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'Gamified' Employee Training Works Brilliantly but Is Loved Little Heaps of affirming data and successful adoption of training programs based on video games by well regarded companies has done little to bolster the reputation of this unfairly reviled technology.

By Yoav Vilner Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

7 Cups of Tea

Gamification has become one of the most gleefully despised buzzwords in the digital sphere in recent years. The growing consensus is that gamification is one of those made-up, over-rated trends, not unlike the mini-disk (RIP!) that will soon blow over, relieving of of the collective obligation to sneer at it.

Why we love to hate gamification.

Not knowing much about something has never prevented us from disliking it. Fiercely, even. We don't like a politician, not so much because of his/her agenda on education and housing but something inexplicable in her radio-voice rubs us up the wrong way.

So it goes for gamified employee training. This widespread sentiment of disdain is disconneted from the fact that gamification has been successfully implemented as an employee onboarding practice in several major global corporations. It is also a scientifically backed method incorporating helpful engagement data that can be used to optimize employee training expenses.

In fact, hardcore gamification solutions are strongly linked to the onboarding sciences, usage patterns and analytics, enabling constant feedback and optimization loops. These practices are deeply rooted in employee training and onboarding properties, in a field that is constantly evolving to become more and more customized and distinguished.

According to Eyal Lewinsohn, CEO of Iridize, an onboarding solution for web applications, "Offering personalized onboarding guides and messaging targeting specific user-groups and individual users gives employees the opportunity to learn your industry, culture, and new skills in a manner that is both entertaining and fine-tuned to their learning style. This in turn, helps employees gain a better grasp of their role within the company while also promoting a positive first impression, increasing both motivation and loyalty."

So if gamification has a basis in credible scientific data, why all the backlash? One theory on how gamification became the corporate Internet's punching bag is that it is perceived as an external, superficial element to common employee training practices. An add-on, if you will. This naturally forms alienation and contempt. After all, add-ons are, at best, nice-to-have but not at the core of our usage needs.

Related: Why You Should Supercharge Your Workplace With Gamification

Harnessing the power of imagery and symbols.

To integrate gamification successfully into the employee training process, it needs to be incorporated into the very core of corporate work-flow. It must become part of the organization's communication and feedback DNA, rather than some temporary, superficial supplement that sticks out like a sore thumb.

We bring our personal qualities and internal discourse with us, into our professional lives. We also bring that basic human need to solidify one's identity by fragments of self-definition. Even in our professional context, we are defined by what we excel at, what we love or hate. Every corporate department in the known world has an MS Excel whiz, a person who knows how to mail-merge and the Salesforce Whisperer.

We have been carrying around our "Best At" badges even before gamification was a glint in Badgville's eye. Actual badges, carefully designed to relay a sophisticated idea of merit, can do wonders in promoting excellence throughout the organization. Employees strive to obtain the badges that convey their superior skills as part of their personal-professional identity.

The desire to be recognized,identified and acknowledged is always present. More so, during an employee's first days on the job, when she has only just begun to find her bearings, orient herself socially and understand her place in the corporate food chain. At that time, more than ever, it is critical to provide the newly onboarded employee with tools to carve out a professional identity for themselves, as part of the relationship they are to build with the organization.

Related: 10 Tips for Successfully Onboarding Your New Hire

Planning the bite-sized learning experience.

One of the most notable benefits in gamifying employee training is that it breaks everything down into bite-sized chunks. Badges, prizes, points and scores help to frame the time and work scope. Tasks, in general, are easier to manage when you have an end-point to look forward to.

Breaking down the learning process into tasks with a realistic time estimate is just a small part of it. The other important elements are itemization and division into steps. Starting a new job comes with the side-effect of giving up a lot of control, as does the experience of being put back on training wheels, back in the beginners seat.

While this is an inevitable part of being the new kid on the block, giving the new employee some measure of control over her tasks and time certainly helps soften the edges. In fact, the practice of framing and segmenting training processes taps into the workings of employee training and onboarding. It won't hurt to take a leaf from the page of professional online employee training services.

Gamification defies expectations in this regard, too. An entire onboarding and employee training industry is looked upon as childish and whimsical, when in fact method and structure are an immense and inseparable part of its system.

Believe only half of what you read.

To paraphrase the old English saying - "Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see." Gamification is a major rising force in employee training and has a lot to offer in terms of a methodical, structured technique. Gamification platforms often offer an extensive pool of usage data that can and should be used to track and monitor employee training.

While the world of employee training and onboarding keeps expanding around us, it becomes harder and harder to tell fleeting fads from proven techniques that are based on ample data and research. Creative leadership and proactive management require the ability to look beyond conventional opinions and look for the solution that works.

Related: Gamification Tapped by Some Employers to Recruit Candidates

Yoav Vilner

Entrepreneur, thought leader and startup mentor

Yoav Vilner has founded several companies, and is currently CEO at Walnut. He is also a startup mentor in accelerators associated with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and the U.N.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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