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Opinion Editorials

How to ruthlessly use data like a boss without becoming inhuman

(EDITORIAL) The use of analytic data is already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. But there’s something at the core we aren’t always talking about here.

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Risk and predictive analytics

Through the power of predictive analytics, I can tell you when your employees are looking for new jobs, based on such factors as the timing of their sick leave requests, their word choice in company memos, and the number of emails that they send and to whom in your organization.

If I want to outsource that responsibility, I can tell you through the efforts of any one of a number of third-party vendors what the likelihood of your employees leaving you is, simply by examining the employees’ behaviors on social media sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn and aggregating that into a risk factor.

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The power of prediction in business

The use of such analytic examinations in human resource functions isn’t a widely established practice yet, but it’s already well-documented in identifying likely customer behaviors and responses. For example, in perhaps an unlikely place, consider amusement parks.

In research conducted by Pikkemaat and Schuckert, they identified key factors that determined customer behavior, including warning signs of customer behaviors that would lead to the failure of parks altogether.

Having the ability to know what your customers think and believe and how those factors will predictably translate into action is an amazing tool, one which allows you to harness hundreds and thousands of data points and utilize them in preparing your business for success.

Predictive analytics are being used to seemingly trivial things, such as determining which items Amazon recommends for you to the challenge of predicting civil unrest in Latin America, which Virginia Tech’s EMBERS project has been doing since November 2012.

Consider: We are human

I’m not denying either the importance or the power of using predictive analytics to help you better understand your employees or your customers. Having data and utilizing it in a timely fashion to drive planning is the hallmark of a good business plan. You should be appropriately investing in these segments, but at the same time you’re doing so, you shouldn’t forget that behind each of these data points is a real human being.

We’re drowning in information, while dying for wisdom; we have so much data at our fingertips about the actions of people that we often fail to consider the person individually.

Some of this is the ease which data can be amassed and quantified; quantitative research is fairly simple to conduct, assuming that your data points are clear from the beginning, and that you have enough of them, appropriately sampled, to make a generalizable conclusion about the population.

Some of it is science; Dunbar’s number, a theory proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, proposes that humans can hold space for approximately 150 close stable social relationships, although we can obviously tangentially know many more than that. With the human limitations on getting to know one another in a meaningful way, and the speed at which we can now analyze the actions of the group at large beyond our immediacy level, it’s often easier just to let that amalgamation of information serve as an entrée to understanding who your customers and employees actually are as people, rather than just relying on reports on them.

Your impact, your challenge

But those reports don’t tell you the whole story. The human touch is what provides the value to your data, and helps you understand how the practices that you take as a leader and those that you implement in your company actually impact people.

So here’s a challenge for you. Gather the data, but leave your office more.

Take the time to call or talk to your team face-to-face rather than just relying on emails or texts to communicate. Write a hand-written note of appreciation when things are going well, or more importantly, a word of encouragement when things aren’t. Ask your customers and staff for input, but only when their input actually matters, and ask them for their support when you need it, with logical reasons why they should care.

A small lesson

Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill was in public office for nearly five decades, partially because of a lesson that he learned in his first campaign in 1937. Walking outside of his house on election eve, O’Neill was stopped by a Mrs. Elizabeth O’Brien. Mrs. O’Brien was O’Neill’s high school elocution and drama teacher, and a neighbor who lived across the street from him, and had for years.

“Tom, I’m going to vote for you tomorrow even though you didn’t ask me,” Mrs. O’Brien said, looking up at the politician. Her statement shook him; he’d had a neighborly relationship with the woman for years, and had helped her around the house with small chores from time to time

“I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote,” he said.

She replied, “Tom, let me tell you something: People like to be asked.”

Data doesn’t equal heart

People like to be asked, included, and made to feel welcome, customers and employees alike. We all want to feel as if we have value to our workplace, and to the places we brand ourselves with by being a customer of.

Relying only on an impersonal touch doesn’t give you that same level of intimacy, nor does it make anyone feel as if they actually matter. The data collected isn’t as important as the soul welcomed, nor is the ability of your company to make a predictive guess as what’s going to come next as vital as making people feel integrated to your company

Make a customer experience so strong at both the interaction and the heart level, and people will flock to work or buy from you. Ignore that in implementation, and all the data in the world won’t be able to rectify what you’ve broken.

#BuildRelationships

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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Opinion Editorials

How Peloton has developed a cult-following

(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.

I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.

Vertical Integration

If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.

Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.

Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?

Going Live

But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.

Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!

The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.

Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?

Getting Competitive

Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.

These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.

Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?

Conclusion

At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!

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Opinion Editorials

How a simple period in your text message might be misinterpreted: Tips to improve your virtual communication

(OPINION/EDITORIAL) Text, email, and IM messages may be received differently depending on your communication style and who you’re communicating with. Here’s some ways to be more mindful.

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Black woman smiling in communication talking on phone and laptop in front of her.

Life is full of decisions, learning, hopefully some adventure, and “growth opportunities” through our careers and work. One that some of us may have never considered is how our text, email or IM communication comes across to the receiver – thus providing us a growth opportunity to take a look at our own personal communication styles.

It may have never occurred to us that others would take it a different way. After all, we know ourselves, we can hear our voices in our heads. We know when we are joking, being sarcastic, or simply making a statement. The way we communicate is built upon how we were raised, what our English teachers stressed, and even what we’ve been taught through our generational lens.

NPR put out an article recently, “Are Your Texts Passive-Aggressive? The Answer May Lie in Your Punctuation”. This article discussed what to consider in regards to your punctuation in text.

“But in text messaging — at least for younger adults — periods do more than just end a sentence: They also can set a tone.” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of the book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, told NPR’s All Things Considered last year that when it comes to text messaging,”the period has lost its original purpose. Rather than needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message.”

While it may seem silly that the receiver would think you are mad at them because you used a period, here are some things to consider in our virtual communication now that we are all much more digital:

  • There are no facial expressions in a text except for emojis (which, even then, could be left up to misinterpretation)
  • There’s no sound of voice or inflection to indicate tone
  • We are emailing, texting, and sending instant messages at an alarming rate now that we are not having as many in-person interactions with our colleagues

Gen Z (b. 1995 – 2015), who are the most recent generation to enter the workplace, grew up with much quicker forms of communication with their earlier access to tech. They’ve had a different speed of stimulation via YouTube videos, games, and apps. They may have never experienced the internet speed via a dial-up modem so they are used to instantaneous results.

They also have quickly adapted and evolved through their use of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and now TikTok. The last two platforms are designed for pretty brief attention spans, which indicates our adaptation to fast communication.

Generational shaming is out and uncomfortable but necessary conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are in (which includes ageism). You can’t just chalk it up as “those kids” don’t understand you, or that they need to learn and “pay their dues”.

So if you are of an older generation and even a manager, here are some considerations that you can take regarding your virtual communications:

1. Consider having yourself and your team take a DiSC assessment.

“The DiSC® model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviors with others — within a work team, a sales relationship, a leadership position, or other relationships.

DiSC profiles help you and your team:

  • Increase your self-knowledge: How you respond to conflict, what motivates you, what causes you stress, and how you solve problems
  • Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members
  • Facilitate better teamwork and teach productive conflict
  • Develop stronger sales skills by identifying and responding to customer styles
  • Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members

This quiz is designed to help you identify your main communication style. It helps you to be more conscious of how your style may come across to others. Does it builds relationships, or create silent conflicts? It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change, but you can adapt your style to best fit your team.

2. Always ask your direct reports about their preferred method of communication (call, text, email, IM, meeting).

Retain this information and do your best to meet them where they are. It would also be helpful to share your preferred method with them and ask them to do their best to meet you where you are.

3. Consider putting composed emails in your drafts if you are fired up, frustrated, or down right angry with your team.

You may feel like you are being direct. But since tone will be lost virtually, your message may not come across the way you mean it, and it may be de-motivating to the receiver. Let it sit in drafts and come back to it a little bit later. Does your draft say all you need to say, or could it be edited to be a little less harsh? Would this be better as a meeting (whether video or phone) over a written communication? Now the receiver has a chance to see you and have a conversation rather than feeling put on blast.

And finally, be curious.

Check out Lindsey Pollak’s books or podcast on the best ways to work with a variety of generations in your organization. Lindsey is a Multigenerational Work Expert and she does a great job explaining her research to drive multigenerational workplace success. She gives ideas on what all employees, managers, and even corporations should consider as we experience so many generations and communication styles in the workplace at the same time.

You may laugh that your children or employees think you are mad at them when you use a period in a text. But there’s a lot more behind it to consider. It may take adaptation on all sides as communication styles and the “future of work” continue to evolve.

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