THE BLOG
10/18/2016 09:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Pokémon GO (Or Any Cultural Craze) Can Boost Productivity

2016-10-13-1476364541-9768867-JasonKulpa.pngBy Jason Kulpa

From the minute it launched, the mobile game Pokémon GO was a sensation. While naysayers predicted gaggles of zombie children glued to their phones, it turns out adults are right there with them. In fact according to a study by StartApp, 40 percent of users are adults -- 69 percent of who have fessed up to playing at work.

Let's face it: With millions of users, Pokémon GO is undoubtedly downloaded onto swaths of employees' phones. It's not hard to understand why bosses may be displeased with the app's popularity. Walmart reportedly fired one of its supervisors for catching Pokémon on the clock, and the trend is likely to continue if the game maintains its popularity.

While banning these trends might make sense in larger corporations, startups are all about company culture. Banning something employees love is likely to create friction instead of camaraderie. Trends like Pokémon GO present a great opportunity for startup leaders to get creative and develop a unique work environment.

It's up to business leaders to turn the app from a liability into an asset. With some creative thinking, including gamification efforts, my team was able to harness the excitement around Pokémon GO and reduce company costs by $8,000. Here are a few steps to follow to successfully bring cultural crazes into the workplace.

1. Establish clear, consistent rules.

Have management start everything off by clearly explaining the purpose and rules of the game. Everyone participating should be able to understand why he or she is playing and how to do so. For example, our VP of project management laid out the Pokémon initiative's ground rules for our development team. There was a dashboard displaying eligible Pokémon, and each ticket in our system was assigned a Pokémon icon. The highest-priority tasks were Charizards (worth 10 points), while the lower-hanging fruits were Pikachus.

2. Base the game on employee talents.

Employees were hired for their skills, so base gamification efforts around tasks that will unleash their creativity. Developing a game that is too simple and doesn't challenge talented workers increases the chances that employees will lose interest and stop participating.

For our competition, we encouraged members to go beyond completing their regular workload. Team members were also challenged to catch the Pokémon within our tech ticketing system, which meant figuring out ways to reduce company spending. Employees could locate wild Pokémon by finding problems that weren't already delegated and solving them, or stealing tasks from other team members, which motivated everyone to stay alert and productive.

3. Regularly update the players.

Make sure team members know where they stand in the competition to keep participation levels high. Updates should be simple; don't waste company time on overly elaborate scoring systems.

At the end of each day, our project management team emailed team members with daily stats and leaders. Not only did this motivate our developers to stay active in the competition, but it shined some light on employees who were working hard, increasing visibility into which team members were accomplishing certain tasks.

Gamification like our Pokémon GO initiative sounds simple enough, but it's wildly effective. Our developers were quickly able to recognize which tasks were most beneficial to the company thanks to the different characters, and the competition kept everyone motivated while working on tasks they had been studiously avoiding prior to the initiative.

Whether it's gamifying work or just incorporating trends into your company culture, it's always a good idea to embrace whatever employees love. Figure out a creative way to invest in your employees' interests -- it can often turn into a huge win for your team.

Jason Kulpa is the CEO of Underground Elephant based in San Diego, a performance-based provider of Internet marketing technology and customer acquisition solutions.