by Jeff Sandgren
Here it is, the dirty little secret every good (or lazy) consultant knows: employees know more than their management accredits. What’s that? Oh, it’s no secret anymore. Okay then, smart readers, can you answer these three questions:
- What’s being done to harvest this treasure trove?
- How do you separate employee fact from office fiction?
- How do make it safe and worthwhile for employees to serve it up straight?
If your answer was SBI (Social Business Intelligence), then you’d win a prize (see below). A surprisingly promising approach, it seems, and more focused than the broad net of the ‘wisdom of the masses’, SBI seeks to enable leaders to tap the social intelligence of their workplaces to improve business intelligence and business decisions. We found a leader in this space, Crowdcast, and went straight to the top brass for an interview with Mat Fogarty, CEO, and Leslie Fine, Ph.D., Chief Scientist.
“Employees want to be heard,” explained Fogarty, “and they can drive really good decisions. When will it ship? How much will we sell? These are questions management needs to answer. But you have to overcome employee reluctance and fear of repercussion.”
“You need to get over the optimism,” added Dr. Fine. “ Employees need a way to speak the truth to power.”
Arguably, this is all motherhood and apple pie so far. How do you actually DO it? Crowdcast’s solution is to use a gaming mechanisms, where contestants (employees in this case … and you can guess the logical extension) place ‘virtual bets’ on real business questions regarding key metrics; where right answers yield ‘virtual money’ and bring the ability to place larger bets in the future; and weighting mechanisms enable those who are right more often to become more influential on the collective predictions. The successful engagement of the contributors (i.e. the bettors) comes from the fun and status elements that any good game provides, and from a more virtuous satisfaction: “Users really like Management listening to them,” said Fogarty.
The fun and status parts come in a variety of features, including Leader-Boards, Badges, and even the ability to tie back to “real rewards” like gift cards or an extra vacation day. “Ultimately,” Dr. Fine pointed out, “there’s the opportunity to make it part of performance review.” But that might run afoul of the ‘employee reluctance’ concerns, so the motivational focus will probably remain on the rewards of influence and peer recognition.
It seems intuitive that management would potentially benefit greatly from getting qualified, track-record-proven insights from front-line employees, whether that front line was on the production front or the sales front. But data-points and insights are already in ample supply for most companies; so we asked, where does the value kick in?
“It goes beyond better predictions,” Fogarty explained, “it’s more about understanding, qualifying, and mitigating risks. First you need to know what might not happen if your optimistic plans disappoint – but then you need to ask: why not? What could we do to correct it? SBI helps you understand risk in a deeper, more actionable way.”
Dr. Fine summed up the current state of traditional BI systems. “BI hasn’t innovated much in the past several years. As a result, users are drowning in data, but thirsty for insight. We’re breaking through to help change how smart decisions are made.”
Visualizations and infographics play a key role in Crowdcast’s solution. Their Executive Dashboard enables management to easily review dynamic summaries of relevant crowdcasts, track trends, define goals and monitor progress, and adjust target goals, and engage participants in conversations about ways to mitigate risk.
If the notion of a ‘game’ at the heart of a solution is disquieting to you, stop thinking about Monopoly and upgrade to Game Theory, a highly effective science at the heart of many business and economic solutions. Even better, consider these success stories:
- A major retailer who harvested the knowledge of their shop-floor employees to adjust the markdown plan on key holiday merchandise, improving sell-through and margin;
- A major electronics game company who achieved forecasting accuracy on new release timing and quality, enabling them to save costs by better aligning the organization and optimize their marketing spend;
- A major Pharma company who identified the environmental factors with greatest impact to their business and implemented programs to proactively respond;
Despite an overall tough environment for VC funding, Crowdcast recently raised $6 million in funding led by Menlo Partners and Alsop-Louie Partners. “Social BI will be a major enterprise software category and Crowdcast will lead the way,” said Sonja Hoel Perkins, Managing Director at Menlo Ventures. “This new market addresses a fundamental business need – much better business insight and forecasting.”
At BrandTech News, we think that Brand Intelligence comes from tapping really relevant knowledge in simple, comfortable ways. We like the reverse-Orwellian structure of SBI – big brother doesn’t have to eavesdrop, if little brother is volunteering the information. I drift back to a long ago July when my lookout kid brother alerted me to the risk of an approaching authority just before we lit the fuse on the fireworks. Quick! Mitigate (hide the bottle rockets), reward (a roman candle for kid brother), and redeploy. Natural, logical, and highly effective. As for the gaming, just remember the one game you DON’T want knowledgeable employees to play any more is “I’ve Got A Secret”.
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