CEO & Founder
Since 2000, PR consultancy Edelman has been producing the annual Trust Barometer. Interviewing thousands of people across dozens of markets, the idea is to create a high-level view of humankind’s attitudes to institutions. How do we feel about our governments? The media? Our employers?
The 2019 Barometer, presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos this January, showed an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, trust in employers is at an all-time high. It seems that our scepticism about politicians has led us back to the hands that feed us. In the absence of politics we can believe in, we look to our employers for guidance. We expect CEOs to lead on social change. We want to feel that our work is having a social impact.
But there’s a flip side to this: never before have we felt so concerned about the rise of technology. We see artificial intelligence, robotics and technology as threats to our welfare. Will my job be stolen by a robot? Will someone create software that can research, or write, or analyse more quickly and effectively than I can? Will I wake up one day to find that the career I’ve spent the last twenty years building has gone the way of the telegraph operator or lift attendant?
People don’t always see the humanising side of technology. When we’re presented with a big idea like Al, many of us instantly think of something mysterious and threatening. Popular culture may have a lot to do with this: think of The Matrix or Terminator movies, where technology is nearly always something to be feared.
But technology - well, the best technology, the sort that people queue outside shops to buy or strain to find a place in the annual budget for - needs to be human at heart. It needs to understand human behaviour. Think of Uber not as a market disruptor (although it is that) but as a technology that makes socialising and travel… effortless. Think of MyFitnessPal, a calorie counter that links with your fitness band and allows you to scan supermarket barcodes so you can calorie-plan while you shop. These tools don’t want to change your behaviour. They fit alongside it.
Now, we’ve talked in the past - in this very publication, in fact - about the behavioural model that drives human actions. Our capacity to act is finite: we don’t have the time and energy to do everything we want to do. This ties to research from Bersin by Deloitte showing that employers are increasingly trying to clarify what is required from employees. Start the day with clarity on what you need to do and end the day with a clear picture of what you’ve done: of course you’re going to be happier and more productive.
The same thinking - and the same rules on time and effort - applies to employee development. We know that, as a tool for developing employees, the annual appraisal is a dubious proposition at best. It attempts to capture a year’s worth of feedback and distil it into something succinct, actionable and memorable in a single session. It rolls goal-setting, performance and evaluation in for good measure. Frankly, it’s the most indigestible meal in history.
That’s just not how people think or behave. If you hit a vital milestone, you don’t want your praise six months later. If you struggle to produce the right results, you need your feedback and support in the moment. The right technology - human-centric technology - should understand these behaviours and reinforce them. And there’s a gap here: to cite research from PwC, 90% of CEOs say that they pay attention to human needs when introducing new technology. Barely half of employees (53%) agree.
Technology like this should be seamless and intuitive. It should operate “in the flow of work”, wedding itself to your routines. Put simply, if your performance management tech is geared to your existing behaviour, you’re far more likely to use and engage with it. You don’t want to hunt down notes, remember actions and dig out milestones. You want to click a button and have it all laid out for you, instantly, so you can get to the valuable and human part: the conversation itself.
If you’re considering making the move from the annual appraisal system to a more considered form of continuous performance, it’s worth thinking about what, exactly, you’re trying to change. New behaviour needs reinforcement. Without a tech framework that’s built with a human-centric view, you may find that you’re simply exchanging one broken system for another.