Can a digital badge lead to a more dynamic company?

sociometricbadgeA startup called Sociometric Solutions wants to help you understand a lot more about how your workplace works: which departments never interact, where people tend to congregate for casual conversations, and which team members seem to talk but never listen. (Just in case you didn’t know that already.) The company makes a badge packed with sensors that is worn around your neck on a lanyard. It’s typically used for short-term data collection within an organization. And companies like Bank of America and Cubist Pharmaceuticals have already been using the Sociometric badge, in combination with records about who tends to e-mail whom, to get a more nuanced understanding of employee communication and interaction.

Cubist, for instance, found that employees really loathed eating lunch at the company cafeteria, so they tended to leave the building or eat at their desks. That led to a big initiative to refurbish the cafeteria and bring in a new food vendor, since the company wanted to encourage lunchtime conversations. Bank of America used the technology to find that worker stress levels were lower in its call centers when people could take breaks together and socialize. Scheduling adjustments made that possible. And simple seating changes, Sociometric has found, can have a major impact on information flows between teams or departments. “Forty to sixty percent of your interactions happen with people who sit near you,” says Sociometric CEO Ben Waber.

Waber envisions using the tags to create a more dynamic organization that continually learns from how its best-performing teams and people work, and spreads that around. “We think companies should be able to experiment, the way Amazon does with its homepage. They’re constantly testing different designs and presentations to find the ones that are most likely to get you to buy, and then roll that out with all of their users. So with our data, people will be able to say, ‘Let’s change the way these 30 people work or are incentivized, or change the layout of one store, and see what the impact is. Today, the clock speed for that is very slow. You send consultants out to observe people, interview them, and figure out, for instance, how the best salespeople operate and try to spread that around. But what we’re moving toward is continuous data collection and feedback. People need to be managed at the clock speed at which their industry changes.”

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