Leverage Gamification in Your Warehouse to Improve Worker Engagement


One of my customers, a bulk picking department manager, asked an intriguing question the other day: How can I keep my employees motivated and working hard?

His organization had deployed our wearable devices a year or so ago, and I had called on him to check in and see how they were being used and how much savings they had achieved. He’d had much success, and we had helped this customer come a long way in helping people to work in a more connected manner. But he still had this one headache—keeping his workers engaged and focused.

I’ve come to realize that the biggest challenge we have is helping organizations navigate the change to using the wearable devices. That’s largely because people are outside of our control.  We have found younger employees, the tech-savvy millennial’s, adapt easily to these kinds of changes, but the older generation is slower to adapt, wanting to hang on to old ways and old technology and practices.

I asked my customer to explain further. He told me that many employees were able to maintain enthusiasm and interest throughout the workday, easily meeting and exceeding 100% utilization and earning their incentives. Unfortunately, he also had another group that always started slow, peaked mid-day, and then go downhill, missing the mark equally consistently. The challenge then was to get this second group to start strong and continue—so that everyone could earn their incentives and ensure corporate success.

A recent Gallup poll indicates that my customer is not alone in his experience of having a disengaged and under-utilised workforce. On average, the study found:

  • 29% of today’s workforce is engaged.
  • 55% of today’s workforce is passively disengaged.
  • 16% of today’s workforce is actively disengaged.
  • Actively disengaged workers cost of more than $300 billion annually.

Those are staggering figures when you consider that the ubiquitous nature of technology. It occurred to me that there must be a way to leverage it to better the work force. That’s when it came to me: gamification.

Gamification tackles the challenge of making work resemble a game, so instead of doing the work with drudgery, boredom, and a sense of pressure or like a zombie, workers get interested and do better. Gamification, done right, pushes people to new levels of engagement and makes work more enjoyable. Further, this approach transforms what is normally an extrinsic reward (business success or a bonus) into an intrinsic reward (meeting and exceeding clear goals, create a shared sense of community, and building a sense of enthusiasm). Of course, extrinsic rewards work well in conjunction with gaming, especially if employees see an increase in pay for their efforts.

One popular story from the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie illustrates this point. He wrote:

“Charles Schwab had a mill manager whose people weren’t producing their quota of work.

“How is it,” Schwab asked him, “that a manager as capable as you can’t make this mill turn out what it should?”

“I don’t know,” the manager replied. “I’ve coaxed the men, I’ve pushed them, I’ve sworn and cussed, I’ve threatened them with damnation and being fired. But nothing works. They just won’t produce.”

This conversation took place at the end of the day, just before the night shift came on. Schwab asked the manager for a piece of chalk, then, turning to the nearest man, asked: “How many heats did your shift make today?”


Without another word, Schwab chalked a big figure six on the floor, and walked away.

When the night shift came in, they saw the “6” and asked what it meant.

“The big boss was in here today,” the day people said. “He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down on the floor.”

The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out “6” and replaced it with a big “7.”

When the day shift reported for work the next morning, they saw a big “7” chalked on the floor. So the nightshift thought they were better than the day shift did they? Well, they would show the nightshift a thing or two. The crew pitched in with enthusiasm, and when they quit that night, they left behind them an enormous, swaggering “10.” Things were stepping up.

Shortly this mill, which had been lagging way behind in production, was turning out more work than any other mill in the plant. The principle?

Let Charles Schwab say it in his own words: “The way to get things done,” says Schwab, “is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid, money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.”

The story made me think of a book titled The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt, which was recommended to me early on my career.  The beauty of the book is it reads like a nice story, unlike a typical boring operations problem-solving, instruction manual. The story tells about a similar manager who is trying to streamline processes in his plant, how he realizes his folly of jumbled processes during a weekend hiking trip with his kids, and then how he implements streamlined processes with the help of a consultant. Now, decades later, I find myself in the same role as that consultant!

So what can this Bulk Picking Manager do? I want to offer some options from a Gamification perspective.

Puga Sankara
Puga Sankara is the co-founder of Smart Gladiator LLC. Smart Gladiator designs, builds, and delivers market-leading mobile technology for retailers, distributors, and 3PL service providers. So far, Smart Gladiator Wearables have been used to ship, receive, and scan more than 50 million boxes. Users love them for the lightweight, easy-to-use soft overlay keyboard and video chatting ability, data collection ability etc. Puga is a supply chain technology professional with more than 17 years of experience in deploying capabilities in the logistics and supply chain domain. His prior roles involved managing complicated mission-critical programs driving revenue numbers, rolling out a multitude of capabilities involving more than a dozen systems, and managing a team of 30 to 50 personnel across multiple disciplines and departments in large corporations such as Hewlett Packard. He has deployed WMS for more than 30 distribution centers in his role as a senior manager with Manhattan Associates. He has also performed process analysis walk-throughs for more than 50 distribution centers for WMS process design and performance analysis review, optimizing processes for better productivity and visibility through the supply chain. Size of these DCs varied from 150,000 to 1.2 million SQFT. Puga Sankara has an MBA from Georgia Tech. He can be reached at puga@smartgladiator.com or visit the company at www.smartgladiator.com. Also follow him at www.pugasankara.com.
More articles by: Puga Sankara

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