Tag Archives: worker

How and Why Gamification Must be Effective in the Enterprise

I am not a gamification expert. In fact, until today, I was skeptical of the potential effectiveness of the gamification of work in changing employee behavior and performance. I have consistently advised my software vendor clients that gamification is a wild card, because the value of gamifying enterprise software has not been demonstrated beyond question.

My outlook on gamification changed instantly today, while reading a New York Times Magazine article written by Charles Duhigg and shared on Twitter by Sameer Patel, whose value judgements and recommendations I very much trust. The article, which is actually an extended book excerpt, is not about gamification. Rather, it is about the application of analytics and behavioral science to large retailers’ marketing efforts. However, what I learned reading the article changed my perspective on the gamification of work by revealing a scientific basis for why it must succeed, if properly applied.

Duhigg tells the story of Target’s efforts to use customer purchase and demographic data to identify which of its female customers were in the second trimester of a pregnancy, so the retailer could shift those customers’ in-store and online buying habits. While that story is fascinating in itself, Duhigg’s explanation of the behavioral science on which retailers build their marketing strategies is what made me rethink my position on the gamification of work.

Behavioral scientists have shown that habits – routines that we largely perform subconsciously – are developed responses to a consistent, reoccurring stimulus. We repeat the action (habit) every time our brain is cued by the stimulus because doing so produces a mental, emotional, or physical reward. The more we repeat this cue-routine-reward loop, the further ingrained the habit becomes.

As Duhigg explains with an extended anecdote about Proctor & Gamble’s marketing efforts around its Febreze product, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to create a new habit in a vacuum. The only way to effectively change a habit is to embed it in an established cue-routine-reward loop, replacing the old routine with a new one. This is the scientific key to why the gamification of work is not just bogus theory.

For gamification to be effective, new behavioral routines must be applied when triggered by a specific work stimulus and yield already desired rewards. If we understand the cues that trigger unproductive habits for workers, as well as the rewards they derive from applying those routines, we can replace those unproductive actions with more productive ones.

Most examples of work gamification that I have seen ignore the existence of cues completely. Gamification elements are constantly present, rather than appearing only under specific conditions. Embed it and they will play.

Furthermore, gamification has too often been explained in terms of changing the rewards when, in fact, it is about changing the behaviors themselves. Behavioral science has demonstrated that changing the reward does not change the behavior. Rather, the routine must change, and the new, desired behavior must be linked to an existing, desired reward that motivates an employee.

Other Thoughts Related to This Behavioral Science

The behavioral science behind Target’s and P&G’s efforts to alter customer’s buying habits can be applied to any other situation in which change is desired to affect positive performance outcomes. Unproductive work habits is one area, as discussed above. Another is the adoption of new enterprise software.

If organizations tied usage of new software to the specific cues and rewards associated with existing work tasks and habits, adoption would rocket up the desired hockey-stick curve. Both the use cases and the benefits would be crystal clear to employees, eliminating two of the most significant barriers to the mainstream adoption of new software. The “what’s in it for me” would be immediately obvious to the workers to whom the new software has been launched. Change communication (and application training) would still be critical, but the creating the associated messages would be greatly simplified, as they are already known.

As demonstrated in Duhigg’s article, behavioral scientists (and retailers) also understand that there are a few specific, life-altering events that provide the perfect window in which influencers can change an individual’s seemingly intractable habits. Events such as graduating from college, changing employment, getting married, buying a house, and yes, having a baby, disrupt peoples’ ingrained habits, or at least cause them to question their routines. As such, major life events offer influencers a very valuable opportunity to seed new habits that will then remain in place and unquestioned until the next big life event occurs.

Why is that important? Think about who in the enterprise is currently responsible for being aware of impending or recent employee major life changes, and helping employees minimize the effects that those changes may have on their work performance. Human Resources. Yes, HR is the corporate custodian of changes associated with employee life-events. As such, they are well-positioned to identify the optimal opportunities for changing an individual employee’s work habits in ways that will lead to improved performance. Managers directly supervising one or more employees are even better positioned to identify those performance change opportunities, as they often become aware of actual or planned employee life changes before HR knows about them.

Charles Duhigg’s book excerpt provided me with an ah-ha moment regarding the gamification of work. It also underscored how important the understanding of behavioral science is to affecting positive workplace transformation. Many of us focused on the intersection of business and technology too often are unaware of, or under-value, the contributions that social science has made to the understanding of organizational behavior. Thank you Mr. Duhigg (and Mr. Patel) for leading me to these insights today.

Image source: http://www.bigdoor.com

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Integration of Social Software and Content Management Systems: The Big Picture

jive-sbs-connected-11198Jive Software’s announcement last week of the Jive SharePoint Connector was met with a “so what” reaction by many people. They criticized Jive for not waiting to make the announcement until the SharePoint Connector is actually available later this quarter (even though pre-announcing product is now a fairly common practice in the industry.) Many also viewed this as a late effort by Jive to match existing SharePoint content connectivity found in competitor’s offerings, most notably those of NewsGator, Telligent, Tomoye, Atlassian, Socialtext, and Connectbeam.

Those critics missed the historical context of Jive’s announcement and, therefore, failed to understand its ramifications. Jive’s SharePoint integration announcement is very important because it:

  • underscores the dominance of SharePoint in the marketplace, in terms of deployments as a central content store, forcing all competitors to acknowledge that fact and play nice (provide integration)
  • reinforces the commonly-held opinion that SharePoint’s current social and collaboration tools are too difficult and expensive to deploy, causing organizations to layer third-party solution on top of existing SharePoint deployments
  • is the first of several planned connections from Jive Social Business Software (SBS) to third-party content management systems, meaning that SBS users will eventually be able to find and interact with enterprise content without regard for where it is stored
  • signals Jive’s desire to become the de facto user interface for all knowledge workers in organizations using SBS

The last point is the most important. Jive’s ambition is bigger than just out-selling other social software vendors. The company intends to compete with other enterprise software vendors, particularly with platform players (e.g. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP), to be the primary productivity system choice of large organizations. Jive wants to position SBS as the knowledge workers’ desktop, and their ability to integrate bi-directionally with third-party enterprise applications will be key to attaining that goal.

Jive’s corporate strategy was revealed in March, when they decreed a new category of enterprise software — Social Business Software. Last week’s announcement of an ECM connector strategy reaffirms that Jive will not be satisfied by merely increasing its Social Media or Enterprise 2.0 software market share. Instead, Jive will seek to dominate its own category that bleeds customers from other enterprise software market spaces.

Social Software: The Unemployed Knowledge Worker’s Best Friend

layoff-headlineReading headline after headline announcing new job cuts has sparked some thought regarding what’s different between this nascent recession and the last economic slowdown of the early 1990s.  Several things, to be sure, but the most important one may be the ability of the unemployed knowledge worker to connect with others to mine employment and new business opportunities.

I predict that we will remember the the 2008-2009 recession as the time when the public availability of free social software proved to be the unemployed knowledge worker’s best friend and savior.  And, perhaps, the global economy’s as well.

When I was laid off in 2003, after the Internet bubble burst, I had several tools with which to stay connected with my professional and social networks.  Telephone and e-mail were the primary communication vehicles, of course.  Instant messaging wasn’t as pervasive then as it is today, but I used it to stay in touch with a few people in my network.  The best method to network was — and still is — by meeting with someone face-to-face.  In fact, it was an in-person conversation that triggered the chain of events that lead to my employment at IBM in 2004.

Knowledge workers in this economic downturn have all of those tools available, plus several more.  Online profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace), blogs, microstreaming (Twitter, FriendFeed), content sharing (GoogleDocs, Box.net), bookmarking (Del.icio.us, Digg), and other species of social software have greatly increased our ability to stay connected and work with others in our professional and social networks.

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, we rely less and less on employers to provide the communication and collaboration tools needed to connect and work with others.  That’s great news for those who have, or are about to, become unemployed!  Knowledge workers in 2008 have so many more ways to mine their contacts to find regular or contract employment compared to those who lost jobs five years ago.  The ability of unemployed knowledge workers to explore business ideas and start new ventures has also been increased by the public availability of free social software.

I am optimistic that the current recession, as painful as it will be, will breed the kinds of opportunities that will leave all of us better off in the long run.  There is one caveat to my optimistic outlook though.  If you haven’t been maintaining and building your professional and social networks all along, your ability to leverage them to find employment or start a business will be very limited.  It’s not too late to start building networks now via social software, but don’t expect to harvest immediately from a plot that you’ve just sown.