Gamification is taking on an increasing role within all types of businesses as a way of engaging, teaching and even retaining employees.
Cool Choices is a popular gamification platform initially designed to focus on sustainability with an aim of demonstrating that even the smallest actions can save energy and reduce waste while ultimately saving money, both on the job and at home.
“Companies that are interested in sustainability often struggle with how to effectively engage their employees around big, long-term goals,” said Kathy Kuntz, who served for nearly a decade as executive director of Madison-based Cool Choices, a nonprofit organization. “People are busy in their lives, so thinking about their company’s commitment to reduce water usage by 2030 isn’t a pressing piece.”
Gamification can be a fun and simple way to get employees involved and help them see an immediacy in corporate goals that, by their very nature, are longer term, Kuntz said.
“Companies don’t usually set one-year corporate sustainability targets,” Kuntz said. “They are setting 10-year goals or longer and that can cause a disconnect with employees, some of whom are thinking that they might not be there in 10 years and that their more immediate problem is getting their kids to their soccer game that night. With gamification you get a different, unique and, unlike a one-way newsletter, engaging urgency.”
The state’s recent extended run of low unemployment also makes Wisconsin companies ripe for gamification, Kuntz said.
“Companies are competing for the best and brightest out there,” she said. “By taking a more innovative and fun approach to engage people around certain priorities, companies can end up with a competitive advantage. This same approach can effectively alter behavior.”
Jessy Servi Ortiz, managing director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council (WSBC), became involved with Cool Choices at her previous employer, Outpost Natural Foods, a Milwaukee-based cooperative-owned natural food and organic grocery store chain.
“We played at Outpost and it was well-received,” Ortiz said.
Her familiarity with Cool Choices and the positive experience it generated led the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which oversees the WSBC, to become involved with the program.
“We were looking for a way to help engage and educate the WMEP staff about sustainability,” Ortiz said. “It was logical to play the game at the WMEP. Another motivation was that the WMEP saw the potential of gamification as a tool to help their existing service lines and their customers.
“Sometimes, it’s a little more challenging in a manufacturing plant, but you can play on your phone, too,” she said.
The web-based Cool Choices game plays on people’s competitive tendencies, Ortiz added.
“You get people that want to win, and they learn things along the way,” she said. “Customizability is one of its greatest assets. It just so happens that Cool Choices’ core game is around sustainability and energy efficiency and reducing carbon through our everyday actions. It hits people at the workplace and at home.”
Played in teams, Cool Choices helps employees build relationships.
“It’s a great employee-engagement tool and you realize that having an impact doesn’t require a huge lifestyle change,” Ortiz said.
Games typically last six weeks.
“You get repeat playability; this builds relationships and increases employee satisfaction,” Ortiz said. “The actions also can have an impact on the business. For example, the Cool Choices game lets players earn points for simple actions like shutting off their computers at night, turning off lights when leaving rooms and unplugging electronics that they are not using, all of which can have a financial impact on a business.”
The Cool Choices gamification platform can easily be expanded to include such business concepts as Six Sigma, health and wellness, and beyond.
“By creating and playing a Six Sigma game, a business can put those practices into play every day for the duration of the game,” Ortiz said. “It’s driving home the message and it can help with culture change. You have invested in a Six Sigma class, but now you are making sure that your employees are applying it and practicing it.”
Under a new arrangement, Cool Choices will license its software to the WMEP, which will develop its own games and offer them to clients for use in their facilities through a game administrator. Games focused on sustainability also will be available through the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.
The Cool Choices-type platform can be more effective, especially in terms of sustainability initiatives, which traditionally have been led by “green teams.”
Gamification offers a different approach.
“It’s not about being pushy,” Kuntz said. “Fundamentally, what you are doing through gamification is giving people immediate feedback and reward in a way the real world doesn’t provide. It’s pretty powerful for people to think what they are doing matters.”