Gamification as an assessment tool: why play the game?

by Ella Hafermalz and Kristine Dery

We asked those attending DISRUPT.SYDNEY on Friday (26 Sep 2014) to pose questions relating to gamification ahead of our gamification debate. In a nutshell our attendees wanted to know, what’s beyond the hype? i.e. Is gamification just a new buzzword around digital? Is there anything different here beyond the delivery? Does gamification really add value?

In this post we move beyond all the bells and whistles and try to open up the discussion about gamification warts and all. To do that we have focussed our attention on gamification as a useful assessment tool in the context of e-talent management. We discuss here how gamification might be a useful tool for engaging talent in recruitment, training, and skills assessment.
 
Gamification refers to applying game elements and game thinking to traditionally non-game processes. These “games” are a growing addition to the e-talent management tool kit particularly now that more assessment tools are delivered on-line. Attracting the right candidates, assessing the best talent, and then recruiting them has traditionally proved challenging and expensive. Increasingly organisations are turning to gamification to deliver the elements of fun and competition that attract and retain the attention of their future talent.

L’Oreal, for example, have created the serious game Reveal to help attract and select top talent. After signing up to the game online the candidate navigates through various simulated departments of the cosmetics giant performing tasks and overcoming challenges. If the candidate performs well in a particular department they are advised to consider a career in that area. If performance is exceptional (placing you on the game’s leaderboard relative to other players) L’Oreal’s talent management team deliver further rewards with offers to engage in their recruitment process. This and other serious games and gamified processes that are designed to attract, assess, train, and retain talent are often developed on the basis of psychometric testing principles. Testing talent can be useful, but it’s important to first understand what the data generated from testing will be used for.

As we enter the Talent Decade, organisations will rely on their HR function to build ‘effective talent systems and measurement tools’ that will ‘support strategic business decisions and strengthen workforce capacity’ (Canadian Conference Board, 2014). This is where gamification has a potentially important role to play – in the intersection between talent systems that determine the desired characteristics and capabilities to meet strategic goals and the measurement tools that assess current and potential talent.

Reveal and other talent games like it are essentially tools for assessing talent more effectively. Gamification, therefore, is essentially a way of telling a story around data. When a candidate plays Reveal they are generating data. They receive data in the form of feedback, and data is collected to assess their performance. The game is the story that helps to order that data in a way that enables the employer (or potential employer) to understand more about the “player” and make more informed decisions based on information that they would otherwise find very difficult and expensive to attain. The “player” is experiencing the story of the game, which while engaging them is also providing them with insights into the organsiation enabling them to make decisions around whether they want to continue or opt out of the “game”.

As industry professionals start to experiment with gamification, it’s worth understanding more about assessment. Education specialists have a long tradition in examining assessment so perhaps it is worthwhile taking a look at some of their frameworks to get an idea of what lies beyond the “game”.

Education specialists focus on three main types of assessment  diagnostic, formative, and summative. Each type of assessment has a different purpose and is carried out at a different stage in a learning process or, in the case of talent management, a selection or development process.

Type of Assessment

Stage of Talent Management process

What is it used for?

Diagnostic

Attraction and enrolment in the selection process

To assess a candidate’s current capabilities and identify their potential for the role or the organization

Formative

Activities and tasks during the recruitment  process to enable the candidate to display their capabilities and learn

To give real-time feedback on performance to enable both the candidate and the organisation to understand more about each other and assess whether to continue

Summative

Sorting and ranking at the end of the recruitment process

To measure achievement and inform ranking decisions

Games such as Reveal are good examples of how to incorporate more than one type of assessment and to integrate these across the entire gamified recruitment and selection process. Reveal has a diagnostic element because it tells candidates where their aptitude lies. It is formative because candidates learn about the skills needed to succeed in the L’Oreal environment. It is also a summative assessment tool, because performance data is used to select and contact high achievers, who then go to the next ‘level’ of the recruitment process.

Not all gamified talent management applications need to be this sophisticated or comprehensive. Some gamified processes focus on one assessment type. For example, KPMG use their game as a formative process to provide training on the capabilities located within the organisation throughout the world, Deloitte are building leadership training apps using gamified strategies. These examples of gamification are designed to engage staff in the mechanics of games to stimulate learning processes through fun interactions and competitive missions. They provide a degree of feedback to the “players” to indicate the retention of new skills or knowledge, and they might also generate data to further manage the game itself. However, there are no major implications for the player at a summative level and results are typically not used to rank or rate the player in a way that has consequences for their job.  

Gamification can also be designed purely for summative assessment where there are winners and losers. This is the area that has occupied the recruitment space for some time. Typically on-line application systems where CV’s are uploaded and sorted according to key words fall into this category. Candidates search for unwritten rules to play the game to make it through the diagnostics where they are quickly assessed and ranked. There may be a few iterative loops along the way but essentially candidates are moving through a series of diagnostic/summative loops as the organisation attempts to sift talent. This process, while taking on gamified practices, is arguably problematic and is simply playing old games using new media. This is, we would argue, not creating new value. If, however, the possibilities of assessment processes are clearly understood then we begin to see new opportunities to generate better results can be harnessed through gamification.

Candidates in gamified processes (such as those implemented by L’Oreal, Google and others) are not simply sorted in a summative assessment process but are engaged through a more formative series of interactions that generate data to allow:

  1. the skills of the player (applicant) to be assessed
  2. the player to get an idea of the organisation and assess their own fit, and 
  3. feedback to be built in to make the assessment a learning process for both parties.

In this way we see gamification move beyond the hype to adding real value both during and after the assessment process in recruitment.

Ella Hafermalz is a PhD candidate in Business Information Systems at the University of Sydney and is a qualified teacher. Dr Kristine Dery is a Research Scientist with the MIT Sloan School of Management and has expertise in HR and digital technologies.    

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