Gamification as a Means of Workplace Performance Improvement

Bachelor Thesis 2015 50 Pages

Leadership and Human Resource Management - Miscellaneous


Table of Content

1 Introduction
1.1 Research Questions
1.2 Methodology
1.3 Structure

2 Performance Feedback
2.1 Necessity of Performance Feedback
2.2 Survey
2.3 Dunning-Kruger Effect
2.4 Impostor Syndrome
2.5 Johari Window

3 Gamification
3.1 The Value of Games
3.2 Definition of Gamification
3.3 Elements of Gamification
3.4 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
3.5 Intrinsic and Extrinsic Rewards
3.6 The State of Flow

4 Practical Applications
4.1 Application 1: Delta Airlines
4.2 Application 2: Deloitte
4.3 Application 3: Rypple
4.4 Overview of Reviewed Gamification Elements

5 Challenges and Risks of Gamification

6 Conclusion

7 Appendix
7.1 Survey Questions
7.2 Raw Survey Responses


List of Figures

Figure 1: Dunning and Kruger’s Original Experiments (cf. 1999, own figure)

Figure 2: Johari Window (cf. 1955, own figure)..

Figure 3: Game Element Hierarchy (cf. Werbach and Hunter 2012, own figure).

Figure 4: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (cf. 1943 own figure)...

Figure 5: Original Flow Model (cf. Csikszentmihalyi 1975 p. 49, own figure)

Figure 6: Screenshot of Ready, Set, Jet! (Delta Air Lines: Ready, Set, Jet!, n.d.)

List of Tables

Table 1: Satisfaction with Feedback Systems

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

Performing well in a professional context generally requires an understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses, talents and deficits. Actually possessing the ability to properly gauge one’s own skills is, however, often a difficult talent to master. In the late 1990s, researchers David Dunning and Justin Kruger (1999) carried out several studies to prove something that philosophers, poets and great thinkers had stated many times throughout history: People who are deficient in true skill often fail to recognize it and thus overestimate their abilities. As Shakespeare, whom Dunning and Kruger quote in their research, famously stated it:

"The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole." (Shakespeare n.d, Act V, Scene i)

Dunning and Kruger’s research, along with additional, subsequent studies (Dunning et al. 2003; Ehrlinger and Dunning 2003; Ehrlinger et al. 2008) in this field, have been successful in statistically demonstrating this phenomenon and have also uncovered another curious revelation: The most skilled of individuals tend to underestimate their ability. In fact, Dunning and Kruger’s research confirmed that most individuals - rela- tively skilled or unskilled - tend to rate themselves as slightly above average regard- less of actual performance. The researchers were able to demonstrate that unbiased feedback and training are successful in alleviating this error in judgement.

Another, similar phenomenon also poses an equally pressing problem for organiza- tions: The Impostor Syndrome (IS). The first research into the IS took place in the 1970s when psychology researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes (1978) ob- served that many high performing, female employees often described their achieve- ments as perceived fraud. Additional research strongly suggests that at least as many men suffer from this condition (Laursen 2008; Vergauwe et al. 2014). It has been ob- served that those who suffer from the IS exhibit several behaviors that are detrimental and limiting to their professional lives. Research suggests, as with the Dunning-Kruger effect, that unbiased feedback and training may reduce the effects of this problem.

These two metacognitive deficiencies1 can be detrimental to organizational perfor- mance for several reasons: Unskilled individuals failing to note their own incompetence may pursue overly ambitious personal and organizational goals (Burson et al. 2006). At the same time, skilled and high performing individuals may feel ill-equipped or incapable of surmounting challenges, which could result in their reluctance to pursue more challenging goals and organizational roles (Camerer and Lovallo 1999). In both cases, it stands to reason that such individuals are likely to encounter motivational problems ranging from severe boredom to extreme anxiety.

It is therefore important for companies to provide employees with useful, reliable and objective feedback and adequate training. Unfortunately, however, firms often lack the structural, temporal and managerial requirements to provide the necessary degree of personal feedback and training. Furthermore, especially younger workers are often reluctant to participate in training opportunities at work because they are deemed bor- ing or irrelevant (Sportelli 2015). As a result, employees are often left wondering how they are performing at their jobs and are unsure of where and how to improve their talents and skills.

One way to alleviate this problem is by implementing systemic feedback loops and improved opportunities for personalized training within organizations. Innovations and technological improvements over the past four decades have paved the way for automated processes that can replace many systems which were once manual. Research into gamification - the use of elements traditionally present in (video) games - suggests that this is not only possible, but that many aspects of traditional feedback appraisals and training programs could stand to benefit employees by improving both the quality of feedback offered and engagement among employees.

The following thesis does not build a case for the existence of gamification as a con- cept; A wealth of existing academic research, case studies and (meta-)analyses have already shown that, in the majority of cases2, gamification can and has led to impres- sive results, in no small part by focusing on improving employee motivation. The thesis does, however, attempt to show that gamification principles can be implemented to reduce the aforementioned metacognitive deficiencies. While motivation is without a doubt still an important factor in employee performance, this thesis focuses primarily on the opportunities gamification offers to help people more accurately understand themselves and their strengths and weaknesses.

1.1 Research Questions

This bachelor thesis attempts to discern if and to what extent gamification can be used as a systemically integrated concept to provide superior training opportunities and facil- itate an open, unbiased feedback culture within organizations with the goal of alleviat- ing the previously noted metacognitive deficiencies. Moreover, successful implementa- tions of gamification are reviewed to determine whether or not they are useful in achieving these goals of providing better, more frequent performance feedback and training opportunities to employees.

The specific research questions are stated clearly as follows:

1. Can gamification prevent or remedy problems associated with the Dunning-Kruger Effect and the Imposter Syndrome?
2. If yes, which elements of gamification are helpful in achieving this goal?
3. What inherent risks exist in doing so?

1.2 Methodology

The research questions are deliberated upon by analyzing academic and scientific re- search into the typical characteristics of the Dunning-Kruger Effect and the IS, and by identifying opportunities for preventing, reducing or alleviating associated problems. A survey was carried out to gather descriptive data on the current workforce’s perception of feedback systems in organizations. Finally, existing research and case studies on gamification are then consulted to determine if and which elements are useful.

1.3 Structure

In section two, performance feedback is defined and several underlying reasons for its importance are described, including those having a correctional effect on metacognitive deficiencies in employees. The results of a survey on performance feedback in the workplace which was carried out specifically for this thesis are introduced and ana- lyzed.

In section three, the concept of gamification is introduced along with some of its most popular practical components.

In section four, specific examples of the successful implementation of employee-facing, gamified systems are reviewed and discussed. Important gamification elements are described and structured in accordance with their usefulness to combating the Dunning-Kurger Effect and the Impostor Syndrome.

In section five, the challenges and risks of gamification are considered from a number of different perspectives and possible remedies are suggested, when possible.

Finally, in section six a conclusion is drawn from the presented material and an answer to the initial research question is attempted. Moreover, the limitations of this research are described and suggestions for future research are provided. Additionally, a possible future outlook is proposed.

2 Performance Feedback

2.1 Necessity of Performance Feedback

Employees are oftentimes heavily reliant upon feedback from more experienced peers and superiors in order to properly understand their own performance in the workplace (Stajkovic and Luthans 1998). Feedback also helps individuals to improve their existing skill sets. Such feedback can range from passive and informal exchanges, such as non-verbal approval of actions and behaviors to more active and formal mechanisms, such as annual human resource appraisal meetings. Despite its many different forms, feedback, in a managerial context, can be uniformly defined as “information about the gap between the actual level and the reference level of a system parameter” (Rama- prasad 1983, p. 4). Thus feedback can be a vague concept and is a somewhat vague term which can conjure diverse ideas among different people. Feedback covers nearly every form of communication referring to any performance deficit or surplus.

Regardless of the specific form feedback takes, academic literature has rather consist- ently recognized the crucial importance of performance feedback in improving employ- ees’ work performance (Ilgen, Fisher and Taylor 1979). To be clear, although mere practice and repetition in a specific field has been shown to improve individuals’ skills, research indicates that practice alone often leads to only limited mastery of the studied matter and will eventually lead to a period of leveled-off knowledge increases (Bryan and Harter 1897; 1899). Simply put, it is unlikely that an individual can identify the op- timal method of completing a task without some form of instruction, training or perfor- mance feedback from teachers or mentors which serves to utilize the learnings from others who have previously mastered that task (Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer 1993). Moreover, research indicates that without an efficient feedback mechanism, skill improvement is difficult or impossible to achieve regardless of an individual’s level of motivation (Trowbridge and Cason 1932 cited in Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer 1993).

Aside from its direct effect on employee performance, feedback can also serve to indi- rectly improve employee motivation which, in turn, may directly improve employee performance. Several aspects of the very existence of some form of performance feedback mechanism have been recorded which support the notion that performance feedback has a positive effect on employee behavior and motivation:

1. Hawthorne Effect: In a social experiment, an improvement was measured in work- er performance. Many attribute the recorded productivity increase to the introduc- tion of a feedback mechanism and a subsequent eagerness among workers to- ward the researchers (Steele-Johnson et al. 2000).

2. Self-Determination Theory: This theory contends that the attainment of some de- gree of autonomy and mastery, facilitated both mutual goal-setting mechanisms inherent in many feedback systems and feedback on workers’ performance, can transform the traditionally extrinsic motivational structure of employment (in which a worker’s primary goal is earning a fair wage) into an intrinsic structure in which an employee can take ownership of projects and exhibit increased organizational citizenship behavior (Deci and Ryan 2002).

3. Pygmalion Effect: This observation holds that expectations of an individual’s per- formance, which generally are expressed during feedback meetings, ultimately will dictate his or her performance (Bezuijen et al. 2009).

Because of these potential advantages to performance feedback mechanisms, it is important to determine whether they are being used adequately in organizations.

2.2 Survey

An English-language survey was conducted to ascertain individuals’ perceptions of the frequency, quality and effects of performance feedback in the workplace. To gather this knowledge, voluntary participants were recruited via the Internet3. Of all participants (n=106, natives from 19 different countries), 39% were disqualified from the final analy- sis due to a lack of relevant work experience, contradictory or implausible answers, or failure to complete an instructional manipulation check (Oppenheimer, Meyvis and Da- videnko 2009). The instructional manipulation check served to screen out respondents who chose either not to read the instructions, chose not to follow the instructions or were otherwise unable to follow instructions. The high number of disqualifications could in part be due to difficulty understanding the language of the instructional manipulation check as 76% of those who did not pass were born in a country in which English is not a national language. The responses from the remaining participants (n=65) were ana- lyzed.

Respondents were asked to complete statements regarding perceived frequency, quality and effects of feedback and degree of autonomy in their most recent jobs using a ten-point Likert scale. In addition, questions were asked about the type of feedback mechanisms in place at those jobs.

General demographics and each demographic group’s average satisfaction regarding different aspects of performance feedback mechanisms are presented in Table 1: Satisfaction with Feedback Systems.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten1 2 3 4

Table 1: Satisfaction with Feedback Systems

While the survey results show a moderate central tendency bias in the respondents’ answers whereby participants predictably avoided selecting extremes (cf. Dodge 2003), closer analysis reveals that, on average for the entire sample, all measures reveal suboptimal perceptions of the feedback frequency, detail and objectivity in place in organizations (all means recorded are below the assumed equilibrium of 5.5). Moreover, this trend is present in nearly every sub-demographic reviewed. This supports the assumption presented previously in this chapter that the perceived quality of feedback has room for improvement in many aspects.

Additionally, 45% of respondents indicated that they receive feedback from colleagues and supervisors exclusively in ad-hoc meetings. An even greater number of individuals, 55%, indicated that they provided feedback to others exclusively in ad-hoc meetings. This type of feedback exchange can be more prone to short-sightedness and subjectiv- ity, which could provide one explanation for the dissatisfaction with feedback objectivity noted above.

The results further reveal a moderate Pearson’s correlation between several surveyed aspects4. The following calculations are based on the entire qualified sample:

- Satisfaction with feedback frequency and objectivity (0.47)
- Satisfaction with feedback frequency and subsequent levels of own motivation (0.41)
- Satisfaction with objectivity of feedback and subsequent levels of own motiva- tion (0.48)
- Opportunities to provide feedback and perceived motivation of feedback receiv- er (0.44)

While the chain of causation was not explored, these results nonetheless suggest that feedback has a measurable on other aspects of work.

Given the relatively low number of participants who met all qualification criteria, it is important to note that the results should not be used to draw comprehensive conclu- sions about entire populations. Moreover, because respondents were recruited almost exclusively via social networks, one can reasonably assume a high degree of homoge- neity and an inherent inability to reach certain demo- and psychographics. Nonethe- less, this preliminary research is useful in that it does provide some insights into certain cross-sections of society’s perceptions of performance feedback in the workplace.

In the absence of reliable, subjective and timely performance feedback mechanisms it is likely that individuals can become highly susceptible to error when attempting to gauge their own metacognitive abilities. A few conditions can arise from this error in judgement and they are described in the following sections.

2.3 Dunning-Kruger Effect

In the late 1990s, researchers Justin Kruger and David Dunning conducted a series of experiments on Cornell University undergraduate students. These experiments aimed at determining the accuracy of individuals in assessing their own skill and performance in a variety of domains. Based on existing academic literature, the researchers ex- pected to observe that individuals lacking competence in the domains studied would overestimate their own abilities. While confirming that this prediction was indeed true, the researchers also discovered that individuals who performed well relative to others - specifically those placing within the top quartile - on average rated themselves below their actual skill level. In other words: The less competent participants’ believed them- selves to be much more skilled than they actually were while the most competent be- lieved that they lacked skill. A graphical representation of Dunning and Kruger’s data can be viewed in Figure 1: Dunning and Kruger’s Original Experiment (cf. Kruger and Dunning 1999). This graph displays the subjects’ self-assessments from all four tasks on a single graph. The line of identity represents the actual aggregate performance of each quartile to illustrate the degree of inaccuracy between personal perceptions and actual performance.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Dunning and Kruger’s Original Experiments (cf. 1999, own figure)

In the former case of less competent individuals, the researchers studied the effects of actively exposing these unskilled individuals to the work of others as people will often form more accurate evaluations of themselves by comparing themselves to others (Festinger 1954). In one experiment, subjects who had performed in the bottom quartile in a test on grammar were instructed to grade the tests other participants who had per- formed relatively better. Being exposed to more accurate answers had very little effect on the low performer’s self-assessments. Dunning and Kruger explain this discrepancy by proposing that the same skills which are needed to initially perform well are also those that are needed to recognize skill in others. In another test, the researchers were able to show that underperformers were able not only to improve in actual skill after post-test training, but also that they were able to improve their ability to self-assess their previous performance (Kruger and Dunning 1999).

Several additional, possible reasons are given which attempt to explain people’s gen- eral inability to recognize their own incompetence. One reason is that people are gen- erally reluctant to give negative feedback to others even if it is deserved. Another rea- son is that people are often unable to obtain objective, unbiased feedback because the nature of many actions and processes makes it difficult for anyone to judge them. Fur- ther, many people experience great difficulty internalizing negative feedback and rec- ognizing fault within themselves because many independent factors can contribute to failure.


1 Metacognitive abilities refer to an individual’s understanding of his or her own level knowledge, skill and understanding (Metcalfe and Shimamura 1994).

2 In a recent meta-analysis of available gamification studies, researchers Hamari, Koivisto and Sarsa recently concluded that gamification indeed seems to show positive effects in almost all cases (2014).

3 Participants were recruited via the personal and professional social networks including Facebook, LinkedIn and Xing. Additional participants were invited personally via e-mail.

1 Responses refer to the statement “In previous jobs, I received _______ feedback from supervisors and/or colleagues.” where a Likert scale was provided 1=far too little, 10= way too much.

2 Responses refer to the statement “In general, the feedback I received from supervisors and/or colleagues was _______.” where a Likert scale was provided 1=extremely lacking in detail, 10= way too detailed.

3 Responses refer to the statement “The feedback I received from supervisors and/or colleagues was _____.” where a Likert scale was provided 1= completely subjective, 10= completely objective.

4 Professional country refers to the answers respondents provided to the question “Where have you spent the majority of your professional life (country)?”

4 In accordance with Cohen (1992), a Pearson’s correlation is considered moderate for social sciences when it is between 0.30 and 0.50.


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Gamification Motivation



Title: Gamification as a Means of Workplace Performance Improvement