Gamification is certainly a hot topic nowadays. We've seen the power it has to engage customers, and now many companies are turning to gamification within the workplace in hopes to engage their employees like they have their customers. But is it a good idea, or does gamification cause an unhealthy competition amongst co-workers?

We asked our panel their thoughts. Their responses may surprise you.

The Question

Does Gamification within the Enterprise cause an unhealthy competition amongst co-workers?

The Responses

Marigo Raftopoulos - Strategic|Games|Lab

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Marigo Raftopoulos is a strategy consultant and doctoral researcher specializing in enterprise innovation and gamification. She is founder and CEO of Strategic|Games|Lab and is a partner in the global consultancy

Like any strategic management tool, gamification must be fit for purpose. Inappropriate gamification will backfire if it isn't aligned to business objectives, organizational culture, and the people affected. So the simple answer is that competition in an inappropriate area of your business is unhealthy. However in the right areas, it can drive breakthrough results.

Enterprise competition can cause problems when you design for a win/lose game. The trick is to design for win/win game which will deliver a much more engaging and sustainable campaign. Therefore for the enterprise, designing for 'co-operative competition' is best as it taps both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators that are innate in all of us. This was a key feature in the design of the FoldIt game by the University of Washington which solved a 15 year old scientific problem in three weeks. Other problem solving, innovation and ideation platforms such as Kaggle and Spigit have designed competitions which are also based on co-operative competition principles.

Competition needs context and it needs to be meaningful, and not everyone in the workplace is motivated by traditional competitions. The science of motivation shows us that people perform best when their environment enables them to to build accomplishment, achievement, progression, competence, autonomy, meaning and relatedness. The best multiplayer games and enterprise gamification programs incorporate many of these elements to make sure we engage as many people as possible. Competition is only one of many game mechanics that can be used.

In the workplace we predominantly see competitions being run because they're easy, not because it's the best strategy. We need to be more selective in how we use them to make sure we send the right message to our staff and encourage the right behaviors. So if your organization is thinking about running a competition, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why are we running this competition, what problem are we trying to solve?
  2. What messages will a competition send to our staff, and this the type of behavior we want to encourage?
  3. How else can we solve the problem, and what other strategies can be implemented in conjunction with a competition that are more collaborative?

As most organizations have diverse work forces and complex systems, we recommend that you employ a variety of different gamification strategies to enable your staff to tackle your business challenges from different angles simultaneously.

Peter Ostrow - Aberdeen

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Peter Ostrow is the Vice President and Group Director of the Sales Effectiveness & Strategy practice at Aberdeen Group, a leading provider of fact-based research focused on the global technology-driven value chain. Peter oversees research consumed by end-users in Marketing, Sales, and Service management roles. His research encompasses the technology, service and consulting enablers that enterprise sales forces deploy to become best-in-class organizations. Research topics covered include sales training, sales intelligence, CRM/SFA, sales performance management, and integrating technologies around customer acquisition and retention.

While traditional sales compensation techniques represented a simple commission plan and perhaps an accelerator or bonus for beating quota, contemporary sales performance management practices recognize that while “cash is king,” financial incentives are not the only path to creating engaged and successful sellers. While 98% of Best-in-Class firms predictably indicate individual financial compensation as a top-three sales motivator, when we move beyond the money, even this classically hard-edged job role is highly susceptible to the value of being told, "Job well done," with “internal recognition for positive performance” and “competition with other team members” representing the most popular non-financial motivators of successful salespeople.

While only 12% of survey respondents currently report an active gamification initiative, an additional 23% of them (31% among the Best-in-Class) indicate a plan to implement one within the next 12 months. Gamification is a natural fit for the sales function: it represents another dimension in which these naturally competitive team members can one-up each other. Indeed, sales gamification users grow their corporate revenue and average deal size faster than non-users on a year-to-year basis, and improved their lead conversion and closure rates YOY while non-users lose ground.

How do companies deploy gamification programs to publicize the people and actions they want to aggressively support? In days gone by, the “employee of the month” award, with accompanying name-on-a-plaque and parking space perks, served as an effective recognition tool used by companies to elicit positive behaviors in classic Pavlovian fashion. Today’s enterprises use web-based tools, digital communications, and device-agnostic dashboards to keep all relevant stakeholders aware of which employees are currently in the good graces of management.

The sales job role, specifically, is a unique job where recognition is relevant, because of the fact that unlike many departments, sales is one traditionally known for not aggressively offering promotional opportunities. Indeed, only 37% of surveyed companies indicate that a “formal sales management training program is in place for all designated potential sales managers” -- this is not a bad idea, and 50% of Best-in-Class firms do so -- but overall, the “great players don’t make great managers” mindset common among sales teams speaks to the fact that top sales performers often out-earn their managers and don’t necessarily covet a promotion.

Without the traditional corporate ability to dangle the career advancement carrot in front of salespeople, their managers can look for other outlets to maintain sales employee engagement, specifically recognition. This form of positive public call-outs can make note of salespeople who achieve both traditional selling milestones, i.e. around quota attainment, but also non-financially-oriented accomplishments such as mentoring more junior team members, serving as subject matter experts or liaisons for other departments, etc.

While the Human Resources team inside a typical company may not always get excited about creating employee competitions in which there are identified winners and losers, the sales function is a natural fit for tapping into the competitive spirit that has long been associated with the job role.

Most companies have long sought to reward top sales performers with extra financial rewards — such as overrides and higher commission payment percentages for exceeding quota — as well as non-cash rewards such as trips to President’s Club and other perks. Corporate leaders know full well that salespeople are motivated by a unique combination of money, recognition, and competition, and the latter is well adapted to gamification initiatives wherein leaderboards and other public tallies of “who’s in the lead” keep all stakeholders consistently informed of which salesperson or team is in front of others in the quest for success. What they earn — badges, points, gifts, travel, merchandise — is no more important than the act of winning itself.

Naureen Meraj - NTT Data Inc.

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Naureen Meraj is the global leader for gamification and employee engagement at NTT DATA, Inc, a subsidiary of the 6th largest IT Services company in the world. Her team's pioneering work in gamification has been recognized by InformationWeek as one of the 500 best innovations for 2012. Naureen advises corporate leaders around the world on using gamification to improve their business, and her insights have been featured in both the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. In addition, Naureen also developed and leads the employee engagement practice, which helps maximize the benefits of an engaged workforce, both for NTT DATA and its clients.

Competition is often an integral part of many gamified processes, as it inspires the motivation for players to participate and change their behavior. However, there is a fine line between what is healthy and unhealthy competition. If not implemented thoughtfully, gamification could most certainly drive the wrong kind of behavior amongst coworkers; pinning them up against each other to fight for that rare chance at gaining attention or recognition from their management. To avoid such a conundrum, it is important for an organization to provide an environment that encourages collaboration, teamwork and camaraderie within the workplace to begin with -- so that when an individual achieves something, there is a sense of shared success among the fellow employees.

At NTT DATA, we have instilled a number of gamification initiatives that promote healthy competition. For starters, our games have share-only points, which players can only give away to other players for helping them. Also, our games are regulated to penalize those who try to “game” the system to get ahead of their colleagues. This endorses the belief that the best way to win is to collaborate versus a “win at all costs” mentality. This is best exemplified in our internal networking platform called “Socially” which provides incentives for people to meet, collaborate, mentor and learn new skills in an online setting within the global workplace.

Similarly we conduct Innovation Workshops at accounts in cities around the world. We invite 40-50 employees, randomly dividing them into smaller groups, present them with a design challenge, and have them compete towards creating the best solution. The winners not only get a nice extrinsic reward (e.g. gift card), but also the intrinsic incentive of management recognition in addition to potentially having their solution funded and brought to fruition. The competition provides an equal playing field for junior and senior level employees, and it fosters true teamwork to leverage ideas from all players. Although there is only one group winner from each session, participants in other groups are also recognized for their creativity, and executive leaders make it a point to personally acknowledge them.

It is important to remember that the employer must provide an equal opportunity for all employees to succeed. Every gamified initiative should result in players feeling that their participation and efforts were not in vain, and working together rather than against each other will only help them achieve their goals faster. Applied correctly, it will ensure and validate that gamification does in fact provide “healthy” competition amongst coworkers after all.

Rajat Paharia - Bunchball

Rajat founded Bunchball in 2005. Rajat’s skill set combines a unique understanding of technology and design that stems from a four-year career at design firm IDEO where he was co-director of the Software Experiences Practice. While at IDEO, he worked with clients including AT&T Wireless, Avaya, Microsoft, McDonald’s, HP and Philips. Previously, Rajat worked in various roles at Philips Consumer Electronics, IBM Research and ViewStar.

Gamification, when pared down to its essence, is simply motivating people through data. By using the data-driven motivational techniques that video game designers have used for years, business owners, managers and educators can motivate and engage their constituents, drive true loyalty, and create a sustainable competitive advantage in their markets. In my upcoming book, Loyalty 3.0 - How to Revolutionize Customer and Employee Engagement with Big Data and Gamification, I outline the 10 key gamification mechanics, which include Fast Feedback, Transparency, Onboarding, Competition, and Collaboration among others. Note that competition is just one of many mechanics that can be used to motivate employees, and isn't always appropriate or desired.

There are many cases where competition is appropriate and desired however, and the workplace is often one of them. In actuality, the workplace is already full of competition -- we're competing for promotions, for bonuses, for attention and recognition, for support for our ideas, for scarce resources and for employee of the month. It's human nature -- you have finite resources and a group of people who want them, of course there's going to be competition. These "competitions" are generally informal, ad hoc, and opaque - you often don't know how others are doing, how you compare, and sometimes even what the rules are!

So what do we mean by "unhealthy" competition? Typically we mean that the competition has negative consequences, either for the business, because employees are working for personal gain instead of in the best interest of the business, or for individual employees, who can be publicly called out for low performance. The only thing that gamification changes from the competition that already permeates the workplace is this last point - the newfound transparency into everyone's performance that shows in no uncertain terms how you're doing. When people worry about gamification causing "unhealthy competition", I believe in fact they're worried about the effect that such transparency can have among their employees.

It's ironic that this worry always seems to stem from a desire to protect the bottom performers -- the very employees that a business should be trying to evolve and improve -- either by enhancing their performance or finding roles better suited to them. The transparency train has left the station though. As we do more and more of our work in online systems, all of our activity and our performance is being tracked and made visible, and our performance is on display for everyone to see. The businesses that win will be the ones that evolve to effectively capture and utilize this data, and then use it to motivate their employees to perform better.

Rich Blank - Jive Software

Rich Blank is a Solutions Engineer with Jive Software. advises on social computing, collaboration & content management technology solutions and strategy. He is a frequent blogger on and a featured expert and contributor on Rich has spoken at events including Social Media Summits, SharePoint Conferences, and prior IT & Business Alignment Conferences, and regional user Groups. Rich is also a certified PMP, Microsoft MCP, AIIM CIP, and Six Sigma Green Belt and has held previous senior technology and management consulting roles at IBM and EMC. Follow Rich on Twitter: @getrichieb.

In a basic sense, gamification in the workplace is a digital way to motivate, reward and recognize employees. Your organization probably already has some form of it in awards, sales clubs, years of service -- just not necessarily in a digital or more public form within the company. In recent years we’re starting to see gamification techniques now applied to business processes and technology systems such as social networks and CRM. No matter where or how gamification is applied in your business, you are ultimately trying to influence the right kind of desired behavior to achieve specific outcomes.

With any new trendy management technique, it’s important to understand one of the key risks. As much as you want to influence good behaviors, you might also see unhealthy competitive behaviors in your workers. It is possible that the increased competitive nature of gamification may actually be detrimental to workers or teams sharing information or negatively impact cooperation across competing teams. You might even de-motivate certain people or teams if they don't win or a single teams keeps winning over and over again. Let's face it, it's not easy to influence people’s behaviors or motivate workers. Some people are motivated by money while other workers have very different intrinsic motivations for simply doing a good job or being efficient or showing outstanding customer service.

The key to a successful gamification program is defining the business goals up front. What behaviors, rewards and recognition align to those goals? How will you measure success? Successful gamification programs also require a technology platform that allow for some type of targeted personalization of the workforce. Who's the audience and is the reward tied to any status or impacting employee reviews or pay? It's important to recognize that there are broad applications for gamification across an entire organization but also deep use cases within departments or functional roles or a business process.

Gamification in the workplace has proven successful -- increasing adoption and levels of engagement of enterprise tools like social business software or CRM applications. It's been proven to increase efficiencies or throughput of business processes. If gamification is a foreign buzzword to your organization, think of gamification as a kind of digital motivation program integrated across a multi-platform technology experience. As always, seek guidance from the right experts in applying gamification concepts to technology platforms or specific business challenges.

Christian Buckley - Axceler

Christian Buckley is a SharePoint Server MVP and is an Evangelist with Axceler, a SharePoint ISV and Microsoft Gold Partner. Christian actively writes and presents for the SharePoint community, is a SharePoint expert for, and maintains a personal blog at You can follow Axceler on Twitter at @Axceler, and Christian at @buckleyplanet.

As organizations seek to understand the ROI of their investments in knowledge management and collaboration platforms, many are turning to gamification as a way to drive employee engagement. The idea is simple -- increase the number of users on the system, encourage those end users to participate more once on the system, and that increased usage plus higher engagement will equal a higher return on investment of the system. Whether or not this equation is true may be a matter of debate, but it’s an empty argument if an organization cannot entice more of its users to participate, allowing data to be collected and feedback received to measure gamification’s effectiveness.

There are many pro’s and con’s to using statistics-driven gamification techniques to drive employee engagement. Leaderboards, reward programs and other techniques can provide insights into how the platform is being used and who is using it, show you which business units and teams are most and least active, and show patterns of usage over time to help give you a view of whether end users are following intended behaviors. As those patterns evolve, organizations can modify their gamification techniques to shape and direct end user behavior.

On the downside, competition can cause problems in some organizations -- but I view this more as a cultural issue. For example, are rewards and recognition unbalanced in that they only identify and reward sales, rather than a balanced system where operations, marketing, support and other organizations can participate? Even more concerning -- are people changing their behavior to maximize their metrics, rather than do the right thing for their customers? Do support personnel seek to close customer tickets as quickly as possible rather than provide the best possible customer experience as they know that long tickets will be highlighted on a leader-board for all to see?

Gamification techniques, like any other reward or usability initiative, should be continuously monitored, measured, and refined to ensure that business objectives are being met, and that these programs are driving intended behaviors. Gamification is not a solution for every organization. As with any new system or tool, it should have clear business alignment, with well-defined measurements and governance processes, and above all it should be a cultural fit for the organization. If managed correctly, it has the potential to provide important data to your organization about how the platform is being used, and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your investment.