Tech Savvy

Why Emojis May Be the Key to Employee Retention

What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology.

The state of IoT in the U.S. companies: Frankly, I dread the Internet of Things. Samsung makes it out to be a charming ménage that will include my fridge, but the reality is more likely to be an endless stream of texts regarding the intimate details of my washer’s cycle. Meh.

That complaint registered, a new report prepared by Machina Research for the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) suggests that we’re all going to have a lot more stuff to reset whenever our ISPs hiccup. Based on 15-minute surveys completed by a relatively small group of 200 senior execs in companies with revenues of more than $10 million across industries, the TIA reports that 48% of U.S. businesses are already using IoT technologies, and another 43% will be joining them within the next two years. (In short, pretty much everybody.) And spending will follow suit: 44% of corporate IT budgets in 2020 will be dedicated to IoT.

The report further suggests that the corporate focus on IoT is shifting from its use as a straight-up enhancer of product revenue and profit to its use as a real-time data-generation machine that will yield valuable insights that can be used across the business. “The exciting take away is that U.S. companies have begun embracing the strategic and tactical value that IoT data contributes across the enterprise,” says study author Andy Castonguay, an analyst at Machina Research. “The study results point to the fact that a critical mass of U.S. enterprises has started to engage IoT solutions to enhance product design and development, inform operations and customer service, and enhance profitability."

Aligning political and technological agendas: Tom Peters — yeah, that Tom Peters — recently told me that Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s The Second Machine Age was a particularly good read on our technological future. So is their article, “Human Work in the Robotic Future,” in the new issue of Foreign Affairs.

In it, the duo from MIT explore the kinds of government policies that will be necessary in an era of ever-smarter machines. “The choices made now will prove particularly consequential,” they write. “The wrong interventions will hurt the economic prospects of millions of people around the world and leave them losing a race against the machines, while the right ones will give them the best chance of keeping up as technology speeds forward.”

McAfee and Brynjolfsson think that two principles should guide policy decisions. First, they must allow flexibility and experimentation. Forget about defending the status quo and ignore entrenched interests. Instead, the authors say, open up the sectoral playing fields and let innovation reign, while maintaining “legitimate protections,” like workplace health and safety, property rights, and legal accountability.

Second, policy decisions should “directly encourage work instead of planning for its obsolescence.” That means no universal basic income and no big bumps in the minimum wage.

“The safest combination of policies,” write McAfee and Brynjolfsson, “is a moderate minimum wage together with a substantially expanded EITC [Earned Income Tax Credit] or similar wage subsidy.”

In a time when, for better or worse, corporations are increasingly involved in the political arena, execs should be thinking about the kinds of policies needed ensure that technological innovation will have a net positive effect. Whether or not you agree with their specific recommendations, McAfee and Brynjolfsson offer a good starting point.

No emoji? Send in the retention team: The idea that Patagonia maintains a “freakishly low” employee turnover because of people analytics, which is strongly implied in a new article by Anne Fisher in Fortune, is a stretch. Remember, this is the company whose founder, the late and legendary Yvon Chouinard, wrote a management book titled Let My People Go Surfing. But the story does feature a great example of how people analytics can be applied to HR challenges like employee retention.

Before Dean Carter took on the top HR spot at Patagonia, he ran that function at Sears. While at Sears, he installed a real-time system for gathering data on employee morale. “Each day, when they punched out at the end of their shifts, workers were asked, ‘How’s your mood?’” he tells Fisher. “All they had to do was tap an emoji — happy face, mad, blah, neutral, or whichever reflected their state of mind at that moment.”

Sears gained an interesting insight when it analyzed the data. It turned out that the emoji that employees picked was less important than whether or not they picked one. “If a store showed a significant drop in employees picking an emoji, regardless of which one, we found that store had a big attrition problem 30 to 60 days later,” said Carter. “It was remarkably accurate.”

Look around your workplace. How many non-tappers do you see?