Leadership

Leadership Through Data: Building a People-Centered Organization

Introduction

“Renat, this is difficult for me to say, but I have been thinking a lot about this and the reality is …. I must end with this circle.”

This is the text I received from my employee. It hit me in the face. My employee just resigned. I received this text on a Saturday morning just as we were prepping for a big launch campaign happening within a week.


I immediately remembered the concept of Extreme Ownership popularized by Jocko Willink. It says that you have to show up as the owner of everything that happens to you, especially the hard realities. As a leader YOU are always to blame, you own up to the problems.


I started analyzing where I messed up. Foremost, I wanted to learn from this experience so that we maximize our chances of success.


About a month and a half later, I received this message:

“Unfortunately, I have some bad news :( ! Had enjoyed working with you (and XYZ), but after the first month, I think this job is not a great fit for me.”


When you own every problem that happens in your life and businesses, your ego gets hit hard. YOU messed up. Again. People quit unexpectedly because you are not as good of a leader. Some resort to pointing fingers at the person who quit - “he was not a good fit either way. Not a team player really. Not that incredible of a violinist, ” but that is not the way to improve one’s leadership.


In both of those instances, I could feel that something was off ahead of time. People would take extra long to respond to my messages, do their work 80% of the way, submit things late, call in sick days or whatever else.


What if I could measure my team’s individual performance and feelings to optimize? Know exactly where they stand professionally and emotionally?


In fact, I’d be an irresponsible leader, if I didn’t know how everyone I manage directly is feeling.


Into the rabbit hole, I went. More solid questions started arising:

  • Why do we use Customer-Relationship Management (CRM), but fail to assess the more important humans in any company - employees
  • Why do we use sophisticated tools for sourcing and hiring people and none after they are hired?
  • Why do people quit? Why do people stick around?
  • What creates the world’s highest performing teams?


Predictably, what creates the strongest teams and what makes people quit are very related.



If I only knew where each team member stands in those categories at each point of time, I would be able to build a world-class team and become a leader on steroids…

My Solution


You might have heard of the Quantified Self movement “self-knowledge through numbers.” The idea is simple: collection and analysis of data for personal improvement. Many of us already gather information like our weight, workout history (BodySpace), what we eat (MyFitnessPal), sleep (Apple Health).


Tracking and changing behaviors accordingly makes sense, because it directly influences the outcomes we are seeking.


What do businesses track?


Top Things Businesses Measure:

  1. Sales Revenue
  2. Customer Loyalty (NPS)
  3. Costs of Customer Acquisition
  4. Gross Margins
  5. Operating Productivity


Why do businesses become successful?

  1. “Companies are a product of the team. [Getting the right people] is probably the most important thing a founder does”. - Sam Altman, the President of Y Combinator
  2. “A company's employees are its greatest asset and your people are your product.” - Richard Branson, the Founder of Virgin Group
  3. “We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with our customers. Because we believe the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people, we invested in employees." - Howard Schultz, Chairman & CEO of Starbucks


People are one of the top reasons why companies succeed. Businesses, all scales and sizes, need to pick the right metrics = people!

Managing The Most Important Asset Through Data

Prometheus' Team Survey

After this realization, we’ve built a 2-minute weekly survey that helped us strengthen our team and its performance with fresh data.


Creating the Experiment

Have you ever filled out these looooong employee evaluation forms with questions?


It’s a very sad picture when poor leaders throw in overly sophisticated questionnaires at people that never yield any productive changes.


My goal is to make data collection useful, but easy and engaging.


Simplicity: Can be filled out in just 2 minutes, but allows space to share as much as desired.

Useful: Track the information that can actually make a difference and that can be turned into actionable insights.  


Numbers will never tell the full story (before general AI rolls out of course). To account for that, I seek to understand the reasons behind people’s grades.


Quantitative: grades themselves, relationships between categories and changes in a categories overtime  

Qualitative: the “why” behind people’s perceptions, specific actions that we can take, learnings and direct feedback to the manager and the rest of the team


Before we move to the actual questions, I have one question to you…


Which person would you rather hire to join your team?


* On the scale 1-5 (Low to High). The numbers in this table are averages in each category for a given person. Leadership during this period stayed the same.


Got you pick? I know I got mine, literally. :)



The first two people on this table left. The third person is one of our top performing employees.


Person 1 had quit because of short timelines and our culture (autonomy & moving fast and breaking things). Not surprisingly this person had the lowest scores for mission alignment (reflects culture), actionable feedback and high stress level.


Person 2 was chill during our work together, but had challenges with original contribution and independent problem solving. Thus the scores.


Fun fact: Person 3 contributed 0.4 points above his avg. when he was stressed at 5.


Person 3 data at stress level 5


Qualitative feedback at stress level 5


Recommended actions when person 5 is stressed:

  • Give more guidance and support
  • Praise for accomplishments that week (individual contribution increase by 0.4)
  • Better time planning and maintaining
  • Give person 3 more challenging work (overall)
  • Assign more creative jobs


The Questions


Here are the questions I’ve come up with after my research and trial & error. I do encourage you to add your own questions tailored to your specific organization. Do share those in the comments.


Qualitative

- What did you like about this week?

- What did you learn this week?

- What can the team improve?

- What would you personally would like to improve on?

- What’s holding you back?


Quantitative

- Overall, how successful do you believe was the team this week?

- Did you feel like you understood the mission and purpose behind what we did this week?

- How meaningful do feel like your contribution was this week?

- How stressed did you feel this week?

- Do you feel that your responsibilities are clearly defined?

- Do you receive actionable feedback from your coworkers?


Building Your Team Survey

I’ve created a cloneable version of our survey in Google Forms that you can get here. Just right click it and hit “make a copy.” Feel free to customize to your needs too.


You can go directly to the Google Sheet attached to the form and analyze your team’s data. I personally use Zapier to get the results directly in my inbox.

Integrating Team Data Into Your Company Culture


In order to make this tool work in your organization, you need to make people want to take the surveys. My team has faced some resistance there. Reflection and feedback can feel scary.


Explain the importance and what they will get out of it! Then enforce this religiously until it becomes a habit. The surveys are a non-negotiable in my organizations.

Emphasizing the Benefit to the Employee:

  • Fixing their issues
  • Improving management and leadership
  • Giving them the resources they need to be successful.
  • Aligning on the common mission and explaining the context behind the tasks they are working on
  • Helping them achieve their goals
  • Sharing learnings (growth)
  • Self-Awareness



Conclusion

Here is the message I’ve received from my team member a week ago:

I want to let you know how thankful I am for being your team… to have this great leader with me…I really admire the person you are as a professional. I do not want to sleep without letting you know that.


I want to live the world, where people seek to understand themselves, people around them and the world as a whole. In which people spend their working lives doing things that give them meaning and fulfillment. The one populated by effective teams and leaders at every level of the workforce.


Weekly surveys are just a tool. It doesn’t matter what tool you use, but the values that you stand for. I see the future, where humans are better connected and aware.


Thoughts become believes only when we act on them. Clone the survey and integrate it into your team culture. Feel free to share this article with your team too, so that they understand the benefits behind the practice.

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