Salesforce.com chief champions gamification in business
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Salesforce.com chief champions gamification in business

April 2012
Cloud leader’s chief scientist, J.P. Rangaswami, says principles that emerged from gaming can be applied surprisingly effectively in the enterprise.

There’s a lot of hype around the word “gamification,” to the point where it’s becoming frustrating. I’m already on record telling people to avoid putting the “lipstick” of gamification on the “pig” of work.

Instead, there has to be a deeper, more fundamental change for gamification to be valuable — so I prefer to focus on why this hype is happening, because I think we can learn something by doing so.

The nature of work has changed in recent years. Knowledge work is what people are primarily involved in and this now tends to be lumpy. The costs of searching for skills within an environment have gone down, thanks to the use of technology, and hierarchies are being replaced by networks. This means it is now possible for a person to pick a task and assemble a team out on the edge of an organization, rather than through some part of its hierarchy.

“Video-game companies already deal successfully with non-linearity — and with peer-based team and task selection.”

If we know that work is likely to be less linear and more unpredictable than in the past, and that team and task selection is likely to be more peer-driven, are the tools 
we have today satisfactory or not? The answer that tends to be heard is no.

If that’s the case, where can we learn about non-linear, peer-driven conditions so we can extract value from what people have learned and transform this into work? The answer may well be the video-games industry, because companies working in that field already deal successfully with non-linearity, and with peer-based team and task selection.The value of validation

These games use the mechanics of leader boards, points and badges, and completion bars — but to simply focus on these superficial elements of games is not what gamification is really about.

What’s more important in solving business problems is the satisfaction that comes from a skill acquired and mastered, and the motivation that comes from the recognition of peers.

Let’s think about what makes an employee suitable for a job. According to a recent discussion I saw on LinkedIn, the key characteristics are typically skill, motivation and “fit” (a sense that the chemistry is right). So how can we validate these three qualities effectively? I believe that the answer to this question may lie in the concept of gamification.

In the area of skills, badges exhibit the fact that a skill has been gained. They provide validation when awarded correctly by a respected accrediting body.

In terms of motivation, we are increasingly learning the lesson from younger generations that peer recognition and respect are the key drivers that motivate staff.

If you make that information discoverable, a network can become much more effective.

J.P. Rangaswami is chief scientist at Salesforce.com. His previous positions include CIO at ICT provider BT Global Services and CIO at investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort. He was speaking as part of the 2012 Silicon Valley Comes to the UK program: www.svc2uk.com.
First published April 2012
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