While not a new concept, gamification has been catching on in recent years as organizations figure out how best to utilize it. After a period of experimentation, many companies are starting to realize how effective it can actually be. Most of the time this is used as a way to boost the customer experience by fostering more interaction and a spirit of competition and gaming, all to benefit the overall bottom line of the business. More recently, however, gamification is being used in other matters, more specifically being directed internally to the employees themselves. In fact, a report from Gartner predicts that 40 percent of global 1000 organizations will use gamification this year to transform the way their businesses operate. As can be learned from the experiences of some organizations, gamification can also be used to tackle some serious issues, such as helping workers overcome their fear of failure.

To better understand how gamification can eliminate certain fears, it’s best to start with a clear understanding of what the concept is. According to gamification thought leader Gabe Zicherman, it is “the process of engaging people and changing behavior with game design, loyalty, and behavioral economics.” Essentially, it applies the joy of playing a game with topics and activities that might not be considered so enjoyable. Very few people like to fail, let alone confront the reasons why they failed. It’s a touchy subject that often requires a delicate hand to manage. With that in mind, it may seem strange that a game could help employees face their fears of failure, but that’s exactly what’s being done, often to good results.

One organization that has taken this idea and run with it is DirecTV. The satellite television company recently had a few IT project failures and decided it needed to address how to face these shortcomings. IT leaders came up with the idea to create a gamification learning platform where IT workers could discuss failure by creating and viewing videos about the subject. Simply creating the platform and posting videos wasn’t enough. IT leaders needed to come up with a way to make sure employees were using it and posting videos of their own. This all had to be done privately with enhanced network security due to the potentially sensitive nature of the videos. The gamification aspect comes in by awarding points and badges to those workers who do make use of it. Prizes were even given to those who scored the most points from the platform. The result was a major increase in usage rate among the IT staff. In fact, not long after the platform was launched, the company was experiencing a 97 percent participation rate, with most workers giving positive feedback on the experience.

Based off of DirecTV’s gamification, employees were able to talk openly about failing, discuss why the failures happened, and improve on their overall performance. IT leaders for DirecTV said later projects were completed much more smoothly as the whole staff became more successful. From this experience, other organizations may want to use gamification to eliminate the fear of failure among their own staffs, so it’s helpful to take note of a number of factors that can help businesses achieve this goal. First, gamification platforms need to be intuitive and all actions need to relate to the overarching goal (in this case, facing the fear of failure). Second, newcomers should have a way to start on the platform and be competitive. Facing other employees that have a lot of experience and accumulated points can be intimidating, so newcomers need a good entry point that gives them a chance to win. Third, the platform should constantly be adjusted based off of user feedback. Creators who make the platform and don’t touch it afterward will soon see participation rates drop off and enthusiasm wane. And last, a gamification platform that doesn’t foster social interaction and competition is a platform not worth having.

Gamification allows employees to confront failure in a setting deemed safe and fun. People don’t enjoy failure and often go to great lengths to avoid even the very prospect of it, but sometimes to succeed, risks have to be taken. By helping workers overcome this fear with gamification, businesses can ensure future success and a more confident environment. It may seem a little outside the mainstream, but turning the fear of failure into a game can actually pay big dividends as employees learn there’s nothing wrong with trying hard and coming up short.

This article is published in collaboration with Smart Data Collective. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Rick Delgado is a freelance contributor at the Smart Data Collective. 

Image: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, November 18, 2008. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton.