For all the hype currently surrounding workplace gamification, it is not an entirely new business concept. In fact, here at Logistics Bureau, we’ve been using the Beer Game (a supply chain simulation) for years now, as a way to help companies educate their management teams in supply chain dynamics.
What is new about gamification though, is the application of digital software to make it more engaging, immediate, and suitable for a range of environments beyond the classroom.
Indeed, gamification is becoming an increasingly popular workplace feature across a broad spectrum of industries and commercial sectors, including supply chain and logistics.
“Games are the only force in the known universe that can get people to take actions against their self-interest, in a predictable way, without using force.” – Gabe Zichermann, Gamification expert and public speaker
But is gamification really a responsible approach to improving logistics performance? We believe it is if it’s done right, which means using it for carefully selected scenarios and with the right objectives in mind. These are the principles we’ll expand on in the remainder of this article.
Gamification: What it is and What it is Not
Let us begin with a quick summation of what gamification is and how it works. Essentially, gamification is just an expansion of the use of metrics and KPIs to measure human performance.
Of course, gamification can only be used in processes requiring human input, since it drives performance by way of motivation. This is precisely why, if you decide to implement some form of gamification, care should be taken in determining what the venture should achieve.
Gamification is not just another term for incentivisation, at least not in the same sense as conventional incentivisation strategies. The difference is quite subtle, but lies in the fact that while rewards (financial or otherwise) may play a part in logistics gamification, they should not become the sole source of motivation.
The Motivational Effects of Game Mechanics
The idea of gamification is to provide employees with a range of motivations to take on specific behaviours, which in turn, have a positive impact on performance. The motivational influences of gamification include:
- The introduction of a competitive element to task execution;
- The addition of extra interest to mundane, but labour-intensive activities;
- The transformation of performance monitoring from a potentially threatening management practice, to one in which employees feel more involved and engaged.
- The provision of levels, statuses, rewards, titles, badges and other elements that create a sense of achievement when a certain performance threshold or goal is reached.
“Gamification should not be about control. It is about motivation and engagement.” – Andrzej Marczewski, Gamification Consultant and Designer
When applied to a task, activity or process, these elements combine to create a fresh sense of excitement for participants, while also using positive motivation to raise performance levels.
Where to Use Gamification in Logistics
As mobile technology continues to become more versatile and capable, the introduction of game mechanics becomes possible in more and more areas of logistics activity.
If you wish, you can implement gamification in inventory management and warehousing, transport management or even into the cabs of trucks if you run a commercial-vehicle fleet.
While it has always been possible to run incentive programs in the functions discussed above, digital technology has brought about the possibility of true gamification, which can be applied not only in the workplace proper, but also as an aid to training and education.
So if there is no shortage of situations or environments to which gamification can be applied, but before you become too carried away, you should be aware that its implementation is not necessarily easy.
You will need to invest in software that can extract data from your company’s ERP, WMS, and other business information systems and utilise it within a meticulously designed framework to create the gamification experience.
“Everybody raise your hand. Now raise it a little higher. Take that same idea and wrap it around a sales behavior, service behavior, whatever it may be, and that’s the idea [of gamification] right there.” – Bob Marsh, CEO, LevelEleven
Solution design will be critical to the success of your program. There are currently few off-the-shelf applications even close to qualifying for plug-and-play status. Implementation complexity aside though, an increasing number of enterprises are making gamification work for their logistics operations, particularly in warehouses and out on the road.
Gamification in the Warehouse
The warehouse may be the best place to start with logistics gamification, simply because there are many repetitive tasks and typically, plenty of opportunities to improve performance without necessarily trying to make people work harder and faster.
A warehouse or distribution centre might also be one of the easier environments in which to integrate gamification technology with existing solutions.
Statistic: 87% of employees believe that gamification makes them more productive. Source: Findings of a 2016 survey conducted by TalentLMS
This article is not intended as a how-to guide for implementing gamification, simply because there are so many ways to approach it. You will need to decide internally what you want from such a solution, where best to introduce it, and how to design something that works well, from both practical and cultural perspectives.
As suggested in the introduction, this article is more about helping you decide where to apply gamification (if you believe there is a benefit to doing so) and to what end you should apply it.
In a warehouse environment, there is plenty of choice as to the “where”. Activities in which gamification might be suitable for performance improvement include:
- Order picking
- Inventory counting
- Order checking (applied to operatives who check the work of warehouse order pickers)
- Shift management
- Value-added activities such as ecommerce packaging or labeling
Gamification and Fork Trucks: Beware the Distractions
Because gamification typically requires a software application to provide immediate feedback to operatives, you will need to be careful about using it for activities that involve fork truck operations, just because of the safety implications surrounding anything that might distract truck drivers from their attention to the environment around them.
That said, it is common for fork trucks to be fitted with in-cab WMS terminals, so if you can ensure that your gamification software features are unobtrusive, you may be able to keep risk to a minimum and enable truck operators to take part in the program.
Regardless of whether warehouse operatives are working on foot or in fork trucks, the one thing you should avoid with gamification is a focus on speed. It’s only natural to want to motivate employees to improve productivity, but challenging them to work faster is not necessarily the best way to do so.
Don’t Make it a Race Game
The faster people work, the greater the risk of errors and worse still, accidents. Warehouses are not the safest of working environments, so encouraging people to rush their activity can have a much more damaging impact here than in say, an office setting.
Instead, gamification should reward employees (physically or emotionally) for other behaviours that can positively impact productivity. Preferable objectives include accuracy, quality, and safety, all of which contribute to the productivity of a warehouse facility.
If you feel that you must use gamification to measure work volume, it might be appropriate to include a metric such as “correct orders picked per hour” or something similar that keeps the focus on accuracy, as well as time measurement. However, the health and safety aspect should also be kept firmly in mind.
Gamification for Transport Staff
If your company has its own transport and distribution fleet, you could certainly consider introducing some gamification elements into the driver workforce. Again though, it’s important to avoid creating distractions.
“If you do this right you get what we call progressive ROI. First you take out fuel by reducing idling, and then you can take a chunk out of fuel by eliminating jack rabbit starts and hard braking. That is dollars flowing back up the tail pipe.” – Stuart Kerr, Telematics company Vice President
For example, if gamification is integrated into a vehicle telematics solution, it should perhaps be accessible only on demand, and generate no real-time feedback sounds or graphics that can take a driver’s attention away from the road.
Another alternative is to provide the gamification interface as a mobile app, which drivers can access from their cell phones when they are not actually operating their vehicles.
Gamification targets for truck drivers could include safe and fuel-efficient driving, with points awarded for minimizing fuel usage, efficient braking, staying within speed limits, and other driving behaviours that can be measured by vehicle telematics.
Customer service and delivery quality could also be measured and included in a gamification program, enabling drivers to be rewarded for items delivered in the correct quantities, free from damage, and within delivery time windows.
Gamification for Education
The idea of gamification in the workplace tends to be quite polarizing in terms of reception from employers. Employees do not universally welcome it either. Some see gamification as a potential path to exploitation, since it is a methodology that “borrows” elements of the human psyche normally reserved for leisure activities. As an enhancement to training and education though, gamification is understandably less controversial.
Simulations such as The Beer Game, while still very successful, are slowly giving way to digitised virtual environments, in which individuals or teams can compete to achieve objectives and learn about some of the more complex supply-chain principles in an entertaining way. Some companies have already employed this approach successfully in logistics training programs, and technology providers are keen to provide the means to do so.
The New WMS: Warehouse Management Simulation
One software provider sells a solution allowing teams to compete in the management of a simulated warehouse, which can be set up in a range of configurations, from completely ordered with fixed storage locations, to one in which the computer continually reassigns spaces. As teams compete, they learn about managing different types of warehouse and are able to seek innovative ways to surmount problems and challenges.
“If you make a game about something that matters, your “players” will want to participate in that larger discussion. If you genuinely make that participation meaningful in the game, it can also meaningful in real life.” – Ken Eklund, Game and Experience Designer
This is a perfect example of how gamification can provide logistics professionals with the opportunity to test ideas without any costly repercussions when mistakes are made. At the same time, the learning environment realistically reflects real-world situations commonly encountered in warehouse and inventory management.
Avoid the Thin Line Between Gamification and Exploitation
Gamification in logistics operations, or in any workplace environment, is not something that will appeal to everyone. However, at a time when logistics talent appears insufficient to meet demand, and millennials (to whom gamification is most likely to appeal) are forming an ever-larger proportion of the working population, it’s unsurprising that companies are prepared to try gamification as a way to engage people and drive improvements.
If your organisation is considering the possibilities of gamification, it will be worth keeping the tips from this article in mind. They will help you approach the implementation of game mechanics responsibly, and avoid crossing the thin line between enhancing workplace activities and needlessly exploiting people’s desire for fun, competition, and achievement.