This continues a series of columns from practitioners I respect. The category "Real Deal" describes them well.
This time it is Praveen Desai, in Cognizant Application Services (CAS) who works closely on innovation projects with the Office of the CIO at Cognizant. He describes their experiences with Gamification in a people intensive business
“In his recent blog, Cognizant CIO Sukumar Rajagopal revealed our pursuit of employee delight through One Cognizant. In this blog post, I would like to discuss how we apply “gamification” to influence employee behaviors and boost satisfaction even when they perform mundane tasks.
When we started, significant skepticism reigned among our business as well as our IT stakeholders. Many thought “gamifiying” important functional tasks was inconsistent with enterprise computing where the focus is on serious work. The key question:“Can Gamification provide value in an enterprise context?”
At Cognizant, employees, or associates, as we call them, are our most important assets. It’s not just management speak; our company not only talks the talk, but walks the walk in this regard. Employee importance is reinforced by our consistent “top preferred employer” status in India and, increasingly, throughout the world. We recruit in huge numbers thanks to our growth; our employee strength now tops 145,000 across the globe.
When we began thinking about business value that Gamification can create, we started with our associate and associate-centric processes. One such key process is learning. We continuously seek to align associate learning with our move-forward business strategy and key market trends. However, we soon realized that this process was suffering due to poor data quality. The data around skills and certifications in our learning management system was clearly lacking quality. This had implications on critical areas such as employee fit with emerging opportunities and our appraisal systems. In the past, we would have used system-generated alerts to remind associates to update their profiles. This approach had limited impact as associates would ignore these reminders because of the volume of system-generated alerts they received from disparate systems around such mundane tasks. The challenge for our team, then, was to make this task as fun as possible. The question posed to the team: Can fun and work merge?
Embracing gamification enabled us to approach this problem differently. Our analysis revealed that certification data was the primary cause of our data quality issues. However, when we studied users, we found that for most, certification wasn’t mundane but was an accomplishment. Human beings are typically proud of their accomplishments and love to flaunt them if a suitable platform exists. To play off this human quality (and to get away from pleading with users for data updates), we created electronic badges with the help of our Academy team. Roughly 1000 badges, ranging from internal certification such as CCP (Cognizant Certified Professional), to external certifications like ISTQB (International Software Testing Qualification Board) were created for associates to display on their profiles. Academy awarded these badges based only on the data already in the system. The badges were made available to associates in One Cognizant’s “Virtual Cupboard” (our rewards and recognition app) for associates to flaunt. (As Sukumar explained, One Cognizant is the core platform that all Cognizant associates use to manage daily system related tasks.) The more updated the data is, the more badges associates accrue. The number of badges each associate accumulates also determines their standing on the OneC leaderboard, rendering the update of skills and certification tasks into a friendly competition. Since Virtual Cupboard is one of the most visited apps in One Cognizant, this really worked. Associates whose data in the learning system wasn’t updated didn’t receive badges and their position on the leaderboard similarly suffered. This created tremendous motivation for associates to update their skills and certification data and ensure that the Virtual Cupboard reflected their true accomplishments. Engagement was so strong that badges were awarded to 74,000 Associates in a short span of 12 weeks.
We also noticed that a typical Cognizant associate has certifications across various and sundry areas. For example, we found associates with numerous accomplishments, Brainbench Certifications, recognized blood donors, members of NGOs and holders of sports recognitions. However, they would not fall within Academy’s traditional scope because they aren’t necessarily professional accomplishments. Achievements that do not directly impact job-profiles are usually ignored at most work places; but that’s not how we want to operate at Cognizant. We therefore decided to allow self-uploads of such badges. Now an associate could upload his / her own badge over and above the “awarded” badges. These badges, however, won’t have “verified” stamp since they were not awarded by Cognizant Academy. In the eight weeks after launch, we saw close to 5000 badges created and uploaded by our associates. The freedom to self-express and publish these accomplishments reinforced our corporate culture of openness and transparency. We did not come across any instance where this privilege was misused.
The overall impact of the exercise was a 360-degree turnaround. Instead of Academy admins sending mails to associates to update their certifications, we were flooded with resolution tickets from associates to correct their data so they could receive their coveted badges.
From the business process standpoint, this exercise provides numerous insights. Among them:
1) Gamification can make users “want” to do predictable things without feeling “forced” by IT.
2) The ability to self-express can make a significant difference in employee engagement and satisfaction.
Given our initial success, we are now aspiring to expand our gamification strategy across One Cognizant to solve even larger process problems. Stay tuned for future blog posts that chart our progress.”
Praveen can be reached at PraveenD AT Cognizant DOT Com