Gamification for Performance Management


While businesses spend billion of dollars every year to evaluate their employees, the outcome is disappointing. The data that performance evaluations are done and promotions based on are lacking in detail, extent and objectivity. No wonder that instead of a meritocracy we see people being promoted based on their networking and socializing skills.

World of Warcraft players on the other hand know very well how they and their fellow players are doing. The player stat sheets clearly indicate their current status and achievements, and tell them how to advance. A game played by 10 million players has more data on its players than billion dollar companies about their employees. But this is about to change with introducing gamification to Human Resources and into all aspects of a company.

Let’s take a look at how companies are doing performance management today, what the actual goal is, and what some companies have done by introducing gamification to this process.

Current Status

Traditionally performance reviews are scheduled to take place every quarter or once a year. The review is done by the employee’s line-manager and, sometimes, additional appraisers are added. The problems of course are:

  1. Defining the goals at the beginning of the period and adapting them during the period, when goals and strategy change
  2. Keeping track of achievements and evaluating them
  3. How to bring achievements in the equation that were not part of the original goals but were done anyways

The first issue requires flexibility that allows adapting goals and then proper communication and agreement with the employee. The second issue is just keeping track of them. There is not one way to record achievements; some may be documents (study written), some money in the bank (deals closed), others simple emails from clients or colleagues who wanted to thank you for your help. A manager’s challenge is to access the channels and compile the information. Some channels may never be accessible, like the emails that thanked your employee.

A solution could be to go with crowdsourcing feedback and recognition. Eric Mosley, CEO and co-founder of the employee recognition solutions company Globoforce, mentions five steps to improve that process[1]:

  • Capture achievements throughout the year.
    With social recognition, individual and team achievements and successes are captured at the moment they happen throughout the year. Employees better understand what performance is desired on an on-going basis while managers can see first-hand an employee’s true performance, behaviors and influence.
  • Widen the input circle beyond a single point of failure.
    By leveraging feedback from across the organization, managers can expand the singular viewpoint of traditional performance reviews to include positive feedback from co-workers and peers alike. These ongoing reviews provide a more accurate collection for how individuals are performing within teams and across departments.
  • Use inspiration, not obligation.
    Social recognition is the epitome of effective reviews: they’re truly inspired, not forced by antiquated performance review processes. When peers give reviews of each other via recognition, it’s due to the strong performance they witness. It’s a purer performance evaluation and not diluted by a check-box mindset.
  • Expand accountability for reputations and careers.
    By incorporating feedback from peers across the company, you lessen errors for how an employee’s performance and career is judged and nurtured. For most companies, the performance review is an anchor for documentation. By rounding it out with recognition, you are creating a more complete assessment around employees’ reputation and work performance.
  • Empower employees to create a performance mosaic.
    With relationships and workflows extending beyond immediate teams and divisions, management and HR can create a performance mosaic to appraise true company performance. This social graph of the true performance of individuals and teams develops as employees and peers recognize one another.

Gamification of Performance Evaluations

While crowd-sourcing is not necessarily a gamification technique, Australian startup Wooboard[2] allows employees to thank each other for work they have done. By sending a (whimsically named) “Woo“ and tagging it with a category (categories are maintained by management and reflect the core-values and activities the management wants to encourage), the standalone system enables peer-recognition, records that information, and shows how often employees have been wooed for following the company’s core values.

What if you even go beyond crowd-sourced achievement gathering and extend that to the determination of each employee’s bonus? That’s what the US-based gaming and entertainment company IGN [3] is doing[4]. Employees themselves decide who should earn more bonuses. The system is called “viral pay“ and twice a year every employee receives “Tokens of Appreciation“ which they can distribute to other employees. The rules are simple:

  1. All tokens must be distributed
  2. You cannot distribute them to yourself
  3. And the CEO is exempt from receiving tokens

While nobody knows who gave the tokens to whom, IGN posts a list of who got how many tokens. Employees reward each other for helping out and going the last mile. That system motivates others who have not received as many tokens this time to be more helpful the next time.

This concept of course is not unfamiliar to IGN. That’s how loot in many videogames is distributed. Teams, guilds, battle groups who beat the boss (such as a dragon), distribute the awards amongst each other depending on their contributions. Lee Sheldon, video game designer and associate professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, started his own video game design classes as a video game, where students formed teams of five and had to distribute the loot amongst them according to their contributions in the team projects[5]. Fears that students would distribute them equally turned out to be unsubstantiated. The students knew exactly how much each team member contributed and awarded accordingly.

A technology that can be used for such a crowd-determined bonus round is[6]. Each team member receives a monthly allowance for granting bonuses, and can then praise and grant small peer bonuses to their colleagues. A crucial factor to make a peer-to-peer bonus working is keeping them transparent. In a failed example from the General Services Administration[7] the bonus-rewards were not transparent (only the recipient and the giver knew about the amount), led to rigging the system, and violated federal governance standards.

Thus a gamified performance review would rely on better data. And as we’ve mentioned the gamification score extensively, a performance review wouldn’t even be required anymore, but would surface in a different form: as a career planning and advocacy session.

Spanish company Gamifik[8] offers a mobile solution for continuous 360-degree feedback. This helps HR to identify problems early rather than at the end of the period.

ROIKOI[9] offers a gamified mobile app that lets co-workers rate other co-workers using peer voting to rate people in the company. The voting happens anonymously and the results are displayed through a ROIKOI-score on a leaderboard.

With these examples the first companies are on the way to create a fairer and more objective way to evaluate employees and thus motivate and engage them better.

About the Author

MARIO HERGER is CEO, founder and partner of Enterprise Gamification Consultancy LLC[10], a strategic consulting group focused on gamification, innovation, social business, and intrapreneurship in the enterprise. He had been Senior Innovation Strategist at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, California and Global Head of the Gamification Initiative at SAP where he had worked for 15 years. He is the author of a number of gamification books, including Gamification in Human Resources[11].

[1] Crowdsource Your Performance Reviews



[4] At IGN, Employees Use A “Viral Pay” System To Determine Each Others’ Bonuses

[5] Lee Sheldon, The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game, Course Technology, 2012