Israeli tech aims to neutralize office politics

Israeli tech aims to neutralize office politics

Big data and business intelligence can help bosses keep employees happy and productive, according to data start-up Step-Ahead

Business meeting (Photo credit: Pexels)
Business meeting (Photo credit: Pexels)

For want of a nail, the shoe, the horse, and the kingdom were lost, the old saying goes – and for want of a good working relationship between employees, the company may be just as lost, according to Sharon Rendlich, CEO of Israeli employee data firm Step-Ahead.

“Conflicts between workers can really get in the way of business, and in the way of profits,” said Rendlich. “Sometimes a company is better off separating two workers who would otherwise be working on the same project. The key is find the best talent for the best task, and that’s what our system does.”

Conflict is a natural part of the workplace, according to many studies. A 2008 study by international assessment firm CPP, for example, showed that US employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, time that was worth $359 billion in paid hours. According to the report, “the question for management, therefore, is not whether it can be avoided or mitigated; the real concern is how conflict is dealt with. When channeled through the right tools and expertise, conflict can lead to positive outcomes, such as a better understanding of others, improved solutions to problems or challenges, and major innovation.”

For Step-Ahead, it’s not just about conflict, although that may be the most dramatic aspect of employee relationships the company deals with. “Employers need to get to know what their workers are thinking in order to prepare for problems. If a key worker is planning to leave, or if a worker is wasting time on projects that are not suited to their skills – everyday issues in many organizations – that’s waste for the employer, waste that can be prevented.”

Sharon Rendlich (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Sharon Rendlich (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Step-Ahead uses several methods to get at this information. One of them is a Google-style parsing of email on a corporate network that looks for keywords and indicators of who is communicating with whom in the organization, and how. The system does not actually read messages (although, since it’s a work system, the employer would have that right).

“We’re interested in how people relate to each other, not in ‘spying’ on them,” said Rendlich. “We get insight from communications, surveys, and other network-based input that workers engage in.”

Avi Yitzchak (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Avi Yitzchak (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The tone, frequency, timing, and frequency of messages can tell a lot about what is going on – whether workers are happy or frustrated, engaged or bored, productive or wasteful.

“Often you have situations where a project was imposed on someone who is unhappy doing it, and of course they are not going to do as good a job as someone who enjoys that kind of work. Other times management will impose a team on a leader, failing to take into account previous conflict. That’s important for management to know, even if nothing can be done about it at the moment.”

By acknowledging a good employee’s “pain” at having to work at an unpalatable task and/or work with an unpalatable colleague, and perhaps rewarding him or her in another way, managers have a better chance at quelling the employee’s frustration – and maybe preventing him or her from jumping ship to a competitor.

Rendlich, a social worker, got the idea for Step-Ahead from her work as a manager at Gome, Israel’s Center for Mediation and Coaching. Her partner, co-founder and COO Avi Yitzchak, is a serial entrepreneur, psychologist and organizational consultant who has “been programming since I was 14.”

The system has been tried – and has succeeded – in numerous organizations in Israel, said Rendlich.

“Companies often move people in and out of positions out of convenience or necessity, but often ignore the human factor,” said Rendlich. “Personnel are the most important asset in any organization, and by using business intelligence, employers can much more successfully utilize their staff – making them more productive, and saving a lot of tension, arguments, and ultimately money.”

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