Serious fun. That’s the idea behind business-oriented gamification, and a new report from Gartner says that game-playing techniques can improve ordinary work challenges and worker engagement.

The study, Gamification: The Serious Side of Games Can Make Work More Interesting, points to the use of gamification to address ongoing business process management issues, such as the need to encourage continual improvement.

One Quarter of Business Processes

Gamification is intended to make employees more engaged, and to encourage them in reaching their goals. Techniques include feedback, measurement and incentives, using points, levels and achievements, challenges and competitions, and leaderboards.

The techniques are based on the experiences of interactive computer games, military simulations, situational awareness training such as police training, or financial modeling such as virtual stock markets. The inclusion of gamification is happening on so many fronts that Gartner expects one quarter of all redesigned business processes in 2015 will include one or more gamification practices.

Many vendors are beginning to offer gamification techniques for a wide variety of use cases. For instance, Badgeville integrated with Salesforce to increase employees’ utilization of customer relationship management systems, and gamification solutions provider Bunchball has product lines to motivate both employees and customers.

Different Cultures

One of Bunchball’s product lines is a series of plug-and-play apps called Sparks that promote software adoption, site engagement and sales productivity, and the other, called Fuse, provides codeless connections for its gamification with enterprise apps, including ones from SAP, IBM, Microsoft and SugarCRM.

The Gartner report noted work cultures differ in what is effective and what motivates. Even within a single organization, there could be differing sub-cultures between, say, the marketing, accounting and design departments.

This variance in work culture is one of the reasons that Gartner recommends a first step of developing a comprehensive strategy that defines process objectives, metrics and desired outcomes, followed by a determination of the behaviors the company wants to create, reinforce or change.

A key to the success of gamification techniques is that value is assigned to tasks or activities, Gartner said, and any strategy should include a plan for iterations and for increasing challenges to continually encourage engagement.

Things to avoid include gamification that runs contrary to company norms, a misalignment of incentives with tasks, making activities too easy or too hard, rewarding actions that have no meaning or value, or compelling employees to participate in activities that are not part of their work.