3 - Changing Behavior One Step at a Time

People are creatures of habit. So long as our behavior is meeting our needs, we continue with the same behavior, and tend to fall into routines - doing the same thing today as we did yesterday saves us a lot of time deliberating and planning.

While this is all good and well for consumers, it is an issue for marketers who want people to start using their product - rather than a competitor's or nothing at all. To do that requires interrupting their routine and getting them to rethink their behavior.

Habituation is, however, quite good for the marketers of products that are already part of a customer's routine as we can count on his continued business - though we should not be too casual because our competitors are constantly attempting to get him to switch.

(EN: Fair enough, but a firm's worse enemy is often its own practices. It makes changes that prompt the customer to reconsider whether the routine can be continued. Increasing the price, changing the flavor, moving to a different location, and the like are all things companies do that create a disruption and cause people to question their routines.)

Gamification has the ability to address both - it is about encouraging behavior, and can be useful in getting people to adopt new habits and maintain old ones.

Case Study: Motivating Fitness

The author mentions the "Nike+" application, which enabled athletes to measure their physical activities. It's also been appealing to non-athletes, ordinary people who just want to exercise for health reasons.

The value of these applications is in their ability for the user to get measurements and feedback about their performance. They can see exactly how far they have run, exactly how many calories they have burned, and the like - things that were nearly impossible to measure before. Getting this level of feedback helps people monitor their progress, which gives them the motivation to stay the course.

The initial application, which provided tracking only, has been extended to include coaching to the user. And the initial device, which used a smart phone, has been replaced by a wristband for additional ease of use.

Given the level of adoption and the enthusiasm of users, it's been quite a success.

Encouraging Customer Behavior

Nike's device has created a business around encouraging and motivating people to exercise. The author provides a number of other examples:

In each of these instances, it is clear that the business is attempting to motivate customers to take certain actions that are in the interest of the business - but though an engaging process that gives the customer a sense of engagement and value in the activity.

Encouraging Employee Behavior

In addition to influencing the behavior of customers, most companies also wish to use gamification to encourage the behavior of employees. Burke states that "employee engagement is dismal in many organizations" and companies are loath to spend much on improving their morale. As such, some organizations are looking to gamification as a cheap and quick fix.

Companies have long engaged employees in competitions, challenging them to achieve higher production numbers, compete with one another, and vie for employee-of-the-month status to obtain greater service with minimal additional expense. And over the long run, making work more interesting helps save the cost of recruiting and training replacements for burned-out employees who leave when the job becomes too onerous - or worse, who stay and put in minimal effort for the same reason.

He also notes that motivation isn't achieved simply by dangling a prize in front of employees, any more than it is to be threatened into making a quota. They must be taught the rules of the game, how to play, and coached to succeed. They must be rewarded for progress, not merely the ultimate success, in order to sustain their interest. In this sense, gamification is not just about engaging employees, but teaching managers how to motivate their people in the proper ways.

The author mentions a program at DirecTV, which developed a series of videos that were designed for employees to learn and improve - and which employees didn't watch. The company offered "points" for employees to participate in optional training and share information, along with recognitions and awards for staff who participated. They created "badges" for achieving certain goals and campaigns that provided rewards for reaching specific goals. (One observation suggests that things such as points and badges were actually more motivational than extrinsic rewards such as bonuses or tickets to sporting events, the latter of which even had a negative effect because employees who weren't fans of hockey would not be inclined to participate in a campaign for which hockey tickets were the prize.) No specific results are described, but the opinion of the executives is that the program was "a great success."

A second and vaguer example is provided in which "some managed travel services" used gamification to coach their employees to make travel choices that are more economical for their employer. Instead of being rewarded points for travelling "frequently" they were rewarded for travelling "wisely" - choosing flights and hotels that cost the company less, and earning redeemable points for the inconvenience. Offering points to reward behavior is better for morale and compliance that setting draconian policies that require certain unpleasant choices to be made.

Driving Collaboration and Change

Businesses have a somewhat timid approach to social media - they do not want employees discussing company business of sites like Facebook, but they do want them leveraging similar technologies to collaborate internally. Unfortunately, most "solutions" for collaboration leave much to be desired.

NTT Data attempted to create social collaboration within the company - and the initial platform attracted only 250 employees (our of sixty thousand) in the first three months. They gamified the system by awarding "karma points" to those who participated in discussions, and increased the adoption to 4500 employees in "a few months" (EN: which is a big increase from 250, but still a paltry percentage of 60,000).

He then speaks speculatively about the manner in which social games might encourage change management - which by its nature shocks the organization by requiring people to abandon comfortable processes in favor of new ones with very little guidance or training. Gasifying change management might involve rolling out a program that encourages employees to take small steps and offers them rewards for compliance rather than punishments for noncompliance.

Steps to Change Behavior

The author lists a number of steps that are common to many gamification efforts:

  1. Set Goals - Of importance, this is a goal for the player to achieve that benefits him, not the goals of the organization (though those should be clear as well) - the goal can be vague ("lose weight") or specific ("lose 20 pounds in a month")
  2. Use Triggers - A "trigger" is a stimulus or reminder to take action, without which a player may forget to participate, particularly in ongoing and slow-moving games
  3. Baby Steps - Significant goals can be intimidating. Breaking it down into small steps makes the journey seem less onerous.
  4. Leverage Connections - Encourage players to invite and compete against friends - not just to build your audience, but to maintain their engagement. It's easier to slack off or quit when you're competing against nobody.
  5. Leverage Existing Apps - Visibility is improved and participation facilitated when a gamified solution integrates with existing social media - Facebook, Twitter, and the like.
  6. Build Complexity - While a game starts with simple steps, it will get boring quickly unless the level of challenge increases. One "level" or round of play should build skills that can be used in the next, and the player can learn a little at a time.
  7. Aim for Habituation - Getting a person to do something once is simple, but the goal of gamification is habituation, getting people to do the same thing over and over again. Whether it's to earn repeat business or encourage an ongoing habit (like health or conservation), the game seeks to change behavior permanently.
  8. Keep it Fresh - People will tire of playing the same old games, so you have to make changes to maintain their interest over longer periods of time.

Changing behavior is difficult, as it's a gradual process that individuals are likely to abandon and return to the comfort of their old ways of doing things. But if you can help them to transition to your way of doing things, this new behavior will soon become their old ways, against which it will be difficult for them to deviate.