Gamify your intranet, or just be better at recognising your employees?

Back in September we discussed Gamification – an awful word – and concluded that, if used well, it could be a way to tap into the psychology of motivation and reward and make some tasks more engaging, interesting and participative.

But playing psychological tricks with your employees is a dangerous game.  People’s minds are complex things, and a ‘one size fits all’ approach is likely to annoy as many people as it delights.  Recent research by Gartner suggests that as many as 80% of all enterprise gamification will fail due to poor design. So before we fall for the hype, we should ask: will a gamified intranet really help, or would your resources be better spent on more mundane work, like improving the “recognising your employees” section of the HR site?


So, what’s the reward here? What’s in it for me? A badge, some money, a ‘thank you’ maybe?

Choosing the prize is vital to the success of the game. It must be significant and universal enough for all the people involved to want to win it. Financial reward seems an obvious candidate, but in most research, it comes pretty low down on the list. Recognition is what people are looking for. Recognition that the task they have performed has meaning and value to others.

Beware the law of unintended consequences

Gamification isn’t new. Sales teams are a great example of how league tables showing results, targets and bonuses have been used for years to motivate and reward.

But choosing which processes to gamify and how is vitally important. The idea of gamifying participation on the intranet; the premise being that if you encourage employees to add comments, then you could spark enterprise collaboration is laudable but all too often, laughable. It may have that desired effect, but equally, it may just encourage employees to spend their days adding hollow unimportant comments to news articles.

Think about what the game is rewarding – if it’s something as shallow as clicking the comment button then it’s likely to be meaningless.  How could you recognise only the valuable comments?

Think it through and beware of the law of unintended consequences.

Stealth participation options

Some people thrive on being given the public pat on the back in the office; some prefer to get on with their great work and avoid the hoopla. Good recognition means recognising individuality and diversity.  Understanding every person will have different values and beliefs.

So how do you gamify processes when some employees simply don’t want to be in the limelight? Consider how you can use stealth game mechanics where employees can participate but not reveal their identities. They can see their own rank, others can see there’s someone in the ‘game’, but cannot see who precisely is playing.

Equally, if an employee doesn’t want to take part, that should be fine – there shouldn’t be a sanction imposed because of it. In the workplace, we should all be treated equally and fairly.  Some people’s value systems may mean they are uncomfortable with competition, or hierarchy or the celebration of inequality in any form.

That also means that the reward you offer to those who do wish to take part should not have any dollar value since that may be discriminatory to those that don’t wish to participate.

Recognition with enterprise value

Consider recognition that rewards the enterprise as well as the individual. At its simplest, it may just be a case of making it abundantly clear that the ‘you rock’ (to use Nokia’s example) is actually for other employees so they can use this newly identified expert. We could go much further — how about weighting that person’s work in your intranet search results so that their material shows higher? We need gamification processes to work harder for the company.


Ultimately, recognition means different things to different people.  Using game mechanics to recognise the value that people are adding can be a powerful motivator for some. It’s definitely worth considering gamification as one part of a broad set of tactics to boost employees’ sense of belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

This broad set of tactics shouldn’t neglect ‘old fashioned’ recognition – like thank yous and accreditation.  And you must be careful about what the game focuses its recognition on – meaningful and value adding behaviour? Or shallow glory hunting?

There are 4 comments

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  1. Jesper Bylund

    Interesting article, I’d like to point out a few errors and define what Gartner means by “bad design” though.

    First, the Mind IS a one size fits all structure. Cognitive differences between individuals are often really small or quite obvious (such as: being born blind). What you’re referring to is pure Psychology, which thankfully has little to do with gamification.

    When Gartner says most gamification will fail they are absolutely right, the reason it will fail is because most people believe that the obvious parts of games are the worthwhile techniques. For instance badges, points and the external motivators you wrote about. This is wrong though, the important parts of game design (or gamification) are intrinsic motivators. Which menas the emotions that make us enjoy what we do. Gamification, and game design, is all about tapping into these emotions and enhancing them by making the steps to achieve such an emotion (i.e. “Yay, I won!” and “Yes, I finally beat X”) obvious and well balanced. Well balanced meaning not heard, but not to easy either.

    In conclusion, you seem to have misunderstood the term gamification. And while I highly recommend looking into gamification to improve your organisation and organisational communication I’d recommend first looking into basic motivation.

    Motivation, and fun, are mostly based on having the right information to get something done. That in itself is a huge hurdle that a great intranet can help solve. And if it does, it gamification might not be necessary.

    • James Royal-Lawson

      “gamification” in the form of badges, competitions and league tables are misinterpreted (as Jesper explained above) as the end in itself. They are often implemented as a distraction with no connection to the real motivational systems at play in the organisation.

      In an organisation, especially larger ones, the tasks that an individual employee is trying to achieve will be varied and often quite personal. What rewards them; gives them that “hit” varies too. Yes, in UX design and psychology we know the basic signals and patterns that can be used to “help” people on their way.

      I think the important point is the last one about old fashioned “recognition” or reward. For some, they’ll get a good enough buzz just from someone asking them to explain something, another might feel rewarded by getting mentioned in a collegues’ [internal] blog post.

      Another might just be over the moon because we sorted out the usability issues of the god damn time reporting system…

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