Employers: Look to gaming to motivate staff

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Employers: Look to gaming to motivate staff

Gamer rewards could boost employee engagement.

Clearly defined goals and fair, incremental rewards are two game design techniques that could motivate the 'gamer generation' in the workforce, according to a US academic.

Lee Sheldon of the Indiana University believes managers may have to rethink how they engage the next generation entering the mainstream workforce.

"As the gamer generation moves into the mainstream workforce, they are willing and eager to apply the culture and learning techniques they bring with them from games," said Sheldon, a gamer, game designer and assistant professor at the university's department of telecommunications.

"It will be up to management, often of pre-gamer generations, to figure out how to educate themselves to the gamer culture, and how to speak to it most effectively," he told iTnews.

Last year, Sheldon replaced the traditional grading system in two of his game design classes with a system that was based on experience points (XP), which were typically used to track progress in role-playing games.

Students commenced the program as avatars at level one, which corresponded to zero XP and a grade of 'F'. They gained XP by completing 'quests', 'fighting monsters' and 'crafting'-- in other words, giving presentations, sitting quizzes and exams, and handing in projects.

Like in the popular online game World of Warcraft, the students were grouped into 'guilds' and had to complete quests solo, as guilds, or as 'pick up groups' with members of other guilds.

So far, students have responded to the classes with "far greater enthusiasm" than before, Sheldon reported.

"The elements of the class are couched in terms they understand, terms that are associated with fun rather than education," he told iTnews.

"There will always be a portion of the class who will not be motivated to learn no matter what an instructor may try. Those that are not as involved, one or two out of a class of forty, are pretty much drifting through life anyway thanks to factors the classroom can't really address."

Sheldon's class structure has attracted the interest of educators from other institutions. At Indiana University however, he said colleagues had questioned the efficacy of applying the techniques to "regular"-- non-game-related -- classes.

"What they are missing is that we are teaching the gamer, social networking generation," he told iTnews. "I have no doubt the students will respond positively to any number of non-game-related classes taught in a similar manner."

Many specifics of game design could also be directly applied to the workforce, he said. These included: clearly defining goals for workers; providing incremental rewards; and balancing effort and reward.

Lessons for the real world

Sheldon's recommendations resounded with distributor Express Data, which was named one of the Best Employers in ANZ in 2009 by human resources consulting firm Hewitt last week.

'Best Employers' were said to have highly engaged employees who were well aligned with the company's goals, committed leaders, clear agreements with staff, and a high-performance culture.

Hewitt expected these employers to provide workers with more consistent feedback on their performance and a greater link between performance and pay.

"I often talk about the analogy of ten pin bowling," said Express Data CEO Ross Cochrane about managing performance.

"If you had a game of ten pin bowling and you put the pins behind a curtain and told people to bowl so they could hear something happening but didn't really know how many pins they'd knocked down or which ones were still standing, then it doesn't become much of a game and secondly they tend not to get the best outcomes."

"I think you need to make it very clear to people about what the expectations are with regards to performance," he said.

"You need to provide very clear feedback ... so that they understand where they're at, they understand where they're meant to be at and they know what they need to do."

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