newtons cradle silver balls conceptEvery organizational leader can learn a lesson from the science behind employee gamification, which is the use of game-inspired tactics to engage employees.

As with any initiative a leader undertakes, the purpose of gamification is implemented to create some sort of change or progress. For example, the primary objective may be:

  • Increase employee referrals for external recruiting candidates
  • Increase participation in training programs
  • Improve employee health to increase productivity and reduce the cost of health care benefits
  • Improve employee collaboration and information-sharing
  • Increase employee contributions to their 401(k) and improve their investment diversification

When planning gamification or any other strategy for engaging employees and influencing behaviors, the most important key is to target the right motivators: the drives that make people want to engage and that stimulate the right thoughts and actions to accomplish your objectives.

In Killer Gamification: Targeting the Drives That Make People Want to Engage and The Four Game Drives: E.A.S.I. Gamification, I identified and explained the science behind the four core game drives: Explore, Achieve, Socialize, and Impact. One of these game drives is by far the most important motivator: Impact.

There are three reasons why appealing to the Impact drive is powerful in helping an organization make progress toward a long-term purpose:

  • Championing the long-term purpose. When their Impact drive is aroused, Impacters (people whose most dominant motive is the Impact drive) care more about accomplishing the group’s long-term goals than about their individual short-term needs. They are more flexible and open to change. They are capable of maintaining focus and energy, even if they don’t receive frequent positive feedback (which is often the case in the early stages of any initiative).
  • Making it contagious. Impacters can arouse similar flexibility, focus, and support of the long-term purpose among Socializers, Achievers, and Free Spirits. This is related to the mirror neurons phenomenon discovered in recent years by neuroscience researchers. Mirror neurons cause people you interact with to literally have the same brain activity based on your thoughts and feelings. Research led by David Burnham has shown that if an Impacter is thinking the right Impact thoughts, employees who interact with the Impacter will be more likely to support the purpose too.
  • Engaging others. By definition, Impacters are motivated to engage and influence others. Often an Impacter’s behaviors will appeal to the motivators of Socializers (such as encouraging them toward a group goal), Free Spirits (such as facilitating or curating for them to rate, vote, or review), and Achievers (such as focusing people toward a group goal). Impacters tend to take action for a purpose; they don’t play the game for the sake of playing or even for the sake of winning. If they interact with a Socializer, for example, it’s typically to encourage them to make progress toward the purpose.

In short, appealing to the Impact drive both 1) motivates Impacters to make the long-term purpose a reality, and as a by-product also 2) influences Achievers, Socializers, and Free Spirits (who tend to have shorter-term motivations) to develop and maintain a focus on the long-term purpose.

This is not to suggest that you appeal only to the Impact drive. However, you certainly don’t want to neglect Impact. Be sure your gamification (or any other engagement strategy) appeals to and reinforces the Impact motivator. And for maximum effectiveness, design ways for Impacters to have supportive or facilitative interaction with Socializers, Achievers, and Free Spirits.

Adapted from “Employee Gamification for Impact – One Drive to Rule Them All” by Jesse Lahey in Gamification: Engaging Your Workforce, available from Ark Group (also see Amazon.) Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader and Game Changer podcasts and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. If you know anyone who would benefit from this information, please share it!