Teams have long been rewarded for their achievements. From earning the prime parking spot to collecting a prize ham, performance-based incentives are not a new concept. It just has a flashier name now: gamification.

Gamifying your workplace can be an effective tool to spark excitement and friendly competition while boosting corporate culture. But there are right and wrong ways to go about it.

When United Airlines announced this month that it was eliminating its bonus system and replacing it with a lottery that rewarded lavish prizes to only a few employees, it was met with epic backlash from its workforce. The system was immediately halted.

As CEO of a gaming and interactive content company, I've learned the secrets to creating a successful gamification strategy. Here are my tips to rolling out a fun plan that brings the best out of your entire company.

Be true to your culture.

If you want gamification to work, you first need to create a receptive culture which begins with your company values.

At my company, Arkadium, one of our core values is positive energy. When we hire, we make sure every top candidate embodies that spirit. Our employees are open-minded and enjoy engaging in things like our recognition system, which lets everyone dole out thanks in a social stream visible to the entire organization. 

Reward accomplishments instead of highlighting failures.

Don't create a system built on negativity, or one that can breed it.

I've witnessed financial institutions require mortgage bankers to pay their associates commissions out of their own salary when they miss their sales targets.

Rewards should never be in exchange for something essential, like a solid compensation and benefits package. They should be an additional perk and provide something extra for deserving employees -- not take anything away from anybody.

Know thy gaming tenants: Randomness and exclusivity.

Rewards must be random to have long lasting appeal.

At my company, we have a prize wheel. Each prize featured on the wheel varies in monetary value and experience. When it's an employee's turn to spin the wheel (on their birthday or after a big win), she or he has no idea if they'll win the Outback Steakhouse lunch for one or the $1,000 travel voucher. This sense of randomness makes it more exciting.

How can you integrate a sense of randomness into your companies reward system? Do you have a routine event you could make more spontaneous?

For example, why not take institutionalized Bagel Friday, and swap it out an unprompted pancake breakfast? Or instead of the mundane monthly happy hour, end work an hour early without warning one day and take everyone on a mini-field trip for beer and ping pong.

Everyone loves a good perk, but benefits are more exciting when they come out of the blue. 

Exclusivity is the other key tenant to a strong gamification strategy. Be selective in how and when you reward your employees.

For example, at Arkadium we have a company trophy that's awarded quarterly to a department that performed exceptionally well. 

Employees get excited to see if they'll win this sought-after trophy because it's something only one team can win, and it's only awarded four times a year. The trophy is accompanied by a $1,000 professional development stipend--the perfect amount to inspire friendly competition without devaluing everyone else's contributions that quarter.

What can you offer employees that only a select few can claim? Perhaps there's a prize that's only available for a short period of time? When you focus on exclusivity, the prizes become more appealing and your employees will become more engaged.

Know that gamification isn't for every organization.

My company emphasizes positive energy and living a full life in equal parts to being competitive and having a fierce drive to win. It also doesn't hurt that we create games as a business.

Because gamification is aligned closely to what we stand for and the kind of products we make, it made sense for us to roll out a rewards system.

But, depending on an organization's values and culture, gamification may not fit.

A great work environment, solid benefits, and competitive compensation are a necessary baseline for any strong company to offer their employees. To get even stronger, integrate gamification but never use it as a replacement for the fundamentals.

Published on: Apr 5, 2018