Future Friday: Is there a lesson in Pokémon Go for motivating employees?

The Pokémon Go craze is in the news practically every day. It is almost impossible to go anywhere without spying someone walking around trying to catch Mewtoo, Dragonite, Psyduck or one of the other creatures in the game. As I observe this behavior and how quickly it caught on it made me wonder if there is a lesson in this for motivating employees.

Gamification is the trend

Pokémon Go, while a currently popular game, is not the trend. It is one more indication however, that gamification is the trend. Gamification has been around for quite a while. Who has not played games? Its popularity however has expanded greatly with the use of mobile devices. Companies try to influence consumer behavior by the use of games. McDonald’s use of games would often drive consumers to their stores with the promise of big prizes. Currently FourSquare uses gamification, as does Starbucks in order to reward frequent shoppers who participate. All of us can think of consumer oriented companies that may use some sort of gamification to drive business there way. However, it becomes harder to find companies that use gamification to increase employee participation. Marcus Buckingham is working of gamification use in management, as I wrote here, and I did a podcast with Mike Tinney about the use of gamification in wellness programs. However, I don’t find a lot of examples for the use of gamification in the day-to-day business of most companies. Why?


If gamification can drive people to walk around looking for imaginary creatures and drive people to pick a particular restaurant to have their lunch why wouldn’t it, why shouldn’t  it, be a powerful tool to drive employee behavior on the job? I think it would be, but there are steps to follow in instituting gamification and increasing challenges as you use it. This may be the roadblock! First we have to decide what behavior we want to change. Then we have to create the game that drives it. Then we have to get employees and managers to use it. Plus we have to get over the roadblocks that may be thrown in our way from the government in the use of the game. But if a game can drive the kind of behavior we see in Pokémon Go wouldn’t it be worth it?

The Gamification Spectrum

I came across an excellent paper written by Dr. Michael Wu that was published by Lithium. In this whitepaper Dr. Wu talks about the Gamification Spectrum and the nine patterns that builders and users of gamification need to be aware of in it use. These include:

1.       Gamified behavior- do you want a single action from a single user or multiple actions from multiple players

2.       Underlying metrics- you have to be able to track player behavior and that becomes increasingly difficult and complicated

3.       Susceptibility to cheating- Easy actions make it easy to “game” the system. I have a friend who games FourSquare by checking into a location that he just happens to be driving by rather than actually visiting. He is atop the leaderboard every week.

4.       Ideal visibility and scope of feedback- This deals with badges and the time they are visible. Newer players may get discouraged with long standing, yet easily earned badges.

5.       Value of rewards- Do you want to reward simple behavior by a single player or the behavior of a team?

6.       Sustainability- You have to have something that stands the test of time in order for it to be effective.

7.       Implementation- Do you want simple badges or will you require custom tools?

8.       Extinction period- this is tied into sustainability

9.       Engaged population- The more difficult the game the smaller the number of dedicated players.

Dr. Wu says that you need to have a three step strategy that include:

1.       Step one- Identify the effective timescale of your desired behavior

2.       Step two- Find a gamification tool with a feedback timescale ≈ your effective timescale

3.       Step three- Build a level-up ladder by filling in the gaps with tools that have successively longer feedback timescale along the gamification spectrum.

  •  Always start with immediate feedback (e.g., points) to achieve scale
  •  Fill all gaps (so the ladder is easy to climb) in order to maintain the scale as your players level up to the final rung of the ladder (i.e., the tool with feedback)

Obviously I cannot do justice to Dr. Wu’s explanation, so I suggest you read this whitepaper to more completely understand his explanation.


I do believe that there is a tremendous opportunity for the use of gamification in human resources. It will take a coordinated effort between HR, game designers and probably some of the bigger software systems but I believe it may be worth the effort.

Who is willing to give it a try?


Originally posted on Omega HR Solutions Blog.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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