Winning the Training Game

Create a smart gamification strategy to boost individual and company success.

By Steve Sims, Vice President, Production and Professional Services, Badgeville, The Behavior Platform

Building and maintaining employee excitement around corporate training is one of the most difficult challenges in the industry. Whether it’s required compliance training or career-enhancing skills training, convincing employees to take time out of their busy schedules for learning can be a tough task. Some companies employ financial incentives, such as gift cards, bonuses, and other tangible rewards, to encourage participation, while others take a more threatening posture, handing down penalties and sanctions for lack of participation.

While both approaches have their merits and can be effective, financial rewards and the threat of punishment are not the only ways to encourage employees to actively engage in training. The concept of gamification is gaining traction as an innovative way to boost employee interest and participation in corporate training opportunities beyond traditional incentive programs.

Once considered mostly the domain of consumer-facing applications, such as loyalty programs, forum participant badges and rankings, and other buzz-building consumer programs, enterprises are beginning to see the value of gaming principles applied to corporate functions to incentivize behavior and performance. Of course, sales and customer service functions are a natural choice for gamification, but training also has become a highly “gamifiable” business function. After all, gamification is not just about completing tasks and earning rewards, but also about changing behavior and creating an environment where success is recognized and rewarded—exactly the functions training also is designed to enhance.

How Does Gamification Motivate?

It’s no secret that money is a powerful motivator. The promise of financial rewards, or the threat of losing money, is a primary driver in virtually any business scenario. But money isn’t the only motivator. Gamification taps into intriguing and unconventional, yet intrinsic character traits that motivate behavioral change, including:

  • Status: In business and in life, perception as an expert among peers is a primary motivator for many. Continued education and training contributes to one’s expert status, thereby incentivizing those motivated by status to engage in training.
  • Reputation cultivation: Gamification plays on individuals’ desire to have a reputation for success, similar to the motivation to achieve status as an expert. Completing courses, especially with high scores on tests and exams, feeds this ego need.
  • Peer pressure: Let’s face it: no one wants to be exposed as a slacker. By publicizing the successes of others, gamification exposes deficits where others could do better. Those who are falling behind in their training regimen see successful peers and feel compelled to keep up.

While some may not want to readily admit they are driven by these character traits, these intrinsic personality factors are at the core of how and why gamification works. Perhaps even more beneficial, gamification exploits these factors with subtlety—employees feel compelled by the game mechanics to compete, without fully realizing—or having to admit publicly—why.

Why Gamify?

Beyond a basic understanding of why gamification works, it’s important to establish clear objectives for what the company hopes to accomplish from the program, beyond just jumping on the bandwagon of the latest and greatest technological wonder. Identifying clear objectives and pegging these to performance indicators will help determine return on investment for the program and gauge results. What might those objectives be? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make compliance, EEOC and other required training fun and entertaining. Many employees see little value in having to endure annual refresher courses for compliance purposes, and gamification techniques can help enhance the perceived value by adding an entertaining and competitive component.
  • Boost training success and knowledge retention. Much to the dismay of those who work so hard on content development, training topics often are not committed to learners’ long-term memory and some view the experience as something they’re required to simply “sit through.” One way to strengthen knowledge retention and encourage a higher level of learner engagement is to gamify the experience, offering post-course skills testing and publicizing learners’ scores among peers in a gamified environment. A little friendly competition goes a long way toward ratcheting up the attention and knowledge retention span.
  • Encourage learner participation. Many companies tie virtual game rewards—such as badges earned, status achieved, and points earned—into tangible rewards such as gift cards, travel opportunities, paid time off, flex time, or other physical rewards. This two-pronged approach taps into the intrinsic character traits discussed earlier, as well as the power of money and time (which is perhaps even more valuable), for a double dose of incentive.
  • Build a corporate culture that values training. Ultimately, the goal of gamification is to change behavior. Beyond just encouraging employees to complete training tasks, gamification can change the entire perception of training from drudgery that must be completed to a valuable career-building opportunity.

Gamification in Practice

Now that we’ve established how and why gamification works, let’s examine how it can be applied directly in a training scenario. With the right platform in place, gamification can be used to accomplish one, some, or all of these goals:

  • Bread-crumb progress: Showcasing the achievements of active and/or successful learners provides a path for others to follow. For example, CallidusCloud’s new MySalesGame platform “advertises” employees’ training completion to illustrate their progress to others. By providing this virtual path to completion, aspiring learners can see the steps required to achieve certification, status or expertise.
  • Leverage “tie ratio” incentive: By “upselling” related courses to employees by offering the opportunity to earn increased compensation or career advancement opportunities, employers can encourage advanced and cross-training. For example, a maintenance employee trained in basic electrical work may be encouraged to pursue an electrician’s license through gamification that ties this achievement to tangible incentives.
  • Certification tracking: Gamification platforms can be used to track employee certifications to create a digital resume of sorts. This system not only showcases courses completed for that much-loved expert status among peers but also provides a credentialing repository that can quickly and easily be referenced by management when considering advancement opportunities.
  • Tie training to performance: Linking a gamified learning management system (LMS) platform with a gamified sales or other job performance platform provides a powerful opportunity to demonstrate how active and successful learners leverage their education to succeed in job performance. This ability to correlate training completion with career success is at the heart of CallidusCloud’s next evolution, which will connect MySalesGame to its mobile LMS. By showing the connection between continuing education and increased sales, performance achievements, and other on-the-job successes, companies can demonstrate the value of training opportunities to the entire team.

Fun with a Twist

While gamifying a training program is about adding an element of fun into an otherwise not-so-fun bastion of corporate culture, it’s not all just about the fun. Gamification can drive real business benefits by increasing training efficiency, enhancing employee performance through intrinsic motivation, and, ultimately, increasing the company’s success and bottom line.

Adding gamification to existing training programs also is becoming easier than ever as online LMS platforms can easily be integrated with the right digital gamification technology. The key is to choose a provider that understands the business value of gamification, provides a flexible platform that can integrate with an existing LMS, and offers a future-proof solution that can be expanded to gamify other business areas (sales, production, etc.) as needs grow.

Steve Sims is vice president of production and professional services at Badgeville, The Behavior Platform. For more information, visit

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