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http://www.wsj.com/articles/bosses-use-anonymous-networks-to-learn-what-workers-really-think-1434930794

TECH | KEYWORDS

Companies are using social networks to get anonymous feedback from workers

Employers are using apps and other tools like Waggl to find out what workers really think. PHOTO: WAGGL

By CHRISTOPHER MIMS
June 21, 2015 7:53 p.m. ET

On the Internet, its a given that anonymity often leads to the worst kinds of
behavior. Anonymous chats and message boards are legendary for turning into
cesspools of disturbing and illegal content.
So it might seem crazy to hand your companys workers the same sorts of tools
for anonymous communication that have proved to be so damaging on the open
Internet. But human behavior is a funny and context-dependent thing.
Take Earls, a Canadian chain of 65 casual-dining restaurants whose workforce
totals as many as 8,000 people at its seasonal peak. Earls used to do annual
surveys, says Brenda Rigney, the chains head of people operations.

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But it now sends short surveys to employees mobile devices at least every three
months. The software that powers these surveys attaches no identifying
information to them. Employers couldnt de-anonymize them if they tried.
Thats how Earls discovered that one of the most important groups in its
kitchensthe prep teams that ready every ingredient that goes into its
foodwere unhappy about the social isolation they felt when coming in at 5 a.m.
every morning, well before the rest of the staff.
No specific remedy could be found, but at Earls, management has become so
obsessed with the engagement of its staff that it now places more importance
on it than sales numbers, says Ms. Rigney. The reason is simple: the leaders of
Earls have concluded that the components of engagementemployee happiness
and commitment to the businessare exactly what drive sales, and therefore the
bottom line.
Something similar is happening at Fair Issac Corp., the San Jose, Calif., creator of
the FICO score, a yardstick U.S. lenders use to evaluate peoples
creditworthiness. When executives there consider promoting someone, they
look at the engagement of that persons team, a measurement the company
updates quarterly, through anonymous surveys.
Ive watched the process of people being selected for expanded roles, and
someone will say, This individual has really struggled with team engagement.
Are we sure we want to double the size of the team he or she manages? says
Richard Deal, Fair Issacs head of human resources.
Both Earls and FICO are arriving at these insights because they are cultivating a
culture of listening to their employees. But its apparent from talking to their
leaders and less senior staffers that this culture is being driven as much by the
tools they are using. It appears to be a classic case of a technology reshaping
human behavior, even leading workers to feel freer to update their supervisors
daily, and in person, one head chef at Earls told me.
Earls uses Culture Amp, a tool that makes it easier to push short pulse surveys
to an app on its workers mobile devices, whenever its leaders want. Fair Issac is
using Glint, which bills itself as Culture Amps more-sophisticated,
business-grade cousin. But all these tools accomplish the same thing. They allow
companies to quickly and anonymously poll their workers.
Little things happen at work that get to you, and you dont notice it, and pretty

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soon you just get cranky, says Josh Bersin, who studies these systems for
financial consulting and audit firm Deloitte. Then you ask yourself, Doesnt the
management care? And the problem is, they do care, but the management
doesnt know.
Mr. Bersin adds that the key to this new breed of internal-communications
toolsand this was emphasized again and again by everyone I interviewed is
that they are anonymous.
Anonymity is a tool for honesty, after all. On the wider Internet, it encourages
perhaps too much honesty. But, within a companywhere most people just want
to do their jobs, and not get fired for speaking upit helps people raise problems
and solutions that they might otherwise be reluctant to bring up.
These systems dont have to be one-way, as in the case of surveys. Waggl, which
lets companies make their internal polls public, while keeping the responses
anonymous, allows employees to vote on which issues raised by their peers are
most pressing. Its kind of like Reddit for your suggestion box, and its an app.
Every two weeks during an all-hands meeting at Glassdoor, a Mill Valley, Calif.,
software company whose service lets employees rate employers, the chief
executive answers questions from his own employees that bubble up through
Waggl.
If youre sitting around all your peers in a meeting and your CEO says, Anybody
got a question? its pretty darn intimidating, says Samantha Zupan, Glassdoors
head of communications.
But being able to stay anonymous, through an app, helps employees overcome
their reluctance to ask the tough questions, she adds.
Glassdoor is a prime example of how anonymity is changing corporate culture.
With eight million anonymous evaluations of more than 400,000 companies, it
allows job seekers to find out what its like to work at a company before saying
yes to a job. Thats forcing companies to deal with problems internally, before
they become fodder for public discussion, says Ms. Zupan.
For the workplace, the future of anonymous social networks looks something
very much like the apps already popular with young people.
Deloittes Mr. Bersin predicts something like the anonymous social network Yik
Yak, but for work. Yik Yak, used on college campuses, is controversial: some

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critics say its anonymity encourages cyberbullying. But it is valued at between


$300 and $400 million.
Some startups are already exploring similar models. I think this technology has
the potential to be transformational, because otherwise people go to Glassdoor or
Facebook, says Mr. Bersin. All this noise is going to go somewhere.
Write to Christopher Mims at christopher.mims@wsj.com

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