Gamification: Big Data Is Watching

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.19.13 PMRecently, ERE asked me to conduct a webinar on The Impact of Gamification on Generational Talent. It’s an exciting topicworthy of exploration by forward-thinking talent acquisition executives, and in larger context calls for examination of the role of Big Data in business and in our overall culture.

The excitement surrounding Big Data is that web-browsing, location tracking, and social networks can help deliver automated, meaningful measurement of people and predict their behaviors. With our e-mails, social network interactions and mouse clicks able to be mined for insights, and personality-based assessment tests and games that study worker behavior, the ability to measure on a grand scale promises to transform organizational management.

Can Big Data make for a smarter working world, with more efficiently run companies guided by data and analysis? Are there dependable processes for predicting behaviors, skills, and preferences? Welcome to the relatively new field of workforce science, which adds predictive analytics to a hiring and career development playing field that’s long been dominated by gut intuition.

Gamification delivers an engaging front-end format for immersing participants in order to gather their back-end data. For example, New York-based Persona Games attracts players through a value-added game experience that takes them on a journey about their aspirations and interests in different job roles and provokes thought around career paths. Integrating employer-specific competency-based assessments by identifying those with skills and characteristics worth further exploration builds a talent pipeline for the sponsor.

Experiential sales simulations from Selleration Games deliver “learning by doing” to next generation salespeople, underpinned by an assessment system providing an immediate, real-time view into the players’ selling competencies.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 2.27.06 PMSilicon Valley start-up firm Knack is pilot-testing computer games to test emotional intelligence and cognitive skills. Knack’s website promises to “help people discover what makes them unique: their talents, their traits, their true potential,” while sharing the data their games glean with employers.

Gamification efforts that showcase and measure applicant skills and passions actually serve applicants as much as the companies that deploy them. Now neither party has to solely rely on a resume to prove their worthiness when a game can assess a candidate’s skills. To allay privacy concerns, engaging software like these that track behavior while serving corporate interests must be used carefully and transparently.

Besides being data-accurate, the game experience has to be worthwhile. Like other recruiting collateral and employer brand messaging, a game is a reflection on the company that provides it. One recent ineffective effort in this regard is Marriott’s “MyMarriottHotel” game, found on Facebook, which delivers a Farmville-like experience in a hotel setting. The game campaign did not catch on enough to attract candidates, falling short as a realistic job preview before it ever had the chance to provide data about participant job fit.

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Automating the hiring process, if done successfully, offers huge benefits. As the industry explores applying Big Data’s predictive analytics to talent acquisition, one thing to remember is that the results are is only as good as the measurement tools created by psychometricians, who are hopefully guided by as much by human experience as by data.

Perhaps the best role for these tools may be in parsing and prioritizing possible hires rather than specifying them. For now, humans still trump computers at identifying soft skills, which are ultimately the differentiators in organizational performance.


Some of the Related Conference Sessions at the ERE Recruiting Conference in San Diego:

  • Incorporating Business Games Into Your Recruitment Approach, Wednesday, April 23, 11:15 a.m.

As President of Persona Labs, Jim Wexler is revolutionizing Human Capital Management ​with games that predict talent. Persona Labs’ talent assessments have benefited millions of job applicants in over 10,000 organizations.

An original pioneer of games for business, Jim brought the concept of game-based recruiting and learning Simulations to Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson and MetLife.   Jim has been featured in BusinessWeek, Forbes, The New York Times and CBS News. He has a degree in Semiotics from Brown University.


3 Comments on “Gamification: Big Data Is Watching

  1. Thanks, Jim.
    Q: “Can Big Data make for a smarter working world, with more efficiently run companies guided by data and analysis?”
    A: Probably not, in most cases.
    Here are some reasons why not:
    1) As we are increasingly learning through fields like Cognitive Science and Behavioral Economics, humans are NOT rational actors- we are prone to inherent cognitive biases ( impair decision-making. Unless the gamification/”big data” takes the CBs of the internal decision makers into account,
    you’ll have the hiring decisions still made in an inherently flawed way. (This is the premise of Behavioral Recruiting- the application of Behavioral Economics, Neuroscience, etc. to Recruiting.)

    2)Powerful vested interests have too much too lose in doing things right, as opposed to the status quo.
    A couple of sub-examples:
    a) Let’s say (as Daniel Kahnemann mentions in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”) that the most effective/successful way of hiring is to assign candidates’ answered interview questions (including subjective ones) scores, and automatically hire the one with the top score- no discussion or decision-making required. How many hiring managers would be willing to go along with this, even with a mountain of validation behind the case?

    b) Let’s say that the “B-D/G Approach” CAN produce substantially better results than what is going on now.
    However (as is the case with many companies) the hiring processes are determined by the GAFIS (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, Ignorance/incompetence, and Stupidity) of those at the top, and overseen by those who (quite understandably) wish to keep their jobs and advance their careers:
    i) If you add a good technique to an otherwise dysfunctional hiring process, the tool may not create substantial improvements, and the Staffing Head will be blamed for spending a lot of the budget on something which doesn’t work very well.
    ii) If there’s an overall effort to improve the hiring process (and not just put a new fuel injector into a 30 year old clunker), then in retrospect- the Staffing Head and the people at the top will look bad for overseeing such a previously dysfunctional system.

    In summary: I think B-D/G approach WILL work substantially in the few organizations willing to spend the money and make the hard decisions probably needed to make it effective. More importantly, I think there’re BOATLOADS of money to be made from desperate and not-yet insolvent Staffing Heads who fail to recognize that in most cases they are futilely “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” of their companies’ ill-conceived, over-blown, grossly-dysfunctional hiring practices.

    Keep Blogging,


  2. Keith,

    Part of using Big Data is using the data accurately — remembering to account for the biases that can be predicted, anticipated. As a practitioner I try to balance an eagerness for the success of these new tools with a caution and practicality about their application.

    You raise a very interesting pint about the ‘broken’ systems that pervade Enterprise hiring departments. The corollary to ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it ‘ is if it;’s way broke doesn’t mean you don’t try’. Some large companies are overly cautious about their use of assessment instruments, others overly reliant. Staying in an appropriate combination of experimental, open-minded, skeptical and vigilant for breakthroughs is probably the long and winding path forward.

    See you at my webinar today (4/16 here, 4pm)?


  3. Thanks, Jim. Where are these “experimental, open-minded, skeptical and vigilant for breakthroughs (in their Staffing Department)” companies, and are they hiring recruiters?

    Sorry I missed the webinar. Please put me on the mailing list.

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