The difference between soft and hard metrics

When designing your gamification program consider whether your metrics are soft or hard.

A hard metric tends to be one which is:

  • complete – no other metric is needed to qualify it
  • slow moving – it doesn’t change that often
  • important – it drives real business needs
  • reciprocity based – it relies on the response of others so can’t easily be gamed

A soft metric on the hand tends to be:

  • contributing – one that leads on to other, harder metric
  • personal  – more linked to individual activity than to team goals
  • fuzzy – accuracy is less important
  • activity based – is under the control of the player

Why does this matter?

Players and managers  respond differently to hard and soft scores:

  • Hard scores tend to be taken more seriously, checked formally and regularly, and become directly linked to hard incentives like cash.
  • Soft scores are lighter, are seen as indicators and a guide, are much more suitable for friendly competition among peers.

Let’s take an example – sales motivation.

If you are a sales professional you’re used to being measured on many different metrics. But some metrics are “harder” than others. This will affect how you perceive the program and how you engage with it:softhard

  • Total Sales Revenue achieved is a hard metric. It’s important to the business and why you are hired.
  • % Quota Achieved for example is a softer metric, still fairly hard but it’s been softened by making it personal to me as an individual seller.
  • Opportunities Added, the number of new deals in the sales pipeline, is softer still. It’s a metric that can be easily gamed (I could put lots of spurious opportunities into the CRM system) so is best used as a soft indicator of performance rather than a hard one.
  • % increase in Opportunities Added this week – is the softest of all sales metrics. Not only is it easily gamed but it’s highly personalised.

In my experience, sales professionals treat hard metrics with respect, because they are incentivised on them but are less interested in soft metrics. Good sales management though is often about improving the soft metrics that yield results in the hard metric area. Therefore multiple programs are necessary – a hard metrics program which results in hard cash, a soft metrics program which is used for friendly competition and personal growth.

For your player context, be they sales reps or employees elsewhere,  the exact mix of hard and soft metrics will be  designed by you.

The take away for behavioural designers and gamifiers is  to consider the impact of your chosen metrics on your players  based on whether the metrics  will be perceived as soft or hard.