There’s a lot of buzz around gamification in the supply chain. With a variety of factors contributing to labor challenges in the logistics and warehousing industries, companies are looking for ways to incentivize their associates and improve the working environment for their employees.
Amazon’s highly publicized introduction of gamification in recent years has many other companies scrambling to add game tactics into their standard operating procedures. However, the vast majority of these gamification efforts miss the mark. Utilizing game tactics can be extremely powerful in supply chain when done right, but many companies are missing the larger opportunity.
Gamification refers to the incorporation of incentivization tactics often found in games into the work environment. These programs play into people’s natural tendencies towards competition and achievement, and channel that effort into productive work through tools often used in games, such as receiving rewards, leveling up, and earning badges.
While the idea of adding game tactics into the workplace is not new, the recent boom of gamification in the supply chain environment has been primarily driven by two factors.
First, supply chain technology has expanded, and is now capable of supporting game tactics. Systems are now able to gather data at a level of granularity required to effectively support gamification. For example, in order to display a leaderboard of the associates with the most cases picked per day, the underlying warehouse management system must be able to track the individual cases picked per associate.
Second, many factors spawned by the global pandemic and other events have resulted in a labor shortages in the supply chain industry, leading companies to invest in new systems in order to make the work environment more enjoyable for their employees.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to employing game tactics in the supply chain and logistics industries. However, most of the gamification programs being rolled out at companies today fall into a few common categories.
Companies are utilizing mini-games strategically designed to cause an increase in productivity. For example, Amazon has developed a game where an associate can move a car around a track based on the number of boxes packed at a pack station. Associates are able to compete with other packers to win a virtual race with these cars. These types of games are often layered directly into existing operations, and encourage employees to hit their productivity targets in a fun and inviting way.
Other gamification systems involve allowing associates to earn digital currency through their work, which they can then spend on virtual goods in a company’s marketplace. For example, employees can earn points by performing tasks in the warehouse, and can then purchase things like virtual pets, such as penguins, dinosaurs, and narwhals, along with items to take care of these virtual pets, like food and accessories. Virtual currencies incentivize employees by allowing them to feel like they’ve earned something extra for their work.
Game tactics can also be far less intricate and still achieve similar productivity results. Playing on humans innate competitive nature, companies are utilizing basic leaderboards that rank employees on a variety of performance metrics (e.g. cases picked per hour, boxes packed per day, etc.). Leaderboards are much easier to implement, and assuming the underlying WMS supports the data collection, can be developed using existing business intelligence tools like Tableau or PowerBI.
While these existing gamification tools can be effective, they are all missing a key ingredient. They fail to give associates a real reason why they should participate. Sure, being able to buy virtual pets is neat, but many of these tactics feel gimmicky and demeaning to associates. Even when leaderboards are used to reward top performing employees with real monetary bonuses, these tactics often improperly incentivize associates, and employees quickly find a way to circumvent the system just to earn the reward.
Gamification in the workplace, especially in the supply chain, has huge potential. Studies have shown that playing to human’s competitive nature and turning work into a game have the opportunity to significantly motivate and empower employees. However, these game tactics must be carefully designed to properly align with productivity goals and structured to incentivize the desired behaviors.
The real opportunity with gamification comes from how these tools play upon human nature. When properly designed, associates don’t feel like they are working, but more importantly, they also don’t feel belittled by the games. They are able to enjoy their work and be productive at the same time.
There are a few specific things that must be taken into consideration when designing games for a supply chain setting. Employee safety is paramount, and all gamification tactics must be designed with safety in mind.
For example, while warehouse managers want to maximize throughput and capacity, games must be designed with limits and guardrails, as to not allow associates to reach an unsafe working speed. Especially when monetary compensation is involved, associates must be constrained such that they are not able to work in an unsafe manner and risk hurting themselves by working too fast or trying to achieve a “new high score”.
Additionally, product safety is another consideration for supply chain gamification. At the end of the day, warehousing and logistics are all about delivering a good to a paying customer. Those customers product’s must not be damaged during picking, and any gamification tactics used must not incentivize employees to treat packages in a rough or unsafe manner.
Hopefully this article has given you a sense of not only how companies are currently using gamification in the supply chain, but also the possibility for how game tactics can continue to be employed throughout warehousing and logistics operations. And as technology continues to improve, more opportunities will become available for companies to take advantage of games in the workplace.