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. 


Understanding and applying the in-game compulsion loop

Further to a great talk by Stephanie Morgan (Gamification Sucks) I want to focus on the compulsion loop game mechanic.

The Compulsion Loop is core to many game designs. It explains an in-game virtuous circle that keeps players engaged.

The loop comprises  three stages each enhancing the next stage, like Escher’s never ending staircase, players keep on improving.

Here’s a classic game compulsion loop:

Screenshot 2020-10-30 at 21.30.38

Players start by killing a monster, this enables them to win gold which allows them to buy stuff which allows them to kill more (and bigger) monsters and so on.

The compulsion loop is core to most games, and the best ones have multiple compulsion loops.  For example Elite provided different loops depending on how you wanted to play the game – as a trader your loop was to buy goods, sell them at a profit and then use the profit to upgrade your ship. While if you chose to play as a pirate, you were more concerned with stealing from others rather than buying.

How can we include a compulsion loop in our classic management leaderboard?

In our imaginary management leaderboard we have leaderboarded the team across several variables. Let’s take the customer support use case and imagine we track total resolutions, number of quick resolutions and resolution feedback rating to contribute to the final leaderboard score.

If we release this leaderboard weekly to the customer support team, what is the compulsion loop we are in effect implementing?

Resolve Cases – Leaderboard Recognition – Promotion Opportunities

I think the recognition gained by resolving cases well and doing well on the leaderboard leads to promotion opportunities. When the time comes to promote  someone to be a manager – the leaderboard is a natural place to look to find the best performers.

Just as in the monsters-gold-stuff in-game compulsion loop, the promotion offers the opportunity to do more of the core activity – in this case resolving more cases (rather than killing bigger monsters) by managing a team.

So we can see, the compulsion loop is available to be  used in the gamification of work but it is likely to be already enshrined in existing HR practice – it just won’t be called the compulsion loop!

For gamifiers at work this might mean ultimate responsibility for your gamification initiatives must sit with HR.  We avoid consulting our HR team with our employee gamification initiative at our peril.