Lots of data shows that employee retention is a concern for many executives. According to a global survey by the Hay Group, 161.7 million workers are expected to leave their employers this year, and the turnover rate is predicted to grow from 20.6% to 23.4% in 2020.
But how do you get employees to stay? A good place to start is to keep them happy.
PeopleSpark, which just launched, wants to foster and measure that happiness using survey software. Designed to be a conduit between managers and their teams, the surveys encourage workers to feel like they’re heard, then summarize all that feedback data for executives up the corporate ladder. By keeping tabs on employee satisfaction, PeopleSpark aims to quantifiably increase employee engagement and retention.
“There’s a strong correlation, just by giving employees the opportunity every week to have a conversation, of actually driving up happiness and productivity,” says PeopleSpark founder and CEO Mitchell Harper. This, in turn, should improve the relationship between employees and managers and encourage engagement.
Employee engagement, i.e. how much enthusiasm and commitment an employee puts into their work and workplace, is something of a performance metric. According to an oft-cited Gallup study, “Companies with engaged workforces have higher earnings per share (EPS) and seem to have recovered from the recession at a faster rate.” Gallup’s findings also revealed that less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2014–the highest it’s been since it started tracking employee engagement in 2000.
To impact employee engagement in a more meaningful way, PeopleSpark aims to replace a quarterly or annual review with its core service, which is a simple weekly questionnaire sent out by managers to touch base with their teams. Instead of asking employees to self-assess their “productivity” or some other business metric, PeopleSpark’s default questionnaire starts with a simple, “How are you feeling?” to narrow down what’s working and not working for the employee.
Managers can customize their own questions, but there’s one they can’t take out: a 1-10 scale of job satisfaction, which is how PeopleSpark believes it can make employee satisfaction quantifiable, by tracking and comparing survey data.
The other half of PeopleSpark’s functionality collects all those responses and scores, analyzes them, and summarizes the data for company brass. Using sentiment analysis, PeopleSpark tracks positivity and negativity among teams and departments, giving a bird’s-eye view of which parts of the company have staff who are more and/or less satisfied with their jobs. Executives can use the analyses to look for trouble spots and identify whether certain processes, tools, managers, or partner companies are cropping up in feedback as problematic.
This macro aggregation is what sets PeopleSpark apart from the traditional (and free) survey out of Google Forms or Survey Monkey. But PeopleSpark’s questions-lead-to-greater-engagement model looks similar to competing survey platforms such as 15Five or TinyPULSE, both of which have been around since 2013.
Harper, who also founded Bigcommerce, a platform for small retailers to set up e-commerce shops, believes that what sets PeopleSpark apart from its competitors today is a focus on design and the absence of buzzworthy business vocabulary. He expects it will really pull away from the competition when PeopleSpark releases more yet-to-be-described features that will facilitate the manager-employee relationship.
“We’re not building an enterprise survey platform, we’re building a platform to facilitate any and all communication between people and their managers inside teams,” says Harper. By pushing out new features quickly over the coming months, Harper says, “we will turn PeopleSpark from a simple product into a powerful, open platform that will sit at the core of the relationship between managers and every person on their team.”
Meaningful trends surface after 10-12 weeks of response data, says Harper. At launch, PeopleSpark only shows analyses, like company report cards. In the future, PeopleSpark will offer bite-sized actions based on patterns seen across the company, says Harper.
Can a weekly questionnaire behind a computer screen really replace the one-on-one quarterly or annual review? Harper thinks feedback from behind a computer screen is actually more honest. This is especially true for millennials, says Harper.
“They’re used to sitting behind a computer screen and talking more than face-to-face conversation. By letting them do it from a computer or smartphone instead of sharing feedback in a one-on-one meeting, they tend to be a lot more open and honest,” says Harper. “A good manager will be able to use that feedback as talking points in their next one-on-one meeting.”
PeopleSpark won’t work well if employees aren’t willing to give their honest feedback. “Honesty is a double-edged sword, isn’t it?” says Harper. “Sometimes it pays to be honest, and sometimes it pays to keep your mouth shut.” Distrust between employees and managers can be a sign of poisonous work culture, Harper believes. “I’m not so naive as to think that one product can fix a company’s culture,” he says. Harper says it’s his job to get the right information at the right time to the people that matter. “It’s up to the manager to use feedback in the right way,” he explains.
Ergo, PeopleSpark is meant to be more of a tool than a flotation device. It can’t diagnose problems if nobody’s talking. But when company culture is healthy, Harper believes PeopleSpark can strengthen communication, which results in a more engaged workforce that feels heard and valued–a workforce that has more incentive to stay.
An added benefit would come if PeopleSpark is widely adopted. Harper wants companies to post their satisfaction scores online to own their reputation, instead of letting anonymous reviews on platforms such as Glassdoor define their company’s satisfaction ratings. This will help companies distinguish their brand, Harper says. Good companies will want to brag about their customer satisfaction via a universal metric, like restaurants posting a Yelp sticker in their window.
“All job pages look the same: a list of jobs, a page where they talk about values, blah blah blah. What if we had a real-time report card, and this is how everyone feels in Engineering this week, this month, this year?” says Harper. “If we can get [PeopleSpark] to a point of critical mass, we can ask people, why don’t they post their score? Why are they hiding? They must not have a great culture.”