Gamification or Desperation?

I hate the phrase gamification. To me, it’s a term that serves little purpose than to give journalists and “pop up” guru’s a hook around which to generate hype and promote their personal agenda’s. Nope, not a fan. I am, however, a fan of game mechanics, a much more meaningful way to refer to this interesting and often misunderstood subject. We should be wary of using such terms and nowhere is this more relevant than in the increasingly popular area of assessment. Here’s why.

The assessment industry isn’t new. It’s been with us longer than I have been alive and its popularity in business through the use of assessment tools provided by the likes of SHL and OPP has spanned my entire career. Arguably, these companies were in their prime when their assessments were paper based. Used largely at the latter stages of selection – shortlist stage to you and I – or to aid development/promotion decisions, they were wielded like intellectual weapons by an army of HR ‘armchair psychologists”. Yes, I confess, I’ve been there too.

When the internet came along, the traditional providers were a little slow in making the conversion online. Whilst there might have been some improvement in data management and accessibility as a result of this move, the existing technology offerings in this space are largely underwhelming and clunky.

For a long time this didn’t actually matter. HR/Resourcing technology has struggled to keep pace with advancements in technology enjoyed in other business functions due to chronic lack of investment. Ironically this lag in the market has been a blessing in disguise for the existing assessment providers as were it not for the sorry state of technology in our field over the last 20 years, these providers would probably have found themselves struggling to compete a long time ago.

But things are changing. In the last 5 years the technology landscape has changed dramatically in our sector. Combine a massive shift to the cloud, a focus on UX at the centre of design and an investment market that now considers the HR/Talent sector in particular as “hot” and you have a recipe for something very interesting indeed.

In my annual pilgrimage to the HR Technology Conference  in the US, assessments have gone from nowhere to being the hottest subject in the start up category, (surpassed only recently by data/analytics) and they continue to attract attention. “Culture fit” is the phrase on everyones lips right now and the importance of assessments has significantly increased. They are also working their way further upstream in the resourcing food chain into applicant screening. Which brings us nicely back to the subject of “gamification.”

Everyone suddenly wants to “gamify” their application and selection process – pre screening assessments being a prime target. And everyone is in on the game. (See what i did there?!) From the existing publishers to small independent agencies – designing ‘cool and engaging games’ seems to be at the top of the shopping list. But in my view, this strategy is flawed.

Building bespoke front ends onto existing technology is just not scaleable. Not to mention the fact that ‘games’ no matter how engaging, date very quickly. And creating a ‘suite’ of games to chose from is simply too expensive. Some have tried to answer this challenge by offering configurable “3d avatar” style Situational Judgement Tests (SJT’s). All very well but theres a slight flaw – they don’t work on mobile devices, the fastest growing medium for job seeker applications.

Incredibly, some vendors have even suggested that:

“you wouldn’t want to hire someone who would do an assessment on a mobile device.”

I know. Words fail me…

Aside from the technical challenges faced by the vendors, putting so much emphasis on the front end of the application when the rest of the process – managed largely by the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) – is so appalling, makes no sense at all.

As I have said before, jazzing up one area of your candidate experience in this way will only make the rest of your process look worse.

Ultimately the answer is to remove traditional question based assessments altogether, and instead make them “frictionless” by using alternatives such as language analysis of your social footprint or other more complete and robust measures of “who you really are.”

My advice to organisations would be to take a step back, take a long hard look at your end to end process and look for opportunities to simplify and improve the overall experience, not just one single element of it. Oh, and how about applying for a job at your own company and being totally honest with yourself about how the experience feels.

My advice to vendors is to stop trying to shoe horn the latest fads into your existing platform, it won’t work. If your tech is over 5 years old, especially 10, you should consider re building from the ground up.

Is there a place for better UX and a more engaging assessment experience? Yes absolutely. But investing a six figure budget in cool and funky front end games is not the answer.

Ok, time to prep for HRTech – 24 hours and counting. See you there!

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