Gamify Your Startup to Motivate Your Team

A secret weapon to get your team passionate about their jobs

The promise of metrics has failed

We all want our companies to be data-driven. So why aren’t they?
Here’s a hint: it’s not just about software, it’s about habits.

We’ve all heard big promises about self-serve business analytics that claim to turn anyone into a data scientist. But the reality is that, after buying an expensive solution, this almost never pans out. Trying to get your employees to pay attention to company metrics by hounding them doesn’t work either — it just creates resentment.

The lack of analytics adoption isn’t due to a lack of enthusiasm or effort on the part of the employees. They just don’t already have data-driven metrics built into their day-to-day workflow. And without it already in their workflow, they have no trigger to go look at those metrics. People don’t do their jobs ad hoc, they do them based on processes — even if it’s just their own process that only exists in their head. To change that process and build new data-driven and metric-driven habits, employees need a trigger that makes them want to look at metrics and analytics reports.

“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” — F.M. Alexander

Similar to the F.M. Alexander quote I would say the following:

Companies do not decide their futures, the habits of their employees do.

The secret to forming and reinforcing habits? The feedback loops found in gamification.

The gamification approach I’m testing out

One thing we’ve been doing at Knowi that has worked exceptionally well is using our Slack integration to post our top-level metrics (what the growth community calls our North Star metrics) in the company Slack channel every day.

“Three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.” — BJ Fogg

For me this is a report of the number of people who signed up for a free trial of our SAAS product. In this report, it shows the number of signups from the current day, the previous day, the current week, the previous week, the current month, and the previous month.

This is a great motivator for me because it not only makes sure I know what’s happening every day, it also does it publically. This means that if my numbers are down, I know it and I know that everyone else knows it. And if my numbers are up, I get that small dopamine hit of knowing that I’m improving the company. It’s daily instant feedback that is quantitative and doesn’t require another person to enforce.

It’s easy to see how this extends to our sales team. At the start of the day, another automation triggers that posts the sales numbers for each team member, the current qualified prospects in the sales pipeline, and the next steps for those prospects. So if a team member sees their numbers and wants them to be higher, the path to do that is obvious — take the next steps for the current prospects.

As these alerts come out, everyone in the Slack channel is invited to explore the stats further using our natural language analytics — typing out a follow-up question in plain English and getting back a chart from the Knowi platform.

For my metrics, the first thing I will type in is “/knowi show me signups and company name for the past week”, this gives me a quick and dirty look at the quality of the signups.

As the day goes on I do more of a deep dive into how our metrics are tracking, but this is a quick way for me to check the pulse of our marketing efforts every morning without leaving Slack.

How this adds gamification

The idea of gamification has gotten a lot of hype in recent years but the fundamental ideas are sound. Through implementing things like instant (or frequent) feedback, clear metrics and stats, and the ability to take action, employees will build habits that make their jobs more enjoyable and grow the company.

A crucial part of gamification that traditional attempts to track metrics have failed at is that it has to come to you. It has to reduce the cognitive effort to see those metrics. If you finish a level of a video game, it tells you your stats without you having to ask. Often video games track metrics somewhere on the screen throughout gameplay.

“Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”
― James Clear, Atomic Habits

Likewise, Medium has done a great job at gamifying writing. When people clap my articles, I get alerts in my email and I get small dopamine hits that make the habit self-reinforcing. And more often then not, I click the link in that email to look at the rest of my stats around the article because it triggered my curiosity.

My hope is that through efforts like publically (and automatically) dropping people’s stats in Slack channels, this same effect is created. That when our team members see those stats while having their morning coffee, they follow up with additional natural language queries or even click the link that’s dropped in to go to the relevant dashboard. So far that seems to have panned out. But I am still in the early days of testing this approach and I am still experimenting with exactly what metrics to show and how to best get people to engage with them.

Does your company do anything similar?

I would love to hear what has worked for others in the startup space. Please leave me a comment and let me know. If commenting in Medium isn’t your thing, you can also send me a message on Twitter or Linkedin.

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