Gamification, The Secret Sauce For Powering Up Talent

May 19, 2017 1 Min Read

Gamification is the use of mechanics of digital gaming in a non-game context, such as learning, employee engagement, innovation, etc. Companies worldwide have put gamification to great use to engage employees, customers and other stakeholders to solve complex challenges and produce business impact.

FoldIt, for example, is an online puzzle game designed by scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle to understand the structure of proteins. In 2011, in a quest to decipher a puzzle with the AIDS virus, 240,000 registered players of the game were invited to configure the structure of an enzyme associated with the virus. Using shared leader boards, Foldit players solved the problem of HIV enzyme in three weeks, something that had stumped scientists for 15 years.

There are some stellar examples in learning and talent development as well.

  • McDonald’s UK developed and delivered the till training game, a gamified learning experience for employees across 1,300 restaurants to support the launch of a new till system.
  • Duolingo, a hugely popular language learning platform used by more than 70 million people worldwide, has gamification built into every lesson to make language learning fun and addictive.
  • Mahindra Group, the Indian multinational conglomerate uses KNOLSKAPE’s Build Your Business Simulation and Gamification Platform for building business acumen in their high potential managers.


Why is gamification a serious business?

Companies are lavishing time, money and effort into developing talent for their businesses. Their investments often fail to make a mark because of some fundamental flaws in the learning design. These include:

  1. Learning goals are not clearly set.
  2. Timely feedback loop for learners is non-existent.
  3. Learners do not feel a sense of accomplishment while learning new skills.
  4. Lack of reinforcement to enable sustainable behavioural changes.
  5. Learning is not fun and is perceived as a chore by the learner. This creates the push vs pull dynamic, wherein learning and development teams are forced to push learners towards learning programmes.

See also: How Organisations Can Make Learning A Habit

Using motivational principles anchored around autonomy, mastery and purpose, gamification provides a great answer to the challenges mentioned above.

  1. Gamification provides transparent goals and incentives to celebrate learning successes.
  2. By breaking up learning journeys into levels, gamification provides the learner the chance to build confidence by achieving small wins frequently.
  3. By making employees’ actions more visible to themselves and to the organisation, it facilitates an open learning culture where learners learn in a mindful fashion and are open to learning from peers.
  4. Gamification promotes healthy competition and injects fun into the workplace.
  5. It encourages people to learn new skills while reinforcing behaviour change.

The power of gamification in learning and talent development has been magnified in recent times by the convergence of a few major trends:

  1. The coming of age of the Gen-Y and Gen-Z workforce. These talent segments want learning to be intensely personalised and fun.
  2. The overcrowding of the digital space, which makes it harder for learning to stand out.
  3. Deeper understanding of human behaviours and motivations.

Interestingly, research done by leading game designers suggests that gamers are best suited to be leaders to lead in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, given their ability to anticipate surprises, developing alternatives quickly and strategising many moves ahead.

This might interest you: Gazing Into The Crystal Ball: 2017, The Year Of Digital


Slaying the dragon: The what, where and how of gamification

Learning designers commonly use gamification elements such as status, milestones and rewards, rankings, competition, social connections, role-playing and personalisation to deliver stellar experience for the learner.

Let’s go through each element, with its corresponding examples:


1. Status

One of the strongest motivations driving gamer behaviour is the recognition received from peers in their social groups. By enhancing the reputation of learners demonstrating the right learning behaviours, a strong positive feedback loop can be established.

Much like how Stack Overflow rewards participation and submissions of its members with badges, companies can implement the same principles for sharing knowledge on internal social networks.


2. Milestones and rewards

Quick, small wins are key to sustaining interest and engagement over a long period. By designing quests and challenges, learning designers can offer an opportunity to the learners to demonstrate their chops and achieve specific milestones. The reinforcement received in the process boosts learner confidence manifold.

Duolingo does this well by letting learner earn lingots, a virtual currency that can be used in the Duolingo virtual store. By tying milestones to rewards, the app tries to promote stickiness. Companies can implement this during role onboarding. By finishing tasks and milestones on a timely basis, one gets to earn rewards that can be redeemed for something real and useful.


3. Competition

Competition introduces a whole new dimension to gaming. Maintaining a social scoreboard helps everyone be transparent about their actions and results.

Opower is a publicly held software-as-a-service company that partners with utility providers around the world to promote energy efficiency. Opower’s software provides customers with better information about their energy consumption, along with personalised ways to save energy and money. Opower uses gamification to show how one is performing compared to their neighbours on energy conservation.

Companies can achieve the same results by introducing contests among its employees for achieving project metrics and targets.


4. Social connectedness

Successful gamification initiatives create a strong sense of community.

Fitbit, the health and wellness device maker, has effectively gamified health and fitness for individuals and groups. By building buddy groups and quests, Fitbit has managed to convert health and fitness into a social movement. Companies can implement this for building internal coaching and mentoring networks for employees.


5. Immersive reality and personalization

Gamers love the idea of an immersive reality where they can express their personalities. Zombies, Run! is a hugely popular app that encourages runners to push their limits through engaging storytelling and personalisation.

Leveraging this game dynamic, companies can create storylines and personalised themes to drive innovation and creativity within teams.


Making gamification a success

Gartner made a prediction that 80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design. There is a lot of truth in this prediction.

Great design produces great desire. Great design is the compelling factor that will make learners want to come back to the experience time and again. In addition to design, the following aspects are important to consider as well.

  1. Deep understanding of the business problem to be solved.
  2. Appreciation of the motivational triggers of employees.
  3. Analytics and insights to deliver long-term value.


In summary

To sum up, as individual employees get more and more empowered with learning resources, it is extremely important to provide a motivational scaffolding to increase the success of the learner. Gamification provides the right support for learners to stay engaged, set goals, perform at their best and celebrate their successes.

Watch our interview with Rajiv Jayaraman on The Leaderonomics Show:


Rajiv is CEO and founder of KNOLSKAPE, an award-winning gamified learning company, and a partner with Leaderonomics on experiential and game-based learning programmes. To engage with Leaderonomics on business simulation and gamification platform for building business acumen in your organisation’s high potentials, contact us at

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