A New Market is Born: Employee Engagement, Feedback, and Culture Apps

As the economy grows and the job market gets hotter, employee engagement and retention has become a top priority. As I discuss in Why Culture the Hottest Topic in Business Today, CEOs are bending over backwards to make their company a “great place to work.” Free food, unlimited vacation, yoga classes, and lavish educational benefits are becoming common.

But as all this attention shifts toward the health and happiness of staff, employee engagement remains surprisingly low. Gallup tells us that only about 1/3 of employees are actively engaged, Glassdoor data shows a bell curve of engagement with an average of a C+ (3.1 out of 5), and Quantum Workplace believes engagement is at its lowest level in eight years.

If you look at engagement and retention data, the performance of companies follows a bell curve. I’ve analyzed data from Glassdoor, a widely used site which lets employees rate their employers, and you can see the wide distribution of performance.  (Note: the companies at the right of this curve are not necessarily new, old, large, or small – they’re just managed very well.)

glassdoor2

Why is there such a wide variation in employee engagement and retention?

To put it simply, building a highly engaged workforce is difficult. As I discuss in the Deloitte University Press article Simply Irresistible, there are 20 factors which directly contribute to employee engagement – ranging from the quality of the jobs, quality of management, career progression and opportunity, learning culture, and level of recognition. And in a sense, each and every manager has to figure out how to deal with all these issues. How can a CEO, business leader, or HR manager keep up with everything everyone needs?

Feedback is the Killer App

A new answer has emerged:  let people talk about it.

A new era of real-time, pulse, and anonymous feedback and culture applications has emerged. In a sense “Feedback is the Killer App” for management.

These new tools, and there are dozens of them, threaten to disrupt the market for traditional engagement surveys – and even better, change the way we run our companies. They let people frequently and anonymously comment on the workplace, they let employees rate their manager and leadership, and they let line managers and team leaders rapidly “pulse” their people to get direct feedback.

The word “Feedback” is a new buzzword in HR, and while I’m already getting a little tired of talking about, it’s an amazing thing to unleash.

As one consultant likes to put it, “feedback is a gift.” It is a gift to give (ie. give it kindly and gently) and a gift to receive (take it with honor and respect). When we open up the floodgates to feedback, in a positive and constructive way, we immediately find ways to run our operations better.

The Ratings Economy: An Always-On, Modern Suggestion Box

The concepts and approaches to feedback have radically changed in the last few years. Now we have bi-directional ratings (your rate the Uber driver, the Uber driver rates you – an approach which was pioneered by PayPal), we have five star flyovers on most products we buy, and nearly every company is implementing NetPromoter as a quick and simple way to see how well people like your product.

This new “Ratings Economy” has opened up many new ideas. People can “upvote” or “downvote” other people’s ratings. Some systems now let you “rate the ratings” to give certain people higher or lower levels of credibility as a rater. And I love the fact that Yelp, for example, lets you rate reviews as “useful, funny, or cool.” These new “double loop” dynamics make feedback, ratings, and suggestions more powerful than ever. And anonymity is an enormous new topic to explore, as I discuss below.

In the corporate setting, these tools and technologies unleash the power of the corporate “suggestion box.” Remember this idea? I remember back in the 1980s seeing suggestion boxes at IBM in offices all around the world.

suggestion1

While businesses always do want suggestions, these tools were a bit awkward to use, slow, and we never really knew what happened with our suggestions. And there was no “double loop” dynamic to let people see other people’s suggestions and contribute or rate them.

Today, with all our opportunities to “like” and “rate” things everywhere we go (look at how many consumer sites now have five star ratings), we expect an opportunity to rate things or give people a “netpromoter” score. Why can’t we do this at work?

Of course the dynamics at work are quite different. If you “yelp” a restaurant or “down rate” an Uber driver, there are no real consequences to you. At work, if you “downrate” your boss or say something critical about the company (even in a constructive way), you may be labelled a “trouble maker” which now reflects poorly on you. In our company (Bersin & Associates) I always valued people who complained a lot, it taught me what I needed to do better. In large companies, however, this kind of behavior is often not valued as much – so people who “speak up” are often taking career risk.

The answer of course is to make the system anonymous, and assure employees that the company absolutely will not know who they are. While most of us don’t really trust that this is true (after all, that last survey did come to my email address, so somebody knows who I am!), these new tools are bending over backwards to make sure that all feedback is anonymous. This means you, as an HR or business leader, have to bend over backwards to make sure you never let the system expose anyone’s identity and that the tool you use aggregates data in a “fair way” so people’s individual responses can never be traced back to an individual.

The Power of Up and Down Rating Feedback

And now, through the use of social and mobile technology, we can do something even better. We can “crowd source” or “social vote” on all the feedback and suggestions (and complaints) we see. Many of the new tools on the market all use such “social ratings” dynamics, enabling us to see what others are complaining about and upvote or downvote ideas.

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And there are even more exciting ideas to think about here. Imagine if your suggestions or feedback was “rated” by others, and you developed “credibility points” based on how well your ideas were liked and upvoted by others. This kind of dynamic would take the “cranks” and their suggestions would automatically be “de-valued” and those people with a history of coming up with good ideas could get “higher value” suggestion value in the system.

To make these tools even more valuable, many of these new tools let people tag their suggestions by type, they use sentiment analysis software to decode what people are trying to say, and they encourage people to give detailed, on-the-job suggestions that are very easy to implement.

A global restaurant chain, for example, implemented such a system and immediately found out that the “drive-through” service window had operational glitches in staffing. (People were running back and forth between the drive-up window and the in-store window.) One store employee found a way to fix this issue by changing the roles in the store, and within weeks this “suggestion” became standard practice around the country.

And over time, these “always on” feedback tools give you a regular pulse on the health of your operation. One software executive I talked with told me he pulses his sales people with a simple question every week.  (The questions range from “How well did the week go?” to “What got in our way this week?”). He told me that he can now predict the following week’s sales based on the results of last week’s pulse survey.

I just got out of a meeting with a software company and we brainstormed an app that would help managers and team leaders make meetings more effective. This app would let you rate every meeting you attend and immediately help meeting planners figure out if they are wasting people’s time, if the meeting was disorganized, or the meeting had too many people. In our concept, we would rate the “meeting organizer” as a result, so he or she would start to get evaluated by how well he uses people’s time in a meeting!  What a great way to reduce the enormously boring experience we all sit through in “staff meetings” all the time!  (The tool Waggl.it was designed specifically for this type of usage.)

Do These Tools Work? Yes, if Carefully Designed Well.

The big question people keep asking me is “how do I get people to take more surveys?” The answer is “don’t think of it this way.” These new tools implement pulse surveys with only one or two questions, they are embedded into emails or mobile apps, and they are as simple to use as the five star ratings on websites like Yelp.

The software company I mentioned above told me that 85%-90% of people respond to his weekly pulse survey, primarily because they know management is listening and the survey takes only a few seconds to complete. (They use vendor TinyPulse, one of the new breed I list below.)

Another company we’ve talked with, Earls Kitchen and Bar in Canada, uses pulse surveys to get to know what’s happening in their restaurants. As any of you who have worked in food service know, there are hundreds of things that can get in the way of efficient service in a restaurant. Employees in the stores see what’s really happening and they often have the best suggestions on what to fix. Mo Jesse, Earls’ CEO, credits his company’s financial turnaround with the detailed feedback they receive directly from employees.

As Mo put it, “I could have redesigned the menu, hired new chefs, or redesigned the facilities… but rather than try to decide what to do, I let our employees tell me.” He created a major “listening campaign,” and dozens of good ideas emerged. I won’t give away their secrets, but the results have been amazing.

A New Source of Valuable People Data

In many ways, this new marketplace (and I believe it will become a major segment of HR and business software) is creating a vast and powerful new source of business data. Once you settle on a toolset and a way to collect anonymous feedback data, you can now start correlating it to business performance, turnover, theft, compliance, customer service, and a whole variety of other business measures. You now have a regular feed of positive (and sometimes negative) suggestions, and can more rapidly innovate and iterate on your own company’s business practices.

Will you get some “noise” and “junk” in the system?  Of course you will – and it’s important to set standards that personal comments, discriminatory and inflammatory statements, and other types of disparagement are not going to be permitted. This is why many of these tools now include filtering software, screening systems, or approval workflows that let you (or the vendor) approve or disapprove comments in case someone says something that simply is not appropriate.

In the public internet tools like Secret (now shut down) and Yik Yak have been highly criticized for sexual, discriminatory, of simply rude and inappropriate comments. In the business world I have seen very little of this taking place, and if you take these tools seriously and build a team that actually looks at the feedback, shares it with everyone, and acts on the input you will reinforce positive behavior and your organization will “unlock” this valuable source of information from your people.

In many ways this market is similar to the enormous trend toward NetPromoter scores throughout the customer lifecycle. I now get a survey from almost every airline after I fly in a flight, we can rate Uber drivers and restaurants in a few seconds, and most well run product companies now have open feedback forms on their website. The trick, of course, is to make these things very easy to use – so you reduce friction and get lots of real-time feedback that reflects employees’ immediate suggestions on what you could be doing better.

Disruptive to the Engagement Survey Market

This new market (and I list dozens of new companies below), is brand new, growing fast, and likely to become a billion dollar + market in the next few years. Already companies spend more than $1 billion on annual engagement surveys, and most tell me these are not worth the effort any more. While the annual survey has become an institution in most big companies, I believe they will be replaced by these pulse and “always on” systems fairly quickly in the next few years and the incumbent engagement survey vendors may not survive.

One of the reasons the traditional engagement survey market is under so much pressure is that the concepts and principles of employee engagement have really changed. As I describe in It’s Time to Rethink the Employee Engagement Issue, engagement is no longer a once per year issue. It’s an everyday topic, forcing managers and supervisors at all levels to figure out how to make work easier, more fulfilling, healthier, and less threatening. Today employees are in charge (90% of recruiters think the power has shifted to the candidate), so in a sense every employee is now a “volunteer.” If we aren’t making work easy and rewarding, they’re going to log in to LinkedIn or Indeed and search for a new job.

By the way, I have compared engagement “survey” data across Best Places to Work (Fortune), Glassdoor (Employees Choice), Most In-Demand Employers LinkedIn, and other sites, and the lists are all a little different. Why?  Because each of these surveys has its own bias, and they are more or less stuck keeping their surveys static from year to year. I think companies will gain much more valuable feedback from open-ended, regular feedback tools than these “standard” surveys. Sure we all want to be benchmarked as great, but we should be comparing ourselves to ourselves, to be the best that we can be. And that means capturing business-specific information on how we manage people, how work is organized, and how we treat and reward our employees.

Employees Rate their Managers, not Vice Versa

By the way, one significant part of this market is the ability for employees to directly rate their managers. As we’ve discussed many times in our research on “the end of the performance appraisal,” companies are rapidly revamping their year-end performance process and now implementing tools that let employees rate the boss. Research shows that 60% or more of a “ratings” is based on the bias of the boss, so why wouldn’t we use social or 360 ratings to let employees rate the boss. Managers need direct feedback as much as anyone, so this is also a trend coming out of these systems.

And speaking of managers, one of the big shifts we see is a move away from “manager as king” to a new world with “manager as coach” or “manager as cheerleader of the team.” Companies like Google are now taking power away from managers (Google does not let managers directly rate employees or decide who to hire without lots of input from the rest of the organization) because putting too much power in any individual person diminishes the power of collective thinking. This is a big trend sweeping across business, and I think these new anonymous feedback and culture tools are fueling this fire.

The Marketplace Today:  Emerging in Four Clear Categories

This market is brand new and there are literally dozens (perhaps hundreds) of startups entering the space. As I see it so far, they fall into three clear categories.

1. Next Generation Pulse Survey and Management Feedback Tools

The first category is what I call “next-generation” pulse survey tools. These companies, like CultureAmp, TinyHR, Glint, BlackbookHR, Culture IQ, OfficeVibe, Waggl.it, GetHppy, Impraise, VirginPulse, and Thymometrics have developed amazingly easy to use systems to rapidly survey employees with short, easy to take surveys. Traditional survey vendors like Gallup, IBM (Kenexa), CEB, Sirota, Qualtrics, and others are likely to produce these tools.

Many of these startups are winning over customers rapidly because their tools are easy to use, so inexpensive, designed for mobile or email access. They use a variety of methods to engage people (some are surveys, some are more like online dashboards), but their #1 focus is making it fast and simple for people to provide feedback. Along these lines, the tools are also designed to let managers send quick surveys directly to their team, so for example the VP of sales (per the example above) can quickly pulse his or her sales team on what’s bugging them each week.

While all these companies provide various types of surveys and measurement dashboards to look at results, they also have other features to make them useful for performance reviews, management assessments, and other applications.  For example:

  • Reflektive, a startup focused on improving employee performance and feedback, lets employees provide feedback to other employees or teams directly in Outlook, so you can provide “feedback” to a person or a team while sending email.  SmallImprovements, TinyPulse, and Standout are other tools that are moving in this direction.
  • 15Five, sells a tool that combines task management with feedback, to integrate how you feel with what you do each day.
  • Waggl.it, a tool designed for real time feedback on both mobile and web, makes it easy to pulse feedback after a meeting, presentation, or other business event.

While all these companies focus on making feedback fast and easy, each is taking a slightly different perspective on what part of the “feedback market” they want to go after.  Some (like Glint, CultureAmp, TinyHR, Blackbook, CultureIQ) are specifically targeting the enterprise corporate engagement survey space. They have built analysis tools and reporting modules that let you use their tools for annual surveys as well as pulse surveys.

Others are focused more heavily on “fast multi-purpose feedback” (Thymometrics, Waggl.it, Impraise), and their clients are using them as compliments to an annual survey.

Ultimately, by the way, “feedback as the killer app” will probably be embedded into almost everything we do in business. Think about tools like Jira, Basecamp, Huddle, and other work management tools. These are all perfect platforms to embed “feedback” as well. While they may not be anonymous, why wouldn’t you comment on a project or a meeting right in the flow of work?  That’s the culture we all want to create.

My experience shows that every business can benefit from the use of one of these systems. If you already do an annual engagement survey, these tools will let you open the aperture to get more information faster (and empower business people to directly ask for feedback). If you don’t do an annual survey yet, many of these tools will do what you need right now.

Remember, by the way, that most of the traditional engagement survey vendors are selling pre-defined questions and benchmarks as part of their offering. While these features are important and useful, my experience and discussions with clients shows that more rapid, on-the-ground feedback is even more valuable than industry benchmarks, so I encourage you to look beyond these traditional surveys and benchmarks for your solution. Every one of these vendors is creating standard questions and benchmarks as well, so you will find many new ways to “benchmark” and standardize your own feedback process in the coming years.

2. “Open Suggestion Box” and Anonymous Social Network Tools

The second category is what I call “category busters:” tools to enable anonymous social networking and ongoing discussions among employees. In many ways these are startups trying to build the “YikYak,” “Whisper,” or the “Secret” of business.

A Brief History of Anonymous Social Apps

The history of anonymous social networks has been checkered, but filled with experimentation.  Secret, which published its mobile app in late 2013, rapidly became a phenomenon in Silicon Valley and became a place to publish rumors, disclose confidential information, look for sex, and generally bash or complain about anything that bothered you. The tool was hacked a few times and people were never sure if their identity was truly anonymous, creating buzz around the tool’s lack of security. Several major rumors and sexual harassment issues were surfaced on Secret, and as a result the founders shut the system down around the end of 2014.

Whisper, which continues to function, was accused of spying on its users, but later “proved” (through legal and senate hearings) that the company has put in place barriers to prevent anyone from identifying the IP address or phone number of a user. But the issue of whether or not posts on Whisper are really confidential continues to be an open topic of debate.  (Every mobile device has a unique identifier and can often broadcast an IP address which does identify the owner, so confidentiality is not only a technical but also a business process issue.) Whisper is often used by students, has a significant amount of dating and other relationship-related traffic, but does let users downvote or report abuse easily to help keep the site clean.

YikYak, which is a similar system but focused more on young people and university students, continues to grow, now enabling people to post photos and create group chats on various topics and themes. It enables “upvoting” and “downvoting” and also lets individuals “peek” into groups that others have joined. It lets you describe your location so you can see “Yaks” from people close to you (often used for hookups and dating). While the app has been criticized for cyber-bullying, it’s very clear that tools like YikYak (and Secret) are meeting a big market need.  People desperately want a place to voice their opinion and gripes in an anonymous way.

yikyak

In many ways, the issue of anonymity describes the history of Facebook. Before Facebook there was MySpace, a social network which let people create anonymous identities and post whatever they wanted. Facebook proved that by forcing people to identify themselves, they could create a more “friendly” and real environment for communication. (MySpace has since repositioned itself as a place for artists and musicians, and continues to grow.)

While Facebook certainly proved that forcing people to be honest about who they are is a good thing, many still like the idea of the “bathroom wall” or “graffiti wall” to voice their thoughts anonymously. Of course it is illegal to slander people, disclose confidential information, or even disparage products and services in a vindictive way, so any vendor that opens up its system for “anonymous feedback” takes a risk that they will be asked to disclose their participants (or censor information) if it turns out to be slanderous or confidential.

In a corporate setting, I firmly believe this market will take off. There is a tremendous unmet need. At work people desperately want to offer suggestions, feedback, complaints, and personal opinions about what is going on. Their goal is not to hurt people, but rather to point out problems, inconsistent policies, inefficiencies, and management behavior that might need some attention.

Should businesses allow this kind of feedback? I believe the answer is yes: while no HR manager wants to see flaming vitriol flowing through the company’s email system, every business leader wants to know how people feel and that’s why practices like “management by walking around” are so important.

As people reach management or senior status in organizations, they start to get filtered information. In fact, the problem of “Groupthink” and “filtered news” is one of the biggest challenges CEOs and other senior leaders face. Many leaders have “moles” in the organization who feed them rumors and share conversations about what’s going on, but even that communication channel is inconsistent and unpredictable. And on the employee side, every time a major management decision is made, people scratch their heads and think to themselves “I wonder why?”

With an open, anonymous, but well managed feedback system, such information and alignment can happen more rapidly. While the market is very young, and there is still much to learn, many startups believe in this space and they are throwing out tools which people are starting to use.  (Many of them are free apps and quickly aggregate information among employees of the same company.)

The startup CEOs and founders in this space believe, many passionately, that work will never be “good” until people can be open with their feedback and expect managers to listen and take action. Remember that Millennials (more than half the workforce today) grew up with instant feedback through Facebook “Like,” Yelp, and other tools so they see these apps as natural parts of their working life.

I talked with Christopher Mims from the Wall Street Journal about this a few months ago and he wrote an article called “Anonymous feedback tools for Bosses.”  In reality these feedback apps can go much further than this: anonymous feedback apps can be used to provide feedback on a meeting or presentation, offer suggestions about food or benefits or safety issues, and provide detailed recommendations on process and work changes that make the company work better. Yes, I know, a lot of this is just “noise” – but why wouldn’t you want the feedback anyway?  Sentiment analysis software and open voting can help you weed out the junk.

Right now there are a variety of tools in this market, and they include BetterCompany.co, Hyphen, Canary, Hinted – and many of those listed in category 1. Several of the pulse survey vendors now offer open “bulletin boards” that let people post anonymous feedback, and while they are not social networks in their functionality, they cross over into this segment. So I do see a lot of growth in the “trusted, but anonymous” feedback market in all the forms it may take.

3.  Culture Assessment and Management Tools

The third category in this market are tools designed specifically to diagnose, monitor, or improve organizational culture. As I described in Why Culture is the Most Important Topic in Business, Culture is like the matching bookend to Engagement. A strong “culture” helps people perform well, and it also helps organizations decide who to hire, how to assess leaders, and what leadership values they want to promote.

Culture, unlike engagement, is not a “one size fits all.” Every company can have a different and unique culture and still perform at its best. Culture vendors and culture tools have various models which show how culture varies, and some of the dimensions are simply decisions on how to run a business.

For example, one company may have a “risk-taking culture,” encouraging people to try new things, innovate, and often make mistakes in front of customers. This company may have many innovative, groundbreaking products, yet its customers may also know that some of its products are experiments and won’t always work the first time.

Another company may be a “fast follower” or “value deliverer,” who produces products which are highly tested, very reliable, but perhaps lower in cost and targeted toward customers who are more conservative in their desires. This company would not tolerate risky, early products in the market and as a result its engineers, marketing, and product management team would be more conservative as well.

I won’t try to describe these tools in detail, but I see them as complimentary to the tools above, because they provide evaluative models which assess personality traits and organizational behaviors which help define culture, point out inconsistencies, and illustrate where culture is problematic. Many of these tools also include personality assessments (similar to Myers-Briggs), which let individuals and managers assess themselves, assess their teams, and gain insights and tips on how to better get along or “fit” into the company or team.

Some of the major tools in this category include RoundPegg, Culture IQ, Deloitte’s CultureFit, Human Synergistics, Kenjoya, Denison, Ceridian’s new Related Matters, now part of LifeWorks, and Virgin Pulse.

4. Social Recognition Tools

The fourth category is a big one:  tools that help people give others thanks, recognition, and even gifts (or points). While this is a slightly different category (many of these systems are really rewards points and rewards programs), it is rapidly crossing into this market because whenever you give someone “thanks” you’re also providing feedback.

We studied this category a few years ago when we wrote Secrets of Effective Employee Recognition, a major research study that looked at these tools and their impact on business performance. What we found is that companies which practice a “high-recognition” culture have 30% lower voluntary turnover than average, and outperform their peers in a variety of other metrics.

If feedback is the killer app, then “thanks” is the gorilla in the market. When you unleash the ability for people to easily say “thanks” to their peers (and give them points or other rewards), an enormous new network of information starts to flow. Leaders suddenly see important people who they may never have noticed, and the culture of helping others starts to grow and improve.

Our research also found that saying “thank you” is an important part of building strong employee engagement. Physiological studies show that thanking someone actually makes people feel better, through the release of Oxytocin, the “trust hormone.”  (Read this article for more detail.)

How do these fit into this market?  These systems capture feedback, comments, can be tagged with company values, and produce another vast amount of information about how the organization works, who is performing well, and what types of relationships people have.

Vendors in this market include Achievers, GloboForce (which is trying to reposition itself as an engagement system), iAppreciate (by OC Tanner), TemboSocial, Workstars, Kudos Now, and many more.

Is Feedback a Feature or an Application?

One question you may ask yourself is this: do I need a feedback tool or will this become a “feature” of all the corporate software I have today?  Why, for example, wouldn’t my Oracle, Workday, or SAP HR software already have all these features built in? Why wouldn’t Outlook have a built in “rate this email” or “rate this meeting” embedded into its workflow? Why can’t I just “five star rate” every document built in Word or every PowerPoint I get each day?

Today, as this market is so young, these integrated features just don’t yet exist. So product managers at these larger product companies have not yet fully come to grips with the Ratings Economy, and it’s startups and new vendors who are leading the charge.

One of the reason new software (app) categories is created is that innovators come up with new ideas, and these then turn into markets. The application “Slack,” for example, is not just another version of a “chat room.” It’s a very unique implementation of collaboration and messaging technology that some very smart people figured out would radically change the way we work. These feedback and culture vendors are doing exactly the same. And as this market grows and the features and workflow dynamics become proven, more of this may move into “features” of larger systems.

This is already starting to happen. New products for performance management and coaching like Standout from TMBC, and BetterWorks (goal setting) have built-in “feedback” features which implement some of the capabilities above. Standout uses a very special set of questions that help managers assess people and people assess leaders. BetterWorks implements goal management in a system that lets people comment on other people’s goals, give each other ratings and feedback, and associate points and gaming mechanics in goal alignment and goal achievement. So as this new market grows, we can expect many of these new features to leak into general purpose HR products from learning to performance management to collaboration.

What Does All this Mean? A New Market Fueled by a Change in the Ethos of Work

My journey into this market began several years ago when our research pointed out that engagement, retention, and culture had become the #1 or #2 issue among business leaders around the world. As we described in our research, the world of work has changed and people expect flexibility, responsiveness, and regular feedback more than ever.

In the 1960s and 1970s when I entered the workforce, employees looked for a great company which offered good salary, training, and career growth and felt lucky to land a job in a business with a great brand. Today Millennials (and the rest of us as well) have changed our outlook – we want flexibility, purpose, balance, and meaning in our daily work life.  The values of job security and compensation remain high, but our ethos of “why we work” is radically different. We now expect our employers to flex the job to us as individuals, and when we don’t find the work flexible and adapted to our needs, we look around for something else.

I frequently ask Uber drivers what they like about Uber (one of the fastest growing companies every built). Most of them point to one single thing:  flexibility. People have flocked to Uber for work because they can work when they want, where they want, and how they want. This is not just a new ethos of work, it’s a new ethos of life.

Our research now shows that employees often feel overwhelmed by too many emails, too many meetings, and the lack of seperation between work and life brought on by mobile technology. Well we can’t do much about the onslaught of technology, but we certainly can listen to people and do lots of things to make their work environment better.

These new tools unleash an enormous wave of feedback people are waiting to give – and the companies that figure out how to tap into this type of feedback will likely rocket ahead in their work practices, employee engagement, customer service, and product innovation.

The market is young, but it’s growing fast – I look forward to hearing your feedback on this important and rapidly growing marketplace.

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  • Randie Reilly

    Josh,
    Thanks for this timely and insightful article! I will be sharing this.

  • Horn Fisk

    In the beginning ofthe article you say that engagement is becoming a priority, and then say it remains a priority. None of this is new news. Engagement has been an issue for a very long time so lets stop ‘marketing’ it as some new revelation. And the answer is not yoga classes for goodness sake. It is also NOT feedback apps and tools and ways for people to submit issues and feelings annonymously. These are crutches and cop-outs that actually enable the wrong behaviors. They can actually prevent real dialogue….which is the fuel of a truly engaged, effective team. This simply requires two thingsself and social awareness…on the parts of both manager and employee. The behaviors of managers – at every level – signficantly influence the climate people feel which in turn drives enagagement and our self-motivation to do our best work. So managers must ask themselves how engaged they are and what kind of climate they are creating. On the other hand, employees must ask how engaged they are and why….if it is because of my manager or the climate I feel, then actually speak up and talk about it. If it is because of something else, identify it and talk or do something about it. Easy to do? Not always. But if we keep throwing tools and apps and annonymous suggestion boxes to people, we are completely missing the issue….and then we will wonder why the app or pizza/yoga party didn’t “fix” the engagement and retention issues. So lets please stop skating around the issue and letting grown adults off the hook. We are blessed with the ability to communicate…let’s use it.

    • Richard Jorna

      Good reply to a thorough article. We are a Dutch based company and have been working on this issue: how to get people to start talking ‘with’ – instead over of ‘about’ each other for two years. We feel there is a very fine line between the suggestion of power and actively engaging employees with each other. We have made the shift to the latter. At the core of our business – and personal value- we have made the commitment to assist employees in restoring employee-relationships. What we are finding now, as a result of this shift, that companies with teams who want to improve but don’t know how, are (becoming) our customers.
      What we wrestle with now is how to facilitate good crosscompany communication without undermining personal responsibility.

  • Sam Jones

    I’m a big fan of the direction that these employee engagement apps are going, but the future is not anonymous feedback, it’s the opposite.

    An incredible part of technology is how it allows for personalization at scale. Many of these apps listed collect survey data, aggregate it, and then HR teams make changes. It’s like painting with a broad brush, when in reality, it needs to be much more targeted and personal.

    There’s been tons of research done on what motivates employees and the truth is that *it varies depending on the employee.* I use Friday Feedback (fridayfeedback.com) and I can quickly drill-down into a specific employee’s response history. This helps me create a personal development plan according to the employee’s specific situation. I couldn’t do that if the responses were anonymized.