Autonomy vs. big brother
I have a confession to make!
When we discuss Genome with candidates or anybody that doesn’t know the Klick family intimately, invariably the “Big Brother” question does come up. Where do you draw the line between what is public and what is private? What type of information are you collecting? At what point and to what degree can this information be used against the employee?
It appears there is a visceral reaction to so much data being stored and analyzed about people. We’re always perplexed by how to answer this because we know that we only use this intelligence constructively; we also understand the utility of having this information at everybody’s fingertips; and deep down we believe that it’s actually the opposite of big brother. That probably sounds like a stretch, so let’s start by analyzing that last claim.
The Merriam-Webster definition of the word Management is: The act or art of managing: the conducting or supervising of something (as a business);
Now, let’s shift to the Merriam-Webster definition of the word Autonomy: The quality or state of being self-governing; The word autonomy is very interesting to us. The greek words Auto and Nomos, together they mean “self law.” Which means that you’re able to govern yourself by your own set of standards. In other words, not being dependant upon expectations of outside. This gives you freedom. The greeks actually meant that you’re not just free FROM certain things, but actually free to do certain things. In other words, you are able to do things that others are not able to do. This is ultimately our goal for Genome. We work incredibly hard to decentralize control, which is the opposite of “supervising of something”. In fact, we provide our people with powerful tools and intelligence that enable them to make informed decisions.
This brings us to a predicament — how do you enable informed decisions without exposing a lot of data?
Anybody that has experience with Genome immediately recognizes that our approach is actually to provide as much information as possible to our people. This drastically reduces the data asymmetry that currently exists between leaders and front-line talent in most organizations. We believe that our techniques actually unleash the magic of the web; internally, within our organization. Over many years of leading, we have increasingly come to trust our people and therefore adopted the principles of openness, connectedness, and collaboration in every design decision we’ve made. Einstein said that “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” and our belief is that our operating system enables us to increase empowerment without increasing risk. Dov Seidman talks about how it’s fair to assume that we will never be less transparent, that we will never have less information, and that we won’t ever be less connected than we are today. If you carry that to it’s logical conclusion, than there’s already an overabundance of information and it flows too easily for anyone to control it or outfox everyone. He points out that one of the many ramifications of transparency is that it inflates the value of reputation. We agree and believe that our tools accelerate sharing, as well as cooperation.
That said, as a result of this recurring question, over the last few weeks, we’ve been investigating the root of the “big brother” fears. The key themes can be captured in a variation of one of the following questions:
Does leadership spy on people?
Counterintuitively, by forcing openness of all information, Genome dramatically reduces the effectiveness of controlling information or other politically motivated tactics. In other words, leadership has no privileged information. In other organizations, their tactics would commonly rely on abusing the information asymmetry, while we prefer that our people’s intuition is always informed.
Is the goal to automate roles?
To the contrary, we believe that people are insanely great at recognizing patterns and that our job is to surface relevant information in order to help them make better decision. Our tools will never actuate a decision for people and we would never even experiment with doing so. At the same time, we do believe that data can be used as a sixth sense and we therefore instrument almost every facet of our organization. That allows us to study the patterns of behaviour and potentially detect issues earlier. Most of this sensing isn’t automated though. Much of it is our people sharing their gut feelings about projects and relationships as part of a weekly process. If we need to course correct, we can do so early, but that decision is always made by our people. The benefit of having the tools watching our blind spots is that our people can operate with confidence and we can solve problems without introducing the bureaucracy that most organizational controls create. This is ultimately about minimizing the amount of time our people spend on process, empowering them with timely intelligence, and liberating them to focus on creative or strategic output.
How do you prevent abuse?
My partner, Aaron Goldstein, always talks about Data being an amplifier of a leader’s personality. If you have a jerk for a manager and they know that you came in at 9:03am then they can be punitive about it. At the same time, if you have an empathetic leader, they will recognize that you’re usually on-time and always perform well. Google has the “don’t be evil” as their formal corporate motto because they recognized that intent is important when considering how to deploy any powerful technology. Our defence is our culture. We work hard to filter out assholes in our hiring process and we rapidly terminate anybody that accidentally slipped through. Then, we walk the walk by leaving everything open. For example, anybody can go into our data warehouse cube and see Aaron’s reports in order to learn about how he views the organization. This radical openness allows us to not over think or overanalyze; instead it enables us to experiment rapidly and codify our learnings. We believe this pay off is worth the risks.
Do the tools judge performance?
This links back to no technology at Klick ever making decisions or rendering judgement on our people. To the contrary, our belief is that in most organizations technology is an angry referee that speaks up after something has happened. Our approach is to build as much predictive analysis into our workflows so that the tools can act as a coach. Imagine having the intelligence to know that this is somebody’s first time executing a certain type of workstream and as a result being able to deliver a training intervention, precisely at that teachable moment. This liberates our people from one-size fits all training programs and encourages people to explore relevant content.
Doesn’t this restrict creativity?
Albert Einstein also famously said that “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” We agree with this completely. We reject the notion that people are interchangeable ‘resources’ and that’s actually our rationale for investing in the systems and processes that enable us to understand our people even better than our customers. Genome informs our people, but how they collaborate is entirely within the sphere of influence of the team leaders. In fact, we invest more in embracing open conversations, finding creative ways to motivate and recognize innovations, as well share learnings than any process optimization. Does this mean that people aren’t accountable for their metrics? No, we do look at metrics, but we only study patterns and trends, while ignoring the exceptions that create most of the volatility in other organizations. In addition, one of Genome’s key benefits is that it increases the serendipity and dials up the frequency of eureka moments!
Does this reduce human interaction?
We actually design everything at Klick to maximize collisions. Whether it’s our shared spaces, our meeting rooms, our unique and highly active events, or how we select our cross-functional teams. We also have a lot of brainstorming sessions, meetings, offsite events, and even reward travel. The only difference is that we have greater clarity on the intent of these activities and our agenda’s are better informed to ensure that we have less blind spots. In sharing lead metrics instead of waiting for the lag metrics to materialize, we believe that we also animate our teams to build increasing empathy for our clients. In other words, the predictive nature of our analytics empower our teams to understand the future dynamics of project quality and performance. As such, they are equipped to answer questions like “how WILL the client feel about this?” and we encourage them to make early course corrections if the answer isn’t inspired or thrilled. Empathy is actually something that we obsess about and since technology is only an amplifier of human intent, according to our metrics obsessing over empathy is one of the most important things our people can do.
How do you know it works?
Our track record. We’ve been growing several times faster than our competitive landscape and our retention rates are the highest in the industry. We regularly win awards for being a top employer and the vast majority of our growth comes from existing clients.
So what? We were recently at TedGlobal and discovered several incredible innovations that leverage quad copter technology. One presenter showed an amazing application in having the quad copters deliver medicines to people in need throughout rural Africa. Another presenter showed how they were being leveraged to protect endangered wildlife in Africa. Yet another presenter showed some fantastic gaming applications that were really fun to play with. Then came a scary presentation about how these could be used to control large populations. The notion of being controlled by weaponized quad copters was very alarming. Upon reflection though, I realized that the only obvious difference between the four presentations was that the amazing applications were already being used, while our society is still governed by people and elections. The take away is that first 3 speakers weren’t discouraged by fear from actually designing practical applications for this technology and their inventions are in market today. They are not alone, since that TEDGlobal event, Amazon has actually announced a Quad copter delivery initiative and this promoted several couriers to follow with their own announcements. We’ll close with another Einstein quote: “The only source of knowledge is experience” and encourage you to let urgency conquer your fears so that you can start experimenting with some of these ideas today.
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