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Driving KM behaviors and adoption through gamification

This article appears in the issue April 2013 [Volume 22, Issue 4]
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One of the most important components of a successful KM program is its ability to promote and support a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing. Tools, processes and organizational constructs are important elements too, but they will only get you so far. Culture is the lynchpin that will determine the willingness of your employees to participate, to demonstrate the behaviors and to adopt the tools and processes of a highly collaborative organization. It's also, arguably, the most difficult part of the equation to get right.

So how do you influence your people to adopt productive behaviors around collaboration and knowledge sharing? The answer may be found in a new concept—at least as far as KM is concerned—called gamification.

Gamification defined

So what is gamification exactly? There's no universally accepted definition yet because it's a new and rapidly evolving area, but the following description by Professor Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School of Business is a good starting point: "the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts."

That definition of gamification contains three distinct elements:

  • Game elements—This is about leveraging the components, design patterns and feedback mechanisms that you would typically find in video games-such as points, badges and leaderboards. It is sometimes referred to as the engineering side of gamification.
  • Game design techniques—This is the artistic, experiential side of gamification. It includes aesthetics, narrative, player journey, progression, surprise, and, of course, fun. Games are not just a collection of elements-they're a way of thinking about and approaching challenges like a games designer.
  • Non-game contexts—Some common areas in which gamification has taken hold include health and wellness, education, sustainability, and—now—collaboration and knowledge sharing in the enterprise.

The unique selling point of gamification is the potential to learn from games—to draw on what makes games so engaging and attractive and to apply those components in other contexts.

According to Gartner, gamification is "positioned to become a highly significant trend over the next five years," with more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations set to have at least one ‘gamified' application by 2014. At Accenture—a management consulting, technology and outsourcing company—gamification techniques are being deployed to, quite literally, ‘change the game' when it comes to encouraging and empowering its people to collaborate and share with one another across its global network of more than 250,000 employees.

KM Gamified 1.0

Accenture began leveraging a gamification approach to its KM program over five years ago with the launch of a collaboration recognition and reward program called the Addo Agnitio Award (A3). It started out by measuring a modest set of key activities that employees could undertake to demonstrate their commitment to embracing collaborative behaviors. Those activities were assigned point values, and a collaboration and knowledge sharing score was calculated for all employees. In the intervening years, more than 30 activities have now been identified to demonstrate three key behaviors:

  • connect—how people connect to the content and communities they need to do their job,
  • contribute—the level at which people are contributing their knowledge and the impact of those contributions on other people, and
  • cultivate—the willingness to interact with and build upon the ideas and perspectives of other employees, to help nurture a spirit of collaboration.

In addition, each Accenture employee is given an insight into the level of impact he or she is having across the organization, an initiative driven by the findings of an internal user study that helped to reveal the key drivers motivating people to collaborate.

"We found that the single biggest motivator wasn't status—such as sitting atop a collaboration leaderboard—or even the accrual of cash prizes, but rather being able to understand and demonstrate the impact of collaborative behaviors on the organization, and being recognized and rewarded for that." says Steve Kaukonen, Accenture's social collaboration change lead.

Recognition is earned through a variety of mechanisms:

  • e-cards with 100 recognition points (monetary value of $100),
  • thank-you notes from leadership,
  • shout-outs in internal corporate communications,
  • A3 badges on employees' profile pages, and
  • feedback during the employee's performance review process.

With the success of that approach taking hold across the organization-and the metrics supporting such behaviors continuing to rise-Accenture is now moving to further evolve its program of engaging its employees to collaborate and share through the next-generation approach to gamification.

What's behind this philosophy?

While people can be drawn in to collaborate and share via extrinsic motivation, how do you get them to stay? The more you can tap into their intrinsic motivations and help people realize the inherent benefits of collaboration, the more successful and sustained that engagement will be.

In his book, Drive, behavioral economist Dan Pink identifies three powerful ways to affect this kind of motivation: mastery, autonomy and purpose.

Mastery

Getting really good at something—be it a skill, sport or mental discipline—has its own inherent benefits. The goal of gamifying collaboration is to help people get good at it and, therefore, realize its inherent benefits.

"It's about taking this vague, sometimes nebulous, idea of collaboration and breaking it down into a logical sequence of tangible and achievable steps that move people along the path to mastery," says Thomas Hsu, gamification community of practice lead at Accenture. "Super Mario doesn't start out fighting Bowser—he works his way up. So as our players progress through the ‘game,' they gradually learn the skills to find expertise, build their network and share their knowledge in a way that makes them more effective and furthers their careers, while continuing to bring the best of Accenture to their clients."

Autonomy

Autonomy is about giving people the freedom to make meaningful choices. Instead of dictating a prescribed path, an autonomous approach allows them to set their own goals, choosing how they wish to collaborate and ultimately providing a sense of ownership. The more individuals feel that they are in control, the better engaged they tend to be. At Accenture, employees have choices when it comes to contributing their knowledge. They can share a document, write a blog, post a microblog or even create a video. The firm recognizes that blogging, for example, is not for everyone, so it doesn't make blogging a prerequisite for attaining a high grade in the program. Following Pink's lead, it's all about "giving them choices, equipping them with the tools and enablement, and rewarding them for their behaviors regardless of the specific mechanism."

Purpose

While there are plenty of personal benefits to collaboration, people are more engaged when they feel socially connected to others as part of a larger purpose. Accenture, for example, emphasizes in its strategy that "collectively, we can be greater than me." Its people are encouraged to realize that they're not working on a client project alone, but that they have access to the collective wealth of experiences, insights and expertise of more than 250,000 people. As part of that wider organization, they can take pride in the fact that they're making a broader impact on the world—and collaboration is a key part of that experience.

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