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Throw Off the Shackles of Management, Get a Badge

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CNN recently announced that they fired a swath of employees. Now the global news organization has rolled out new features for their citizen journalist platform, iReport in order to make up for the loss in coverage. The features include the first of many badges that aim to encourage users to contribute pictures and footage of news stories as they happen around the world. This seems like a terrible move on CNN’s part (watch this hilarious bit from the Colbert Report), but it is also part of the wider movement to cut out middlemen in replace of technology, in this case, gamification. Gamification as it stands today supports managers in motivating and directing employees. The future will tell if gamification can replace them outright.

Gamification of the enterprise has exploded as one of the top verticals for the implementation of game mechanics. Platform heavyweight, Bunchball has a suite of add-ons for Salesforce and Jive’s CRM products, and competitor Badgeville has recently moved into the social enterprise arena. So far, many of these products help team members communicate and share ideas, often with leaderboards and point systems that allow the best ideas to float to the top of everyone’s attention. Training has also been a highlight, where badges and points can lead both students and employees down the path towards mastery of key skills.

Direction and task management is the next frontier. As Tac Anderson writes in a recent post from NewCommBiz, “gamification, as it stands today, is not [to the stage of replacing all management], but it is the precursor to what is still to come”. In the article, Tac goes over four exhibits that illustrate the trend towards self-management through technology. The most interesting (and least tech related) he cites is the HBR article on Morning Star (paywall):

At Morning Star, whose revenues were over $700 million in 2010, no one has a boss, employees negotiate responsibilities with their peers, everyone can spend the company’s money, and each individual is responsible for procuring the tools needed to do his or her work… By making the mission the boss and truly empowering people, the company creates an environment where people can manage themselves.

Software solutions can be created to provide the framework to empower employees to manage themselves. Both Daniel Pink’s Drive and Sir Ken Robinsons The Element echo this belief that employees can be self motivated through agency in their work.

Gamification isn’t there yet. As CNN’s iReport demonstrates, good work often requires experience alongside motivation. There are also other pitfalls to consider. Beyond the objection of becoming a true cog in a Machiavellian machine, middlemen and middle mangers have historically contributed to a strong middle class. These mid-positions require a deeper understanding of an organization and allowed mobility between lower-end positions and in some cases the C-suite.

Any successful (and moral) system should include mechanisms for advancement so that organizations don’t become separated between the players and the game designers. That shouldn’t be too difficult, as the chance for greater pay, agency, and responsibility have always been great motivators.

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