Discover your gamification leaderboards purpose and success

It is how you share performance leaderboards that matter.

Semi typical leaderboard display

Semi typical leaderboard display

4.18am this morning I woke to write this for you. It’s OK I have now had a strong coffee and am ready share what got me out of bed so early. You see, from political polls to sports tables, educational institutions or sales teams the prevalent use of leaderboards is everywhere.

Within the context of gamification these displays have a special meaning and getting them right can mean success or failure of your gamification project. I woke up early because their use in gamification projects is too frequently poorly planned and felt the urgent need to share with you how to avoid the pitfalls 

Here are the main success factors to consider and the real purpose of using these motivational tools within your gamification project.

Competition and status

Dashboards are designed for management and leaderboards are best designed for the players
— James Doyle - JAMSO

Most leaderboards in the past have been generated to stimulate competition and show the highest performers from a total range of scores, rewards, and achievements.

Today’s fast paste and social world offer new ways to enable leaderboards to show the rates of improvement and more relative deeper insights.

The status of being a rapid learner is as important as being a high natural performer. So, using the design of displays will help motivate and stimulate engagement of the players.

When leaderboards do not work

Not everyone can be at the top, yet most people have a form of competitive spirit and need for social status. Therefore care should be taken to ensure a balance between high performer domination and motivation for lower performers.

This is how people might read your leader table

This is how people might read your leader table

The risk for a middle performer who is doing their best and progressing well, with their own ability range, is their decision to disengage with the gamification process.

The currency of each status

Anyone in sales or marketing has known someone who manages to drag their quotas over the line at the last day each month. For the rest of the month their performance is mediocre or poor, and then a huge concerted effort shows them performing the same as others.

Is success just a moment or sustained?

Is success just a moment or sustained?

Therefore the cut-off times and status currency are critical to allow people to gain a deeper and truer understanding of the performance and progress.

In the case of the last minute performer, it can be advantages for the manager or person themselves to understand the change in their behaviors to close the standard gap to acceptable performance levels. Once understood, this can help reduce the stress, concerns surrounding the person’s status by identifying key success elements that can be repeated earlier within the month.

Such insights are great confidence and skills boosters and often allow players to flourish.

Choosing between singular, team, group or social boards

We already are aware of the potential motivation and disengagement risks with boards, but some of these risks and benefits can be managed through the correct selection of the actual lead and performance table itself. For the same task but at a different phase of mastery and performance, there are good reasons to use only a singular or team board and other times when a good mix of these displays can be used for motivation or status rewards.

The key with correct board selection is how do the players gain maximum insight and value from what the comparison and benchmark are being made. So, there might be little point in having a team board for a highly competitive group where a singular board might hide others performance levels and thus stimulate even higher achievement.

Performance positioning for punishment and positive motivation

A key influence on your board display design is to create a position of the player so that they are within the middle-performance band. This shows both their potential and also their gains.

So, this can be created using a mix of contextual data. Examples include using mixed results over time (best measures ever), time (past results over the previous x, days, weeks, months), relative self-measures (personal progress or performance), relative wider performance (including benchmark metrics).

The core intrinsic motivators should be recognized as:

1.       Learning

2.       Mastery

3.       Curiosity

4.       Meaning

5.       Belonging

6.       Autonomy

The core extrinsic motivators should be recognized as:

1.       Competition

2.       Fear of punishment

3.       Money

4.       Status

5.       Fear of failure

6.       Competition

7.       Rewards

The importance of tolerance bands

One of the key elements of great gamification performance management is creating tolerance bands of performance. For example, within LinkedIn, there is what is called a Social Selling Index (SSI). My performance level has been for the past 2 years to be within the top 10%, indeed on the JAMSO Twitter profile, we declare we are within the top 8%. This is because for the past 12 months our position has ranged from 1-8% for professional coaching and training.

JAMSO leader status August 2017

JAMSO leader status August 2017

I do nothing special to hit the number 1 spot and remain consistent to retain our position. This is a slight gamified metric I use to manage the business branding profile without fretting over a couple of percentage points. This allows us to focus on more value added actions instead!

Understand cultural diversity acceptance to performance boards

The western nations have been high adopters of gamification. However, some cultural diversity considerations need to be understood and brought into context. For example, most regions of the USA find gamification acceptable; however, I have found some companies from within the Eastern European nations find some leaderboards to be initially threatening. So, their presentation and explanation requirements in these regions are important.

Different cultures respond to gamification principles differently.

Different cultures respond to gamification principles differently.

Keeping people and process behaviors ethical

The human spirit when stimulated and motivated is capable of doing many great achievements. However, equally true is the need for caution in gamification design to consider the risks of introducing none ethical behaviors.

Sincere well-meaning professionals can turn into pressured and desperate people if their performance is not as they would like it to be seen. At this point, the temptation for cheating and therefore creating none ethical behavior may occur. This should be seen more as a gamification fault and error than the personal player error.

At the highest levels of competition small margins through cheating needs to be regulated.

At the highest levels of competition small margins through cheating needs to be regulated.

Careful management and vigilance are needed to spot risk areas and once found dealt with in accordance with the values and principles of the business ethics. Take a read of this interesting article that covers the overjustification effect and cheating by Gamified UK.

When sporting championships become gamified

Despite being directly involved with skydiving, I have little to no interest in skydive competition as a committed fan. I simply cast a glancing eye and occasionally watch some teams performance if the time is right and I know some of the jumpers. However, my family knows best that when it comes to leadership boards in the sporting world I become most enthused when talking MotoGP racing. This is the top premier track racing for motorcycles on the planet.

Valentino Rossi from the MotoGP championship

Valentino Rossi from the MotoGP championship

The amount of money the top manufacturers invest in this sports championship runs into many of millions of USD. The costs are so high that some of the biggest motorbike manufacturers do not compete, for instance, Triumph, Kawasaki and only recently have we seen Aprilia and Suzuki come back to the championship.

To retain the attractiveness for manufacturers, the owners of the series have created some specific game rules to include different research and development restrictions based on performance and culture rules to restrict how many formal manufacturer teams and their satellite teams are on the start grid.

Their leaderboard for the whole championship has become slightly more gamified and less traditional. Their normal leaderboard has the top to the bottom performers but then this is broken down to the Top Rookie for new riders in the series and also for Top Independent teams. This additional gamified display motivates lower performing teams with the prestige and higher brand name of the championship, which is good for the riders, sponsors, and viewers.

Just because it’s a leaderboard does not mean it’s gamification

Recently JAMSO was positioned as the 71st most influential brand for #Fintech on twitter. Although we gratefully applaud the research and its findings we are not jumping on the back of this benchmark to create a new gamification process to boost our future rankings. We remain committed to serving the Fintech community but will continue to share our focus on our core business interests of Goal Setting, Metrics, and Gamification. When these elements cross over to Fintech then that is great, and we will continue to share on twitter Fintech news and insights as feel appropriate.

This is the difference between the uses of leaderboards. In this specific case, it is not the highest focus and therefore is of lower value to us. Would we love to be number 1? Sure, but Fintech as a sector has enough great dedicated leading influencers to hold that banner, not least Spiros Margaris whom we interviewed.

Mobile on demand services and privacy

The access to positions and performance is the crux of the stimulator for instant feedback. With today's online and on demand cloud services we see an increasing request especially from remote workers for access to personal dashboards and their gamified position status. For this, a cautionary note needs to be raised to ensure appropriate IT budgets are set aside and the management of the data. This is critical as coming legislation evolves from region to region across the world.

Cybersecurity requirements grow over time

Cybersecurity requirements grow over time

Risks against hacking and cyber-attacks is a serious matter that should be an integral part of the decision making the process for data sharing. The last thing a business wants is their competitor being able to see the leads, service, skills or sales levels – so protect them.

For some wider views and perspective of gamification strategic considerations, there is a short but good article to read by Everyone Social with a business focus.

What we didn’t mention today

It is hard to discuss gamification without engaging with points and badges. The purpose today has been to retain a clear focus on our single subject, so those elements will have to wait for another day.

For some great Gamification ideas from us and others then pop over to our Pinterest board dedicated to the subject. We cover a lot of source information including tutorials and free worksheets across all our social media channels. Explore here.


The use of comparison needs to be balanced correctly. In a large organization, the greater result is needed to be balanced with sensitivity to how some people may feel concerned or disengaged from poorly planned and designed boards. Ensure up to date and accurate relative performances are motivating for the players. Consider personalization where needed to maximize the benefits or leaderboards. So, do you show trends of performance or actual levels of performance with teams or individuals?

Getting this part of the gamification process right will increase the chances of success for behavior change and retain keen players, getting this wrong is to be avoided at all costs!

For some short videos offering insights to more gamification principles view our prepared YouTube playlist.

JAMSO helps companies improve or implement success within such challenges. Let us know the core issues you face and experience with your own projects. We are also very happy to discuss and help you on any new project for success.

Share this and show the world that you support the correct implementation of gamification and their leaderboards.