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Friday 14th March 2014

Game of groans

HR is obsessed with 'gamification'. But what is it – and how is it being misused?

Man at the back: ‘Yes, I’d like to take issue with what that guy sitting at the front said.’

For reference purposes: I was the man at the front, and this is the reaction I often get when talking about gamification in HR and Resourcing.

Gamification is fast becoming the latest must-have despite the fact that in my experience, many who want it have little idea what it really is, how they should use it and what the implications are.

So what is gamification? Here’s my definition:

The use of game mechanics or principles to influence behaviour.

There you go. That’s it really. Despite what many may tell you, it’s not that complicated or even new.

As unwitting consumers, organisations have been using “gamified” processes and services for decades. Loyalty cards and schemes, service sign-up rewards and bonuses, recommend a friend – these are all examples of where game mechanics have successfully been built into customer routines.

If like me you have kids at Scouts or Guides, then they’re participating in one of the most popular gamified processes ever. (Earning badges didn’t start with the internet, you know.)

Yet when we apply the same principles to the internal organisation – for employees, and, say, job applicants (which was the subject of the event mentioned above) – we often make a pig’s ear of it.

Anyway, back to the event in question. The speaker had spent 15 minutes outlining a game they had proposed to build for a client that would measure behaviour, values and motivations of job applicants.

Ultimately this was an assessment, but with mechanics built in to make it appear like a game. This included problem solving mechanics which are absolutely fine. So far, so good.

The glaring issue was the fact that they were proposing to build in social sharing and competitive leader board mechanics into the game. The implication here was that as a candidate, you could do this game more than once, try and improve your score and openly compete with others in doing so. Erm – stop right there.

As a specialist in assessing behaviour and predicting performance, this is a no-no. When assessing an individuals’ personality, intellect or behaviour, the assessments for these elements should be done once, and only once.

If you were assessing a candidate for a job, or an internal employee for development purposes, would you allow them to take a personality test multiple times until they are happy with the outcome? Would you interview them over and over again until they displayed the right behaviours?

No, of course you wouldn’t. So why all of a sudden are we proposing to do this in online assessments?

Don’t get me wrong. Games can have a huge role to play in enhancing an organisation’s people strategy and processes. Using these kind of mechanics – social sharing of content, positive behaviour endorsements, reward mechanisms, leader boards, problem solving and so on – can dramatically increase the success of behaviour change programmes or levels of employee engagement around their development.

There is a place for them in resourcing too, but it has to be the right place.

So, if you’re thinking about the  area of game mechanics and gamification, or one of your colleagues/bosses/team is starting to bang on about it, then here’s a few important points for you to consider.

Look beyond the hype and do some proper research

Don’t get caught up in the madness. Do some proper research and start by looking into the term ‘game mechanics‘ rather than ‘gamification’. That way you’re likely to get to the factual information and science behind game principles rather than lots of articles talking nonsense.

Avoid inappropriate use

Whilst there may be an argument for building in some social sharing mechanics (particularly if you want to incorporate the assessment as part of an attraction strategy) do not under any circumstances let your assessment strategy be led by the thought ‘it will be engaging and cool and funky’.

Assessing an individual’s potential is not a game and should not be treated as such.

Don’t try and dress up a turd

It is quite incredible how much an organization is willing to invest in a game when the rest of their candidate-facing presence – their online career site and job pages, their application process – is a mess. Don’t believe me? Ask your candidates.

Fix the basics. Don’t drop the finest chocolate brownie onto a plate of turds and assume that ‘ll make eating the whole thing more palatable. Candidates aren’t that stupid.


Building a relatively simple interactive animation or multimedia type game or simulation will cost you tens of thousands of pounds. To build a more sophisticated assessment, with some proper science built in, will cost you six figures easy.

In many cases, it’s better to build simple game mechanics into the whole of the applicant journey than to spend your entire budget on one discrete element.

Not only can this vastly improve your throughput rate (it works, I can prove it) but it can save you a ton of cash too.

Rethink your attraction strategy

The root cause of a lot of the problems you may be trying to address through the obsession with gamification can be a dud attraction strategy.

Research shows that success depends on finding the right people with the right behaviours, values, motivations and intellect for your company and role.

Ask yourself how well the whole of your resourcing process does this, especially the earliest stages, before getting too excited about games and the magic spells they might only possibly weave.

About the author

Gareth Jones

Gareth is Partner and Chief Solutions Architect at The Chemistry Group. A corporate freedom fighter with low conformity issues, his passions are people, technology and the future of work. You can find more opinions from Gareth on corporate life in general at