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How gamification in purchase to pay is having an impact on employee engagement

ArticleAislinn Collins, Content and Community Executive19.07.2012 Comments (0)Bookmark

Have you noticed the word ‘engagement’ keeps coming up? In the B2C world, companies are now looking to heighten the engagement of consumers. And now the working world is catching on. Employers are realising that what makes consumers tick is what will make employees tick. They are, after all, the same breed!

Engagement leads to motivation. Which therein leads to improved productivity, happier staff, a better culture and improved results.

So the critical question is: how do you nail engagement?

At’s recent conference, Toning Up Purchase to Pay to Attain Touchless Processing 2012, Reuven Gorsht, Senior Director Strategy and Operations at SAP, talked about a concept that is rife in the consumer world, but pioneering in the employee world. The concept is ‘gamification’, and its impact on engagement is impressive.

What is gamification?

How do you feel when you play a game at home on an electronic device? Bored? Distracted? No. You’re hooked. There’s an addictive quality that comes from gaming. And this is the spirit of gamification.

Gorsht explained gamification as being “The use of game mechanics/dynamics to drive game-like engagement and actions in non-game environments”. With increasing means to play games, the image of the average gamer has evolved. Game playing has become a daily activity for many. According to Angry Birds creator Rovio, gamers spend an average of 300 million minutes a week playing their bird-flinging creation. That’s playing just one game. In 2010, a study by research firm NPD also stated that, on average, Americans spend up to 13 hours per week playing games.

We are becoming a gaming generation. But whether we play religiously, or observe from the sidelines, the principles of gamifaction apply. We may never have played Angry Birds in our lives, but the rules of the gaming world will not be lost on us if, say, a game was introduced into our working world.

How does it work?

Let’s look at purchase-to-pay. It’s arguable to suggest that many shared services suffer from a level of employee boredom. The proliferation of this state of mind will have an impact on your performance, culture, staff attrition, vision, direction, reputation. The list goes on. This is where gamification comes in.

The main features of a game are similar to those of a job. Common features include: tasks, feedback, goals, path to mastery, rules etc. But the different human responses to each of these features are polar when looking at the work environment and the gaming environment:





Repetitive, dull

Repetitive, fun


Once a year or ad hoc 



Contradictory, vague


Path to mastery

Mostly unclear



Mostly unclear



Forbidden, punishable

Expected, encouraged

Seeing that the ‘features’ in both environments are so similar, you can begin to see how the qualities of gaming could be introduced into the working world. I’ll give you an example. Think of an accounts payable clerk, sitting at their desk day after day, entering invoice data and vendor data. These activities can become monotonous, and as a result productivity might begin to drop.

But imagine if there was a ‘fun’ and competitive element to these activities? Imagine if your accounts payable clerk could clearly see how many invoices they enter each day, how many their colleagues enter each day and where they come in a hierarchy, league table or leader board. What would be the immediate result of publishing this league table on an hourly/live feed basis? The answer is obvious: productivity would climb.

What’s the theory?

Without getting too far into the nitty-gritty of people’s minds, work by Michael Wu, Principal Scientist of Analytics at Lithium, goes some way to showing why gamification works. He uses the Behavior Model developed by Dr. BJ Fogg to explain the intrinsic factors of human behavior that can be used to drive change. The Behavior Model shows that the three elements of Motivation, Ability and Trigger underlie human behavior. In order for behavior to change, these three factors must be addressed, and converge at the same time. For example, in order to trigger a change in behavior, the person must feel able and motivated. But in order for a person to feel motivated to do something they must feel able to perform a task and something needs to trigger them.

So how can you be successful in addressing all three factors at the same time?

One answer is ‘feedback’.

The Feedback Loop:

People yearn for feedback. It tells them they are on the right track. It’s a form of acceptance that helps them know they have achieved. The more frequent the feedback for some activities, the better.

This is the premise of the Feedback Loop. The Feedback Loop has four basic elements:

  1. Evidence

  2. Relevance

  3. Consequence

  4. Action

Let’s take our accounts payable clerk above as an example to illustrate how this feedback Loop can be applied. When the accounts payable clerk inputs invoices, their position on the leaderboard changes. This provides immediate evidence in real-time of what they are doing. The relevance of what they are doing comes from seeing their position in relation to others, making the data meaningful to the user, and indeed their competitors. The consequence of their behavior is seen immediately in hard data on the leaderboard. And as a result of this follows action which will take them up the leaderboard again. You can see the cyclical pattern emerging here.

Each element of the Feedback Loop influences each element of the Behavior Model.

Gamification therefore works by simply using these elements of psychology to drive cause and effect.

But watch out…

While gamification can be hugely successful, Reuven Gorsht, points out that there are some things you need to consider before you start thinking about investing in gamification technology.

  • Process: Simply adding a gaming element to a process that is not working properly won’t magically fix it. The process needs to be robust for gamification to really work.

  • Understanding: You will need an understanding of what gets your employees going to make a start. Will they compete better as individuals or as teams? Will they want £25 vouchers for iTunes or £25 to be donated to their favourite charity if their name is at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the month?

  • Experiment: Your first try probably won’t be the best try. Be willing to experiment.

  • Collaboration: Processes cross departments, so for this to work cross organisational collaboration is a must. Stakeholders from procurement and finance and IT need to be involved in setting up the gamification model to support the optimum end-to-end process.


Gamification is 70% psychology and 30% technology. So setting up the rules so the outcome serves you is critical. Remember to appreciate the Behavior Model and the Feedback Loop, and remember to do this in collaboration with other departments so your joint objectives are honored, and you could see some exciting outcomes as a result of deploying this new concept. 

See a video of Reuven Gorsht talking about where he sees gamification going below.

engagement, gamification, purchase to pay, procure to pay, Reuven Gorsht, Behavior Model, Feedback Loop

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