BetterWorks CEO: Treat Feedback Like A Fitbit - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
IT Life
Commentary
4/23/2015
10:06 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
100%
0%

BetterWorks CEO: Treat Feedback Like A Fitbit

We love feedback, but our enterprises do it all wrong. The CEO of BetterWorks wants employers to treat feedback more like a Fitbit.

10 IT Hiring Trends Confounding Private, Public-Sector CIOs
10 IT Hiring Trends Confounding Private, Public-Sector CIOs
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

People want to know how they are doing, and few of us feel like we hear it enough. Kris Duggan, CEO and founder of BetterWorks, believes that we're bad at giving feedback to our employees, which keeps us from aligning work to business goals, makes employees less engaged and less productive, and keeps us all from reaching our full potential in the enterprise.

The good news is that there's a quick fix: Treat employee feedback like Fitbit treats exercise.

"Imagine if your Fitbit gave you one annual report about the steps you take and you just had to guess how you were doing," Duggan said in an interview with InformationWeek. "That's essentially what most companies are doing today."

The current annual employee evaluation tied to salary and promotion is the exact wrong way to get improvement from employees, he suggests.

Instead of an "arcane, over-engineered process" done once-a-year, Duggan suggests a high-frequency, lightweight process. Just as your Fitbit tells you each day whether you are taking enough steps or missing your goals, daily feedback helps you stay on track. Once a year just doesn't cut it if you're trying to get better. In fact, one study found at least 60% of us feel we haven't heard useful feedback from our company in six months.

"It is all about tying feedback to process instead of people," suggests Duggan.

This is where BetterWorks believes that it has something to offer. The company makes software that allows enterprises to track the individual goals of everyone in the company and makes those goals and the progress public for all in the enterprise.

(Image: Patrick Byrne via Flickr)

(Image: Patrick Byrne via Flickr)

This allows them to "cheer" success -- much like the "like" button on Facebook -- or gently "nudge" someone who might be behind in their goals. By tying work to goals no one loses sight of what they're trying to accomplish. But it isn't the software so much as the process that it important.

"We default to openness in the company," Duggan says, "That is pretty transformative. Companies often set goals in a private and non-collaborative way. Studies show very few people know how their work relates to the goals of their company. By picking three-to-five goals that 'move the needle,' everyone can see how their work directly affects the bottom line and the company goals."

All of these likes and short moments of feedback create lots of data about the success of teams and individuals inside your company.

"With all the goals and how everyone is checking in, it gives us all sorts of data," Duggan added. "I can tell you what your culture is like from your data. I can tell if you are a risk-taking culture or if you are more conservative. I can tell you which teams are aligning to corporate goals the best. We can make an organizational heat map around alignment and engagement. All of that data wasn't there before."

And of course, as workers make progress on their goals, they feel invested.

That's where the feedback comes in for employees. Some studies show employees are so hungry for feedback, they are even happier to get negative feedback. Just like the Fitbit, feedback needs to be frequent, and it also needs to come in a form we all recognize.

"Everyone, but especially Millennials, is used to data," Duggan said. "They know how many likes they get on social media, how many followers they have. When we don't get that, we can't be engaged."

He suggests feedback needs to be the same as the type of feedback we're used to from other sources like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

"The average ratio of likes to comments on Facebook is approximately 10-to-1 per post," Duggan added. "Even though a like has less context than a comment, the time it takes to send a one-click signal is exponentially lower than the mental energy of crafting a well-presented comment. But the recipient still has an immediate feedback signal, often a feel-good signal, that represents their friend’s sentiment on the content. Applied in the workplace setting, this type of instant feedback is a reasonably quick solution to the constant need to offer up feedback."

[Of course, not everyone believes in engagement. Read Employee Engagement: Let The Fakery Begin.]

Why does it have to be public?

Duggan points to study showing how goals, even things like New Year's resolutions, work better with a public element.

"Studies show that if you think of a goal, your chance of succeeding is rather small," he said. "If you write the goal down and put it in your pocket, it is a little better. If you make the goals public, it is even better, and the best chance of success you have is sharing the goal with friends and giving regular updates."

Of course, Duggan isn't trying to take away traditional one-on-one feedback between employee and manager. He is, however, advocating the idea that more frequent, less high-energy comments are a way to course-correct and stimulate employees when a full-blown evaluation isn't always possible. Managers should be encouraged to check in more often as well. But the great thing about setting up smaller, easy-to-use feedback, like a "like" or a quick email, is that it requires a low investment but gets a high return.

Getting better at feedback just might be one of those rare situations where the interests of employees and those of companies can be very easily aligned in order to make everyone better and more productive. Getting more feedback in a more productive way makes all of us happier. It also makes us better workers aligned to the company strategy.

All of us want to feel more useful.

What do you think? Are Duggan and BetterWorks on to something? Would you like more frequent feedback to help you do your job? As a manager, does this sound better than an annual review? Could you see this aligning work to company goals better? Tell us in the comments.

Interop Las Vegas, taking place April 27-May 1 at Mandalay Bay Resort, is the leading independent technology conference and expo series dedicated to providing technology professionals the unbiased information they need to thrive as new technologies transform the enterprise. IT Pros come to Interop to see the future of technology, the outlook for IT, and the possibilities of what it means to be in IT.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
zerox203
100%
0%
zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
4/26/2015 | 5:39:26 PM
Re: BetterWorks CEO: Treat Feedback Like A Fitbit
As a couple others are saying, I think the concept is sound at it's core (and speaks to a general need for a more comfortable culture in the workplace), but I found myself wanting to know a few more specifics about BetterWorks' software. What are some features that set it apart from other solutions of it's type? Mr. Duggan seems like a smart CEO, well aware of the dangers of simply sitting unused after implementation like many Social or UC tools do. Users don't want to do any extra work - that's counter to the purpose of the software - and the option of quick 'likes' and an easy-to-read dashboard-like UI sound smartly engineered. Still, I wonder if the public element will cause users discomfort. Getting 'nudged' when I'm behind on a goal by someone I don't know sounds like a great way to get me to avoid that person at all costs - but, in the right company culture, that might not be the case..

I definitely, definitely agree that culture is paramount. Rolling something like this out overnight and expecting (or forcing) users to use it sounds like a recipe for disaster - after all, if people are self-monitoring their progress, they could easily just fudge the numbers. To that end, though, I would expect any solution would have to be highly customizable to suit a wide variety of businesses. Metrics of what goals look like will vary widely by company and even by department (easy example: no. of sales/customers may or may not be as important as dollar value of sales/customers). I would say it's precisely because a one-size-fits all approach is impossible that most software like this fails. Does BetterWorks have something in mind to combat this problem? It seems like they themselves would cater particularly to large businesses - do they work with clients to fine-tune the solution to their needs?
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/24/2015 | 1:58:33 PM
Re: Great for personal use, but corporate environments can be a little harsh
@SunitaTO- Yes, you have to have the balance of motivating and celebrating. But one thing I think is true of most of us is that we'd rather be the one being celebrated. So it is a nice motivating incentive to think your work will be noticed, respected, and celebrated. And yes, managing it is key. One thing that is easy to do is sort of ignore this like every other thing we're too busy to do. This has to be a priority to create a feedback loop that transforms rather than is just another thing to do.
SunitaT0
100%
0%
SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
4/24/2015 | 1:47:59 PM
Re: Great for personal use, but corporate environments can be a little harsh
@Stratustician: knowing the proper limit of poking ones nose in someone else's business is a tactic most organisation managers don't know, or are too bookish to care. If it were me I would cringe too.
SunitaT0
100%
0%
SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
4/24/2015 | 1:44:51 PM
Re: Great for personal use, but corporate environments can be a little harsh
@David: I agree with you, but I differ by a small margin. Celebrating publicly is okay, but at the same time motivating employees to do better, that is why an organisation succeeds. Everyone has the right to enjoy after a successful project but they also have to keep in mind that they have to do better than what thye did to deserve the celebration. Since there are so many movable parts of work, it needs to be maintained and managed properly.
Stratustician
100%
0%
Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
4/23/2015 | 3:02:41 PM
Re: Great for personal use, but corporate environments can be a little harsh
Great point. It's about ensuring the transition is all inclusive, or as you mention, it's hard to get cross team buy-in
David Wagner
0%
100%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/23/2015 | 2:59:14 PM
Re: Great for personal use, but corporate environments can be a little harsh
@stratustician- Well, I think that's all about cultural change. Make the success of your employees public. Celebrate it. And the culture will follow. Pretty soon you've got a giant love fest.

Keep it in private, and you sow distrust.

One thing Kris said that I didn't get to in the story is that a Deloitte study showed very few people trusted people outside of their own teams to do what they said they were going to do. And that leads them to often duplicating the wor themselves or even actively sabotaging their co-workers.

Showing in public what everyone is accomplishing may end some of that distrust. That said, I am not trying to downplay the transition.
Stratustician
100%
0%
Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
4/23/2015 | 2:54:57 PM
Great for personal use, but corporate environments can be a little harsh
I like the concept, since we can all agree often we tend to have our big corporate yearly goals, and after the January/February planning season, we tend to forget about them until the fall, and play catchup to make sure we hit those goals.  Having a constant reminder of how we are tracking is a great concept.  But making it public, that is where I lose a little faith.

Corporate environments aren't generally very supportive.  Yes, I have worked for companies who have great social culture and there is lots of internal support from employees when it comes to working and supporting other employee initiatives.  But in many cases, a lot of employees just don't care.  I hate to say it, but there is a general population in many organizations who would view this as a form of micromanagement or as an attack if they feel they are now being tracked even more than their in-house metrics (whatever they may be, CRM, etc). 

Gamification is a great idea, but you really have to be conscious of the culture of the organization and how employees will respond to this type of idea. 
Slideshows
What Digital Transformation Is (And Isn't)
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  12/4/2019
Commentary
Watch Out for New Barriers to Faster Software Development
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  12/3/2019
Commentary
If DevOps Is So Awesome, Why Is Your Initiative Failing?
Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary,  12/2/2019
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
State of the Cloud
State of the Cloud
Cloud has drastically changed how IT organizations consume and deploy services in the digital age. This research report will delve into public, private and hybrid cloud adoption trends, with a special focus on infrastructure as a service and its role in the enterprise. Find out the challenges organizations are experiencing, and the technologies and strategies they are using to manage and mitigate those challenges today.
Video
Current Issue
Getting Started With Emerging Technologies
Looking to help your enterprise IT team ease the stress of putting new/emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and IoT to work for their organizations? There are a few ways to get off on the right foot. In this report we share some expert advice on how to approach some of these seemingly daunting tech challenges.
Slideshows
Flash Poll