Could gamification get workers to actually use AI?

Artificial intelligence has become more common in our personal lives, but what about in the workplace?

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Most Americans have welcomed artificial intelligence into their personal lives, but precious few are using it in the workplace. As employers hungrily invest in AI, they’re asking, “Why not?”

An Oracle study released this past June found that while 70 percent of those surveyed use some sort of AI at home, just 24 percent do so at work. Certain sectors, such as HR, seem particularly skittish, with just 6 percent of such professionals taking advantage of AI tools.

Those figures stand in stark contrast to Teradata’s finding that 80 percent of enterprises are investing in AI, with 30 percent planning to expand their investment in the next three years. As businesses bet on AI, too many are forgetting that their workers hold the chips.

Getting workers to the table

As with any investment, the true value of a company’s AI initiative rests on whether workers use it. But convincing employees to embrace new technologies is notoriously difficult. Every organization has its Luddites who oppose change seemingly for no other reason than preserving their routines.

But according to Rebecca Knight, a Harvard Business Review contributor and lecturer at Wesleyan University, the solution isn’t to punish workers who drag their heels. Rather, Knight points to a two-part answer: communication and training, as well as gamification.

The first piece of the puzzle, training, is one many employers are aware of, if not actually willing to invest in. Although nearly half of US business leaders who took part in a recent Accenture study said skills shortages were a key challenge to their AI initiatives, just 8 percent said their firm plans to significantly grow its investment in AI training programs during the next three years.

For the remaining holdouts, Knight recommends turning AI adoption into a game. While some employers recoil at the idea of employees playing games at work, research shows it’s a surprisingly effective tactic. Gamification works because it motivates users to achieve rewards while also giving them a sense of control, which taps into their intrinsic motivation. It cues them to take actions they otherwise wouldn’t by associating the action with a positive experience.

Consider the case of Blast, an app built by one of the cofounders of Acorns that aims to improve players’ financial security. Although the app’s millennial target audience struggles to save money—the proportion with zero savings rose to 46 percent in 2017 from 31 percent the prior year—Blast has been surprisingly successful at getting gamers to put funds away for a rainy day.

Blast works by prompting users to move money from a linked personal bank account into a high-yield savings account based on in-game actions. Gamers might choose to award themselves $1 for each tower destroyed in the popular League of Legends, or they can choose to pay themselves by the minute. Game publishers, for their part, pay bonuses to users who complete “missions,” such as winning a certain number of Words with Friends matches.

“You just can’t tell people to ‘save more,’” Blast Chairman Walter Cruttenden says, “but what you can do is to attach a positive outcome to something they already do and love.” Across Blast’s eight-week beta test, Cruttenden points out, the average user’s personal savings grew by more than 7 percent.

Applying gamification to AI

Although Blast gives gamers a leg up on their finances, its tactics offer a promising answer for leaders frustrated with slow AI adoption.

Take HR, the department the Oracle study found uses AI tools the least and has arguably the most to gain by doing so. An HR manager might set up a gamification system that rewards employees when they use an AI tool in place of a traditional process.

Recruiting new hires, for example, is a costly HR process ripe for savings via AI. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost per hire is north of $4,000. But AI tools like Russian startup Stafory’s Robot Vera promise to cut recruiting time and costs by a third

How, exactly, could employers connect those bottom-line savings to employees’ own actions? Every time an HR worker nets a new employee by means of an AI tool, he or she might receive a portion of that savings as a quarterly bonus. Like Blast engagements, employees could also challenge themselves: For every role they fill with the help of AI, they might contribute an extra $50 to their 401(k).

Across HR, sales, marketing and more, the truth is that employees want to use AI; it just isn’t part of their existing process, and few know how to make incorporate it. While 93 percent of employees surveyed by Oracle say they’re ready to take orders from robots, it may be something far more mundane that actually gets them to do it: gamification.

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