Gamification: Alternative Leaderboards

Gamification: Alternative Leaderboards
Summary: Would you be motivated by a gamified company leaderboard that ranks you based on your overall performance? Congrats! You've made it to the 1,234th place! Is there an alternative?

Alternative Leaderboards To Highlight Feelings Of Mastery

Every 4 years the world comes together for a month to see which country is the best at playing soccer (or football). The rules are clear: in the group stages, you get 3 points for winning, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for trying hard. Some teams are playing to win, others are playing to avoid loss. It's a game of both strategy and skills to get past the group stage. After the group stages, comes the knock-out stage. You win, you move on. There's no draw. Losers go home. Based on your performance, your team may be listed on the leaderboard. There's only one place on the top, and most people forget about the rest! The overall winner is happy for the next 4 years. Losers go home to regroup.

What If You Had A Gamified Company Leaderboard?

Well, if you worked for one month every 4 years, this type of leaderboard would probably be a good solution for you at the workplace to motivate people to do their best. However, most of us need to work every day. And there's only one place on the top. So, the question is:

Would you be motivated by a gamified company leaderboard that ranks you based on your overall performance?

There's a thought-proving article [1] that dissects some of the issues with leaderboards. One of the most important aspects is the difference between playing to win and avoiding loss. Seemingly, there is not much of a difference. However, research proves us wrong:

Wanting to win' versus "wanting to avoid losing" is a subtle yet crucial distinction; Murayama and Elliot’s (2012) set of meta-analyses found the effects of competition depend on this distinction in the minds of players. When someone wants to perform better than others, they tend to benefit from competition. But when they want to avoid performing worse than others, competing tends to reduce their performance.

The findings above suggest that "wanting to win" is the key to better performance. But, is it enough? No. A meta-study shows that there's another a key element we need to consider:

Senko et al’s (2017) meta-analysis found that "wanting to win" improves the performance of participants only when it’s accompanied by strategies that support feelings of mastery. So "wanting to win" alone is not enough to inoculate players from the downsides of competitive social environments.

Feelings Of Mastery

If feelings of mastery are the magic key, how do we promote this intrinsic motivation? How do we foster it in our learning design?

What if the goal of the leaderboard was not to show the world who the best performer is but showing everyone where and how they can get better? What if the playing to win was not about a zero-sum game of who's on top, rather than about beating your own challenges to reach the feelings of mastery?

Personal Story

In 2000, I wrote a feature screenplay and submitted it to several contests. I even paid for the judge's feedback to hear the praise. Well, I didn't get much praise. I landed at the bottom of the leaderboard. Not only did my script fail to move to the second round, but it was painful to read the feedback. It took me 10 years to get to the second feature screenplay that was a finalist in an international competition. What motivated me was not the absolute ranking on a leaderboard. Inbetween those years, my goal was simple: always do better than the last iteration of work I did. I compared myself to myself. I was climbing the mastery ladder. The feelings of mastery are something nobody can take away from you.

Alternative Leaderboard

Therefore, I'm proposing that you use alternative leaderboards to highlight feelings of mastery. There are 2 principles of design to support the outcome:

  1. Workplace performance is more complex than a single number on a leaderboard.
    Let's show the major competencies that drive the performance, instead of one single number.
  2. Don't just compare yourself to others. Compare your performance against your own history!
    Let's show the trajectory for driving competencies!

Imagine a leaderboard more like a performance dashboard where your overall performance is broken down your top competencies with your historical data points. You can see the trajectory of where you're heading. Then, you can show the company average and top performers' numbers on each competency. You can identify your strength and opportunities. Then, you can apply AI to give you guidance on how to change your trajectory based on top performers' data points.


  1. How to Motivate With Leaderboards