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Rewatch our CIPHR Connect partner Totem on CIPHR’s stand at the CIPD HR Software Show (filmed on 14 June 2018)

Marcus Thornley explored why gaming approaches are so successful at engaging people; how gamification has pervaded the workplace and what difference it’s making for HR teams; and simple techniques that’ll improve employee engagement.

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Hi everyone. And that’s a slightly scary intro. Thanks, Rob. Hopefully you can all hear me. I’m gonna spend half an hour or so, just quickly running through how we drive engagement to drive habit formation and behavioral change in the workplace using game mechanics. So, just a quick bit about us. My name is Marcus Thornley. I’m a founder of a startup called Play. Play is a product innovation studio spun out exclusively for mobile games. So, these are some of the games that we used to work on previously. And we could see that games, especially mobile games, were really successful at driving engagement patterns that could then lead to habits and some sort of behavioral change. In the gaming world, that’s used to try and rinse you for another 69p in a microtransaction. We thought it could be really purposeful to come out of games and try and use those mechanics in the world of work to try and disrupt work, but in a really good way, to try and drive success at a company level, but more importantly, to drive success at an individual level. And one of the learnings that we had quite early on, was that although on the outside we look like a tech business, actually it wasn’t about tech at all. It was only about culture and tech was kind of the engine, the mechanic that allowed us to kind of drive and push forward really positive culture within businesses. When I started off the business, I wouldn’t have ever thought we’d be talking to HR professionals. I would have thought it would have been CIOs or people that led the digital business. And actually, the most important part of the businesses for us, are the HR functions because that’s where culture lives.

So, I’m gonna talk to you about games which on the face of it, it’s a bit odd because it’s an HR place. And I’m gonna kind of postulate or suggest to you that games are kind of taking over the world. Games aren’t or no longer just kind of played by spotty adolescents who are sitting in darkened rooms, they’re played by everyone, everywhere, of all ages. And I think what they’re really doing is, it’s kind of rewiring brains to help people drive kind of intrinsic motivation and to understand, and to infuse about what they want to do. I’ll just give you some stats about gaming. Games make more money than recorded music or film, which is kind of crazy. So last year, games made $100 billion. Now, it’s not about the money, it’s about the amount of people who play the games. They made $100 billion on the basis of, especially in the casual world, most of those freemium games. So, they’re not even making money upfront, they’re making money through engagement. Games are played on a monthly basis by two billion people on the planet. And what’s really interesting in the UK is that there’s more gamers over the age of 40 than there are under the age of 20. And a lot of that has got to do with mobile phones and the explosions of casual games. When we look at the most successful digital products out there, we can see really heavy gaming influences within them. So, whether you look at Facebook, or LinkedIn, or TripAdvisor, or eBay, or even Tinder, there’s some really strong game mechanics in there. And it makes sense that there’s game mechanics in there because they’re trying to drive habitual services. It probably also makes sense that the people who run these Goliath sort of kind of tech, also invariably come from a games background. So, Zuckerberg learned to code because he wanted to make games before he started Facebook. Jobs started Atari. Musk was a game developer when he first started. And so, I can see games breaking out of their core niche and going far wider in terms of the amount of players and the demographics of those players. But also coming outside of games themselves. And I think, that’s only gonna continue. So, if you look at the new tech that’s coming, whether it’s AR, or VR, or AI, games are probably gonna be the medium through which most people realise and first get an instruction to that technology.

So, if games are everywhere, what is this thing that we call gamification? The first thing to say is that… So, I used to work on FIFA, and Sims, and Tetris, and all that jazz. When I was working on games, I never knew this word “gamification” even existed. I mean, it’s some made-up word that consultants came up with at some point. We’re kind of stuck with it, so we talk about it when we have to. And if you look up a definition of it, the most concise definition I found is gamification is harnessing game mechanics and experience design to engage and motivate the achievement of personal and business goals. The only thing I’ve changed there is I put the brackets around them because I think you can only drive the business goals if you’re directly affecting the personal goals. That’s the most important thing. And just some examples, I mean, we’ve got kind of TripAdvisor, and with the football starting tomorrow, I mean, a Panini Sticker Album is a game mechanic, yeah? It’s a collection. It’s game mechanic. You look at Cub Scout badges, I mean, we’ve had game mechanics for decades, maybe with military medals, we’ve had them for centuries. What digital’s done is just kind of hyper-charged them and supercharged them. It’s maybe happy to say what, or easier to say, what gamification isn’t. Like for us, it absolutely isn’t about building a game. So, we get people coming in through the door all the time saying, “I’ve got this great idea for a game,” and our kind of response would be, “It’s almost suicidal to decide you want to build a proper game-game within the world of work. Games take years to make with hundreds of people and cost millions of pounds, and unless you can do it to the quality that people are used to, it just comes across as looking just really kind of poor and amateurish.” So, it’s not about building a game per se. It’s not about boss levels, or coins, or killing aliens, whatever else it may be, it’s about taking those mechanics that make games powerful and putting that into the world of work.

So then, we start thinking about what is this…what does gamification mean to us? What’s the game mindset to us? I tried to come up with kind of five key kind of pieces. Now, this list could be a lot longer than five pieces. But the five key pieces, I think, number one, and it’s more than just a list, number one is so much more important than everything else, it’s a laser focus on the needs of the player, the user, the customer. It’s really weird coming out from the consumer world into the enterprise world. And I didn’t really realise how poor most enterprise tech was, until I started looking at it. And I think that’s because, on the whole, it’s optimised for the payer. It’s optimised for the people in the HR functions, or the procurement functions, or the C-suite functions. There’s not a lot of evidence of HR software really being optimised around the people who should be using that software. And I think, as home tech becomes, and is better than work tech, one of the biggest movements we’re gonna see in the enterprise tech space will be an appreciation that it has to speak to the needs of the user, the player. And games do that really, really well.

Number two, if you break down what a game essentially, is, if you take out, you know, the robots, or the hedgehogs, or the Italian plumbers, games give you a measure of yourself. They give you self-insights in such a way that encourages you to optimise around that insight. Now, it might be how good you are at FIFA goals, or swapping candies, or building villages, whatever it may be, but every single thing we’ve done has kind of built on this, whereby we give the users a measure of how they are performing in such a way that it encourages them to improve that performance. I mean, essentially, that’s what a Fitbit does, yeah? A Fitbit gives you a measure of steps in an environment that encourages to improve those steps. So, a Fitbit is a great example of a game.

Number three is designing products and services with engagement built in from the beginning. It’s fascinating in the employee engagement space, how many of those products aren’t engaging? And you would think, “Well, actually, the non-negotiable for any employee engagement software is that it has to be engaging.” I think it’s because they’re not built with engagement thought of from the ground up. They build something and then retrospectively say, “Well, let’s measure the engagement.” So in a game, and the products we turn out, we’ll be thinking about the engagement loops and the kind of frequency behaviors that we’re trying to drive as we design the products, not as a kind of…as a postscript after. I think games in the workspace also can be really successful in repositioning work, in repositioning work from the have-to-do to the want-to-do. And you even could say, “That’s naive. Some tasks are so boring, they can never be repositioned.” All our experience has shown us that they absolutely can be, and that comes by making experience that’s centered on the user, not purely on what the business wants the user to do.

And then finally, otherwise it can sound really dull, you have to find the fun. You have to find win moments, and they don’t have to be huge win moments. They don’t have to be win moments where one of your employee gets a £300 voucher because they’ve done so well. They don’t even have to be transactional at all. You can do it through user-interface and user experience but celebrate the fun, and almost give your employees or users permission to have fun at work. Games are really good at doing that and it doesn’t have to devalue the importance of what your business does. So I think they’re the kind of the key things that we would say, like, a game mindset or gamification really is. I suspect coming into this talk, you might not be expecting that. You might have been expecting specific game mechanics and I’ll talk about those in a moment. I think the other point to say is that you could look at this list and say, “Well, actually, any decent digital product needs to deliver all these things as well.” And it’s completely true. I think games have been at the vanguard of this movement. But this is relevant to any digital product, not just games.

So, if that’s the non-negotiable, what you must do, what are kind of the building blocks? And these are things that people are more aware of or more used to. These things are all important and can really kind of supercharge whatever you’re trying to do in engagement. But on their own, they’re kind of like lipstick. If the product is a pig, then throwing a leaderboard, or some challenges, or some goals, or some XP on stuff, will that make a difference at all? And I think that’s the problem that I get with kind of this notion of gamification. It’s just been assumed that you can just throw some badges on something and all of a sudden, something that was really dull before is suddenly fun. It doesn’t work like that. So, if you’ve got that previous slide nailed, then these things can really drive heightened engagement. They can be used to drive habits and some sort of behavioral change. XP is really just experience points. It’s some sort of internal currency. That’s not a transactional, not a real currency. The ones players see value in can then be used to motivate the completion of work-based tasks. Levels and progressions probably make sense. Badges can work really well, really well in driving behavior but more so than that, setting tone. You can have a lot of fun with badges and then they can reposition the experience from being something that you have to do to something you want to do. Leaderboards work really well. And leaderboards can either be really hyper competitive or they can be incredibly collaborative. So, some of the leaderboards we might do on an individual basis, maybe they’re team basis. Maybe you only show the winner or the person who’s top of the leaderboard and not everyone else. So, leaderboards is a big spectrum there that can go from very, very alpha competitive to far more kind of collaborative and softer. Challenges work really well in driving short term kind of tactical events. So, you might win your team, you might send them a challenge to raise some money, or to do some compliance targets, or some testing, or whatever else it may be. And streaks. Streaks are really good in terms of driving the frequent repetition of tasks. My daughter is on a Snapchat streak of about 400 at the moment. She’s going every single day for 400 days because she doesn’t want to lose her streak. So, it’s incredible at driving frequency. And if you’re trying to drive habits, then habits come from the frequent repetition of tasks. So they’re the kind of the building blocks of the gamification level. I can’t stress enough that all of this is rubbish if the thing that it’s sitting on isn’t any good. It’s kind of lipstick. It augments something beautiful but does nothing for something that’s ugly.

I was gonna give you just some examples. I’ve kind of split them up into different areas. There’s a big piece about driving…using gamification to drive performance. So, I’ve got some examples here. British Gas example is really interesting. So, British Gas wanted to understand if gamification could drive lead generation. So, a huge part of their businesses is in engineers driving leads when they come to your house to fix the boiler. And we built a very basic lead system where by doing certain tasks, engineers built up XP, in this case, it was flames. And the more XP they built up on a weekly basis, they would be promoted or demoted in a hierarchical series of leaderboards. They’re trying to get Wilbur the British Gas Penguin back to the pole. They weren’t sure if it was gonna make any difference on sales and lead generation, and it drove lead generation by 37%. It’s incredible. And all they did was give the people on the ground, the engineers, a measure of how they were performing in such a way that they wanted to do more of it. But also in a way that didn’t feel like “big stick” performance management. It was for the engineers. It was giving them insight about how they were doing and their peers were doing, and that drove completely unexpected improvements. With Thames Water, they wanted to gamify data collection, so the most boring thing on earth, where they have to do these huge audits of different assets. And so, we gamified it. We turned it into a game of Flames. So, teams of engineers that get at Thames Water are kind of locked in a battle, I’m sorry, Great Asset Hunt, are locked in a battle to find and to document accurately all the assets they have around their patch. And it’s made a significant difference in some productivity. What was taking eight-man days to do, now it takes two-man days to do. What’s interesting about both of these two, very kind of heavily unionised environments and also older workforces. You know, and the pushback when we first started was, A, “The Union won’t allow it,” and B, “Well, these aren’t 20-year-old hipsters. These are, you know, an older demographic.” But they responded incredibly well to being given data and trusted that they can make a difference. And the third thing is something we do with Booper which is a gamified wellness platform. So, using gamification to help people make incredible kind of decisions and commitments to their own health, Booper have done an external audit of this, and it’s now tied in to their whole health pathways. And so, they’ve looked at health assessments of people before using the platform and after using the platform. And two-thirds of people using the platform are demonstrably healthier in terms of their BMI and their blood pressure than they were before they were using the platform. So, it can make a real difference. And all of these, you’re giving control and autonomy to the users at the frontline. Now, we’re serving business goals but the North Star is the users, the players. It’s the people who are actually interacting with the experience.

There’s a lot in the learning space using gamification to drive learning. It’s quite interesting, if I start on the one over there, that’s the nearest game we’ve ever done. So, it’s almost like a who-done-it. It’s for forensic accountants and there’s video content and it’s like Ludo. You’re trying to understand in a simulation, actually where the corporate wrongdoing was done and actually investigate what actually happened in a big kind of corporate issue. And we made that cloud-based and time-based. Cloud-based is really interesting. So, you get forensic accountants all over the world playing against each other in real time. In the middle, is an example of using gamification to drive learning, it’s quite interesting, as an assessment. So, it’s almost like a quiz. You go through and you answer some really snappy, quick questions, and every two or three questions, get feedback about how you’re scoring and how that score looks against other people like you. And the nature of the quiz then identifies where your learning holes are, learning shortfalls are, and then it goes on to a bite-sized gamified mobile learning platform that can serve the right content to you based on where you were or different content to you based on you.

And finally, using gamification to drive employee engagement. It’s really interesting walking around here today. I was here last year. What’s different is this year, lots of games are being used as the honey to attract people to their stands. So, there’s a Pac-Man over there and there’s a VR racing sim over there. So people, obviously, understand that games are attractive. People are interested in. But very few people, you know, CIPHR excluded because they do, have taken that a step further and said, “Okay. So, can we gamify that employee experience? Can we kind of gamify our business?” We’ve had a ton of success with Totem, which is a gamified employee engagement platform. The gamification comes through gamifying data. So, we’ve got people at Vodafone in their stores now that actually understand what their Net Promoter Score is in real time, and as a result, they gamify and they can see where their store sits amongst other stores. And their Net Promoter Scores have been record-breaking for the past year since they’ve been using it. So, it gamifies data. It also gamifies recognition. It has a gamified currency called Kudos and the game is to give kudos out to your colleagues in real time to celebrate those small acts of awesomeness that they’re doing around the business. Here’s an example of a windscreen. It’s tough because it’s a flat picture. On the app, it’s animated. So, if I was to give you kudos, you’d go into the app and you get this lovely animated windscreen. So, you have a feeling of joy. You have a feeling of completion. You have a feeling of mastery. It doesn’t cost you anything. It’s just making it more user-centered than it would necessarily be. These are just some examples. We’ve gamified everything from back-office financial services systems, to utilities, to media, to loyalty, to engagement, to learning and development.

I think the cool kind of takeaway is that everyone is a product manager now. And what I mean by that is that all your colleagues, all your suppliers, your bosses, the people who come into your business, everyone you work with, now understands what good product looks like. They’ve got smartphones in their pocket. And so, they come from that environment and then they come to work, and they’re invariably presented with platforms that weren’t made for them. They were made so they could sell into whoever does the buying in the business, and they know what good looks like. And if you’re looking to drive engagement at work or any sort of uptake at work, you can only really do that in an environment that’s good enough and fulfills the expectations that people have when they come into your business. They are demanding, they are educated, and they vote through usage. The second point is, aligned to that, which is focusing on needs and wants. You have to understand what you need to do as a business, but if you present it in a rude one, really overt, “I want this, therefore I need you to do that,” it just won’t work. Really, spend a lot of time in understanding what the core motivations are for the people who are using the products. Think about engagement, frequency, and behaviors. The starting off point in a lot of our conversations is, what behavior are you seeking to drive? And from there, work backwards. Self-insight works incredibly well. No one comes to work to do a bad job. And if you can give people self-insight, some sort of measurement basemark of how they’re doing, or how their team’s doing in an environment that’s engaging and motivating, then you can help people make incredible decisions and emotionally own the purpose of the business. And finally, have fun with it. There’s a…I haven’t got the quote here and I never thought I’d say it on stage, if I can remember it, it’s a Mary Poppins’ quote, “In every task that must be done, there’s an element of fun. You find the fun, and snap, the job’s a game.” And we fundamentally believe in that. And if we can create experiences that people feel more emotional and intrinsic connection to work, there’s an opportunity to, yes, absolutely drive business performance but also create environments where people are happier and more satisfied at work. That’s me. I’ve rattled through it. I don’t know if you guys have got any questions.

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