Culture Tools Primer
This post is an excerpt from The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement. It discusses a variety of what we call “culture tools” - technologies, software, services and providers that can help move the needle when you’re starting to implement culture plays.
Enough with the Shiny Objects
We’ve dabbled in the HR software world, and we learned something early on: Everyone has the next best thing. Every technology solution out there is the one thing you need, the one thing that will move the needle, the one thing that will create powerful cross-functional synergy, best-in-class performance, an engine for innovation and growth, and through-the-roof employee engagement (how’s that for brochure copy!).
Enough with the hyperbole.
We all know that technology is transforming the workplace, but we also know that every new technology probably will create as many new problems as it solves, and what we need today may not be what we need tomorrow. Even the software creators recognize that they may need to transform their product several times in order to keep up with the marketplace. So let’s stop pretending that there is a shiny object “answer” out there, and let’s start taking a more practical approach to our technology use when it comes to culture and employee engagement.
Here are some tips:
Expect to use multiple technologies.
This can be a challenge, because some people really like the idea of integrating everything and are on the lookout for the one product that can do ALL the things you need. To be fair, it is a lot of work (and work-arounds) to integrate 19 different software products, but since the goal is to make everyone in the organization more successful, integrated, multi-functional products may not work for every employee’s needs. Get ready to go small. The good news is that software designers are getting better at modular integrations, so it is now possible to have multiple software components working effectively together without requiring them to be combined in a single package.
Ask yourself: “Will (not could!) this technology actually move the needle?”
When you are at the point of writing plays for your playbook, you need to be very practical. The whole point of a play is to make internal adjustments to address priorities related to shaping culture, and ultimately increasing organizational and individual success. For example, we see lots of organizations developing culture priorities related to transparency—they want to make things more visible so their people have the information they need to make smart decisions. So if you are evaluating a new tool like Slack, visibility and better decision making should be your primary evaluation criterion. This is what we mean by technology “that works.” When evaluating technology tools, hone in on the “why”: Why would using this tool move the needle in the right direction?
Explain the “why.” Once you understand the “why,” you can then begin to be able to justify it for your organization.
This is critical, in fact, to ensuring broad adoption of a new tool. If you can’t paint an honest and convincing picture of your current culture, your people may not trust the new direction that you are proposing. It’s the same with the “why” of software. When presenting, it is okay to highlight the non-engagement related features it will offer, but start by making it crystal clear to everyone how this new product will drive both individual and organizational success. This will significantly reduce resistance.
And then start experimenting. Here, we present some of the technologies available for driving engagement. You’ll need to do your own research to find out what kind impact they might have on your specific cultural goals.
Intranets and Communities
Intranets and online community products are frequent features of client playbooks these days, particularly when organizations are larger than 150 employees. Larger enterprises are looking for solutions that can scale engagement.
Powerful intranets can often check more than one box for you—interactive org chart, space for conversations, even functionality related to some of the categories below, like feedback and performance management.
These plays tend to fall into the “high-investment, high-return” category. Some examples:
● Jostle (jostle.me). Dubbed a “people engagement” platform, it covers events, newsfeed, and “shout outs” to fellow employees. Jostle includes an organization chart and employee directory (with expertise info) and facilitates team discussions to encourage collaboration.
● Sitrion (sitrion.com). Key features include ideas and surveys, expert search, document sharing, and tools for employee communications. They tout it as the one employee app you’ll need, and they integrate with enterprise-level products from Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, etc.
● Igloo (igloosoftware.com). Igloo calls their product a “digital workplace solution,” focusing on communication, collaboration, knowledge management, and culture. Its features include blogs (and microblogs), file sharing, forums, people directories, collaborative virtual spaces, and to-do lists.
Collaboration and Project Management
This is one of the more “evolved” categories, as some of the software solutions here, like Basecamp, for example, have been around for quite a while (in software terms, anyway). One of the primary benefits of all of these products is reducing and redirecting email traffic into other forms of communication so that information, documents, and momentum are not lost.
While on the surface these products are fairly logistical in nature (tasks, calendars, gantt charts, etc.), they are typically deployed as engagement plays to break down silo walls and improve agility.
● Asana (asana.com). Focused on organizations (they make it hard for you sign up with your Gmail address), this software product allows you to create projects and tasks that are assigned to individuals on the team. At the more advanced levels, you can create and share dashboards and also accomplish basic communication and information sharing related to the various projects.
● Basecamp (basecamphq.com). Basecamp is also organized around organizing teams, projects, and tasks, but puts more emphasis on document sharing.
● Zoho (zoho.com). This one is designed specifically to work for software design teams, though its functionality certainly works for other teams as well. The product includes a “traditional” project management option as well as an option that enables managing “sprints” (a process in agile software design). You’ll find classic project management features here like gantt charts and tools for tracking billable hours.
● Trello (trello.com). This platform is more focused on straightforward team collaboration than full-service project management. You create “boards” on which you can place “cards” that have details, to-dos, and even threaded conversations.
● Slack (slack.com). This tool is far on the collaboration side of the spectrum, allowing teams to communicate and share information more effectively. Teams can create “channels” where they can post messages, making them easily visible without having to read things that are not relevant to what you are working on.
Feedback and Performance Management
Performance reviews are a frequent target for changes related to culture and engagement—if engagement is about being successful, then it follows that we should be measuring success somehow, and performance reviews can at least partially fill that need. There are many, many traditional performance review software programs out there (for filling out annual forms, etc.), and for larger enterprises, these types of software are often built into the bigger HRIS platforms (ADP, BambooHR, Zenefits, Namely, etc.). Below are some tools that are specifically focused on performance management (or giving and receiving feedback) that support frequent, even real-time feedback.
These solutions tend to be treated as engagement plays for professional development or encouraging an employee-focused culture.
● Small Improvements (small-improvements.com). Declaring that the annual review is “dead,” this solution focuses on supporting 1-1 meetings, real-time recognition, 360-degree feedback, and an interesting review process where ratings consist of a “dot” placed on an open 2-axis scale (and you define the axes).
● iRevü (irevu.me). This tool can be integrated into a larger, annual performance review process, and focused on requesting, giving, and receiving specific feedback. It allows people to provide feedback in the moment (or shortly thereafter), rather than making feedback a scheduled chore that is part of the annual performance review process. The tool allows you to connect each piece of feedback to the unique cultural priorities or values in your organization, as well.
● PropFuel (propfuel.com). As the name indicates, this platform started as a recognition software (see the next section for those) but has since evolved. It still allows employees to give each other positive reinforcement (“props”), but the main features are now focused on enabling both employees and customers to provide feedback to the company. The software allows you to create pulse surveys with specific, targeted questions, and then track the results of the feedback over time to generate insights.
Recognition and Rewards
If you take the concept of feedback and marry it with some kind of spot compensation to the employee (financial or otherwise), then you have entered the realm of recognition software.
Where feedback tools tend to focus on professional development and performance management, recognition tools are more about motivation and morale.
There is some danger here, because financial rewards tend to focus people’s attention, so it’s critical that the rewards are geared specifically for factors that will strengthen culture and overall organizational success. Some studies have shown, for example, that individual financial incentives for performance actually led to a decrease in team communication.
● Bonusly (bonus.ly). A classic example of the points/rewards version of recognition. Employees give each other recognition through the platform, which earns them points that can be cashed in for rewards.
● Teamphoria (teamphoria.com). Also a classic example, but rewards/recognition is just one component of this engagement software (they also have pulse surveys, performance review, and communication).
● Motivosity (motivosity.com). Motivosity replaces points and rewards with cash. The system gives each employee a set amount of actual cash to distribute to peers as spot awards. Money they receive can either be spent on company-defined merchandise or gift cards.
● Globoforce (globoforce.com). This is reward/recognition software focused on the large enterprise. Users have access to advisors who help you figure out exactly how many points to assign to different kinds of recognition, and they even have a system for “microcasting” recognition stories, sending them to targeted, smaller groups inside a larger enterprise (because if you try to “share the success stories” with everyone, it can be a flood of information that ends up being distracting).
In the context of engagement and culture, innovation refers more broadly to the capacity to do things differently, run experiments, and be creative.
With this in mind, the most relevant category of tools is “idea management,” but we’re also giving some examples that focus on mind-mapping and decision making.
· IdeaScale (ideascale.com). This tool is billed as an “ideation community,” and it has specific applications for different markets, including technology, government, nonprofit, and small business. The software is straight idea management, from ideation, to refinement, to merging, reviewing, and implementing.
· Spigit (spigit.com). More appropriate for large enterprises, it has more sophisticated functionality for managing ideas that come from a larger universe of individuals, offering separate treatment for ideas coming from employees, partners, and customers, for example. The tool also includes AI powered analytics.
· Sketchboard (sketchboard.io). An “online endless whiteboard,” this is a visual approach to idea management and feedback, allowing team members to share and develop ideas collaboratively online. It integrates with other communication platforms, rather than trying to include them in its own interface.
· Transparent Choice (transparentchoice.com). This software offers a suite of products related to project management, but at the heart of it all is a structured process for prioritization and making decisions in a more transparent way. Everyone who participates spends time ranking the criteria they use to evaluate decisions, and the software then helps them structure some conversations where they resolve any differences, so the end-result is clearer criteria for prioritizing. We view this as a piece of innovation, as it offers the opportunity to clarify what you will put resources into and why.
One of the cool things about the software space these days is that you simply can’t keep up with it. There are always new tools, new solutions—sometimes to problems you didn’t even know you had. Or, more likely, problems for which you figured there couldn’t be an online solution. Well, there probably is. Here are some miscellaneous tools that support your efforts related to engagement and culture.
● Jane.ai (jane.ai). This is a digital assistant powered by artificial intelligence. It scours all of your apps, systems, documents, and websites for information and then allows employees to ask questions and get custom answers via a simple chat interface. This tool is particularly relevant when facing challenges related to silos and transparency.
● Wevue (wevue.com). This tool enables communication within an organization, primarily via photos and videos (and emphasizing the use of your smartphone). The goal is to use it to strengthen culture through interaction, as short phone-recorded videos and video montages allow employees to share their personal lives and connect with coworkers. It also includes pulse survey capability.
There will always be new tools. This is just a taster.
The key here is to think about not just what the tools can do functionally, but how you can implement them as plays in your culture playbook.