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Measuring An Employee's Worth? Consider Influence

The performance review of the future will include services like Salesforce.com's Chatter and its Influencers feature, which measures how much weight you carry among your peers.

Today, your performance review is based on things like sales numbers or number of goals met. Tomorrow, though, it could be based on something that until now has remained ephemeral: organizational influence.

Salesforce.com's Chatter system released a new feature this spring called Influencer. It purports to measure how influential you are within your company, by tabulating, for example, how your fellow workers respond to the items you post to your corporate social network.

It's still a work in progress, senior director of Chatter product marketing Dave King tells Fast Company. But already companies are using it to help them run more smoothly. 

King says he's heard from CIOs, for example, that, when they have a new system to roll out, they'll look up who the most influential people are in various departments and bring them in for a briefing ahead of time, in the hopes they'll be able to evangelize the system to their peers.

At Salesforce.com itself, CEO Marc Benioff has invited the company's top 20 influencers on Chatter to the retreat he hosts offsite for the company's top executives. "Some were 22- or 23-year-old engineers," King says, "and we put them on stage for a couple minutes each to talk about innovation and what we as a company should be doing."

Chatter, which was launched two years ago, is not the only company working on a metric for influence within organizations. Yammer and National Field, other enterprise social networking tools, are also taking a stab at the problem.

The most progressive organizations have always realized that the informal connections employees make with others and the amount of knowledge and expertise they share outside of prescribed work responsibilities contributes mightily to the bottom line. But until now, they haven't had an empirical way of measuring that activity.

Salesforce.com won't disclose exactly how the Influencer algorithm works. It's more than just tabulating number of posts, though. In fact, workers could actually be penalized for sheer volume, if colleagues don't consider their content useful. "We don't want people being noisy," Chatter general manager Kendall Collins tells Fast Company.

Instead, the algorithm looks at things like how many Likes a post gets or how often it's re-shared. "It surveys all the activities you're involved in and weighs them differently," King says.

He adds that managers wanting to evaluate worker influence will probably want to combine the machine-generated score with the output of an explicit recognition system, like Salesforce.com's newly acquired Rypple, which allows employees to give each other badges for great work.

When you add a system like Rypple, King says, "you get a complete picture—not only what's derived [from activity on the system] but also what's declared by peers and managers."

[Image: Top: Flickr user Snugg LePup]

E.B. Boyd is FastCompany.com's Silicon Valley reporter. Twitter | Google+ | Email