print edition of Providence Business News
At Rite-Solutions, CEO James R. Lavoie has helped bring gaming into the workplace with “Mutual Fun,” a stock market-inspired game that allows employees to make “intellectual capital investments” about the future of the company the way they would make financial investments on the stock market.
The game is an example of “gamification” – the use of game mechanics, elements and techniques into a nongame setting – in order to engage users and solve problems.
“Games fill an innate human need to overcome challenges and face obstacles,” said Jose Esteves, professor at the IE Brown Executive MBA, a collaborative program between the Madrid-based Instituto de Empressa Business School and Brown University. In his Dec. 5 lecture “The Art of Enterprise Gamification,” at Brown, Esteves explained how social gaming and gamification techniques are being used successfully by companies around the globe.
According to Esteves, who calls gamification a “social phenomenon,” 69 percent of all heads of households regularly play some sort of game, as do 97 percent of all children. It benefits companies to tap into that resource in order to engage users. “Just because we don’t game doesn’t mean our employees, suppliers and customers are not doing it,” said Esteves.
In a 2011 report, Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner Inc. predicts that by 2014, roughly 70 percent of the world’s top 2,000 public companies will have at least one gamified application. Although Gartner said the current growth of gamification is “largely driven by novelty and hype,” the firm predicts it will continue as a highly significant trend over the next five years.
Employing gamification techniques doesn’t necessarily mean spending precious time trying to develop an actual game. Businesses that use loyalty programs such as “buy 10 get the 11th free” punch passes are also using gamification. Corporate powerhouses such as Amazon and LinkedIn also utilize gaming techniques with their review processes and rewards for completing user profiles.
Gamification techniques are not only being used to improve engagement with customers.
“I think management [at some companies] is fighting gamification because it sounds like fun,” said Rite-Solutions’ Lavoie, whose company provides engineering services to both government and commercial customers. He referred to the gamification used by his company as a cross between entertainment games and education.
The more employees that invest in an idea, the more attention it gets and the more likely the project is to come to fruition, Lavoie said of “Mutual Fun.” By limiting the amount of funds employees can invest, they chose only the most interesting projects. “I describe it sometimes as ‘the one-plate buffet,’ ” said Lavoie. “If you can have all you can eat … they’ll put it all on their plate, but if you only have one plate, they’ll pick the things they want the most.” The theory is that “smart people won’t work on dumb ideas,” so the best projects are the ones that get invested in the most.
“The purpose of the game is to make all the employees feel more engaged and relevant to the future state of the company,” said Lavoie. “Your job makes you relevant to the present because you do something today.”
“Mutual Fun,” which started roughly four years ago and has gone through multiple transitions since its inception, was designed as a way to give all employees a voice for future innovation, including those who don’t always speak up. “My company is largely scientists, computer scientists, engineers. The majority of those people are not salespeople, they’re introverts,” said Lavoie. “The last people to join and the people that have the most to bring to a game like this are introverts. They find it’s a safe place to have an idea, since most companies make them do a presentation.”
Rather than presenting an idea to a panel of potentially critical, high-ranking company officials, employees at Rite-Solutions use the “Mutual Fun” Web platform to submit ideas to their co-workers on even footing.
The idea for Mutual Fun has caught on, and Rite-Solutions has licensed the game to between a half dozen and a dozen organizations, including academic institutions.
For academic institutions, there are two main ways to customize “Mutual Fun.” On the one hand, the game represents a way for a class of 70 to establish a portfolio for fostering ideas and entrepreneurship. Faculty also can use the game to help come up with ideas to lower the attrition rate of freshmen and to make the new students that come in feel more like they want to stay at the institution.
For larger corporations, the game’s home page, or “Lobby,” is expanded so employees can decide where to focus their attention, including on categories such as culture, products, improving services, eliminating waste, equal-opportunity improvements and energy/green ideas.
Some ideas – such as a new product – can take time to come to fruition, while simple money-saving ideas – such as a change in shipping practices – can be implemented rather quickly. “When an employee comes up with an idea that will save us money, that will get implemented pretty quickly,” Lavoie said.
“A lot of management thinks: ‘Hey, if we’re just going to introduce fun and games, when is the work going to get done?’ ” said Lavoie, arguing that the problem is companies thinking of games like “Mutual Fun” as human resources initiatives, rather than innovation initiatives. “But innovation is what comes out of it.”
In the “Mutual Fun” platform, management can set up challenges, such as asking for a “thought blitz,” during which employees are asked to think about a single topic for a few days and give their feedback. Topics could range from a customer complaint to a product deficiency.
“That’s the problem with management saying they believe social media is a distraction from work. Serious social media aligned to your future state can be very, very productive for the entire company,” said Lavoie.