Can technology help our organizations be more human?
October 16, 2019
Digitizing Emotions to Grow a Strong Corporate Culture
We are living challenging times for any organization. New competitors are ready to disrupt our business and consumers have higher expectations as they demand a Disney-like or Uber-like experience whatever industry we are in.
To complicate matters, the talent needed to make the shift already took notice of their power and will only pivot to organizations offering a credible promise of a fast-paced career in an organization offering transparency, meritocracy, and a clear purpose.
While everything out there seems to be changing, it seems reasonable to think a huge shift should happen inside our organizations.
It’s not just about agility. It’s also about humans.
Efforts toward a digital transformation usually fall short of their objective as they’re too superficial and lacking the right mindset.
Non-digitally native organizations are crippling their chances because of silos, risk aversion, bureaucracy, misaligned of objectives, among others. Believe me, if we were to rewrite management rules, with all the technology we have on hand, there are better ways of organizing ourselves.
Success while competing with digital natives requires not just “doing digital” but also “being digital.” This a profound transformation and I’m a believer in the power of technology to help us create organizations that are more human, intelligent, and adaptable.
Replicating the founder’s mentality
I’m a co-founder of Globant, one of the fastest-growing companies during the last 15 years. We are a digitally native company in the business of transforming some of the world’s leading organizations to excel in a digital age. This has been a challenging process as we grew from four founders in a bar to a global organization with nearly 10,000 employees in 16 countries. In the process we learned a lot around this so bear with me.
Peter Drucker once said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and most of us agrees. But if it’s really that important, then why do we care so little about it? Why most of our focus goes into getting sales, making a great product or recruit while culture remains something left to chance?
I strongly believe that an entrepreneur’s number one objective must be to replicate themselves. If we get people to feel and act as a founder, then we would have created an exponential organization that doesn’t require the founder to be everywhere in order to scale.
But when we turned 5 years old, and were growing really fast, it was clear to me that one day I would get into an elevator and employees would recognize me but I wouldn’t recognize them. And this bothered me. Behaviors can be inspired by being in close proximity, but this is hard to be done at scale.
So we ran an experiment: rather than waiting for the culture to be a random result of a combination of factors, we empowered every Glober to become a guardian of it. Using a mobile app, everyone was empowered to recognize actions in alignment with our core values, elevating their peers (and themselves), mutually strengthening their bond, all in front of a public activity feed that could now inspire others to imitate them.
At the beginning of each month, every Glober gets a limited, precious virtual currency called a ‘Star’ that they can use to highlight an action of a co worker. They’re so special that you feel loved when you receive one. As the number of people we can get to know is limited, getting ‘Stars’ is a great way to get noticed and to discover others, amplifying our ability to make connections. This experiment allowed us to bring these key-players back into focus, reinforcing behaviors across hierarchies and geographies, feeling the pulse of the organization.
Making the invisible, visible… and our culture, tangible.
If you think about it, we were digitalizing emotions. And these emotions, became an amazing pool of data that unveiled the real structure of our company for the first time. We all know the skeleton of our company: the org chart. But this experiment was giving us access to the nervous system, allowing us to see how the social tissue was being formed, understanding the level of interaction between offices, areas, measuring engagement and understanding how we connected to one another.
Our data scientists were able to find a lot of interesting findings regarding recognition. For example, we saw an immediate increase in productivity of 15 percent to 20 percent in areas like tech support where we had a ticketing system to compare with. We also saw this broadly adopted across age groups, even facilitating their integration. Whether they are in their 20s or 50s, adoption is similar.
But undoubtedly, the most important finding was related to attrition. We usually measured attrition as an average, but we were surprised to discover that attrition levels were far from being evenly distributed. People who were recognized and also recognized others were seven times less likely to leave our company than those that were disconnected from the social tissue (5 percent of the 69 percent of the population that sent and received ‘Stars’ versus 40 percent on the 14 percent that neither sent nor received ‘Stars’).
The quest for a more human organization
We, humans, have blended with technology. Just to prove it, ask yourself if you would go back home to pick up your phone after you realize you forgot it this morning, or how anxious you feel when reaching 1 percent battery level. And it will not be because you had to make a phone call. Actually, most of our screen time is spent on social media like Instagram or WhatsApp. And the reason why we use them, is to feel connected to the people we love: our family, our friends, to know more people, to expand our influence. Not being connected is like being left off the social grid.
So after picking up your phone, you arrive at your office to find that there are systems in place for everything transactional or process-oriented (ERP, Excel sheets, workflows) or to collaborate (email, intranet, Slack, Facebook Workplace, etc.). So now let’s ask ourselves: when was the last time we felt that urging need to jump on my email or log on to SAP? What about feeling loved at work?
Social micro-interactions between our people made us realize we could solve other important activities such as 360-degree performance feedback. Shortly after a meeting, with a few clicks and a voice message, each Glober sends useful feedback to their peers, without losing the human touch.
In most organizations, feedback is a painful, costly process. As a result, we don’t get it too often. As Daniel Pink wrote on his book “Drive,” feedback is at the core of becoming better. So we should declare annual feedback dead. Otherwise, in the times we are living, it would be hard to adapt fast enough.
Our experiment digitalizing emotions grew into a social operating system we call StarMeUp, enabling Globant to grow vigorously for a decade not into a large organization but rather a massively scaled-up startup. We are composed of over a thousand multidisciplinary teams we call PODs, with the same consistent culture, focused on making our customers love what we deliver. This year we’ve been recognized among the top 20 companies for culture in the U.S., but more importantly, our people are fully empowered to act and become co-founders.
About the author
Guibert Englebienne is co-founder and CTO of Globant (NYSE:GLOB) and Chairman of Endeavor Argentina.