Performance lessons from FarmVille

by 18 Apr 2012

“Performance reviews”… just the mention of those words can make most employees yawn. But, as dull as they seem, performance reviews are an integral part of a company’s culture. They give staff a necessary opportunity to evaluate their performance, renegotiate their salary and discuss potential bonuses. In light of the fact that performance reviews are so vital, how can managers find a way for employees to actually look forward to them? We at Sonar6 think the answer might lie in FarmVille.

Fresh produce from the farm

FarmVille brings a fresh new aspect to the performance review space: social gaming. Developed by Zynga and built on Facebook’s platform, FarmVille harnesses the social networking giant’s 800 million plus user-base to reach its phenomenal heights, and thanks to Facebook’s popularity, FarmVille isn’t being played by your stereotypical gamer, but rather a broader, more diverse audience – including your co-workers.

So, how do we harness the same psychology that leads to social gaming engagement to drive workforce engagement?

  1. Collecting: Social currency

We all like collecting things – from baseball cards to Facebook friends. Our collections are a form of social currency and it’s what draws us to playing games. In the same way that FarmVille allows players to collect virtual animals and farm coins, what if employees could collect their work goals and proudly display them to their social network at the end of each year?

  1. Feedback: Scores and ranks

The very appeal of social games like FarmVille stems from our instinctive need to be rewarded for our good work. The most successful and engaging games are those that offer a reward – whether it’s access to a new level or more farm cash. At Sonar6, we conducted our own experiments with using leader boards and medals, and found that employees were quicker to adopt and engage with the performance review.

  1. Exchanges: Join the (exciting performance review) conversation

 FarmVille is played through Facebook, allowing players to leverage their social network and engage in an ongoing dialogue with friends. Social media thrives on multi-person exchanges, yet performance reviews, on the other hand, are typically a two-sided dialogue between a manager and employee. But what if organisations used performance reviews and broader HR tools that encouraged exchanges between multiple people in an organisation?

  1. Accessible: Easy play

With its intuitive gameplay and simple interface, FarmVille makes it easy for anyone to jump right in and start playing – there’s no time wasted on learning the controls or reading a manual. In the same way, such easy mechanics could provide more simple and intuitive performance reviews allowing employees to look forward to them as an engaging activity rather than just another chore.

Fruits of the farm

FarmVille combines gaming elements (structured experience, rules, goals, competitive, fun) with social media elements (content creation, engagement, community, collaborate) to create social gaming.  In many ways, social games like FarmVille and performance reviews aren’t so different. Both are about a set of rules, achieving goals and ongoing dialogue. The only glaring difference is that FarmVille is fun, when performance reviews – for the most part – aren’t. 

But if we combined performance reviews with social gaming psychology, the future of performance management could possibly be fun and something that employees looked forward to. In fact, we at Sonar6 believe that applying the same gaming psychology behind FarmVille to performance reviews could revolutionise the marketplace. Grab your gumboots and your laptop, it’s time to have some farm fun!


About the author

Mike Carden is CEO of Sonar6, an innovative HR software company that was founded on the idea that performance management should be simple and rewarding.  Visit for more information



  • by Madhusudan Rao 29/06/2012 6:56:28 PM

    Interesting to hear that, Mike. In fact, Farmville has been an inspiration for me in my research thesis on employee engagement :)