Foursquare has increased some stores foot traffic by 33-50%.

For those of you not familiar with this app, it “rewards” customers who check in at businesses with titles like “mayor”. No keys to the local Starbucks come with this honorific, just bragging rights. So, groups of friends busily flit from store to store trying to best their buddies.

What do stores have to do? Not a lot. They might offer a special price to “unlock” for their most loyal customers. But the increased foot traffic certainly sells more lattes.

What about your company? Does the behavior above (eager, keenly competitive, rewarded) describe your employees?

Chances are the answer is no.

tug of warHow to Make Work Fun: Gamification

Many executives complain that their employees are unmotivated, not as productive as they could be, and unengaged. In fact, less than 50% of employees, when surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management in November 2012, felt engaged by their work.

So the executive is left wondering how to engage and motivate those under him or her to accomplish two noble goals: increasing both the productivity and satisfaction of their employees.

You might have heard of “gamification,” especially if you’re in the advertising world. Seems that, if you make arduous tasks resemble a game, people are willing to do a lot to win.

When I was a waitress, our managers were keyed into this. Every Saturday night, one item would be selected to be the sales goal. At the end of the night, the person who sold the most glasses of Pinot Noir or slices of pecan pie would win whatever they wanted for dinner instead of having to pay out of pocket. Second place often won a small plastic toy (I suspect from the Dollar Store).

Not much in the way of compensation. I’m sure the restaurant raked in much more in sales resulting from the competition than they spent on the winner’s dinner, and competition was fierce! People sold the heck out of that pecan pie. Not only did the item fly off the shelf, we were all also gaining first-hand experience on becoming more effective and efficient in sales.

Translation: work felt like a game. Games make work fun.

The sweet spot that Foursquare has hit should be a lesson for companies of all types. Appealing to humans’ internal competitiveness and rewarding them in some way makes people do more work willingly than many other, more costly, things will.

playing cardsHow to Gamify Your Workplace

If you like the sound of this, try to apply it to your company. Maybe you’re not hawking lattes or Pinot Noir, but having contests can keep your employees motivated while also helping them hone vital skills.

Here are some basics for how to set up a game at work:

1. Pick a task: Choose something that your employees don’t get excited about currently. Sales calls, perhaps.

2. Choose a short period of time: A day, or three hours, for example. Contests work better when results realized quickly.

3. Some Friendly Competition: If you want this to be a team-building exercise, split a department into teams that compete against each other, or find similar departments to compete against each other.

4. Set a goal: Pick a number that is higher than what is normally achieved, or simply offer prizes for first place.

5. Pick a prize. Sometimes this is monetary (a gift card for a coffee shop, for instance). Sometimes it’s not (A client of mine worked at a company where departments fought bitterly to attain a giant stuffed pink bear that was the prize for the most productive customer service team). Whatever you chose, make sure it matches your employees. Some people might be more attached to recognition whereas others are motivated by actual rewards. However, both of these seem to work better than outright cash.

Repeat the contest as often as you like. Switch teams if you want people to avoid getting comfortable with the same group.  And remember to always make the goals fair and attainable, and ensure the competitors don’t have unfair advantages over the others.

What Results Come From Work Feeling Like a Game

This works on many different levels. Some companies have an internal system of rewards like badges that other employees can bestow upon each other. Each honoree gets an email from a manager congratulating her and frequent winners have a chance to get bonuses.

If you make work a game in the right way, you will notice employees more engaged as well as an uptick in productivity. People will grow closer, while fostering a sense of commitment to the product or service that you provide.

A word of caution: make sure you introduce this as a fun competition, rather than stressing the work load. If people are just playing a game, the work will take care of itself.

Photo Credit: Phil Jones Photography and Luke Hayfield Photography via [Compfight] [cc]

 For more on gamification, read this article from CBS News and this one from WIRED magazine. Have fun!