Why 'Gamify'-ing Employee On-Boarding Makes Tons of Sense

Why 'Gamify'-ing Employee On-Boarding Makes Tons of SenseMost new employee training looks pretty much the same. A new worker joins the organization, and for the first week we put them in a training class, have them fill out piles of paperwork, and walk them through who's who at the company and teach them to do their jobs. Different jobs require different levels of new-hire training, but the formula is essentially the same.

To be sure, it's useful and necessary. But it's also really boring. And that may be holding organizations back.

According to a 2008 study by the Aberdeen group, 86 percent of new employees make a stay-or-leave decision about a company within their first six months of employment. This is a horrifying stat, considering how expensive it is to recruit new talent. Moreover, if people are making up their minds so soon about new jobs, it's imperative that companies start paying more attention to improving their on-boarding practices.

All Fun and Games

Until recently, I'd basically let the whole gamification phenomenon pass me by. I'd heard of it, of course, and even read a book (Total Engagement) on the subject, but basically, I was in the dark. But lately, partly because of a new product-development challenge at my company, I've started thinking a lot more about how to use these themes in company training — specifically, how to use "gamification" principles to improve employee on-boarding.

But there are still a lot of questions about actually doing it — Would it really improve the process? Would it be efficient? Would it increase employee retention, and would it increase productivity? (And how would we define productivity?)

OK. So, How?

In a recent blog post on the Chief Learning Officer Magazine website, Frank Kalman lists six elements that can be used to "gamify" learning and development. That's all it is: using principles of games in non-game contexts. The list includes progression, achievements and rewards, cascading information, countdowns, levels, and quests.

When I read Kalman's list, I realized that our company's on-boarding program already included, in some way, most of these elements. So based on these principles, I started brainstorming ideas for how to turn new-hire training into a big game.


Progression translates pretty easily into our current on-boarding process. Just make a big list of every step in the on-boarding process, starting at the offer acceptance stage. Certainly there are digital ways to do much of this, but something like a new hire checklist can be done with pen and paper, too. Here are some ideas for a checklist:

  1. Pre- and post-arrival interviews.
  2. Administrative tasks: HR paperwork, get picture taken, and schedule first meeting with their manager.
  3. Complete any necessary training.
  4. Complete 90-day action plan.

The checklist could include percentage-completion figures at each stage, so that a new hire has a visual representation of how far they've come. If you have other ideas, please comment below.

Achievement and Rewards

As new hires get through each item on the checklist, reward that achievement (commonly done with a badge, or a pin). But other things can work, too — an email or a small token gift, or even a short shout-out on the company Intranet. Or, have employees earn "points" for progressing through their on-boarding checklist. Use those points however you like — one idea is to turn them into money that can be used to buy company-logo-ed gear.

Cascading Information

Good companies clearly explain their goals during new employee training. That allows employees to set their own goals in support of the greater, company-wide ones.

Using the gamification principle of cascading information, managers should give new workers goals one at a time — and not give a new hire a second goal until the first is finished. ("Finished," in this case, can mean a lot of different things — maybe they've written out a plan, or maybe they've actually completed a definite task.) The cascading nature of information delivery in this case gives the new employee some incentive to get to the "next" goal.


A countdown can create a sense of urgency. In business, we tend to think of deadlines, but deadlines are common, and they're too often changed or forgotten about. What if there was some way that instead of a deadline, we actually had a countdown? You have five more days to complete this task.


The notion of "leveling up" each time you reach a new milestone can be very motivating. And that doesn't necessarily mean "promoted" — people can just move up to the next level of their on-boarding. For example, a new marketing manager needs to schedule interviews with at least five front-line managers before they can schedule interviews with senior VPs. This could be motivation for scheduling meetings with the managers closest to the customer. Just an idea ...


One of my favorite quests, even though it isn't explicitly explained as such, is described in the preface to Dave Meier's book The Accelerated Learning Handbook. A new-hire safety training course, in his story, is transformed by having students group up and head out into the plant to question workers on the ground about their own experiences on the job. The new hires return and report their findings to one another, and even have a little fun while they're at it. The quest to seek out information on their own radically transforms what easily could have been another boring training seminar.

Now, I'm no expert on gamification — far from it. Consider this post less as advice than as active brainstorming. There's a huge opportunity for organizations to improve how they on-board new people, and through gamification, organizations that get it right can brag about engaged employees, low turnover, and, maybe, higher performance.

If you have any ideas for how an on-boarding program can be "gamified," please comment below. I would love to brainstorm with you.

Bill Cushard, Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

For More Daily Mindflash articles on "gamification," click here.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user LifeSupercharger.

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