FRANCISCO — Amy Errett wanted to gauge employee
happiness at her e-commerce startup, but surveys weren’t
working. Responses were often vague, unhelpful or,
worse, deceitful. And even if she promised anonymity,
some workers didn’t trust the process.
just never had consistency and objectivity," said
Errett, who runs the 75-person San Francisco e-commerce
hair care company Madison Reed.
she called in outsiders for help.
new breed of human resources startups is cropping up to
help companies figure out how their employees feel. By
building and licensing software that has the specific
purpose of measuring employee engagement, they allow
companies to do snap polls, target specific teams and
demographic groups, offer employees anonymity and
complaint hotlines, and in some cases allow
whistle-blowers to bypass C-suite executives and go
straight to the board of directors.
now got tools such as Strava and Fitbit for tracking
your health, but where’s the Fitbit for your
company?" said Jim Barnett, co-founder and chief
executive of Bay Area startup Glint, whose software
analytics tools are used by companies to measure
said she gained more insight into what her employees
were thinking and feeling in three years using Glint. In
addition to the snap surveys and polls of specific
teams, it offers a heat map of the company showing at a
glance which units have the most complaints and which
managers have low approval scores — allowing her to
drill down on why.
are coming to realize they must stay on top of their
workplace culture, lest they become the next Uber, which
has been enmeshed in scandal since a former employee
published a blog post describing an environment of
harassment in which those who spoke out were punished.
startups such as Glint, this desire for oversight is a
lucrative business opportunity. The global governance,
regulation and compliance industry could be worth more
than $118.7 billion by 2020, according to finance tech
insights website Let’s Talk Payments.
Colo., startup Convercent, which helps companies prevent
and detect bad behavior, saw an uptick in interest and
activity earlier this year amid Uber’s fall into
disrepute. Convercent has nearly 600 clients, including
Airbnb, Microsoft and Tesla. Uber recently signed up as
a client. Like Glint, Convercent lets companies send
customized "pulse" surveys, gather
confidential responses in real time and view heat maps
of its problem areas. It also offers an anonymous
texting hotline that lets employees report bad behavior.
And if the chief executive is implicated, complaints go
straight to the board of directors.
court of public opinion has usurped regulators,"
said Patrick Quinlan, the founder and chief executive of
Convercent. If a company is found to treat its employees
poorly or behave unethically, even if regulators don’t
step in, it can face costly consequences from consumer
boycotts, employee attrition and lawsuits, Quinlan said.
Tuesday, the restaurant chain with more than 25,000
employees across 500 locations, has used Convercent for
more than a year to ensure employees are aware of
policies and procedures and offer an easy way to reach
its corporate headquarters.
if an employee wanted to report a problem, he or she had
to find a phone number or email for corporate
headquarters, lodge a formal complaint, and hope it was
taken seriously. It was often an intimidating and
uncomfortable experience, said James Vitrano, Ruby
Tuesday’s general counsel, who said there was no good
way of tracking employee complaints.
that the company is using Convercent, though, problems
that were previously hidden from executives who sat in
offices cities or states away — such as
discrimination, harassment or unfair wage practices —
can be more quickly identified and addressed.
can get closer to that holistic, 360-degree view into
the employment experience," said Vitrano, who
oversees Ruby Tuesday’s risk management group.
"And we’re protecting our shareholders from
started taking ethics, values and employee engagement
more seriously in 2002 after accounting firm Arthur
Andersen collapsed because of ethical violations from
the Enron scandal, Quinlan said. But it wasn’t until
"social media came into its own" that
companies realized they couldn’t stop their dirty
laundry from going viral online.
to using technology to monitor ethics, people used hope
as a strategy," he said.
Glint and Convercent offer their software as a service,
charging companies recurring fees to use their products.
It’s a business model and opportunity that has the
approval of venture capital investors, who have propped
up both startups. Convercent raised $10 million in
funding in February from firms such as Sapphire Ventures
and Tola Capital, bringing its total capital raised to
$47 million. Glint secured $10 million in November from
Bessemer Venture Partners, bringing its total funding to
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investments hardly come as a surprise, given the
interconnected nature of companies, culture and venture
a growing body of research showing today’s employees
expect more from their workplaces than before. In
competitive markets such as Silicon Valley, high
salaries and interesting projects are merely table
stakes. Employees want to feel that they’re accepted
and valued and that they’re giving their time to a
company with a positive mission.
people are happy to be at a company, feel their voices
are heard, and that the work they are doing is
rewarding, they are more committed to making that
company successful," said Nina McQueen, vice
president of global benefits and employee experience at
LinkedIn, which uses both Convercent and Glint.
achieve returns when their portfolio companies do well;
companies do well when employees are committed and
engaged. If third-party analytics tools promise to
increase employee commitment and engagement, it’s no
wonder they’re finding backing.
data on employee engagement is important, according to
workplace culture experts. But the data are useless
unless a company’s custodians take action. In fact, if
a company asks employees for their feedback, it can set
an expectation that change is on the way. And if change
doesn’t come fast enough, or at all, it can breed
disappointment and make employees disengaged.
you’re going to ask for 4,000 suggestions, you need to
be prepared to have 4,000 conversations," said
Russell Raath, president of consulting at business
management firm Kotter International, who has seen
companies make the mistake of relying too much on data
collection. "Because if you don’t follow through,
employees will wonder, ‘Did you really hear me? Do you
care? And if you don’t care, why should I care?’"
Reed, which now does monthly employee surveys, has been
able to take action the same day a problem is reported
on Glint, according to Errett. And, after gathering
feedback from employees frustrated by the speed of
decision-making and the quality of communication, she
was able to reorganize several teams within the company
and add communication training to address the issues.
at Ruby Tuesday, the company is getting new insight on
its employees, and it’s hoping that in the long run,
this will convert to better retention of workers in an
industry known for high turnover.
you’re not committed to creating a culture of
transparency, you’re going to lose people,"
Vitrano said. "And if you lose people, you’re
going to lose customers. And when you lose customers,
you’re going to lose companies."