At Klick Health, we have developed a transformative operating system, called Genome, that uses big data and social technologies to customize the employee experience, increase engagement, speed-up mastery of new skills, and maximize the team's success. Recently, Genome has been profiled by the media and in the New York Times Bestseller The Decoded Company.
Klick Health is the world’s largest independent digital health agency. We are laser-focused on creating solutions that engage and educate healthcare providers about life-saving treatments. We help inform and empower patients to manage their health and play a central role in their own care. Every solution that we craft hinges on our in-house expertise across the digital universe – strategy, creative, analytics, instructional design, user experience, relationship marketing, social and mobile. Established in 1997, Klick is headquartered in Toronto, with teams in Chicago, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
At Klick, we take pride in having one of the most unique and innovative workplaces in North America and of the growing number of prestigious honors which have been bestowed onto our company. In 2013 alone, we won 85 awards for our management, workplace/culture and client work, including one of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures, One of the Best Workplaces in Canada and One of the Best Workplaces in Canada for Women. Our culture has also consistently been recognized with accolades, such as Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies, 50 Best Employers and 50 Fastest Growing Companies.
What distinguishes Klick most from our competitors (including large network agencies and smaller independents) – and most companies in general – is our data-driven, employee-centric philosophy, and fundamental obsession with understanding our talent better than we understand our clients. With almost 400 employees and a YoY growth rate that of 30-50 percent for the last 16 years, Klick has become a center of gravity for the best talent in the industry. We invest heavily in our people, providing them with the very best resources and tools so they can do their very best work.
That’s where Genome comes in.
Most companies still use one-size-fits-all management tools and processes that can be traced back to the dawn of the industrial revolution. Case in point: Email is simply the modern memo – even email terminology (cc/bcc) dates back to the memo.
Meanwhile, outside of the office, people’s personal lives have been transformed by the power of social and big data. Consumer usage of smartphone apps that customize the user experience and do everything from providing directions to a restaurant to helping select a movie, and even finding a date.
Klick’s co-founders, Leerom Segal and Aaron Goldstein explored these outside forces and sought to harness big data and social technologies in a similar fashion to increase project consistency, engagement, and performance.
Today, Genome is part of Klick’s DNA and provides employees with a personalized, simplified and enhanced work experience. All our employees log into Genome at the start of their workday and use it for workflow, goal-setting, administrative and reporting tasks, training and more. Genome is also a fully integrated “social” environment and features a dynamic and personalized social feed, providing positive feedback through kudos and recognition, profiles, etc.
To give you an idea of scope, today Genome has:
- over 1.4 million unique pages,
- over 638,000 tickets (tasks);
- over 6,400 projects;
- over 6,500 Kudos (peer recognition posts); and
- over 50 unique tools.
The original impetus for creating Genome stemmed from a deep hatred of e-mail. Not only is it a marginal improvement to the traditional office memo; but as our CEO Leerom Segal is known to say, “E-mail is the ultimate tool to let other people prioritize your day for you.”
That said, we didn't just want to get rid of e-mail and replace it with another product, or suite of products. We wanted to create a centralized set of task-tailored tools, to allow for big picture oversight of all the moving parts. The only solution was to build a custom, in-house intranet system that would address ALL our business requirements in one place and allow us to codify our battle scars, predictively model outcomes, and ensure we have the right data to drive our direction.
At its core, Genome is a task management system that allows for the organization and prioritization of key tasks. It provides clear accountability, shows the relationship between tasks and employees and avoids the pitfalls of vague emails sent to multiple recipients. It also serves as a critical process enforcement tool, managing everything from project budgets and invoicing, to time tracking and scheduling, to even automatically ordering lunch for employees when they scan into the building!
So while our first aha! moment focused on annihilating e-mail, once we centralized everything through Genome, we quickly realized we were sitting on a gold mine: data. Tons and tons of data. This data has allowed us to streamline processes, provide personalized data-driven experiences for our employees (think about what you see when you log in to Amazon.com, and imagine if your work was that smart) and infuse added fun into our business.
Genome has been an evolution. When we started, we were focused on process, accountability and task management. The system practically paid for itself by allowing us visibility into all projects and tasks, allowing us to redirect our course earlier, and save on the kinds of expensive mistakes that happen when you find out about a problem too far down the line. And we had data to prove it, showing leaner projects, better budget estimates and ultimately, better more consistent work for our clients.
Once we created that part of Genome, we had data. We knew what was working and what wasn't. We also started using our ticketing system for tasks that would allow any employee in the company to suggest an upgrade, fix or feature for Genome. After all, the best judges of what you need are the people using the tool. Not surprisingly, a lot of Genome’s best features have been suggested by our employees.
All of these features were built in-house, and for the first few years, it was a downtime project. If you were waiting on work, you could go in and grab a suggestion and make it a reality. This was cheap, gave us a lot of awesome features and ensured buy-in, but we found that the bigger projects were harder to complete, so we created a dedicated team.
Everyone on the team had experience in the front lines of different areas of the company, and they were able to handle the bigger projects that the one-off solution hadn't been able to handle. The results have been awesome, with the rate of new features increasing almost five-fold.
We've experienced explosive growth and hired over 200 employees over the last couple years, thanks to Genome. Where other companies would likely invest in an acquisition, we've invested in Genome, as we see it as the key to our future success and a totally scalable solution to the kind of massive growth we've experienced.
Genome was originally conceived by our COO Aaron Goldstein, however the driver’s seat has shifted over the last 11 years to an even mix of grassroots and executive vision. At least 50% of the time, new features have been suggested by employees, with the other half representing executive mandates from our Senior Leadership Team (SLT). The divide leans more heavily to our team for minor updates and improvements, with 70% coming from employees and 30% from the executive team.
For example, one of Klick's application developers, Max, wanted to take Genome's People Finder feature on the go, so he developed an iPhone app build outside of Genome, using Genome provided APIs (application programming interface). The app shows a list of selected favourites and their status like "in on the 7th floor" or "not in yet". Clicking on a person brings up a baseball card style info sheet with their picture, contact info, last known whereabouts. This app saves us time when we are trying to find our collegues in the office by letting us search on the go.
Another example is KLS Morning Knowledge. Adrian, Klick Learning Solutions' Director of Business Development and Guru of Trivia posts a knowledge tidbit on Chatter (our in-house social tool) each day. Another Klickster, Andrew C, realized that a dedicated page which automatically collected and displayed all of these knowledge tidbits would be of great value. Together with Rob, from the Genome Team, they designed the page using Genome provided APIs to find and filter posts by hashtag.
We’re careful not to put more emphasis on the tools that come from the executive team unless they’re mandated as part of our operating procedures. This is particularly true for the more social features, which we view as ongoing experiments subject to digital Darwinism. Andrew, our Director of Business Process & Systems for Genome explains: "Often times the true value of a feature we release, particularly if it involves an additional layer of data collection, is not clear until after we have the data - not even to those of us building it. We ask everyone around us to think outside the box, try new things and if they don't work, then we fail fast and move on." If our team uses the tool, we keep it. If they don’t, we make a few tweaks and redeploy. If we still don’t get use, we abandon the tool and move on. We don’t have egos about it. We want Genome to be loved and we don’t enforce use with the exception of things like scheduling time because, try as we might, we can’t get people to love scheduling their time.
A full-featured roadmap is a significant undertaking, so the development of Genome has been an evolving process over the last decade at Klick. Like any strong functional or tactical undertaking, our long-term Genome roadmap is rooted in key business strategies. Having a well thought-out plan ensures that we are all focused on the same target and, more importantly, ensures that we aren’t building a set of independent features, but rather, are creating an ecosystem where the whole is significantly greater than the sum of its parts.
In our experience, core components can be developed and deployed in self-contained modules, creating very rapid development cycles. The cycle time for any one feature, from concepts to deployment to critical mass is generally less than ten weeks.
In terms of execution, we’re far too realistic to believe that a full-featured strategy can be carefully crafted, executed, and “turned on” on some distant launch day. Interactive development cycles — borrowing heavily from Agile practices — quickly emerged as the fastest and most cost effective way to make tangible progress towards the ultimate vision. They allow for frequent feedback loops from end users, ensuring they are part of the solution and dramatically reducing any resistance to adoption and change. They also provide a logical opportunity to revisit the roadmap and make subtle course corrections based on new inputs or changing landscapes.
Our timeline of launches began with ticketing and task management tools; followed by social tools (both non-traditional and traditional); followed by tools aimed at business communication, collaboration and data exploration. We already had the most robust business platform we could imagine for our business, tracking every possible data point. The next step was to consolidate and organize data into actionable insights, present those insights to users, and trigger the conversations we wanted teams to have. These include conversations about trends, patterns, avoiding landmines, and making the course corrections necessary for success.
This started at the project level, evolved to the program level, and eventually to the user level, where each user is presented with a guided review of their entire professional universe, specifically tailored for them. Whether they need to dive deep into project details, focus on the health of an overall program, take action on their personal objectives, or support a direct report in an issue flagged in their review, each user is presented with the insights they need to inform their intuition and take action.
We next focused on knowledge management. Our work is managed by homegrown business systems, our teams are part of an integrated orchestration of moving parts, and our clients require us to have deep knowledge of their industry. All of this must be part of our knowledge and skillset in order to be successful and investing in the proper training tools would certainly produce results. The result was the next phase of our social platform, Klick Academy, including the more informal Klick Talks, and timely executed Teachable Moments (tools described below).
The Roll-Out Plan:
We believe in including our end-users in the process from the very beginning, along with making sure that we're using our data to make decisions. Strong buy-in and successful adoption is achieved when you involve the users in the change itself, and through feedback loops that continuously enable that change to happen. Here again, Andrew, our Director of Business Process & Systems describes the process: "It's all about going back to the basics. We start by talking to the users who will truly be impacted by a tool we're building. We don't presume we know what their concerns are, we ask and often that takes an initiative in an entirely different direction. Then, include those users in the entire process, from brainstorming, to specifications, to beta testing - but most people would stop there. We take it one step further - we also ask that same group to be our change agents within the organization. They have been invested in the tool from the beginning and feel a sense of ownership over it, so we ask them to be the knowledge experts. Anyone who requires training on a new tool, or has questions or suggestions - all of that can come from one of their peers, who truly understand how they feel when using it. This is something that cannot be done as effectively as a separate entity within the business. "
For example, when planning to introduce a new project management feature into Genome, Project Managers should be involved in the spec'ing process. When the final product is launched, the tool has incorporated their ideas and has their stamp of approval on it. The changes will have truly addressed their needs, and they can feel a sense of ownership over the tool and the entire development process as well.
Once the tool is built, we use a soft launch approach. When about to implement a new tool or launch an updated version of a tool, we create a small sample group to represent the company. They test out the tool, gather data on usage, provide feedback, and the team makes adjustments before it's launched to the entire company.
The people in the soft launch group feel like an elite team with the privilege of seeing things in advance. This in turn creates advocates for the tool’s adoption, as well as creating ambassadors for future changes. It’s win-win for the Genome team because it means that we get fewer suggestions for fixes after launches, and it gets everyone involved in their work environment, increasing engagement and agency. It also helps that every big new feature in Genome has an executive sponsor, so that people understood that we were serious about innovation and change.
Key Genome Tools:
Many consider email to be the first online social network in that it creates connections between people and facilitates the exchange of information in various formats. Although we would agree it deserves recognition as a proto-network, email brings along a number of challenges from a business perspective, including important messages buried in inboxes, lack of proper archiving, loss of content and attachments over time, etc. Critically, we believe that email fails to model the ways in which we connect and collaborate with our colleagues, particularly as we work together on complex tasks that touch many files stored across multiple networks. This led to our very first tool in Genome over 11 years ago — the foundation of our social environment — called Tickets. Tickets replaced email as the primary mode for collaborating with colleagues and understanding the social and talent graph within our company.
Unlike email, tickets were more like conversations, complete with comments and the ability to obviously direct a question to a user through unique assignment. It encouraged colleagues to ask questions and collaborate on a task, and kept a history of the evolution of a task for team members joining part way through its completion. Although we’ve added features over the years, tickets have remained largely unchanged since their inception.
Tickets created a new expectation of social behavior and Klick had laid the foundation for the culture we enjoy today. Although they were an excellent start, there are many situations in which technology cannot replace some good face-to-face or phone time. Recognizing the need to facilitate social connectivity both inside and outside of our electronic environment, we developed a set of tools aimed at making it easier to collaborate in-person and on the phone.
Klick’s Headquarters have grown to occupy three floors (and soon to be four) of a downtown office tower. As our team travels between floors, they swipe in and out using their security badge and badge reader at each door. When employees need to physically find a fellow team member, they simply log into Genome, hit control-space, then type their name — we call this quick search utility “Finder”. Genome will reveal their relative location within the building, as well as other information it knows through its 50+ tools: 2nd floor, 3rd floor, 4th floor, Travelling (all travel is booked through Genome), Not in yet (when away for > 5 hours), Away (when not in the building but has been in < 5 hours ago), or On Vacation (also booked through Genome).
The same Finder search also allows employees to dial their peers’s desk phone or mobile directly from within Genome by hitting control-space, typing their name, tabbing to the action pane, and then typing dial. This also works for other commonly dialed numbers.
If through Locator an employee learns that a colleague is out of the building but the nature of the call isn’t urgent, employees can subscribe to receive an alert via instant message when the colleague returns to the office.
Employees can also use the same Finder search to locate where someone normally sits in the office, very useful in an environment where people frequently relocate to sit with new project teams.
Project Homepage and Wiki Klick is a professional services company, which gives our work a certain structure. Genome mimics the same format, organizing our workflow into Clients, which contain Portfolios, which contain Projects. Each Project has its own home in Genome, which serves as a living archive for the work. Every team member who joins a Project has access to the Ticket history, files involved in the engagement, and the people who have touched it.
In addition to tracking the progress of a Project, the Project Homepage also becomes a social hub for all of the team members working on it. Team members can easily discover who else is engaged on the project and can determine who has been assigned from each of Klick’s disciplines and departments. The Project Wiki is their collaboration space, collecting all of their organizational intelligence in a single, secure, archived location. It includes all of the social features users have come to expect from wikis and provides new team members joining a project with an easy mechanism for catching up on progress.
Knowledge capture is one of our overriding Genome design principles. As noted above, some types of information are particularly well suited to a wiki-like environment and live within the Project Homepage and Wiki. We are concerned about all types of information, and are particularly interested in digitizing the subtle, non-verbal cues that might help detect project issues before they occur. This information is captured in weekly Project 360s.
Every week, each team member on a project is asked to complete a very quick 360 review. The review consists of two simple questions to which employees respond by rating the project as green, yellow, or red (explaining why if one of the latter two). We like to think of this exercise as bringing out Klick’s ‘Spidey sense,’ encoding the instinctive ‘gut’ feeling that our highly trusted and experienced team sense during client engagements. It is, in some ways, our anti-social tool in that it creates a safe environment outside of the need to expend social capital or risk exposure during live in-person meetings and frees our team to be honest. This simple social engineering has enabled us to build lightweight feedback loops into our data-driven process that provide an excellent early warning system should a project be at risk.
Andrew, our Director of Business Process & Systems for Genome recalls the origin of the Project 360: "A project was going off the rails, and everyone knew it. Some of us talked about it. Some of us escalated it. At the end of the day these were all tiny pieces of information that didn't add up to a cohesive story. Also, it was very easy to trust feedback from the project leadership and never ask anyone else - they should have their finger on the pulse of the project, right? Well, it turns out very few people truly understood how messed up things were, but everyone individually knew that some things were messed up. As a post mortem after that project, we introduced P360s. They give everyone on the project a voice in the conversation, and collect that conversation into a single story. What's more, by giving your "gut feel" a specific status, you can essentially pull the handbrake on the project, call all of the necessary people into a room and make sure you're specific concerns are being heard and there is an appropriate resolution plan."
Genome can be a useful tool for both moving awkward face-to-face interactions into a safe virtual realm and for using technology to make face-to-face interactions less awkward. Project 360s are a great example of the former, as documented above. The Portfolio Management Meeting Agenda is a perfect demonstration of the latter.
Projects in Genome ladder up to a Portfolio level, which is really a view across a number of projects that share the same Client. Whereas an Account Director and Project Manager might partner to oversee a number of Projects, a Group Account Director and Program Director partner at the Portfolio level for additional oversight. Genome helps them manage that viewpoint by carefully constructing a Portfolio Management Meeting Agenda that is used to run their review meetings.
Portfolio Management Meeting Agendas
Klick introduced Program Management Meetings, helping to support a holistic perspective by making sure that department leads who work with the same clients regularly have face-to-face contact in order to discuss projects, progress, and flag any issues.
Genome analyzes all of the relevant data and evaluates who should attend the meeting. It also generates a list of items that need to be discussed based on their status, such as tasks that were approaching deadline or missed checklist items from Gene Sequencer. The Agenda is strict, and deviations aren’t permitted. The entire meeting is timed to last no more than 20 minutes. The result is the creation of a highly customized meeting that delivers relevant information to every single person in attendance, resulting in more people participating because of the increased perceived value. Additionally, the public nature of the meetings, actually getting all the team leads to meet face-to-face regularly creates a mechanism that is designed to facilitate raising issues in a public setting, and motivating the team leads to act accordingly to manage their reputations, while also creating feedback loops.
Chatter is the heart of what people might think of when they hear the term ‘social.’ It represents the activity feed of everything happening at Klick, streaming on the right hand side of every page within Genome. Chatter was initially designed as an experiment, intended to grow and change as our needs for the tool grow and change. What began as a simple status update has already morphed into the ability to share links and videos to common interests, post photos from the road to bring teams together, feed Genome news and social good tracking activity to keep everyone informed, and proudly feature Kudos (description below) to make sure we maintain a positive feedback ratio.
Most corporate news feeds are tightly locked down and rigorously controlled by most organizations’ Corporate Communications departments. Not at Klick; and not in Genome. In much the same way that any employee can post to Chatter, the Genome News feed is open to anyone in the company with information to share. The design encourages social interaction with the posts, which are fed to large LCD displays throughout our office hallways. News items surface in both the News tool for archival and continued reading purposes and on Chatter for conversation, where users can comment on and/or like the feature. Some of our most insightful business feedback has come from comments and posts on News.
Part of our internal peer recognition system, Kudos are small acts of appreciation expressed through the Chatter feed and a popular Genome feature. Their presence in this feed exposes them to the entire company on a regular basis and encourages interaction by everyone in the form of likes and comments. Each interaction moves the Kudo back to the top of the feed, ensuring that popular posts will get lots of attention.
Posting a Kudo is kept intentionally lightweight to make it as easy as possible. A Genome user need only define who the Kudo is for, provide a message, and select the appropriate Kudo badge (i.e. Always Go Beyond, Customer Empathy, Mentor, Thank You). The badges are archived into the recipients’ Genome profiles, highlighting how frequently they’ve received each form of recognition.
Stories are a more evolved form of Kudos, used when a team member has made a more significant contribution to the success of our business. Genome users are prompted to consider a story nomination when creating a Kudo, which helps to ensure a regular stream of positive content.
Stories appear in many places throughout Genome, as well as on the Genome TV network throughout our office. Everyone at Klick can interact with the stories; expressing their respect and attribution by voting for the ones they feel most strongly about. The team members featured in the top stories regularly receive recognition in the form of prizing: The most popular story recipient gets to drive the company’s Porsche Boxster for a week.
Using Genome and our underlying data to recognize our people often creates a virtuous feedback loop, enabled by social features, which turns recognition into new Chatter posts, including videos of team members enjoying their prize.
Team Member Profiles
Each team member has a profile page that can be customize to tell their story before they joined Klick. Each profile page can include an employee’s Genome photo, contact details, links to Social Media accounts, bio information, photos of them from Klick events (automatically tagged), and social data such as Chatter posts, Kudos sent and received, and Klick It Forward dollars spent.
Klick’s own in-house education knowledge and training hub, where the collective learnings and experiences of Klick’s staff is continually collected and institutionalized. The system truly uses technology as a coach, helping track the evolution of each employee’s experiences, which then determines the level of ‘training wheels’ needed within the project management workflow and implement ‘teachable moments’ at the precise time the training is needed.
Klick Academy delivers a personalized training experience tailored for each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. There are additional elective courses, resource libraries, and lunch and learns that are available to talent as well.
The philosophy that underlies Klick Academy is that there are no such things as generic, role specific requirements. Depending on the actual work required that are pre-requisite experiences.
Klick Talks are an internal initiative that lets Klick promote a culture of idea sharing and knowledge transfer. The rules are simple: You can ask anyone in the organization a question and they have 48 hours to respond with a video that’s less than two minutes in length. All videos are searchable by person, subject or keyword thanks to extensive tagging. The video format helps people become familiar with other members of the organization who they don’t normally interact with and it encourages people to ask questions and share knowledge. It helps encourage curiosity and an appetite for learning that are key components of Klick’s culture.
Core and Elective Courses
The Academy’s core courses are a group of short online courses that are a part of onboarding new employees. They include an overview of company culture, an introduction of Genome, and a layout of the health industry, Klick’s primary market focus.
In addition to the core courses, there are a wide variety of elective courses designed to help employees continuously learn and refine their skill set. The courses are not mandatory, but a manager who sees a gap in one of their team-member’s capabilities might recommend that they complete that specific course (or Teachable Moments will recommend an appropriate course when needed).
Lunch & Learns
One of Klick’s longest-running learning and development programs, Lunch & Learns are a great way to share internal expertise through the company, and encourage continual learning. These Lunch & Learns can be led by anyone in the company wishing to share their knowledge, and any employee can request a Lunch & Learn topic that they are interested in. A subject matter expert is identified and the content for a Lunch & Learn is created.
Lunch & Learns are announced in News, and pushed to Chatter when it is commented or liked. The event is filmed and content goes on to become an elective course on Klick Academy for anyone who was unable to attend or who wants to refresh their knowledge on the subject.
A unique events page is created any time a Klick event is held – whether a large company event for all employees, or a small Lunch & Learn intended for a specific portion of the organization. The created page shares details of the event, and includes the ability to RSVP. We are able to gather accurate numbers of attendees at each event, and employees are able to determine who is expected to attend.
Events are also posted to News, which of course, is integrated into Chatter. Comments and likes regarding the event are shared with the entire company, promoting the event and eliciting feedback.
New employees are often unfamiliar with the area directly surrounding Klick’s head office. Klick Local provides information on great lunch spots, the nearest walk-in clinics, and other places of potential interest to employees. Klick Local consists of an online map ,which displays the locations of some of the greatest spots in the area. The locations are based upon employee recommendations, and the map is consistently updated when new recommendations are made, or requested.
This program ensures each employee receives just the right amount of help and structure to successfully complete a project, essentially using data-powered analytics to create a customized management approach for each individual thanks to Genome’s data gathering abilities.
It enables Klick employees to receive a personalized experience when they start a project. Gene Sequencer is a high-level workflow tool for Project Managers. It provides a detailed checklist for any Klick project, as well as highlighting any considerations of which the project manager should be aware. In essence, it considers things to watch out for based on past experience, leveraging all of Klick’s collective experiences and failures in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
For the new PM, Genome does several things to help ensure a smooth execution. First, it alerts the PM’s team and manager to let them know that this is the first time their colleague is running this type of project. Genome automatically pairs the PM with a “buddy” who has extensive experience and will reach out to be a source of support for the PM during their first run. If the project requires certain training, Genome will send an alert to the PM letting them know they need to take an online mini-training session at the relevant moment in the project’s timeline. This ensures that the PM gets the information at the moment they need it.
One of the most important tools we use at Klick is our Genome-powered dynamic dashboard. Employees use this on a daily basis to help prioritize their goals based on an ever-changing set of priorities. It gives the employee and their manager the freedom to define anything as a goal as long as it can be tracked using Genome’s available data repertoire. Genome then tracks the necessary inputs and displays the values in real time taking into account milestones, deadlines, and goals.
The platform balances all of these priorities and then displays the most essential goals and tasks that need to be completed at that time. That way, each employee’s goals are constantly being updated based on current information, and each employee knows that their dashboard will show them the right information at the exact point in time where they can act on it.
This system enables managers to maintain a sense of agility around goal setting, taking into account that priorities might change and be able to adjust goals accordingly. Dynamic changes are important because it helps eliminate surprises and minimize risk by flagging any potential issues. It also adds a level of neutrality because Genome looks at objectives for the entire year and not just a specific period in time. Finally, it provides employees with constant feedback because they never have to wonder how they are performing against their metrics.
Like Gene Sequencer, which codifies all the learnings from a project level to minimize risks, Weekly Reviews codifies learnings at the individual level, enabling managers to be forward-looking and use the data they have at hand to flag any potential risks or issues before they happen. This is one of the ways that we use technology as a coach that helps employees instead of a rules-based referee that yells at them. Any issues are flagged early on, making it easier to respond and course correct before any real problems occur.
This system enables a more balanced and objective review since there is a wealth of data that is being collected from different sources that are used as a basis of the evaluation. This means that one person’s performance review is never solely dependent on one other person. Instead, the data uses a wide variety of sources including ticket statistics, likes, comments and Project 360 information, which incorporates data from colleagues and collaborators.
Because the weekly reports are linked to the ticketing database and Gene Sequencer (among others), Genome will remind users if something needs to be done, and will continue to remind them until that task is completed. This is important because a tool won’t get upset if it has to remind someone 25 times to do something, versus a manager who will likely get frustrated if they have to repeatedly nag someone to complete a task, which could negatively impact their review.
A teachable moment is identified using data to recognize the exact instance when an employee should receive training (based on data determined by Project 360s), and delivering that training in a customized way that caters to that employee’s exact needs. Instead of having reporting systems flag an issue after a mistake has been made, teachable moments recognize opportunities for building necessary skill sets and help create an environment that is geared towards helping that employee succeed by teaching them what they need to know to complete their task.
Data helps revolutionize training programs by identifying the exact moment an employee should receive training. This just-enough-just-in-time approach increases the rate of retention of the knowledge being shared, while increasing overall quality, productivity and performance.
Teachable moments can trigger online learning via Klick Academy, or can connect an employee needing additional learning with the subject matter experts within the company that is most suitable to help the employee with their learning and development needs. This tool will also alert their team and manager to ensure everyone is aware of the situation and knows to provide any assistance that they can offer.
This is an example of a useful data by-product, which originated due to the link between Klick’s business travel database and Genome’s social and project management capabilities. The platform knows all employees’ business flight plans and logistics. If they’re traveling to see a particular client, Genome has their flight information an half an hour before their flight takes off, and emails them an updated project dossier summarizing all the major items, changes, comments and any other information that its algorithms identify as being useful and emails it to them for some handy inflight reading. This information is also being collected for Gene Sequencer and the other systems, so this application is just a byproduct of having access to this ambient data.
Inefficiency of Email
One of our biggest changes came from our intense dislike of email for practical, day-to-day handling of our work. Email used to be the best way to communicate, but as the company grew in size, the increasingly complex client projects were creating emails that were tens of pages long, sent to a list of 20 recipients, who were forwarding them to yet more people, resulting in a confusing cacophony of correspondence and miscommunications, project delays and unnecessary mistakes. It became clear that email wasn’t working.
Klick’s technical team, the company’s most vocal opponents to this email dystopia, raised the alarm. The problem was twofold, they explained. First, they were receiving such a high influx of tasks that were being assigned to them through email that it was difficult to keep up with what needed to be done; changing priorities and modified work-orders. The second issue was that due to all of this confusion, an annoying habit had developed amongst the staff who would send an email, and then minutes later, walk over to tap a technical team member on the shoulder, asking plaintively “Did you get the email I just sent?” The frustration level of the technical team was rising.
Leerom and Aaron found inspiration from IT Help Desk ticket systems. Help desks have a very basic workflow: once a task is assigned it’s marked as open until it’s completed and then it’s closed. We implemented this same system for development tasks for Klick’s technical team. The process was simple: if you needed something done you created a ticket, which was assigned to a member of the technical team. Whoever created the ticket had to verify the ticket once it’s been marked closed. A new rule was introduced: no ticket, no work. It worked! Accountability, quality and efficiency all went up, and much to our relief, the technical team’s anger levels went down.
It worked so well, that we started adding the same ticket system to all of other teams as well. Our ticket system was carefully designed to contain context, relevant conversations, the ability to prioritize, accountability by being assigned to only person, etc. Even that simple change quickly effected our entire operation, driving far greater efficiency and precision and enabling us to grow at 30-60% per year for the past fifteen years.
Klick has had a phenomenal growth trajectory over the last 16 years, but from 2011 to 2013 in particular, we saw that growth accelerate dramatically with the addition of over 200 new positions. Our client base is mostly located in the US, and as we took on more portfolios, we had a lot more travel, so we added some US employees to better serve our clients and ease up the travel requirements on our Canadian team members. Although this was a significant improvement for the business, it introduced some scaling challenges of its own. Previously, we’d had one location and when someone was new, everyone knew who they were immediately because you knew or at least recognized everyone.
As we saw ourselves approaching Dunbar’s Number (the largest number of people with which an individual can establish relationships; estimated at 125-200 people), we wondered if Dunbar’s Number was still relevant in a world where the average person has 250 Facebook friends. We decided to really focus on social tools, creating four net-new tools to help address this influx: Chatter, Klick Academy, Kudos, and Stories, as well as to updating News with social features such as comments, likes, and the ability to surface the content in Chatter. The idea was to make everyone feel like they were still part of a community and a small company, even if we’d grown beyond the traditional definition. Because of this, we are able to maintain our small, intimate start-up feel, regardless of how much we continue to grow.
As a data-driven organization, we measure everything. Employees can track to the second the time they spend on a task, and Genome even has an ‘interrupt’ button for moments when they need to chat or chatter. The metrics that led us to develop certain key features were each unique.
Weekly Review ROI
Prior to developing the Weekly Review, Klick was measuring the cost and value of running weekly client status meetings with an average of 8 to 12 people (representing each of the stakeholder groups involved in the delivery of a client’s projects) for 2 to 3 hours across 9 different teams.
Quantified at an average hourly rate of $140 per hour for 50 weeks a year, this represented an investment of $1 million to $2.26 million. While the value of these meetings (in terms of collaboration, problem solving and issue resolution) was acknowledged as important, it was difficult to measure and there was universal agreement that it was not worth the investment. A new solution was required that accomplished many of the same goals while dramatically reducing the costs and improving the efficiency of the process.
The Weekly Review technology solution was measured by its cost to develop (385 hours @ $140/hour = $53,900) + cost to still meet face-to-face to deal with things that require that type of interaction (8-12 people for 1 hour across 9 teams, once a month = $121,960 to $181,440 for the year) + the time to participate in Weekly Review process (8-12 people for 15 minutes across 9 teams, weekly = $126,000 to $189,000) = approximately $300,000 to $424,000 total cost, relative to an original cost of $1 million to $2.26 million. This initiative had a payback period of under three months.
We also generally measure success of new technologies by their adoption rate. We practice “Digital Darwinism” where features either get adopted or die. For Weekly Review that was 83% weekly usage three months after launch, which means that people were finding utility and value in it. The same was true for our Kudos and Chatter features. The number of positive peer recognition nominations grew nearly tenfold from 143 over a six-month period prior to launch to 1272 Kudos being given from one employee to another in the six months post-launch of Kudos.
In terms of aggregate social interactions, like Chatter posts, news stories, Kudos, comments, etc. engagement has surpassed all expectations, averaging a new interaction every 76 seconds of the work day, over the first year.
Intangibles, such as increasing employee engagement by actively addressing complaints (e.g., long and useless weekly status meetings, or improving morale by sharing positive feedback publicly) while difficult to directly attribute, are also measured. Here’s an example that clearly demonstrates the less tangible benefits that can be achieved through Genome:
Not long after we launched Chatter, Aaron (our COO) posted a message to the organization about the importance of accurately tracking billable time. The post, intended to serve as a reminder to be diligent and accurate, actually created a heated discussion, producing 44 responses, comments and rebuttals within the first day of being posted, and many more after that, citing specific reasons why that level of accuracy could not be met. A traditional organization might frown upon a direct challenge to the COO and those publicly criticizing a policy could be flagged as troublemakers who aren’t willing to tow the party line. The conversation about it would have been hushed into the background. Instead, we were able to engage with those most adamant about the issue and work out a solution within three days of the original post being made.
This virtuous circle of transparency and access helps to encourage our super bright and creative employees to share the innovations in the tools and approaches that they come up with with the rest of the company. This rapid and free dispersal of new ideas and ways of working is what set Klick apart and allows us to iterate and iinovate faster and with greater efficiency than our competitors.
The moral of the story is that those types of conversations are happening not just at Klick, but in any organization, all of the time. Employees want nothing more than to be successful and become frustrated when they encounter an obstacle that they feel they can’t overcome. It is up to each organization to decide if they want to pretend those conversations aren’t happening, or, like Klick, to truly open up the lines of communication and collaborate on solutions.
In the 11 years spent building and constantly enhancing Genome, one of the most important lessons we’ve learned is to make sure the team that’s building a company’s tools feels empowered to push back on executive requests. It can be a difficult balance to maintain, but having a spineless team will usually result with tools no one wants to use, not to mention a ton of wasted time and effort that could have been better invested elsewhere.
We’ve also learned that it’s okay to be wrong and make mistakes. We take a page from Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement in terms of trying to build Minimum Viable Products. With specific regard to Genome, each new feature or function gets built in the smallest way possible for us to test its effectiveness before it gets launched to our team, who ultimately decides its fate, so it’s also critical to have feedback mechanisms and proper tracking in place.
The biggest secret is simply involving users in an iterative (phased) development and release process. We have always found iterative development cycles to be the fastest and most cost effective way of getting new tools into our users’ hands. It turns out that iterative rollouts are also the secret to well-refined tools that are both used and loved by our user base. Each release is launched to a group of select users, who provide feedback for the next release and, in turn, build up a base of advocates for the tool who are part of the ‘inner circle.’ Each subsequent release is more refined and the users who were part of providing direction and feedback are then asked to unveil it to one or two more peers.
By the time the tool is released company wide, it has already been refined during the previous phases, but we still keep the stream of feedback open. A great example of this is our Chatter tool, which truly is the social stream of consciousness of the organization. As we released the tool, we asked users to make any suggestions using the tag #dogfood, aptly named because we were truly eating our own dog food by using the very tool itself to provide a mechanism for feedback. The #dogfood posts with the most likes were an indication of updates that were most pressing, and they were moved to the front of the development queue. A year later, we still saw new posts with the #dogfood tag, and the ideas far surpassed what the initial development team could have ever dreamed up.
Chatter helps us to keep innovation and iteration top-of-mind. For example, by commenting on a Chatter post suggesting a new feature and tagged with #dogfood, multiple users can add additional suggestions immediately, quickening the pace of innovation, rather than waiting for the new feature to be rolled out to collect feedback. However, creating a fully integrated social company in this way is the responsibility of all employees, and cannot be simply mandated by the IT or HR departments.
We also learned that we can’t be afraid to terminate things when they aren’t working. They only get more expensive to maintain. There are no sacred features.
Finally, we learned about other companies, which are also embracing data-driven, talent-centric philosophies to empower and engage their people in ways never before imagined. We decided to share what we learned with the world through the publishing of The Decoded Company.
A New York Times bestseller, The Decoded Company profiles Genome and reveals how a growing number of industry-leading companies are decoding employee work data to personalize, simplify and enhance the user experience. The book has received media coverage from a wide range of press, including Fast Company, Wired, Bloomberg News, Business Insider, CBS Money, The Chicago Tribune, The Globe and Mail, Business News Network, and Global News Morning. We have also been invited to speak and share our story with Twitter, Basecamp, New York’s prestigious CORE Club and other organizations and conferences. More information on the book can be found at: www.decodedcompany.com.
- Leerom Segal, CEO;
- Aaron Goldstein, COO;
- Peter Cordy, Chairman;
- Jay Goldman, SVP, Innovation;
- Steve Willer, VP Technology;
- D’Arcy Rittich, Chief Technical Strategist;
- Benjamin Nadler, Senior Director, Internal Operations;
- Andrew Woronowicz, Director, Business Process and Systems;
- Rey Crisostomo, Technical Architect;
- Chelsea MacDonald, Director, Culture & Engagement
The Decoded Company
In researching and studying the trends involved with developing and implementing Genome, Leerom and Aaron joined forces with Klick’s Managing Director Jay Goldman and strategist Rahaf Harfoush to write The Decoded Company (Portfolio/Penguin, February 2014), the first book about using big data in the workplace.
A New York Times bestseller, the book profiles Genome and reveals how Klick and a growing number of industry-leading companies are decoding employee work data in the same way that Facebook, Netflix, Spotify and other apps decode customer data to personalize, simplify and enhance the user experience. It has received media coverage from a wide range of press, including Fast Company, Wired, Bloomberg News, Business Insider, CBS Money, The Chicago Tribune, The Globe and Mail, Business News Network, and Global News Morning. More information on the book can be found at: www.decodedcompany.com.
The Truth About Employee Engagement
PROFIT/Canadian Business Magazine
February 21, 2014
There's an ice-cream trolley in the downtown Toronto headquarters of digital marketing agency Klick Health. There also is a yoga studio, a slick Starbucks machine, a lounge with leather couches and a huge Lego wall filled with designs of employees' making. All the space needs is a foosball table to hit pretty much every cliché of the New Economy, "people first" workplace.
But none of the perks seem all that popular with employees. In fact, at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, hardly anyone is using them—they're too busy working. Employees type fervently, shout ideas back and forth and cheerfully dispatch client updates as they pass one another in the hall. There's not a vacant-eyed Facebook surfer to be seen on the three (soon to be four) floors the company occupies. This is how CEO and co-founder Leerom Segal knows things are going well. "You can feel the energy as you walk by. You can feel the creativity, the pride," he says. "That's my leading indicator."
It's obvious even to someone with unbiased eyes that Klick staff love to work here, which is a big reason why the company earned the No. 30 spot on the 2014 list of the 50 Best Small and Medium Employers in Canada (BSME). Compiled annually by the Queen's School of Business Centre for Business Venturing and Aon Hewitt, the ranking identifies an elite group of entrepreneurial organizations from coast to coast that demonstrate very high levels of employee engagement.
Now "employee engagement" is a phrase we've been hearing a lot lately. It looks good in an annual report or etched on the mission statement in the lobby. Its ubiquity, coupled with its somewhat hippy-dippy vibe, tends to make some managers roll their eyes: "Yes, yes, we have weekly on-site massages, so we're good."
But to dismiss engagement as another trendy buzzword is to miss out on a massive opportunity. Contrary to popular misconception, engagement is not about making employees happy. It's about making them productivity powerhouses. Engaged employees are excited to work for you. They want to stick around. They strive to excel, even at the most menial of tasks. In short, they're the type of people who propel a company to greatness. Studies show that engaged employees crank up innovation and output, and deliver shareholder returns five times higher than organizations with dispirited staff.
But you can't buy this kind of productivity with Barbecue Fridays. "A lot of managers use perks to try to foster engagement, because perks are visible and tangible," explains Einar Westerlund, who heads the BSME program as director of project development for the Queen's Centre for Business Venturing. "They're easier to understand than the underlying concept of engagement, which is a very deep-rooted commitment to performance."
This misunderstanding leads many companies to spring for fringe benefits that do little or nothing for productivity—essentially, wasting their money. "Perks can be there as embellishments," says Westerlund. "But by themselves, they don't work."
Instead, true engagement comes when you get to know your employees—their abilities, their ambitions and their preferences—and, whenever possible, put staff to work on tasks that tap into those skills and motivations. This takes effort. But this effort can deliver more benefit to your company than any other initiative, HR or otherwise. "There's nowhere in your organization you can add more profitability and productivity than by simply turning on your existing team," argues Eddie LeMoine, a speaker and author specializing in employee engagement who splits his time between Calgary and Halifax.
Klick and its peers in the BSME class of 2014 are proof of this. Emulate what they do and you
will supercharge your own staff—no pinball machine needed.
Agency vs. arcade games
Reg Robinson and Jim Ostertag care a lot about workplace culture. In fact, the pair launched Solvera Solutions (No. 17 on the BSME list), their Regina-based IT services firm, in 2005 with a goal of deploying only practices that really engage employees—things the pair knew to be effective from their work at other organizations. Top on their list was to give every staffer a say, so that everyone on the payroll felt committed to and involved in the success of the company. "We wanted to start on the right foot," explains Robinson.
It's a smart approach, according to Kevin Kruse, the Pennsylvania-based author of Employee Engagement 2.0. "Most companies try to improve engagement with top-down initiatives. C-level execs and HR professionals will huddle around a conference table to brainstorm ideas to drive up engagement," he says. "But rarely are the answers found at the top."
In the beginning, Solvera's grassroots connection was easy to sustain: a simple matter of regular, all-hands meetings and plenty of "management by walking around." But as the head count grew (the firm now employs the equivalent of 176 full-timers) and Solvera expanded (it has added offices in Winnipeg and Calgary), that became tricky. So, the company systematized the ways in which it solicits feedback and ideas. It holds annual focus groups with employees to make sure working conditions, processes and benefits remain in line with what people want. It also polls staffers to determine which wellness and social programs the firm will support.
In short, Solvera gives its people agency. One popular program allows all employees, regardless of rank, to make "ambassadorial" decisions on behalf of the company. Staff can spend up to $500 each on discretionary things they believe are in Solvera's best interests—sponsoring a community organization, throwing a party to celebrate a client accomplishment or attending an event, to give a few examples. This, in turn, imparts to employees a strong sense of ownership and pride—great drivers of engagement.
"From a monetary point of view, $500 isn't a tremendous amount of money," explains Ostertag. That cost is far outweighed by the value of employees' feelings of empowerment. "They view it as us trusting them to donate company funds to something that's important to them personally. And that means a lot."
Access vs. Aromatherapy
Like many engagement-minded leaders, Catarina Sanders got a lot out of Daniel Pink's 2009 bestseller Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Sanders, a vice-president in charge of leading the employee-engagement efforts at Vancouver online portal developer Habanero Consulting Group (No. 4 on the BSME list), is a vocal proponent of Pink's central argument: people want to pick their own paths. So, the firm has tried to create "an environment in which people can experience autonomy, mastery and a connection to a higher purpose," she says.
It's that last piece that Habanero has really nailed. The company practises open-book management—no details, financials included, are hidden from employees—so everyone knows the organization's condition and direction. A new profit-sharing program helps to reinforce the link between individual efforts and overall success. "That transparency is critical to our [high] engagement, because people understand the context and see how their efforts are benefiting the business," explains Sanders.
Habanero also has assigned every employee a "performance coach" who helps them make sense of how the work they're doing ties into the broader goals of the company and, in turn, conveys their concerns and comments up through the hierarchy to the appropriate people. No coach works with more than five people, which allows regular in-person contact and thus greater familiarity.
Mid-level intermediaries such as Habanero's coaches are some of the most effective conduits of engagement, according to Kruse. Aside from simply being messengers, he says, "it is these managers who create an environment that fosters the growth, recognition and trust needed to have massively engaged teams."
Personal growth vs. Pizza lunches
The leaders of construction company Reid's Heritage Group (No. 49 on the BSME list) have come to value a bottom-up approach to setting company priorities by a different route. In fact, it was employee feedback—drawn from an annual employee-engagement survey—that told president Tim Blevins and his executive team that Reid's staff wanted one thing more than anything else: personalized opportunities for professional development.
To Blevins, that meant giving each employee money to spend on training that supported their own career goals—and encouraging them to max out their allotments. It also meant renovating an old cabin on the Cambridge, Ont., company's property into a state-of-the-art centre for team development and learning.
Because these are measures that Blevins's staff told him they want, and because he sees a perceptible lift in the quality of work when his employees have a continuous-improvement mentality, making the investment was a no-brainer. "Whatever you can offer that helps people enjoy what they do is worth doing," he says. "There's a real hunger for knowledge here, and it's our job to support it."
Programs like the ones in place at Reid's are effective as long as they focus on customized employee development. "The biggest reason people leave companies is because management doesn't take time to notice what their individual strengths are," says LeMoine. And those strengths aren't necessarily obvious, he adds. "Often, employers will say, 'You're good at this, so this must be your strength. But a strength isn't just something you're good at; it's also something that makes you feel good to do. They're not always one and the same."
For instance, just because Ted in marketing is a whiz at writing ad copy doesn't mean that's his ambition. If you don't ask him about his goals and then give him opportunities to pursue them, he'll look for an employer that does—and you'll lose both his current and his untapped skills.
"You and your managers have to have real conversations with people to understand what drives them to come to work," advises LeMoine. "Then, you have to figure out how you can align that with what you're trying to do as an organization."
Tailored tools vs. Turntable decks
Back in Toronto, Klick's Leerom Segal is convinced that a company can thrive only when its leaders understand what intrinsically motivates each employee. Indeed, he believes that Klick's adherence to this philosophy is a key reason the firm is able to sustain double-digit annual revenue growth.
So it's not surprising that Segal has put a lot of thought into what fires up his people. (In fact, he's just co-written a book about it, called The Decoded Company.) He's not the type of leader who delegates this stuff to the HR department. (Probably for the best, since Klick doesn't have one.) "For an entrepreneur, your people are the thing you invest in more than anything else," he says. "If you don't spend time thinking about your biggest investment, you're not doing your job as a leader—and, frankly, I don't have a tremendous amount of respect for you."
Segal has 300-plus people on his payroll; there's no way he and his managers could support what he dubs "the relentless pursuit of awesome" among employees without a bit of help. His answer: big data. Everything at Klick centres around Genome, proprietary software that consolidates pretty much everything the company does, from work ticketing to budgeting to training to internal social networking.
The platform—which all employees are logged into all day—allows people to track their personal performance vis-à-vis the firm's progress, to contribute to the company's social endeavours (a program called Klick It Forward allows every staffer who completes a project under budget to donate the difference to a charity of their choosing) and to participate in relevant training. The more time staff spend in Genome, the more personalized Genome's interaction with them becomes. The effect is akin to what heavy users of Amazon or Netflix experience, Segal explains. In a sense, Genome is as much an empowerment tool as it is a workflow enabler. "[Big data] doesn't need to be used just to dissect customers and market to be more effective," explains Segal. "It can be used to understand people, too. And by better understanding people, you can curate a much better environment for them."
This kind of technology plays right into what knowledge workers increasingly seek, says Westerlund: "Employees want more manoeuvring room in enabling productivity, and they crave smart systems and tools to work with. The best employers have been creative in the way they capture hearts and minds."
So, if fostering intrinsic personal satisfaction and motivation is what really drives employee engagement, why even bother with the Lego wall? "That's a perk," Segal says with a smile. "It's one way of saying thank you to our people. But that's not what really matters. It's not going to get them to mastery faster."