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Game on!

By Alexander Reay, President, ITOSDA

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Alexander Reay, President, ITOSDA

Alexander is a world thought leader, inspirational speaker and expert on the subjects of Innovation, Outsourcing and IT. Currently he is also serving as the President of The Nordic IT Outsourcing and Software Development Association

The notion of introducing gaming into the corporate workforce, may seem ludicrous and utterly out of place to many of us. We may associate games with our children’s after school or weekend activities. So is this idea born from gaming frenzy or is there a little more than initially meets the eye? It is worth noting, when we refer to gamification, this does not mean bringing an xbox or playstation into the workplace and all start playing tetris or pacman! The idea of gamification is much deeper, more so angled at applying game mechanics, thinking  and dynamics into our processes and culture.

With this in mind, I took it upon myself to interview as many senior sourcing professionals as I could. It did not come too much of a surprise, that after gathering and collating the data, more than 70% had no idea what this emerging trend really meant, let alone the effects it could have. Almost 20% or so believed this to be literal, i.e. thought i was questioning them on some kind of computer game, 10% had heard of the concept in terms of a business strategy, but thought it related to marketing tactics. As a matter of fact, only a few percent had any real understanding, yet none  had really taken this seriously in their sourcing strategy. This is not to say there aren’t some of us out there trialing this concept. After gathering the research it dawned on me that perhaps as all of the interviewees were  buyers of  outsourcing services, the task of implementing gamification would come from the supply side. All in all which ever side makes the first move to implement gamification, I believe this to be a concept we will see much more of in the coming years especially with Big Data and today’s IT environment enabling further capability,  gamification is becoming a cutting-edge business technique.

With the lack of gamification in outsourcing one could assume it’s perceived  perhaps as a passing fad to many organizations or just an unnecessary extra cost,  but with labor being an organization’s biggest expense, proper utilization of gamification or gamified apps to increase outsourced staff activity, engagement and productivity, directly correlates to the impact on the bottom line. In this respect, as a matter of complex strategy to reduce costs,  indeed gamification poses as an interesting concept. It is recognized that even small changes to productivity can equate to big changes to net income or optimized delivery.

Adopting gamification in outsourcing, leads to a  number of interesting thoughts. Firstly we must appreciate that the Millennial workforces are moving up the corporate ladder, a generation where gaming is big business. With the rise of consoles, mobile phones and faster processing power not to mention HD and 3D graphics increasing the level of engagement, interactivity and complexity, computer games are a familiar site and pass time these days, and with that in mind, there is no doubt that gamification adds to the productivity and engagement of the workforce. From an outsourcing case, we too, have to respect this notion. There are certainly many of us that would be keen to see increased productivity from our outsourced workforce, so perhaps gamifying tasks could be a step closer to achieving it. Another major issue that gamification addresses, is the high churn rates we see within outsourcing projects, this costs huge amounts of time and money, so utilizing gamification to keep employees engaged and motivated is another interesting application. So there are many different ways we can utilize gamification,  but one that personally i find most intriguing is learning how to use gamification for objectives, managing change or as a new way to solve and identify business problems.

The secret to achieving innovation is the ability to manage change, and the secret to managing change is the ability to lead adoption. New ways of working and change can be difficult to implement, as workforces take time to adopt policy and process changes. When used properly, gamification stimulates change and more importantly the adoption of change, much like design thinking, by using a human centered approach. 

In essence, incentivizing people to do things with rewards, normally ends up in results. This is where i see gamification strategies really taking off. Being human centered and understanding how the human mind works is an important realization, it’s a matter of understanding human psychology. Give someone an incentive and they are more likely to take action. This can be used in many ways, some examples are rewarding the use of remote virtual meetings to cut down travel expenses, voip calls instead of mobile calls, rewarding education and training are all interesting ways we can see good results and increased performance. We are also (most of us) generally speaking fairly competitive, so the concept of leaderboards is also interesting and even though some of us might not be so competitive, what we can say for sure, is that no one really wants to be in last place. However, leaderboards don’t always work, one must be careful not to demoralize people that are always nearer the bottom. Experience suggests it’s better to create leaderboards of close knit teams and work friends, as this can make the experience fun, even though individuals are always bottom. I have also even seen examples of organizations creating a leaderboard of their outsourced vendors. The ones nearer the bottom actually increased service levels as a result.

All in all, this concept is picking up some steam with some serious advantages as a result, so most definitely a serious consideration. But like all things, make sure it’s executed properly with clearly defined goals. The very essence of gamification goes beyond just leaderboards and badges, its about gamifying an environment, not just adding game elements, it’s about adding elements of ownership, purpose and transcendence.