Gamification Set to Take Workforce Management to the Next Level
As both a professional and a consumer, I'm increasingly intrigued by the continued role of gamification in my everyday life. Regardless of your profession, background or where you reside, chances are each day you encounter some form of gamification. For the novice, this means taking game mechanics, such as a rewards system, to influence behavior.
Many companies and brands have expertly leveraged gamification. Take, for example:
- A LinkedIn user doesn't have a recommended 100 percent profile unless they've completed all the suggested criteria;
- Nike+ blends online competition with good old-fashion blood, sweat and tears to award points and bragging rights based on distance of runs and physical activity;
- TripAdvisor uses a one-star to five-star review rating to indicate which hotels, restaurants and travel destinations are most worth a person's time and money; and
- foursquare allows people to digitally check in to their favorite hotspots and get recommendations for places nearby. Additionally, if the user checks in at the same locale on more days than anyone else, he or she becomes the "Mayor" of that spot.
This led me to start delving into why an industry in which I've worked over the last decade, retail workforce management (WFM), has been behind in embracing gamification. Increasingly companies such as Workplace Systems have been innovative in a number of ways, including the development of cloud-based WFM solutions.
According to Gartner Research, 80 percent of organizations said they intend to use cloud services in some form within 12 months. The impact of cloud-based WFM allows employees to manage their own availability, request time off, offer (bid) to pick up shifts, and view their schedule anytime, anywhere and on any device. This is a powerful first step in bringing a level of involvement and choice, which in turn breeds engagement.
It only stands to reason that what's currently working on the general gamification front can be readily customized as part of an overall WFM system to inspire loyalty among sales associates. Many sales associates are already using gamification in their everyday life and it's influencing their consumer behavior and purchase decisions.
According to Saatchi & Saatchi, 66 percent of tablet owners play social games daily, and 46 percent of tablet gamers are women. In fact, the largest group of social gamers is women between the ages of 35 and 44, with the second largest being women between 18 and 34. Acceptance should be seamless as long as the benefits are effectively communicated.
Consider for a moment that the legendary Sam Walton of Wal-Mart long promoted that an enthusiastic, engaged, happy employee makes a significant difference to any customer's experience, thus significantly increasing consumer return rate. Similarly, Archie Norman, a non-exec director of Workplace expounds the engagement model as contributing considerably to his global retail success with the likes of ASDA, bought by Wal-Mart in 1999, and Coles in Australia. As Archie has stated on many occasions, "So many retailers recruit their turnover; customer service doesn't come from a manual, it comes from the heart."
The general principle that retailers need to understand and accept is that employees are not just numbers on the payroll but independent agents striving for fulfilment, and therefore professionals who can be inspired and motivated through gamification. There's little question that organizations whose employees are deeply engaged outperform those that cannot engender authentic motivation. Think of engagement as your competitive advantage, and in a world where each customer interaction with an associate matters, engaged or not, this could be a real difference maker.
So we should ask whether it's time for WFM solution providers to embrace gamification. Reward-seeking behavior is commonplace to help drive employee enthusiasm, communication amongst colleagues, reduce turnover and improve the customer's experience, return rate and spend. Paul Loft, managing director of U.K. retailer Homebase, recently stated that "customer spend rises up to 30 percent if they have any interaction with a member of staff." This is a significant statistic that can only be improved with a happy employee working in an enjoyable and rewarding work environment.
While the workplace needs to remain professional, that doesn't mean that retailers and their WFM partners can't inject some fun into it. Just about any employee productivity study that's ever been conducted reveals that happy employees translates to increased productivity, a higher retention rate, and generally a more successful and profitable business. In such a competitive environment as retail, sometimes it's easy to overlook this aspect of running your daily operations. So why not enhance the game and bring a little fun to the work environment by incorporating gamification?
One obvious challenge is that when it comes to WFM, associates are generally at a disadvantage. Historically, there's significant resistance to change, as unfortunately many employees believe that the incorporation of WFM systems will greatly reduce or even eliminate the human element of scheduling. In other words, your fate is being determined by a computer and not an actual person.
In reality, nothing can be further from the truth. Retailers that have incorporated effective WFM solutions have received exceptionally positive feedback from both sales associates as well as senior management. For those not there yet, there's a real need to educate employees as to the positive and tangible benefits of such systems. For the sales associates, WFM solutions provide exactly what they strive for — the ability to establish an accommodating and acceptable schedule with more flexibility.
According to an article that appeared on A Better Balance, nearly a third of U.S. workers consider work-life balance and flexibility to be the most important factor in considering job offers. Additionally, in the same article it was noted that a two-year study of 1,400 workers showed that 70 percent of managers and 87 percent of workers reported that workplace flexibility increased productivity. The survey also stated that flexible work schedules reduce stress, the leading cause of unscheduled absences and a factor in high turnover. While I hate to reference an overused term, it really is a win-win situation for both employer and employee, and the incorporation of gamification can only enhance the experience and the benefits to both parties.
With the evolution of "anywhere" applications in the cloud and the simplification and evolution of the dusty old WFM key performance indicators, the time to increase employee engagement is now.
A 2012 Gallup research study which examined nearly 50,000 business or work units and included about 1.4 million employees found that employee engagement strongly relates to key organizational outcomes in any economic climate. Even during difficult economic times, employee engagement is an important competitive differentiator for organizations. The research showed that business or work units that score in the top half of their organization in employee engagement have nearly double the odds of success. Furthermore, those at the 99th percentile have four times the success rate compared with those at the first percentile. These are very compelling findings and further support the importance of gamification in WFM.
Innovation and measurable feedback is needed to promote teamwork, friendly competition and motivation. Otherwise, people get bored. Evolve and grow the game through continual innovation and getting the players to constantly strive for improvement. Some WFM solutions have a visible five-star associate task/activity tracking dashboard which can facilitate competition and a sense of team. Gamificaton is based on rewards influencing behavior; when associates can use a ranking system to gauge individuals, team, store or district performance, they become more engaged and motivated to succeed.
There's no question that gamification has real value in the WFM world. If incorporated properly by experienced professionals who understand the benefits engagement, it can easily and cost effectively transform a workforce. This will have a dramatic impact on customer experience and, in turn, have an equally positive impact on revenue and profit margins.
James Freshwater is president, North America, at WorkPlace Systems, a provider of workforce management and lobor scheduling solutions.
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