Use Gamification Principles to Improve Supplier Relationships and Collaboration

Dr. Tom DePaoli

Many organizations rely on close relationships with key suppliers to insure competitive success. Gamification tools offer an opportunity to not only improve the relationship but to have fun in the improvement process. By gamification, I am referring to the application of the typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, such as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service. Initially, gamification should only be attempted with preferred suppliers with whom you already have a good relationship.

Gamification does have a high potential for payoff, but trying to quantify it or justify it on a cost basis is difficult. Strong engagement with suppliers can lead to better collaboration and possible “leapfrog” technology breakthroughs. Creativity improves when people have fun and are more committed. Understanding what motivates people, especially within the supplier relationship arena, is a good starting point. I recommend the assessment book What Motivates Me Put Your Passions to Work by Adam Gostick and Chester Elton as a good source of inspiration. This provides a solid base line for identifying the motivators for each individual on the supplier relationship teams.

Typical gamification goals include more engagement, increased motivation and fun. Some of the gamification tools that are utilized are badges, virtual points, virtual goods, rewards, prizes competitions, leaderboards, milestone rewards, and gifts, for example.  The tools are only limited by the imagination of the gamemaster.

How gamification works

Since purchasing and supply chain professionals are already pressed to the limit on work load; many may question the value of gamification for improving relationships. From my own experience, we went into the gamification process very skeptical and wary of any extra work. Surprisingly we had a good core group of people who were excited about the gamification approach and wanted to engage in a controlled pilot. We started with a basic game website.  We strictly controlled who could access the game and the game content. We were fortunate because both the supplier and our organization had internal digital dashboards that we could integrate into the game website.

We awarded badges and points for professional certifications achieved, training CEUs and joint attendance at seminars. We posted a leaderboard and the initial prizes were personal time off, lapel pins and company logo jewelry. During quarterly supplier-customer meetings the leaderboard individuals were recognized publicly and awarded prizes. We also issued surprise awards to individuals who performed outstanding actions to improve the relationship.

During the next stage, we tracked our jointly agreed upon metrics and asked participants to “predict” the metrics for each quarter. The best prognosticators received more points and prizes. We awarded instant leaderboard status to anyone who generated a significant savings to our processes, developed an outstanding solution to a crisis, or who achieved a major upgrade in metrics performance.

We also formed “game” teams. Each team focused on three areas of potential improvement and were awarded virtual points for their successes. We created a portfolio of prizes, and these included golf outings, company products, and gift cards.  This tactic generated a surprisingly high level of healthy competitiveness and camaraderie.

The enthusiasm created helped to generate numerous business improvements. One result was a complete revision of our parts packaging approach. Our packaging sustainability was enhanced when a supplier was able to observe some of our reusable packaging. That spurred an idea that lead to the joint redesigning of our parts packaging so that the supplier would have an easier time reusing it. The supplier picked up the empty packaging with their truck, on their return/outbound trip from our facility. They then reused the packaging for the next set of parts.

Our joint team of gamers are looking forward to even more creative missions. Purchasing and supply chain professionals should seriously consider gamification tools to improve relationships not only with suppliers, but other internal departments and customers.


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