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Blog - Didier Elzinga, author profile

Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp


The last year has seen an explosion of new technology in the employee feedback space. The tools that are available to organizations are more powerful than ever before and there’s been a groundswell of interest in gathering and exploring better people data.

Building on the changes of the past year, in 2018 I see five big trends that will change how employee feedback will help both leaders and organizations.

1. Sophisticated text analytics will help individuals to provide better workplace feedback

Over the next 12 to 18 months we will see the use of text analytics gather speed, particularly in helping people provide better feedback.

In 2017, text analytics gave businesses a much better understanding of free-form answers in their employee feedback. Historically, this qualitative data was difficult to collate and understand alongside quantitative employee feedback. Now, for the first time, people can combine both free-form answers and the rating questions and see how they impact each. The quantitative data can be used to better understand the comments, and the comments add color to the numbers.

In the next year we will see these new analytical techniques and the underlying machine learning being used to help people provide better feedback. The technology will be able to provide context and information that helps individuals write better feedback. Expect to see a number of tools that will help train people to give better feedback – at both the organizational and individual level – which will also improve the data that businesses have to work with.

2. Better insights around the work experience will drive improvements in mental wellbeing

The second trend I see gaining momentum in the next year is more awareness of the connection between employee experience and mental wellbeing. New research is giving organizations the impetus to understand mental illness as a serious issue that’s linked to the everyday work experience.

Historically, many organizations have viewed mental illness as somebody else's problem - if somebody has a mental illness they might try to help them but it’s fundamentally not the organization’s responsibility. Now we’re seeing data and research that explains how mental wellbeing or mental fitness affects the way we work and interact with each other.

In a range of industries, from performing arts to legal services to health services, people are now looking at the experiences their people are having at work and the profound effect mental illness has on their performance. For example, in the US, research has looked at the errors that doctors make when they’re required to work ridiculous hours early on in their training. This has caused long-term damage to individuals and businesses are now realising that they need to be accountable for this.

This research also raises questions about the role organizations should play in changing their own workplace practices. Employee feedback will play a major role in helping organizations to understand the connection between workplace experience and mental wellbeing - and to conduct proactive interventions where required.

3. Feedback will move from a standalone project to an everyday business input

There is a growing trend for employee feedback to not just drive stand-alone engagement programs, but to be a business input that managers can use to make decisions on a day-to-day basis (in the same way managers might use profitability or NPS to track other areas of the business today). We’re already seeing many of our clients use employee feedback as an input into their broader decision-making framework.

Increasingly, we’re seeing line managers and business unit heads recognise the power of employee feedback in framing their broader business decisions.  At the same time, the technology has made it faster and easier to collect, understand and act on people data. Historically, it took three or six months for insights from employee feedback surveys to reach a business, which created its own inertia and gravity.

Now managers are demanding access to employee feedback in real time. As the pace of delivery increases, it’s easier than ever before to include people data in things like monthly management reports and strategy packs. This is creating a recurring cycle where senior management expect and demand people data as an ongoing decision making input. In 2018 I expect to see this trend move to the mainstream.

4. Organizations will conduct their own primary research

A new wave of primary research is being empowered by agile employee feedback technology. As we saw through Google’s Project Aristotle and Project Oxygen, workplace research is no longer just the domain of Industrial and Organizational (IO) psychology departments.

In 2018 there are many other organisations that will follow in Google’s footsteps. They want to ask and answer their own questions (i.e. what makes a sales manager successful in our specific environment?).

Historically, these type of questions have only been asked by IO Psychologists working inside large corporations. Now companies with anywhere from 1,000 to 20,000 people can do this research on their own. They can pose hypotheses and get feedback quickly. Rather than asking one or two questions a year, businesses can ask hundreds of questions a year and get much better answers. This information can also be shared with other organizations or at an industry level, giving more businesses data that will help them make better decisions.

I also have a longer term view that as a result of this trend, we’re likely to see an explosion in the amount of published IO research over the next 3-5 years. At Culture Amp, we’re incredibly excited about the possibilities when thousands of organizations begin publishing their findings about how to build better workplaces.

5. Employee-owned data will drive major changes

The final trend is one that not enough people are talking about - employee-owned data. In the short term, this issue will be driven by the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) around privacy and security. The idea is that an employee should own data about themselves and any data that is identifiable as theirs.

Historically, this is not the way HR has looked at data. They have collected information about performance grades, whether you're marked for succession and comments you've made about other employees in reviews, and this data has rarely been accessible to individual employees. But as data privacy becomes more important to individuals there is a growing expectation that people have the right to access this data and delete it if they choose.

Some companies in our space are already talking about incorporating functionality in software that allows an employee to access everything they’ve told an organization about somebody else and remove it if they want. It raises a lot of interesting questions around statements of record and if things can change after the fact. We don’t know exactly what the future regulatory environment will look like, but in any case, employee-owned data is sure to become a big discussion point in 2018.

There’s no doubt that we’re going to see substantial innovation and change in the employee feedback space in 2018. With so many new tools, data, information and research available at our fingertips, we’re set for another transformational year.

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