The central question of your book, The Decoded Company is: What happens when organizations understand their people better than their customers? So, what happens?
We spend a lot of time understanding our customers. We build our businesses around optimizing for them. A lot of the technologies that we use to do that are built around understanding data and applying predictive analysis to it.
We also love the tools in our personal life that understand us best. If you think of your favourite apps on your phone – aside from the games – they’re probably the apps that understand your context and help navigate the world around you, like Google Maps.
All of those technologies could be applied very successfully within companies but never really are.
The book is about the win that happens when you turn those algorithms inside and you start to look at your own people and what engages them, what drives them, what makes them more excited and passionate and loyal, and how you retain them and keep them referring new people.
The book discusses Klick’s proprietary intranet and project management system called Genome, which collects employee information that is open to everyone who works there. How do you ensure that all of this transparency doesn’t breed paranoia and unhealthy competition?
I think sunshine really is the best disinfectant. The politics of the workplace don’t seem to happen when you have access to the data and you can go in and just do a query and prove a point you’re trying to make.
But we also hire very, very carefully. Our process is much more thorough than most organizations. We assess cultural fit and core beliefs. There’s a set of prerequisite core values that we believe you can’t teach. Things like optimism and bias towards action versus just talking about action.
Those fundamental cultural perquisites ensure that the people we hire have the right sort of beliefs around openness and transparency so that we don’t have to worry about enforcing policies – we’ve hired people who just fundamentally believe in them.
In the book you suggest employers should go back to embracing loyalty and nurturing talent. Why? Hasn’t that ship already sailed?
I went to work for IBM right out of school and my manager had been there for two years longer than I had been alive. That concept of loyalty is definitely not the model most people look at anymore.
There are a number of reasons why that’s the case. One of them is that people don’t have the kinds of opportunities available to them at their current positions that they can get by switching to another company.
Most people actually are loyal but they’re finding that there’s a misalignment between what they want out of their job and what their employers are willing to give them.
We’re very conscious about moving people around when they’re ready. They will often switch teams within the company because they want to learn something new or we’ll put them on a different client because they want a different challenge.
One of the more unexpected conclusions from the book is that transparency through data collection actually creates more human workplaces. How does that work?
Malcom Gladwell shared a great example of a symphony that was hiring new musicians. They decided to do a blind test where the musicians who were applying performed behind a screen rather than being visible to the selection committee.
When they moved the screen aside, the committee was shocked to discover the top selection was a woman. This was shocking because it had long been held that women couldn’t play with the same intensity as men, which is obviously not true.
In the same way that the screen was masking the gender of the performer, we can use data to expose the performance of everyone in the company, from the CEO right down to the newest hire.
When you’re forced to just analyze the performance data and none of your biases can play, then you end up creating a much more humane, egalitarian and welcoming environment.