Backfeed seeks to make the workplace – and the world – more fair

A novel application of blockchain technology ensures that workers get what they deserve – and that’s only the beginning, says Ore Landau

With Backfeed, it's all for one and one for all (Courtesy)
With Backfeed, it's all for one and one for all (Courtesy)

According to several studies, recognition for their work is more important than even money for many employees, and above all else they hate to see credit go to the wrong address.

A top-down, management-based system is so embedded in the fabric of modern business that few could imagine things operating differently. But there are alternatives, according to Ore Landau, the company “philosopher” (and also a developer) at a new Israeli start-up called Backfeed.

“Using blockchain technology, we upend the pyramid of decision-making and credit-giving in an organization,” Landau told The Times of Israel. “We are all about fairness. Using our system, workers get the recognition they deserve, making them more motivated and making the business run more smoothly and profitably.”

Actually, said Landau, the management model is just one example of how the Backfeed system can be used.

“Imagine Facebook owned by its users, people lending or borrowing money, buying and selling goods or services without relying on banks or PayPal, or insuring each other directly without intermediate insurance companies. That’s part of our vision – hence our slogan, ‘decentralizing the present.’”

Management, said Landau, provides an excellent example of how Backfeed works – and a practical one, because it’s already in use in some organizations.

Landau and the Backfeed team — led by Matan Field, whose La’Zooz is employing blockchain technology to create a decentralized, user-run cooperative transportation system — are not the first to notice the flaws in the traditional top-down management system, where workers are subject to the mercy of managers and may most of their efforts into doing not what needs to be done but what they think will make them look better in the eyes of their bosses.

Some companies – among them online shoe seller Zappos – have eschewed traditional management and adopted a flat management style, in which authority rests not with a manager but with every worker, who is in effect a manager of everyone else in the organization. What counts is not the management structure but the rules; theoretically, the CEO is just as bound to those rules as anyone else, and can be called out on the carpet by any worker for not following them.

But the returns aren’t in on flat management. In the case of Zappos, about 14% of workers left the company rather than participate in the new system, according to Inc. Magazine. That could be due to the fact that even though traditional management roles are eliminated in flat management, traditional office politics aren’t – so workers who want to get ahead end up allying with those who they think can help them, and marshall their colleague worker/managers to gang up on those standing in their way.

But flat management paired with blockchain technology, according to Landau, provides a complete answer to the dilemma of how to get people to work more effectively. Blockchain is the building block of Bitcoin and is what makes the digital currency secure, because no one in a chain of transactions can do anything that affects anyone else in that chain without everyone knowing about it.

Ore Landau (Courtesy)
Ore Landau (Courtesy)

Backfeed has applied that model to management.

“Our system puts everyone in charge of a project, and clearly shows who has contributed what to it,” said Landau. “Each worker/contributor is clearly identified, and other workers who provide feedback, both positive and negative, are identified as well, so there is no behind-your-back politicking. Everyone provides an evaluation of others, and the Backfeed software decides how much weight to give to each evaluation, so that only serious evaluations – as opposed to politically or otherwise motivated opinions – get the proper weight in an overall evaluation of a worker’s contribution to a project.”

With Backfeed, anyone who is part of a project, whether department-based or company-wide, gets registered in a file that lists the tasks, responsibilities, goals, milestones, and anything else needed to manage the project. Everyone has access to the file, and can make adjustments – marking off milestones, etc. – by signing in, using their unique ID, based on blockchain access – meaning that the changes they make to the file are automatically updated in everyone else’s copy of the file, using their digital signature.

When the project is completed and it’s time for evaluations, each participant rates the contributions of each other – with those evaluations digitally signed as well. That is the time for Backfeed’s unique take on things, said Landau.

“Anyone can say anything they want about any other worker, of course, but our system makes sure that only the people who have something serious to say are paid attention to. When a worker critiques someone, that critique is digitally signed, and others can see who made it – and criticize it if they feel the evaluation was inaccurate. That negative evaluation will reflect on the reputation of the individual who disapproved of their fellow worker’s work, and our algorithm will give it less weight when the final evaluation of who contributed most to a project is determined by the Backfeed system.”

Because it uses the blockchain – where everyone is identified, and all copies of a project file are automatically updated with the digital signature of anyone making a change to the file – all data is recorded in the name of the person entering it.

“Once workers realize that their own digital reputation is on the line, they will be much more honest in their evaluations, because they know that any inaccurate criticism is likely to be jumped on by others, diminishing their reputation. And even if they don’t care about that, the Backfeed system will put them in their rightful place by giving little weight to their opinion,” said Landau.

“That’s the ‘back’ part of our name,” said Landau. “Whatever you feed into the system can come back to help you, or haunt you. If your comments aren’t genuine – or if your contributions to the project aren’t judged as good by your peers as they should be – your reputation suffers. It’s like a digital of version of making sure your own lawn is mowed before you start criticizing the neighbors.”

More than a management system, Backfeed is actually a platform – and has visions far beyond the corporate boardroom.

“We also have a revenue model,” said Landau. “Users will be able to license the system – and our algorithms – for use in their organization, or pay us to set up a system for their use.”

The Backfeed system has other features that can be used in management and other applications, such as reward tokens for a job well done, and reputation rewards that can be expressed in a number of ways. “Our system is already being used in several organizations – ours, of course, as well as Hylo, a work-centered social network, and Ouishare, which is using it to coordinate a major conference on the sharing economy.

“So far, the reviews for our model have been excellent,” said Landau. “In most organizations, you keep producing and innovating until you reach a certain position – when you stop innovating, because you know you aren’t going to go any further. With Backfeed, there’s no limit to what an individual, or an organization, can accomplish – because everyone is working for themselves, but together. We feel it’s the wave of the future.”

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