Can technology help HR lift the masks people wear?

08 November 2016

A friend of mine told me a story recently about an organisation who had a problem. They had asked their employees what they valued in an online survey and were pleased with the results. Quality and customer satisfaction featured heavily - which was completely aligned with the company strategy, of course. Great. People seemed to care about quality and how their customers felt and this must be a good thing, right? Trouble is that quality had been consistently declining. Customers weren't happy.

So what was going on? It transpired that line managers were driving production targets that had led employees to feel that the organisation had lost sight of the customer and they were annoyed about it. They were purposely letting poor quality through as a protest to what management were doing to "their company". Line managers were chasing metrics that had been set by the board and this had translated to driving behaviours that had created disengagement in the production line.

This made me think about the real feelings people have about work and whether technology can help at all in revealing them. Certainly, in the example above the value survey didn't provide all the answers. It didn't reveal how people really felt about what was going on - the heart of the issue only came to light later through individual 'safe' conversations led by an independent party.

Perhaps technology can never replace these conversations - but I think there may be areas to explore. Could a place exist for technology that enables people to express how they really feel in a 'safe' way?

Consumer-grade collaboration apps are nothing new in the workplace. I'm using an app today that enables me to give recognition to people in my team in a public forum and it's lots of fun. The app awards badges and gives you points for contributing and it's so easy to use on mobile that there really is no excuse not to. This app has an element of gaming and it creates lots of positive engagement in the team. But it doesn't necessarily get behind how people feel - nor is it intended to.

I was speaking with a startup this week who have developed an app that enables people to ask for help on any problem they are facing in the workplace, however personal. It matches the person who is asking for help to people who might be best placed to solve the problem. It allows this to happen entirely anonymously and for a private conversation to be established between two people to correspond in a safe way. Revealing the analytics behind these conversations (without compromising trust or privacy of course) could help organisations better understand networks or establish new ones, encourage diversity and promote wellbeing.

HR is finally beginning to free itself of the transaction. HR leaders are increasingly recognising the value of commoditising processes - with no compromise on quality and experience - through deploying the latest Software as a Service technology. Perhaps that will help HR to increasingly focus on better understanding the informal networks, beliefs and feelings of people so that they can act with them, rather than against them, to help affect change. There are a range of tools to explore to help with this - you can't beat a safe conversation, but technology may help too.

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