The use of leaderboards is a common approach to the gamification of employee performance, but little is known about the specific mechanisms and mediating processes by which leaderboards actually affect employee behavior. Given the lack of research in this domain, this study proposes goal-setting theory, one of the most well-established motivational theories in psychology, as a framework by which to understand these effects. In this study, a classic brainstorming task is gamified with a leaderboard in order to explore this. Participants were randomly assigned to four classic levels of goal-setting (do-your-best, easy, difficult and impossible goals) plus a leaderboard populated with initials and scores representing identical goal-setting conditions. The presence of a leaderboard was successful in motivating participants to performance levels similar to that of difficult and impossible goal-setting, suggesting participants implicitly set goals at or near the top of the leaderboard without any prompting to do so. Goal commitment, a common individual difference moderator in goal-setting theory, was also assessed and behaved similarly in the presence of the leaderboard as when traditional goals were provided. From these results, we conclude that goal-setting theory is valuable to understand the success of leaderboards, and we recommend further exploration of existing psychological theories, including goal-setting, to better explain the effects of gamification.
- Goal-setting theory