend on cloud services rise or fall over key shopping holidays? Will use of collaboration software rise or fall in the first quarter of next year? Will there be more cyberattacks from Country A or Country B in January?

SEE: Tech budgets 2021: A CXO’s Guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Promote the competition among your team and see how people respond. As a leader, make sure you’re showing interest and engagement, updating your whiteboard daily, or providing metric updates and status on the game at the start of each meeting. Providing a nominal prize like a $20 gift card can accelerate interest, just as people will compete with gusto for a $3 trophy.

At the end of the experiment, see if it created more interest and engagement with the KPIs of your organization. Did awareness of the moves in these metrics positively impact your team? Are they more aware of how their actions and events inside and outside the company impact the metric?

With a success or two under your belt, consider bringing metrics from other teams into your game, and finding interested parties outside of IT with whom to share metrics. Once your games pick up traction, you may find yourself leading an executive initiative to gamify key company metrics across the organization.

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