Death of the leaderboard: Why ranking is what’s wrong in call center gamification

call center gamification

Being a West Ham United Football Club supporter over the last 20 years, I know very well the glory and (more so) the brutality of a leaderboard. For those in the top 3, the promise of points and accreditation for your successes, act as your sole motivator to reach the top. For those trapped in the abyss below spot 4, the idea of a numerical value representing your performance makes you want to call it quits.

What If We Had A Gamified Company Leaderboard?

Gamification in the workplace, when executed correctly, is arguably one of the most effective methods in improving employee engagement, motivation and developing personal skills. How? Not only does it bring life to people’s work, but the entire routine also encourages the processes of self-development and learning.

“Scientists have recently determined that it takes approx. 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain- unless it is done with play. In which case, it takes between 10 and 20 repetitions”Dr Karyn Purvis

However, what we are witnessing now is a surge of faux, arcade-style processes. These are taking the focus away from employee development towards more counter-productive vanity attributes. Perhaps the biggest catalyst for this, is the element of the leaderboard. Whilst the name itself suggests a non-affiliation with the idea of a collaborative work team, there are many more deep-seated issues associated with it’s impact on a workplace.

Ignoring the majority

Studies show that in short-term competitive environments leaderboards can be motivating. However, their application in workplaces often acts as a demotivating agent for the majority of participants. This is because with every ‘leader’ there is a ‘loser’. Every time somebody moves up the board, somebody must move down.

Let’s gamify this analogy. For each employee that rises one position on the board, there is a personal rise in motivation (1+). However, as one goes up, so too, must someone go down the board- ending in decreased motivation (-1). On a team-scale, the total sum of motivational spur = 0.

However, if you take into account the cognitive position of those at the bottom of the leaderboard the motivational spur can be deeply negative. As points are awarded based on the same criteria, the opportunity for success is exponential. This is great for those at the top as they will remain there. However, for those at the bottom it makes reaching the top increasingly unattainable, hence deeply motivating.

Oversimplified method of measurement

The ranking of workplace performance isn’t linear like it is in sports. In football, you receive 3 points if you win a match, 1 point for a draw and 0 for a loss. What constitutes a win is not debatable, simply whoever scores more goals. What constitutes a workplace  ‘win’ within someone’s specific role, experience level, and personal realm is far more complex. 

Company leaderboards dilute all of these variables and pit employees against one another as if they are on a level playing field. Here lies the issue. What constitutes success for a junior customer support agent would be different from someone who has been in the job for 5 years. However, they are measured on the same criteria. This proves counterproductive in the learning process as employees are keyholed into only attempting to improve in areas that will reward them.

Conflict over co-operation

Every workforce is a team, working collaboratively towards a shared goal. Whilst individual successes should definitely be encouraged and celebrated, they cannot be justified if they are at the expense of another employee.

Company leaderboards can promote conflict amidst a team, rather than co-operation. The very essence of a leaderboard induces an individualistic approach to success, whereby ‘beating’ your colleagues is conducive to reward.

This individualistic pursuit of success is in turn conducive to ‘cheating’. How can you cheat at work? Say for example you work as a support agent and points are allocated for ‘most tickets answered in a day’. This would then promote ‘cherry-picking’, as some agents would focus on the reward rather than the work at hand. This creates a disillusionment for employees, making them forget that this ‘game’ in reality, is your real-life job.  

The solution: self-determination & complex leaderboards

I propose a cognitive shift from using your colleagues as a benchmark for success towards using yourself as the benchmark. Setting your own goals, and targets each week based on your own capabilities that encourage you to challenge yourself to a realistic level. This would shift a focus towards improving as an individual employee whilst also achieving your team’s goals at your own capacity.

Dojo Master adopts this notion as agents’ weekly performances are displayed side-by-side within the Arena. However, the point value is not visible, merely your % contribution to your own weekly goals. This table, which is reset every week to avoid the perpetuation of demotivation,  does not rank agents against one another. It rewards those who have achieved self-improvement whilst simultaneously achieving the overall company goals. At the end of the day, that’s what you need.

So when it comes to gamified leaderboards in the workplace I see two options. Promote self-improvement and learning or don’t bother at all.

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