The Untapped Resource Startups Can Leverage to Design the World's Best Workplaces

10/24/2017 03:18 am ET Updated Oct 24, 2017
Istock Credit:Xavier Arnau

By: Courtney Bigony, 15Five, The Deep Feedback Movement

Tags: People Analytics, Evidence Based Management, People Ops, Employee Engagement, I/O Psych, Adam Grant, Cade Massey, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Bob Sutton

Companies both big and small want to steer management decisions away from dangerous half-truths and recycled best practices. Stanford professors, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton brought data based decision making to the world of business through evidence-based management to help these companies make better people decisions.

Evidence-based management, decisions that are made on data rather than intuition, provides organizations with the tools they need to make better judgements. Google also kicked off the trend towards data based decision making in HR through their use of People Analytics. At its heart, the core of both People Analytics and Evidence Based Management is to bring data where data hasn’t been used before.

In a conversation about the rise of People Analytics, Wharton Professors Cade Massey and Adam Grant share their insights about how a data driven approach can help HR teams make better people decisions. Massey explains how Google has pushed people analytics forward through science. Instead of relying on conventional wisdom, Google makes decisions by collecting data and running internal experiments. Established companies like Google have big enough sample sizes to run experiments that are statistically relevant.

Companies, both big and small, can be more systematic and scientific in their approach to people. Evidence based management doesn’t have to be confined to large organizations and startups don’t have to wait until they’re large to make evidence based decisions.

Grant makes an important point and notes that there’s still a lot of academic research that hasn’t been leveraged yet. There’s still a gap between what social science research shows and how a lot of businesses operate.

Startups that design leading workplaces from the ground up can leverage organizational psychology research scholars have known about for decades. Using social science research, People Teams can bring data where data hasn’t been used before - to early stage companies that build programs from scratch.

The Benefits of Doing Things Right, From the Start

People Teams in startups invest time and money into designing people programs like onboarding, recognition, and performance management. These programs impact every part of the employee lifecycle, from an employee's first day to their last. The quality of these programs are important because they influence key people metrics including employee engagement, retention, and productivity, as well as customer satisfaction.

When designing these programs, People Teams that work in early stage startups have a unique opportunity. They’re starting with a blank slate and designing from scratch. Whether a company employs ten, 100 or 400 employees, however the company operates at the start, will provide the foundation as the company scales and matures. People Teams that design effective programs early can benefit the most. Startups that design effective programs early on will save money in the long run and won’t have to course correct later once their programs are fully baked.

Why Aren’t People Teams Leveraging Research?

Unfortunately, social science research can be both hard to find and also digest. Research is hidden in academic journals and behind paywalls that only students and professors at academic institutions have free access to. Fortunately, sites like google scholar and academia.edu are challenging the status quo by providing a platform for academics to share their work more broadly.

However, once a study is found, the research itself can be both complex and theoretical. No wonder people teams don’t go near the research. In early stage companies, where the pressure is always high and the primary focus is execution, it can be near impossible to find the time and energy to dig deeper.

New Tools People Teams Can Use

Resources that provide relief through evidence-based and actionable answers are rare and invaluable. Researchers, PhDs, and practitioners from The Center For Evidence Based Management, The Deep Feedback Movement, Science For Work, and Google's re:Work are making relevant and trustworthy academic research easy to digest and act on.

→ The Center For Evidence Based Management (CEBMa) provides support and resources to people interested in learning the foundations of evidence based management. CEBMa teaches practitioners how to find the most trustworthy articles themselves and offers an app called CAT Manager to quickly and easily gauge the integrity of the research.

The Deep Feedback Movement distills and deconstructs leading social science research related to HR programs (feedback, onboarding, recognition, and more) and pulls out the actionable insights people teams can use. When it comes to finding the right actionable research for the right program, The Deep Feedback Movement takes the intellectual sweat equity out of the equation.

Science for Work provides rich, detailed articles on evidence based practices. They cover topics related to teamwork, recruiting, and learning and development to name a few. They also bust the most pervasive myths that guide people teams to make the wrong decisions.

→ Google highlights research, ideas and practices they’ve used to design programs at Google through their site, re:Work. Google offers guides and case studies on a range of topics, from teams and goal setting to hiring and unbiasing.

People Teams in startups can stand on the shoulders of academic giants and act on research that increases employee engagement, retention, and productivity, as well as customer satisfaction. For researchers, their work can extend beyond the confines of peer review journals and impact the lives of real, breathing humans. The gap between the ivory towers and main street is starting to close, creating a win-win for both academics and organizations.

About the author: Bigony (@CourtneyBigony) is Director of People Science at 15Five, the leading performance management platform, and founder of The Deep Feedback Movement, where she provides actionable insights for People Teams based on the latest social science research.

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