Work Minus Frustrating Culture with Chris Edmonds

Most senior leaders think culture is the biggest contributor to success, but only 19% know how their culture is operating. Time for a constitution?

Your organization may be diverse. Is it inclusive though?

People respond to the topic of diversity in the office in different ways:

  1. Are we seriously still talking about this? Just hire the best person for the job.
  2. Oh yeah, diversity is a great thing. My team isn’t really diverse right now, but we’ll definitely hire someone if they fit into our culture.
  3. I have actually listened to and know someone from a marginalized group and see the systemic problems, but I can only do so much.
  4. Diversity is the be all end all of corporate practice.

This article is for people who find themselves somewhere around 2 and 3.

Setting it straight

We live in the most interconnected era in history. Humans have never been more mobile or interconnected. With remote working options, organizations can now hire people regardless of where they live. Diversity is a part of our lives and it’s not changing anytime soon.

However, that doesn’t mean that diversity at your organization happens automatically. While rarely intentional, many companies have invisible or unspoken barriers that prevent them from welcoming a diverse set of people.

On top of that, diversity is only really about demographic information. The deeper topic is inclusion, or how welcome diverse people feel at your organization. Diversity recognizes that people are different; inclusion says that we can treat people the same regardless of those differences. Or, as Vernā Myers says, “Diversity is getting invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Why we are still talking about diversity

From a business perspective, diversity and inclusion are very important topics.

1. Revenue and creativity

On the performance side, it’s easy to find studies that show that diverse teams earn more revenue, (inclusive teams earn a lot more), are more creative, make better decisions, and earn more innovation revenue.

Most of these benefits come from the fact that when you are surrounded by people who are just like you, it’s easy to slip into group thinking and not question things. Homogenized groups get comfortable and feel like they perform better, but really don’t. But when a team is made of people with a variety of perspectives, they think harder about their decisions and lead to better results.

2. Talent wars

Companies are taking diversity and inclusion seriously because it is getting harder to find highly skilled talent. Your hiring practices may unintentionally be hurting you by not exposing you to a more diverse talent pool, limiting the number of applicants you interact with. Much of the younger workforce, even from privileged groups, value working in diverse places and may pass on your company if you haven’t established a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

3. Social change

If you believe in equality and equity for marginalized groups, and want to see some real progress, it doesn’t happen with a national apology, a holiday, a monument, or a lesson in history class. Things become more equitable when marginalized people get power and money, both of which happen first at the workplace. If you are in a position where you can give influence, power, or money to a person from a marginalized community, you will be doing the absolute most practical thing towards creating a more equitable world.

Defining diversity

Conversations about diversity involve at least two groups: the privileged, and the marginalized. Over many millennia, we’ve built up a lot of social baggage where one group tends to get the advantages and the other(s) have to survive on what is left. Here are a few of the ways that diversity can be represented.

Gender. In the US and Europe, women make up more than 45 percent of the workforce, but hold only 24 percent of senior roles. In the US, there are more men named John who run S&P 1500 firms than there are women.

Gender is also a quickly evolving topic. Take a look at the dropdown menu for a recent tech conference:

Sexual orientation. Society is slowly accepting the broader and fuzzier definitions of someone’s sexuality to a point where more people are open about their preferences and expect it to not stigmatize them at the office.

Race and ethnicity. Official US government forms minimally require these major race and ethnic groups to be included: American Indian, Asian, Black, Native Hawaiian, White, and Latino. However, there are thousands of racial and ethnic groups around the world, and just looking at broad groups is limiting.

Nationality. This refers to the passport the person holds, which may or may not be a good indicator of their native culture.

Native language. The mother tongue is the language people grew up with, or the one they use to curse someone under their breath.

Religion. While a choice for most people, religion is often a strong indicator of someone’s heritage and home culture.

Age/Life stage. Many industries get criticized for only hiring young graduates and letting go of older workers. Also, certain stages (parents of young children, caregivers for older adults) often require more time at home, restricting the ability to attend social events where team bonding happens.

Economic background. Many companies unintentionally create class differences and don’t have anyone in leadership who grew up from a disadvantaged family.

Education. Degrees and the universities they come from are often unnecessarily used as a gatekeeper to get a position.

Mental and physical disabilities. These groups have always had to face an uphill battle in the office and are often excluded from roles and teams.  

Take a moment to evaluate your company (and separately, your leadership) based on these parameters. Where do you have a lot of diversity and where do you have none?

Feeling overwhelmed? This isn’t a checklist that you need to complete in order for your company to qualify as ‘diverse’. While demographic data is a good indicator of action, it starts with the attitude. Where do you have subtle biases? Where do you need to question your assumptions and explore with more empathy.

As a whole, organizations cannot prioritize every area of diversity. Many organizations publicly commit to gender or racial diversity, but other areas are also important and may be easier to start with. Building an inclusive mindset opens you up to many different types of diversity.

Pardon me, your unconscious bias is showing

While overt diversity barriers are usually unlawful, your company probably has a lot of inclusion barriers you don’t recognize that prevent you from attracting and keeping the best people. Rather than deny that you have a problem, it’s better to examine areas where you have unintentionally exclusive practices.

1. Recruiting

Employee referrals are by far the top source of potential candidates. But most people are likely to refer people from their network, which tends to be pretty homogenous. Establishing quotas for recruiting doesn’t always help because many of the types of diversity are either very difficult (Did you grow up poor?) or illegal (What is your sexual orientation?) to ask. Yet, when your talent pool looks exactly like your existing workforce, you aren’t likely to solve the diversity problem anytime soon.

2. Hiring

Most organizations assume that you should just hire the most qualified candidate. This is similar to a best-of-breed approach in IT where you select the best software solution for each individual problem. But as any IT administrator can tell you, this doesn’t always leave you with the best overall software stack. Also, using terms like “culture fit” is often code for just “Is this person like the rest of us?”

3. Day-to-day in the office

Even if you hire people who make your office more diverse, if they don’t feel welcome, they will quickly leave. Much of diversity is seen as an HR problem, but inclusion is an everyone problem. What kind of humor is considered ok to use? Are microaggressions ignored? Do you only celebrate women in the office on International Women’s Day? How much does mansplaining happen in meetings? Who gets picked to travel and represent the organization? Who is asked to work late/extra?  

4. Fraternizing outside the office

A true test of inclusion is what people do outside the office. What time do people get together? Do you always meet at a bar? Does it usually have to do with sports? Who gets invited? Is it always in the same part of town?

5. Performance Reviews/Promotions/Salaries

Much of diversity and inclusion is seen in who gets promoted and paid more. This starts with performance reviews where gendered language is common. (E.g. men “take charge” while women are “aggressive”.) The pay gap is also real–those from privileged backgrounds know there is less risk if they fail and ask for more money.

6. Existing leadership

Many organizations can talk a big diversity game, but at the top, they are mostly monocultural. Taking a hard look at board members and CXOs (not including the token Chief Diversity Officer) is an accurate read on how committed the organization is to diversity and inclusion. Homogenized leadership teams will move much slower.

The true signal for inclusion

Like others, Dr. Patti Fletcher notes the difference between equality and equity. Equality means seeing all groups (whether privileged or marginalized) with the same value. That’s a good place to start, but it doesn’t change anything. Equity means that marginalized people share a proportionate piece of the profit, power, and privilege.

Most privileged people are willing to give lip service to diversity and inclusion. The vast majority of white men in leadership and board positions don’t think they are inherently more valuable, but very few of them are willing to step down and be the first to actively share in the privilege that helped them get where they are.

The World Economic Forum estimates that at our current pace, it will take 217 years just for true gender equity in the workplace, and gender is much more advanced than many other types of diversity. This is not a problem that is solved by laws, but by those in privilege who are willing to step aside, share the spoils, and become an ally.  

Being an ally

Allies are people who recognize they are in a position of privilege and are willing to leverage that on behalf of a marginalized group. Being an ally is a trendy thing, but the actual practice is requires a lot more than an occasional retweet. Let’s start with what allies don’t do.

Don’t be in the closet. Fake allies notice microaggressions or go to someone in a marginalized group and say things like, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” Real allies are not afraid to publicly align themselves with a particular group. This can mean anything from attending rallies to speaking in an office setting when you notice exclusive behavior.  

Don’t wait for the facts. Responding to white responses after a wave of police shootings, speaker Sam Collier said, “Black people are very communal in nature…If I come around the corner and see you in a fight, I’m jumping in the fight. After the fight is over, I’m going to pull you aside and say, ‘Why are we fighting?” Many marginalized groups are equally communal and require you to risk your reputation on their behalf.

Don’t expect them to fix it. Those in privilege often say, “Tell me how to fix this.” This makes the marginalized group responsible to come up with answers. If they don’t have executable, ‘realistic’ ideas, the privileged group is off the hook. Those with privilege can say things like, “I’m going to do this, what do you think about that?”

Don’t claim a group. Jennifer Brown reminds us that, “You’re really not an ally until someone in a marginalized group identifies you as such and kind of thanks you for being that.” Wait to be acknowledged by a group before saying how much you’ve done (or plan to do) for them.

12 actionable ideas for diversity and inclusion

Building a better workplace requires everyone’s participation, but the onus lies mostly on those with privilege. Here are ideas on how to wield your power effectively.

1. Be aware of the power you have. The best starting point is admitting that you have privilege and that you benefit from it. You may not have asked for it, but it is there. No one is asking you to feel bad about it, but acknowledge it and recognize its effect in your life.

2. Be honest about the problem. You need some baseline metrics to see where your team is with diversity and inclusion. You can start with some general demographic information that is most important to you. Use a tool like Crescendo to reveal biased language. Have someone document microaggressions, talk-to-listen ratio, how often someone gets their words summarized or ‘translated’, and who speaks last in a meeting.

3. Commit to making a change. Awareness and metrics aren’t enough to turn this huge ship. 92 percent of companies said a diversity and inclusion strategy was important to them, yet only 33 percent had documented plan. This is hard to do. Companies like Google and The New York Times have publicly shared their diversity stats and spent lots of money on programs to increase, and yet, their progress has been fairly marginal.

4. Start conversations now. If your company doesn’t have a current culture of diversity and inclusion, you need to prepare people for it. Start conversations and point out areas where privilege is apparent. Forcing diversity efforts without conversations often backfires, creating a hostile work environment.  

5. Don’t offload this to HR. Diversity and inclusion is not just HR’s issue to solve–the issue is everyone’s. If you are in marketing, what images and skin tones dominate your visual advertising? If you are in sales, which people get to travel or go to conferences to be the ‘face’ of the company? You may think you don’t have the power to change things just because you don’t have the final say in hiring, but you have a lot of influence.

6. Start with your personal network. This advice from Amy Waninger is perhaps the best takeaway of this list. Company policies and practices take a long time to change, but you have immediate control over your personal network. People naturally want to help those in their network, and if your entire network is made of people who are just like you, nothing changes. If you’ve intentionally built a diverse network, you will be eager to help people from many walks of life. Check out Amy’s book, Network Beyond Bias, for more ideas.

7. Recruit in new places. If you have influence in recruiting, there are a lot of simple ways to expand the kind of diversity you are attracting. Consider going to job fairs, college campuses, advertising in newspapers/radio stations and websites where people from different backgrounds come from.

8. Build the best team, don’t hire the best person. As mentioned before, opting for a “best-of-breed” strategy where you only look at qualifications alone isn’t always the right solution when hiring. Sometimes you need to intentionally bring in someone to a learnable position who doesn’t have all the pedigree because you know their experience will round out your team better.

9. Review your written policies. This is a big effort and usually involves asking around for best practices. Here are just a few areas where you can review (or write!) policies :

  • Benefits you provide–have you excluded a certain group?
  • Thoughtful (we thought this would benefit people) vs. reasonable (we are required by law to do this) accommodations
  • Religious accommodations (diet, prayer times, holy days, dress)
  • Floating Holiday schedules
  • Flexible office hours for primary caregivers

10. After-work get togethers. Think about where people usually meet up. When do office parties happen? Who gets invited? These shouldn’t be regulated with policies, but should be flexible and allow most people to participate.

11. Fast vs. slow change. Lateral leadership hires are often a tough way to inject diversity, as these positions require someone to know the industry and culture well. But if you start today hiring diverse people only at entry-level positions it can take decades to make an impact. Consider other areas such as board members, consultants, marketing agencies, and speakers where you can create an immediate change.

12. Be ready for issues. Bringing in diverse people often leads to more conflict initially if people aren’t used to being challenged. Even if privileged team members seem open to written inclusive practices, putting them into practice is much harder. Get people working together on a common goal as soon as possible and keep communication open (see: any sports movie ever made).

If you are in a marginalized group, admittedly nothing will likely change without the actions of someone in power. But that doesn’t mean you should stop speaking up and asking to be heard as this often bring the issues to the public awareness. And also recognize that most people exist in both privileged and marginalized groups, depending on the type of diversity, and can still find a way to be an ally of other groups.

Towards a more inclusive workplace

Building a diverse and inclusive workplace is not just about altruism, but has now become sound business. But these practices don’t happen overnight. The biggest companies in the world struggle with these issues despite huge budgets and training. Start with your own team and pick a few actionable ways that you can encourage diversity and inclusion in the area you have the most influence.

Work Minus Bad Managers with Claire Lew

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Burnouts at work are contagious. Is it possible to start an epidemic of happiness instead? Lee Daniel Kravetz teaches us how to fight a virus you can’t see.

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“Now the streets are all empty, let the roadies take the stage.” What can you do after a great speaker comes in to continue the energy? Hear it from Krish.

Work Minus Compromises with Jeff Gardner

Jeff Gardner of Intercom opens up about the true life of someone who lives where they want and finds meaning inside and outside of work without compromising.

Feeling distracted? Here are 30 ideas to build your focus.

How many times have you sat down at the start of your day, excited to get a bunch of tasks done, only to decide to quickly check your email and then spiral into a day that results in nothing more than finally learning who actually framed Roger Rabbit?

Work Minus Only Trusting People Analytics with Max Blumberg and James Holdstock

Today, our guests, we have two guests on. We have Max Blumberg and we also have James Holdstock who are going to be talking to us about HR and people analytics. This episode is called Work Minus Only Trusting People Analytics. Hi, guys. How are you today?

I’m very well thanks very much for having us on the show, Neil. Max here.

Hi, Neil. James here. I’m good. Thank you.

It’s a very interesting topic we’re going to jump into. But I want to start by letting both of you introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about how you got into this topic. So, Max, why don’t you start us off?

Thanks, Neil. I’m Max Blumberg. I’m originally a tech entrepreneur. So, I started out with the components distribution company which eventually IPOed. And that was in South Africa and then I came to the U.K. I did a PhD in psychology and a large corporate company called Rentokil, who are pretty global, came to me and said, “Max, you’re a psychologist. You understand statistics. We’re having some issues with our sales force. Can you help us sort this out?” And I’d never heard of anything like that but I said, “Sure. I’m happy just to try and use normal academic methods.” I did a project with them and we made $70 million in the first year for our people analytics project and that was back in 2011. So, it was pioneering early days and after that I was hooked and I just carried on doing it. And I’m now a professor at Leeds University Business School, a research affiliate at Goldsmiths, University of London. And really enjoy working in the field.

Great. And James, what about you?

Hi. So, I’m James. I’m always interested to hear what kind of route people have taken through to people analytics because this seems lots of different ones but a few streams whether it be psychology or workforce planning or that kind of thing. I myself would say I’ve risen from the ranks so I didn’t go down a charted route or a statistical route. But I went into the ground in recruitment and then in HR administration and working all around the HR arena before getting into reporting mainly because I had a little bit of technical know how but then also had the whole landscape of knowledge about the HR area. And so, I also then worked a little bit in finance to do group reporting for the whole company. This was London transport which I spent a lot of my time and it was a great to get a whole overview of the company but I really did miss the mystery and the investigation that goes along with people analytics. And so, I got back into the HR reporting team which we then stepped up to a people analytics team as many people I’m sure are doing and trying to do with their own HR reporting teams. And then I looked outside for some other people analytics opportunities and have been taking on contracts and moving around some companies.

Great. We’re talking about an article you guys wrote in HRZone and looking at the idea of people analytics and why maybe sometimes we take it too far away or where to trust it. But I want to start off asking, for those in the audience who aren’t familiar with the idea of people analytics, what does the common man need to know to get a start with this? Max, why don’t you start us off with that?

So, Neil, we use data in finance. We’re quite used to making predictions. We look at what’s happening, what are the bank rates doing at the moment, how big is the economy, and we build models to predict what the outcomes are going to be. And I guess we do that in marketing, segment markets to produce a product and then you try and work out who are the likely buyers, how likely are they to buy it, etc. But we haven’t really done that until the last few years with people. So, when we look at people to say how likely is this person going to be a good performer in the job or how long are they likely to stay with us and we’d typically be making those decisions based on gut feel. Now, we aren’t saying that gut feel is a bad thing. I happen to think it’s a really good thing. But there’s no harm in supplementing your gut feel with some hard data to say, well, what are most people who have that personality, what are they like? Are they likely to be high performers in this kind of job? Etc. So, people analytics is really just using data to support decisions you make. Should I recruit this person? Or what training should we give them? How should we do them in succession planning? And so on.

James, when you tell your friends what you’re into or your relatives, how do you explain people analytics to them?

Well, I generally try and keep them awake. But I, too, love talking about it. I get quite passionate about it. I generally explain that it’s using data and technology for the benefit of the employees and the business. That’s the short version really and I completely agree obviously with all the things that Max said as well. That people are starting to really drill into customer insight, for instance, being a standard team now and all they’re doing is trying to predict people’s behavior using the data from those people and our employees are people as well. One thing that I think to add on to that is quite important in terms of the common person really needing to know about the people analytics is that it’s in their benefit and trying to give them an idea of what we’re doing and what comes out of it because I firmly believe that a big issue in the success in people analytics is trust. We want them to know we’re not doing weird, creepy stuff and that it genuinely is in their interests so that they actually allow us to use their data.

Let’s jump into the article that we’re talking about. You start off with a really interesting idea that the way we look at employee data and people analytics is actually pretty similar to how we look at livestock and inmate systems in prison systems. So, how did all of this come together? What’s the issue with all this?

Well, I guess it started, Neil, when I saw Tracy Smith wrote from North Carolina, as it happens, wrote in on Linkedin once saying what is the point of doing these attrition studies that’s predicting whether employees are going to leave when you’re not going to do anything about it? But the word that she used that really kind of freaked me out, she said what’s the point of analyzing flight risks? Now, I’m a bit naive, and even though I’ve been in this business for such a long time, I’ve never heard the term flight risk and James said to me, “Max, it’s a really common term.” And I thought, “Wow, isn’t that a word that we use with prisoners who might be escaping and inmates?” And they said, “Yeah. But we don’t think of it like that.” And I said, “But language is so important for determining how we behave and if you use a term like flight risk, all we’re thinking of our employees as inmates.” And then I started looking at technology being used for animals and I thought, “Wow.” They’re starting to track productivity of animals and productivity of human beings in people analytics. And the algorithms and the techniques that they use are really similar. And that’s when I came to the conclusion that unless we are prepared to put human beings on the same… treat them the same as animals, and I’m very pro animals, by the way, or think of our employees as being inmates, it just felt like we’re doing something wrong if that is our attitude. So, there’s nothing wrong with people analytics but I think there’s something wrong if we see our employees like animals or inmates.

So, in a way, do you feel like it’s a dehumanizing thing to apply these analytics in this way? Do you feel that way, James?

I think one of the reasons I was quite excited that Max got into this conversation and then called me to talk about it was that I don’t like taking things for granted. And so, I like challenging them, playing devil’s advocate. So, the question is is it dehumanizing and is there a problem with that? And so, I think we were able to, between us, debate quite a few of these things and then go away, do some more research. I think my personal view, which probably comes out through the article, is that it is a problem and that we need to be looking with the people analytics to be quite rigorous and adhere to a bit of an ethical code.

The reason I called James, because James says I called him to discuss it, one of the key reasons for me calling James, other than he’s an exceptionally bright people analytics professional, is that he’s also quite close to being a millennial which is the opposite of me. I’m a baby boomer. And I wanted to see what James’ attitude was and what drives that is that I was in a conference once and a guy from Jawbone was on the stage and he said they were giving employees these watches and measuring how many hours they slept and I said, “What has that got to do with an employer?” And he said, “Well, if you’re an airline, you want to know that your pilots are getting enough sleep.” I said, “Yeah. Okay. But most of the people in the audience are not pilots. Surely they’re going to want to have some private life that the company doesn’t own their whole existence.” And we did a quick hands up in the audience, how many people are happy to have all their data measured, and I was shocked when most of the audience said they were absolutely cool with having their company measure everything about them. And they were all millennials. And I don’t know. You said, “Well, Max, don’t feel bad. My grandfather would have felt the same as you.” But anyway. And that also shocked me. So, I wanted to find out from James, was this conference audience representative? Do young people really not care about their data just being used and being dehumanized, to use your term, Neil. That really got me going.

James, do you feel like it’s more of people are okay with it, they feel like there’s going to be some benefit to it or do we just assume that they’re going to have it anyway so why fight it?

It’s hard to say really because I guess, of course, the ideal scenario is to take a couple of groups and give them different scenarios and then see what the outcomes are and compare them against each other. But I guess we don’t necessarily have the opportunity so it’s hard to say even if you can see that the results of talking to people and using their data is actually a positive one it’s hard to say where it’s come from or why the difference potentially in different groups of people.

We’re talking about this. It all comes down to productivity. How can we make employees more efficient, more productive in these things. Why do you guys feel that this just focusing on people analytics is not necessarily the right path without conjunction with lots of other things added to it?

I think that people analytics is political, whether you like it or not. The idea of we live in a capitalist, on this side of the world, and we live in a capitalist society, in a capitalist economy, and so a lot of it is about making the shareholders wealthy or not, but nothing against that whatsoever. But I don’t like one group getting rich at the expense of another. So, I feel that shareholders and employees should get rich together. But that’s not what I’m seeing happening. I’m seeing these systems going to squeeze the last pound of flesh, as Shakespeare said, out of employees without them getting much more reward for that extra pound of flesh, whereas the investors get all the benefit, the additional profit from all of the productivity. And that’s where I think people analytics needs to be very careful in its political stance and its objectives that it consciously, as James likes to say, that it consciously looks at employee benefits as well as investor benefits.

Yeah. To think about the idea of being able to everyone to benefit from the idea of people analytics, what’s the next step in that, James? How do employees benefit from these numbers and this data just as much as investors and top management?

That’s quite big question. I think I’d give the classic people analytics answer of it depends on the scenario really. I do certainly have a belief and this is where I guess I stray from my belief that I should only make statements that are backed up by reams of data and fact. I genuinely have a belief that both of those parties can… that employees and shareholders or business owners can both win. Maybe it’s naive. I don’t know but I feel it that if the employees are happier, more content, feel safer, they can be more creative, innovative, and will work harder and be more valuable, which means that everyone in theory should win as long as the business owners are I guess working with the employees because there could be a scenario where the business owners create this wonderful environment, the employees work really hard, but the business owners don’t share that benefit with the employees. So, I guess if I wanted to put a word on that, I’d have to call it that there should be more transparency, which a lot of people don’t like.

So, what does that mean? We’re talking to somebody who’s a department head or a large team leader and they’re new on the job or they just started using some people analytics software and they get this big reports and it has all sorts of data about everyone, how do they use that data in an ethical way that treats people as humans and also increases productivity?

From my side, I think it’s about gaining more employee trust by involving them and engaging them in your projects, to say, “Folks, this is what we want to do. We want to improve your productivity for the betterment of society so there’s a CSR agenda. We want to improve it for the investors so that they get a good dividend that the share price rises. But we also want to improve it for you by handing back reward.” And it doesn’t have to be money all the time. It can be flexible working, working in a nice place, working under good conditions, having opportunities for you to have some free days, like Google do where you offer employees the opportunity to do innovative work. It’s rewarding the employees proportionately to what the investors are being done. So, the advice I would give to department heads is don’t rely on people analytics to tell you how to behave towards your employees. Develop a relationship with your employees and let that be the thing that improves the productivity and stops them from leaving the company. James has quite a good story about this idea of tracking employees actually makes them want to leave the company when you start doing attrition analytics. James, I think you had something like that?

Yeah. It’s a text that that we came up with together I guess that is in the article which is about it’s all about trust really, and if you are tracking these people, but you’re not being transparent with them and you’re not being open with them, then how are they going to feel about that? And as soon as someone doesn’t feel as though they can trust you, I would say probably they’re going to close up and maybe even start looking for other opportunities where they might feel safer and more trusted. So, it could well lead to people actually leaving, ironically, from just tracking the information.

So, should you make these reports open where everyone can see them? Should you make sure to tell employees that this is being tracked, this is what we are tracking, if you want to see your scores you can fill out this form? What’s the best practice there?

The best example I can think of to answer that question about transparency with everything and there’s a guy at Rentokil who’s one of the finest managers I know. He happens to be the MD for Europe, but instead of relying on technology to find out what’s going on in his teams, he has each of the country heads give him a rag indicator for all of their key employees, so red and green as to whether that employee is going to leave. And if an employee leaves and the country manager didn’t know about it, that country manager has to answer why they didn’t know. So, what he’s doing is saying let’s rather replace technology with relationships. So, I’m not saying get rid of technology but I’m saying why don’t we invest more in nice managers, managers that are able to have great relationships rather than having technology do the dirty work and do it very badly for us. And there’s a lot of evidence of this going on. We see a lot of companies now are trying to get rid of levels of managers using automation and to try and replace these managers with soulless, emotion-free machines and I don’t think that’s going to be great for the employees in terms of they’re not going to want to work hard. They’re obviously going to want to leave an environment like that. So, I think department heads, to answer the question, need to be investing more in relationships with employees supplemented by technology but the manager is still making the decision, not the technology.

And what about you, James? Do you feel like if a manager is going to use technology, should all that data be open so that everyone has access to it?

That’s a tricky question. I don’t necessarily think that all data should be open. I think there should be transparency about what data is being looked at, what’s available, and then also why it’s being looked at because explaining to people why you’re doing something can often help in dispel fear, especially if they have no idea why you’re using it in the first place. I would move rather than looking at the actual possibility of likelihood that someone will leave, even if that’s quite well informed by talking to them, I think one needs to move further back in the process to actually use the information that physically does exist about their past and about the movements they’ve had maybe within the organization or in their work history and then the information that is available to the line manager anyway and the line manager can really use this in conversation with the employees to help them and to help develop them and help find out what they want to do because if they want to leave in a couple of years, then if you help them leave in a couple of years, then they’re probably going to be a lot more productive during that two years but they would have left anyway.

You also have the idea, James, of cascaded goals. I didn’t really answer your question very well on transparency, Neil, but if the goals of the organization are cascaded down so you have the company objective and it’s cascaded to everybody in the team and then everybody can see everybody else’s KPIs and who’s reaching them or not, I think that kind of transparency is absolutely essential. Sure, low performers are not going to feel good, but on the other hand, it will motivate people far more. I know a company that had a really simple system is that in the contacts list, you had your name and your extension number, etc., and you also had your KPIs and how they linked to your manager and to the people below you and you could see how well you were doing on them. And that works fantastically. I can’t say who the company is but they’re a fortune 500 and it works really well.

Interesting. Well, let’s close out with this question. We say, okay, maybe we don’t want to push too hard and lean too hard into the technology side of people analytics, but what’s a good question or a good insider, a good data point that technology has taught us that we can then take back into those very human relationships, things line managers and department heads can ask their employees? What are some of those questions that we can learn from technology to ask in that person to person relationship?

Well, from my side, I think one of the key questions that I think technology has highlighted but he is not used very much in the relationship is for managers to understand what is the unique value that each member of the team can bring and I don’t know whether many managers know that. You can use analytics to find that out but it would be much simpler for a manager to sit down. In fact, I’ve recommended even to companies like Facebook that at recruitment time, one of the questions you ask employees is what value do you intend to add to this organization and to measure employees against that if the manager agrees with them. So, yeah, I think that’s one area where just it makes employees feel valuable when a manager says what is the value you’re going to bring in and helps to nurture that employee once they know what the chosen value of that employee is.

And what about you, James? What’s a thing you’ve learned from technology we should apply to our relationships?

I think something that we can take which I’ll say it because I don’t think it’s necessarily in common usage and it links to the one of the things that Max has said already is that most of us have performance reviews and we often capture information and nowadays there’s so much of that information, the objectives and performance against objectives that’s actually captured in technology in some kind of system. But going back to what Max said about people knowing what the objectives of the organization are and how their objectives are actually fitting into those objectives I think is incredibly powerful because you’ve got a way of employees straight away feeling very valued for the work that they do, understanding how the work that they do contributes so that actually they’ll probably end up being innovative in coming up with potentially a better way of doing the thing that they do. And it also means that they recognize their own value and so when performance objectives are being set, they can actually be coming up with them rather than them necessarily always being fed down from above. So, I think that’s possibly a large dataset that using a bit more of slick technology is quite underused at the moment.

Well, guys, it’s been a really interesting topic. I’ve loved learning about this idea. We’ll put a link to the article in the show notes so people can see that. How else should people connect with you, stay in touch with what you’re doing?

They can find me on Linkedin quite easily. I’m Max Blumberg and delighted if anybody wants to have a check, get in touch, get some advice about career or people analytics, etc.

Absolutely. Me too. Linkedin‘s probably the best way of reaching me. I don’t think there are many James Holdstocks generally, let alone on Linkedin, but I’ll be the people analytics one and I love growing my network and talking to people.

Well, thanks a lot, guys. It’s been a great topic and we appreciate you coming on the show.

A great pleasure. Thanks very much indeed, Neil.

Thanks very much, Neil.

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