Serendipity Brought Us Fast HR and Gamification

Your score, level, and badges are game mechanics used to communicate progress, challenges, and accomplishments—and they are the secret sauce to engagement.

By Greg Greunke, VP, Client Services & Operations, ThinkSmart

Just before leaving the Walt Disney museum I caught this quote from Bill Anderson about perhaps the most innovative man who ever lived. “Nothing was too precious for Walt to change, even his own ideas.”

Our lives have been changed forever by the software and machines we use to run our business, but to be truly innovative, try turning the solution around on itself. Two trends that started to gain momentum in 2012 were not software solutions but the methods used by software developers: fast HR and gamification.


The biggest entertainment release of all time was not a movie. It was the video game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. It raked in sales of more than $400 million in the U.S. and UK alone. Today’s video game designers don’t just have the biggest budgets and coolest jobs in the world, they have a sophisticated process for captivating and engaging their audience.

The tools of a game designer are creativity, game design, and game mechanics. All three are critical to create a compelling game experience, but game mechanics are so much better with technology.

As gamers play a game, they are rewarded with instant feedback—earning badges, points, and surprise bonuses (known in the gaming world as Easter Eggs). Leveling up is rewarded with increasingly difficult challenges and increased status among other game players. Competition is communicated through leaderboards.

For years, people have tried to add games to business objectives with limited success. This all changed in 2009 when people started to combine elements of gaming with a digital world. Gamification is the application of game mechanics and game-thinking in a non-game environment to influence desired behavior.

In no way does this mean adding a baseball theme to your sales contest. Instead, think of your business as the game with goals, challenges, and players. Now imagine a football game without a score, Angry Birds without levels, or the Boy Scouts without badges. Your score, level, and badges are game mechanics used to communicate progress, challenges, and accomplishments—and they are the secret sauce to engagement.

The first question asked whenever I give a presentation on gamification is “What mechanics should I use on X?” Unfortunately, there’s no single answer. Gamification is an iterative process. Write a plan to gamify an element of your business, measure, modify, and repeat. You know it’s gamification if:

  • It provides feedback.
  • It encourages discovery.
  • It shows a path to mastery.
  • It collects data.
  • It uses game design and game mechanics.

Fast HR

Early programmers used a method of development called the Waterfall Method. This process had five formal stages and all tasks and bugs were worked out before moving to the next stage. This linear method looked good on paper because clients only saw completed work; however, projects usually ran behind schedule and changes in planning or technology could not be incorporated until future versions of the software.

While it used to take years for new technologies and business models to replace old ones, today’s changes take months. Agile software development was born based on iterative and incremental development. The Agile Manifesto ( includes four simple values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Agile methods break tasks into small increments to iterate quickly, emphasize face-to-face communication, and work in small teams. In the four bullet points above, emphasis is given to the bold goal on the left over the right.

Software development isn’t the only place where speed counts in today’s business environment. Employee needs change rapidly and the software designed by Human Resources to manage large populations has increased expectations for faster analysis and direction.

A demand for faster results when managing human capital led to the development of Fast HR. Quite simply, Fast HR borrows the concept of Agile Programming and applies it to Human Resources. It is not a guide on how to manage your HR department but a plan to ensure evolution.

For a thorough review of Fast HR, read the paper, “Fast HR,” by Theresa Welbourned, Ph.D. ( She explores radical ideas in organization, documentation, and communication. But if you’re an innovator like Walt, challenging your own ideas should be par for the course.

Greg Greunke is VP, Client Services & Operations, ThinkSmart. He builds strategic partnerships and develops programs to build engagement and loyalty.For more information, visit or contact him at or 415.729.9246.

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