March Madness Might Be Over, But Workplace Competition Is Not

The annual NCAA basketball tournament that just ended this week is an exciting time for sports enthusiasts, and March Madness pools have become an integral part of office culture for many companies today.

Even for non-sports fans, the hype around the games can be a great way to build energy in the office and motivate employees during the lull that often settles in at the end of winter.

It would be great if there were events like March Madness all throughout the year to keep energy up in the workplace.

Unfortunately, tournament level hype is difficult to sustain; even March Madness would grow old if it lasted all year. To keep employees feeling engaged takes a variety of motivators and a relentless drive to keep them fresh.

So how can the energy from March Madness be replicated and sustained year round?

1. Drive engagement all year by using gamification

When people hear the word “gamification” in the context of the workplace, they often picture employees sitting around playing actual board games.

On the contrary, gamification does not involve actual games. Instead, it describes a suite of motivational techniques most businesses are already using to some limited degree.

Sales competitions or idea-generation challenges are both examples of Gamification. In fact, Gamification can include any uses of performance data to recognize employee behavior, from learning programs to community participation.

As the modern business world becomes more integrated with technology, more and more new opportunities are becoming available to take advantage of these old techniques.

Gamification helps businesses align incentives and motivation, in turn, increasing employee productivity. Some motivators may be competitive, some may be collaborative, some may be participation-based, others accomplishment-based.

If you can track the behavior, there are ways to drive increased engagement and sustain energy.

2. Recognize employees’ achievements using competition

For many employees, status, access and power are significant, low-cost motivators. Recognizing employee achievement March Madness-style on a physical bracket or leaderboard can be a great way to let employees shine who wouldn’t normally get to be in the spotlight.

Find ways to track your team’s behaviors — whether it’s meeting sales or customer service goals, collaborating with other colleagues or complying to company policies — and create new competitions monthly or quarterly to keep things fresh. Alternate team competitions and individual challenges.

People crave novelty, and programs that don’t change can get boring quickly. Businesses can keep the energy humming by continuing to bring new activities and challenges to the workplace.

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3. Use the bandwagon effect to involve people who won’t participate

Each year during March Madness, numerous non-sports fans who don’t know a thing about basketball fill out brackets based on their gut feeling about a team or its jersey color because it’s fun to be a part of the excitement.

The same can go for departmental or company-wide incentive programs. Coming up with fresh competitions for the office can help include people who wouldn’t ordinarily participate and improve overall collaboration amongst the team.

4. Boost participation with targeted gamification

Employee engagement is absolutely critical to company success, and people respond to rewards and incentives very differently. Businesses waste serious time, resources and energy when their employees are unproductive and underperforming — and when they try to motivate their people using the wrong tactics.

Understanding personality types and various stages of personal and professional development is key to effectively engaging employees. Some people want to feel appreciated. Others want to be respected.

By taking the time to consider the preferences of individual team members and determine specific ways to incentivize, businesses can create a much more positive work environment where people feel that their needs are being met.

5. Create standards for employees to quantify/gauge performance

Establishing standards for assessment creates consistency craved by all employees.

Gamification has an amazing side effect of pushing management to adhere to their own edicts and values. By introducing a formal set of ‘rules’ Gamification creates a great equalizer in the office, making the measurements for success universal and explicit.

Rather than being judged on intangible things like effort or leadership, employees can gauge their performance based on clearly defined goals and metrics.

Tony Ventrice is the Behavior Lab Co-Founder and a Senior Game Systems Designer at Badgeville. He started out designing games for phones with 128x128 screen resolution, following mobile through to the iPhone era and made the transition to social-games pre-FarmVille, working at both Zynga and Playdom. He sees the next expansion of the industry in bringing games into everyday life and joined Badgeville in early 2011 to help lead that evolution.

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