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Using Gamification for Change Management

Using Gamification for Change Management

There is one constant: everything is subject to change, whether we like it or not. In order to optimize organizational performance, companies must be able to change. However, in many cases employees and managers find it difficult to embrace change, and the transition can be experienced as stressful or impossible.

In organizations, constant changes in the workforce (millennials), in underlying technologies, business fundamentals, strategy and processes need to be managed. The move from the current context into a new context becomes a necessity. As more changes occur, employees should be given more performance feedback on the changes that need to be made, creating the need for a continuous improvement process.

Gamification is uniquely suited to organizational change management. Here’s how:

What is change management?

Change management is about transitioning into a desired future state. Change is a structured, multi-phase process, from defining the vision for a change, to creating a strategy to effect it and motivating the actual change. Motivating the workforce is essential to change management, but not trivial to accomplish.  This is where gamification comes in.

Comfort zones and habits matter. People dislike change. Yet, as change cycles are becoming shorter and companies need to react quickly, being able to carry out change and transformational processes becomes strategic.

What is gamification?

People play games for many reasons. Gamification, the use of game mechanics to influence performance and create accountability, isn’t play or a game, but uses game techniques to influence behavior. These game mechanics satisfy basic human psychological needs: a sense of competence, autonomy and relatedness.

While brownie points, frequent flyer miles and other forms of consumer gamification have been around for years, these simplistic programs rely on extrinsic reward. Gamification uses the “third drive” – intrinsic motivation – which is a much stronger driver of long term engagement. It also uses sophisticated game mechanics and takes a long term approach to behavioral changes and employee work-habit creation.

Gamification – through its power to communicate goals and give real time feedback about employee achievement – is an ideal tool for Change Management, enabling smooth structural change. Gamification is a powerful tool of transformational change. It can be used to support better user engagement and feedback, giving powerful indicators of process improvement.  For instance, to change work habits, gamification can help explain the change, through gamified elearning, support the change, form habits and drive engagement.

Gamification and change management as a continuous process

In the past, change management was a planned process, with three phases:

  1. unfreeze the organization,
  2. change it; and then
  3. refreeze the new configuration.

However, as changes become more frequent an alternative approach is process centered, where organizational change is continuous and evolving. In this approach, the organization constantly needs to adapt to an unpredictable and rapidly changing environment. The focus isn’t just on one grand change to be implemented and then frozen, but on many small adjustments that can produce significant change over a relatively long period. In this aspect, change management is a subtle process that is ongoing, a pre-requisite for a healthy organization that can detect and react to changes in its environment.

The gamification toolkit for change management

Gamification can drive transformational journeys for the workforce, whether a post-merger culture change or a re-alignment of processes and habits. In all these cases the gamification efforts is centered on adoption.

The decision to invest in a new platform or system is usually driven by technology.  Yet the question of how people will react to this change is not taken seriously. Even if there is a structured process – training, awareness and briefings – people forget a lot of what they were taught by the time the system goes live.

In this instance, gamification can motivate people to perform new activities over and over again, for on the job learning.  Doing things over and over again forms habits. At some point the new behavior stops being new. It just becomes “business as usual”, the most appropriate way to behave in the organization, which, in turn, affects corporate culture.

Gamification and transactional workforces

Today, gamification works well for the transactional workforce: whether it is customer facing employees, or back office knowledge workers. Some of them don’t even work for the company, they are what we call “the extended workforce” – contractors or part of managed services. These jobs can be repetitive, but the performance differences between employees are great. Helping more average performers become top performers can have a very positive impact on the organization. As the workforce changes, and more jobs become automated, you need to shift people’s talents to different avenues.

In the past, transformational journeys took three years. Today they need to happen quickly, using gamification.

What type of adoption is required for change management gamification?

In consumer gamification – frequent flier miles or similar campaigns – gamification has an impact on performance even if less than 5 or 10 percent engage with it. However, in organizations, anything less than 75% engagement with new systems or processes isn’t enough for change.

That’s why gamification for change management means good game design and not a game mechanic slapped on top of an existing system. Another difference compared to consumer gamification is that organizational change gamification should be longer running. Quick adoption wins are needed, but longer term engagement needs to made, as well as having the gamification for change management there for any additional change management needs in an environment of continuous improvement.

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