Most games use a sequence of little rewards to nudge players around. This is very different from most salary and hiring and review structures, which are big rewards in big intervals. Much has been made about the power of the games approach and how it should be used everywhere. To date (I haven't been looking very hard), I'd not seen a hard analysis of how a sequence of little payments might affect the quality of decisions. Do they help people solve new problems? Do they help people remember what they are doing, and transfer the learning to other situations?
Here's a little experiment by economists Neilson, Price, and Shor that comes to these conclusions:
- If you give micro rewards when people are doing the right thing, they remember the right solution for the current problem and transfer it to similar problems. But they don't learn how to solve new problems.
- If you give micro rewards when people are doing the wrong thing, they get better at figuring out new problems, because they learn more about the dimensions of the problem (including bad strategies). But they don't remember much about the current problem and how to solve ones like it.