By Dave Crisp
The preceding post introduced the idea of new social, cloud-based software-as-a-service tools that started out purely as sales management tools but are spilling over, powerfully, into HR.
It’s no minor thing that this might help HR solve its love-hate relationship with analytics and the need to show measurables alongside everything it does if we intend to move outcomes and gain impact. However, the sheer volume of information it makes available — even with early, piecemeal adoption — means no one in the organization will have a clear handle up front on the uses and, dare we say, abuses these capabilities will offer.
The use of new social tools for enhancing productivity and innovation by everyone at every level will, at a minimum, create a new way of managing and evaluating people. As noted, one flavour of the new systems makes the user interfaces look a lot like Facebook. It’s almost certain this raises as many varied opinions and questions as Facebook itself. Several HR thinkers in the United States are working on online "social evaluation" systems that would operate like performance appraisals, but it’s likely these modules will first get into the market with little theoretical or academic HR input.
One of the more interesting recent additions to the salesforce stable is Rypple, a Toronto-based start up from a couple of years ago. With Rypple, co-workers and customers alike can post thank-yous (or criticisms, faint praise or backhanded compliments?) and watch progress on individual performance, achievements and goals in various ways. People can form connections and teams and keep track of each others’ progress. Individuals have some control over who sees what, but you can be sure there isn’t much space to hide in a system this transparent.
At the Salesforce.com conference a short while ago, I tried to find users I could grill about their feelings toward the system. The bottom line — it isn’t yet running, or is so new in many organizations including even those who are already making significant use of other modules.
Another HR expert in attendance picked up the same question I had. One demo screen allowed members of a team to post their sales results immediately on closing new business. The fictional individual offered as a guinea pig was rated at 80 per cent and was striving to hit 100 per cent of his goals, which the demo showed him doing. As he clicked the "sale closed" button on his sales tracking program, the social Facebook-like listing of team members (like friends on Facebook), showed up bright green with "100%" across the frame around his face.
What my colleague and I reacted to was that fourth down from him was another fictional team-member — a woman with a red frame emblazoned "not meeting target" and in between were some yellows with various percentages obviously on the "watch" list. Oops, who’s on the hot seat publicly?
While this isn’t directly part of Rypple, but one possible sales-tracking-motivational dashboard setup, one has to wonder how this feeds in and translates into actual online performance appraisal. Clearly it is a measure against goals that have been set and reside somewhere.
If the notional "short of target" woman is falling short because she’s too new, who knows that from the dashboard? Should it give her a break for the first three months on the job? Will some new hires react to this as OK motivation or agonize over damage to reputation? Of course, much of this will involve the culture in which it resides — is competition fun or is it cut-throat?
When a senior executive who rarely follows the team checks in and notices a "red" framed individual, will they demand action or will they blame the boss for poor coaching? None of this is going to be totally clear before the system is actually in place in many cases, nor will one approach fit every individual, assuming human nature continues to be very slow to evolve.
Rypple does a pretty good job of selling the ideas that this makes goal-setting between boss and team member more transparent, easier to keep track of and discuss, easier to prove you’ve met targets and get credit for doing so and easier for both parties to zero in on areas where one-on-one coaching or additional training would make sense.
What remains unsaid is whether some jerk boss will abdicate responsibility and be allowed to do so by senior management because, overall, they get good results. If that happens the system will wallow and people will ignore it just as the boss does. You can imagine a thousand variations on this, all of which scream, "we need better high touch skills to go with better high tech information."
What’s totally clear is this isn’t a bandwagon we can hold the horses on. It will roll on whether anyone likes the human side of it or not. So the key is going to be to get in the middle of it and ensure the supporting training in how to use these systems effectively and deal with people in a skillful "high touch" manner are top notch.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.