For Success with Gamification, Top Programs Balance Intrinsic Motivation with Tangible Rewards

Whitney Magnuson, Senior Director, Enterprise Social Media, Hilton

Whitney Magnuson, Senior Director, Enterprise Social Media, Hilton

Once relegated to the marketing world, gamification, or the use of video game-like mechanisms in non-game contexts has made its way into nearly every corner of an enterprise.

It’s underway at companies everywhere that seem eager to gamify all manner of their internal and external programs, and I’ve experienced it first-hand, through employee training I’ve received and even HR benefits. As part of employee training at my former employer IBM, I was able to earn badges like “Agile Practitioner” for completing recommended online learning. And through my work-issued health plan at Hilton, I can earn discounts off my insurance premium for completing “missions,” such as getting a flu shot that makes me less likely to need sick days.

 The urge to gamify is a simple one: gamification has been shown as an effective tool to get individuals to participate in activities that they might not naturally be inclined to do. But where many nascent gamification programs fall short is that they rely too heavily on tangible rewards, which are not only expensive but also short-lived, resulting in users to cease activity once they’ve earned a reward.

 existing human motivations already at play  

Sure, offering a tit-for-tat – like a digital gift card in exchange for the desired action – is likely to produce surefire results (so long as the desired action is proportionate to the perceived reward). But there are a number of other, less utilized elements of gamification that can appeal to the intrinsic motivations we all share as well.

Key intrinsic motivations that are ripe for tapping through gamification mechanisms include:

• Completion (people enjoy the feeling of completing a collection or checking an item off their list)

• Competition (competitive individuals enjoy the thrill of seeing how they stack up against their peers, and the quest to improve their standings and reach goals)

• Recognition (individuals enjoy being singled out as special or exceptional among their peer group)

• Utility/Altruism (people want to be helpful to others, and can therefore often be motivated if they believe their contributions will be useful to someone else)

• Access/Exclusivity (people like to feel as though they are receiving a benefit that few others have the chance to experience)

• Learning/Task Achievement (certain individuals enjoy the feeling of mastering new skills or becoming more educated)

To see the interaction between different types of motivators in gamification, it can be helpful to look at top programs. Consider, for example, Hilton Honors, which is Hilton’s guest loyalty program. While the program has tangible rewards – guests are able to earn points for their paid hotel stays and redeem those points for free stays in the future –Hilton also uses a tiered system to strategically tempt and reward users who are motivated by recognition and exclusivity. The program offers more and more exclusive benefits for each level a member climbs.

A newer application for gamification lies in the cybersecurity arena; companies like Price Waterhouse Cooper are training senior employees how to spot cyberattacks by allowing them to play the part of the cyber attacker. Such systems combine competition with motivations like learning and recognition by showing the top “players” on leaderboards within the training and giving employees a chance to face off against their peers.

In this way, gamification isn’t so much about the badges, levels, and leaderboards that companies use to make a program feel more game-like, but rather how well those mechanisms trigger existing human motivations already at play. Tangible rewards may be a motivator, but they are just one of many that companies have at their disposal for building an efficient and effective gamified system.

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