When Communication Technology Doesn't Make you a Better Manager
This week the BBC published a story about a new a management technology product called Moodbeam:
If that headline gives you pause for concern, well done, you’re a human being.
It’s not actually an automated tracking product in the most intrusive sense (although I’m sure that’s on the product roadmap). It’s a wristband with two buttons - one to press if you’re feeling happy, the other if you’re sad. By aggregating this data, Moodbeam promises to help you ‘map the happiness across your people and teams, driving positive change and improved wellbeing’. Which is where it all falls down.
It doesn’t take a management genius to work out that the very act of putting a data-gathering rubber band on each employee to improve their happiness is going to make them very unhappy. Even before getting to the issue that it places the burden of ‘happiness notification’ on the employee rather than the empathy of the manager. And that’s even before the concerns about how that ‘happiness data’ might be used. Credit to the eager tweeters who were quick to label it both a Quitbit and an Amazon FireMe.
The issue is not the motives behind Moodbeam, which seem sincere:
We’re not saying that wouldn’t be great. But that’s what good managers are for!
So whilst it would be fun to sit here dunking on Moodbeam all day, there’s a more serious point to this. Moodbeam is a really obvious case of HR technology trying to solve a problem where a more human solution would be more suitable. But many cases are less clear. In the drive to digitise company operations, it can be easier than you think to bring in technologies which promise efficiency but instead compromise the trust and relationships which are the bedrock of high-performing teams (see the recent controversy around Microsoft’s ‘Productivity Score’).
Now some of the brighter ones among you may have noticed, aren’t you a company trying to use technology to help managers? Ahem, yes. Awkward.
Except we’re very aware of the potential tension here. We only started building Kommon because we believed there was a way to build software to help managers in a way that would enhance relationships between team members, rather than detract from them. We actually wrote a whole article about it - you can read it here.
When our product hits the shelves you can judge for yourselves whether we’ve struck the right balance. Just as we hope you do with every product you buy for your teams.