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Using Challenges to Drive Employee Performance

April 25, 2018 • Tal Valler

Employees have a lot of things competing for their attention. As managers we want them to focus on what’s important. On top of that, we want to guide our workforce towards the right activities and behaviors (or learning activities) which will help them be more efficient and effective in their work.

Challenges are a great tool for that. They enable us to carve long and mid-term goals into short-term activities and achievable targets. Targets that are easy to understand and can guide employees towards the habits, behaviors, and learning they need to excel at work.

Using challenges, we can –

  1. Sustain engagement with the longer-term goal and,
  2. Focus attention on a mid-term goal by breaking it down into short-term targets.


Here’s how it works


Thinking about different time frames when engaging employees

A digital motivation platform has three main ways to communicate goals to employees:

  • The KPI section – expressing goals and benchmarks
  • The challenges section discussed here
  • The notification section, used for engagement automation messages, prompting employees to action based on their activity and profile

All three act in unison – with the KPI section reflecting longer-term goals (monthly, perhaps), notifications to drive immediate action, driving very short-term goals, and, in the middle, challenges, which we will discuss here.

Challenges are in the middle – and are crucial to driving engagement and focus.


Sustaining engagement with a goal

Let’s take the example of a contact center with the mid-term goal of addressing online client inquiries within 1 hour. Simply telling employees “Answer inquiries faster” might win their focus for a few minutes but it won’t be sustainable. Neither will it build a habit of prompt responses. This is where a challenge comes in.

Using a system like Gameffective, managers can trigger a team challenge where “The team with the lowest average response time this week wins”. Alternatively, we could trigger a personal challenge for employees with very long response times such as “Reduce your average response time by 5% for the next 10 inquiries”. Challenges such as these carve the big goal into short actionable targets which are easier to understand, can be replicated until habits are developed and keep employees engaged. To spice things up and drive even higher engagement, winners can be offered virtual or physical prizes and losers can be offered follow up challenges with options to redeem themselves.

Learning challenges can be “combating” to see who has the best responses to a quiz, completing learning sessions or activities and more.


Focus attention on a mid-term goal

Let’s look at another example of a sales organization launching a new line of products. In this situation, the mid-term goal is getting employees proficient and effective in selling the new line. Providing classroom training on the new product isn’t enough. Oftentimes employees will quickly forget their training and would always rather sell the products they know and feel comfortable with.

For example, with Gameffective, we could create a proficiency challenge where every day a question is offered on the new product. Challenge winners will be employees who get the highest proficiency score at the end of the week. Alternatively, we could provide a simpler sales challenge – “Sell X units from the new product line this month to win the challenge”. Same as in our previous example, winners can be offered more ambitious follow-up challenges while losers can be offered slower paced challenges. For both, supporting engagement elements such as prizes, leaderboards and encouraging notifications (delivered using engagement automation) are important for maintaining interest and adrenaline high during the challenge.


How are challenges different from goals?

While goals are usually broad and target long or mid-term, typically a month, challenges are more precise and short term. Think about an obstacle race – the long-term goal may be winning the race but the short-term challenge is passing the next obstacle. Racers always have the end goal at the back of their mind, but during their run, they are always focused on how to pass the next obstacle.

Goals are the end game of improving on a certain high-level KPI or obtaining a certain skill (winning the race). Challenges are about specific, day-to-day activities and small wins. To create challenges, we first break down the high-level long-term goal into smaller, achievable milestones (passing an obstacle) and then incentivize employees on them with the end game of slowly by slowly driving them to the goal.


Why do Challenges work?

An analogy we like here at Gameffective is that gamification is like a Fitbit for work. Fitness trackers work on long-term goals, e.g. being healthier or losing weight or mid-term goals such as getting ready for a marathon or reducing ones BMI by two points. They then break these down into daily or weekly challenges, e.g. walking at least 10000 steps today or running 10 miles per week. Carving down these goals into challenges achieves several benefits including:

  • A sense of urgency and a time frame
  • Empowerment – the employee is in the driver seat deciding to opt in/out or choosing challenges
  • Small wins – so every activity matters (not just the end game)
  • Sustained motivation – extrinsic rewards around goals
  • Guidance – what to do next if I want to succeed in the end goal
  • Context – did you finish the daily challenge? Are you on track?
  • Progression – Success opens new challenges

Managers in the field will often need to translate high level long and mid-term goals to their employees. To make goals tangible, they must first analyze their current situation and find out what are the behaviors and activities they need to drive so that employees reach the goal.

Each one of these activities can become a challenge.

Don’t be afraid to challenge your employees. It’ll make them more effective.

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