By Nils Reisen | 6 minutes reading time
Today is National Inventor's Day in the USA. Because it is still a while until the local Inventors' Day on November 9th, we take the opportunity to tell you about an invention from Switzerland.
Disruptive inventions often come from outside the respective industry. It wasn’t a taxi company that invented Uber and not the hotel industry who came up with Airbnb. At Creaholic, we have been creating innovations based on this principle for the last 30 years: “We’re a team of entrepreneurs, each of whom has specific areas of expertise … and many more areas of ignorance. We know that invention requires both.”
The same story goes for Pulse, our innovative employee survey. Pulse is radically different: Employee feedback is open within the team and improvements are implemented bottom-up instead of top-down. Instead of just giving feedback on the current work situation and hoping for improvement, Pulse provides everyone in the company the opportunity to improve their cooperation and work environment on their own responsibility.
The idea for Pulse was born in the Customer Experience department
Pulse originated at Swisscom*. Inspired by Silicon Valley and complemented by our own experience, we had built up a culture of innovation at Swisscom over the last ten years. This culture aimed to change and advance the company from within. With our team “Human-Centered Design” (HCD), we have developed strategies, offers, methods, KPIs, tools and workshops that help Swisscom and now numerous other companies to work in an innovative and customer-centric manner. HCD consists of product designers, market researchers and the occasional psychologist. Interestingly – and essential in this context –, there are not many people with an HR background.
We came across the topic of employee surveys by pure chance
One of the projects implemented by HCD was the Customer Centricity Score (CCScore), an empirically derived KPI that measures customer orientation throughout the company based on 15 factors. With the CCScore, companies can systematically design and continuously monitor their path to becoming a customer-centric company.
The CCScore is collected internally in the form of an employee survey. While working out the CCScore, we noticed that the “actual” employee survey – a colossus with 70 questions that has been in use for the past ten years – caused quite a bit of frustration. Many questions, much hope, little effect. We have described why this was so here.
So much frustration and waste did not seem appropriate
We firmly believed that feedback is a valuable tool to improve our work, collaboration and the general working conditions. We were also convinced that everyone wants to do a good job but is facing individually different and continuously changing obstacles. These can usually be overcome rather quickly, but not by one person alone, but together as a team. Apparently, however, the previous employee survey was not able to help remove these obstacles.
We confronted the head of HR with this insight. After initial reservations, we got green light to think intensively about how a better solution might look like. Moreover: at that time, a large number of different surveys on various topics was used throughout the company. We were asked to consolidate the internal survey landscape on this occasion.
We worked on this task in the same group that had already developed and introduced the Customer Centricity Score. This interdisciplinary team consisted of HCD and HR experts, supported by a representative from Corporate Communications. I was part of the team and was able to bring in another essential experience. I had introduced the Net Promoter Score as a customer survey at my previous employer and had thus gained much knowledge about short and useful surveys. While there are some essential differences between customer and employee feedback, the basic idea is the same: feedback is a gift. It can help everyone in the company do a better job – provided it gets to the right person at the right time and in the right form.
Our goal: define a new setup for internal measurements, with CCScore and Pulse as central elements. We presented our plan and some initial ideas for Pulse to the board and got their buy-in. Now we had roughly a year to develop the method, write the software and implement Pulse at the company.
Radical improvement demanded radical change
At that time, we did not know that we would be turning quite a few things upside down. At the beginning of the project, we assumed that a modern survey (short and concise) and a timely software solution (real-time results for everyone) would be enough. But the more we looked into the subject, the more we realised: If we really wanted to create a new method that does the trick, we’d have to change some very fundamental elements.
If employee feedback is to lead to tangible changes, it must be available where it has the most significant impact: in the teams. After all, they know best what the results of a survey mean and which improvement measures are possible and useful for them. To properly work with the results, they need to be able to both view and discuss the comments of their colleagues. This, in turn, is only possible in a meaningful way if the feedback within the team is not anonymous.
Once we had realised this, we “only” had to convince our stakeholders. Management, HR and employee representatives had great respect for the move away from the usual anonymity. They feared that employees would either no longer dare to write comments at all or that the feedback would then be used against them.
You can read about how we managed to do this in detail in the next article. So much ahead: we had quite a few good arguments in favour of open feedback, but the success was mainly due to the approach we took. We systematically translated our ideas into prototypes as quickly as possible and tested them with our future users. We put many different variants of our method and software tool through their paces, getting feedback from over 500 employees and 35 teams. When we were finally ready for the launch, one thing was clear – to us, but also our stakeholders: the new approach worked, and the fears were unfounded. When the first survey started in October 2016, there were no surprises. The new approach was very well received throughout the company, entirely in line with our experiences from the pilot studies.
Non-expert naivety helped us to get the idea, systematic testing led us to the final product
If you want to solve an old problem in a radically new way, it helps if at least some of the problem solvers come from a different area.* A large part of our team did not come from the HR department and therefore had a certain healthy naivety about the issue. Delicate aspects, such as the anonymity of such surveys, were much less charged here and could thus be questioned more easily. The key for us was that we did not engage in endless discussions, but tested our hypotheses consistently. Our goal, convictions and principles remained constant throughout but thanks to our iterative approach we could gradually improve the product until it worked. Not surprisingly, it differed rather significantly from our original concept.
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*Swisscom is the leading telecommunications company in Switzerland.