Know your company

Know Your Company, from 37 Signals, is a really interesting looking idea. As with all their products, from Basecamp to Highrise, it has resulted from scratching their own itch – in other words, solving a problem they had.

37 Signals CEO Jason Fried says that Know Your Company aims to meet the following outcomes:

  1. Every week I wanted to learn something new about how my employees felt about our business, our work, and our culture.
  2. Every week I wanted everyone to know what everyone else was working on. It’s not enough for me to be informed – everyone’s in this together.
  3. Every week I wanted everyone to share something non-work related with each other. A book they read recently, a new recipe they’ve tried, something, anything that would help form surprise bonds between people.
  4. I wanted all this information catalogued and plotted over time.This way I could spot trends and shifts in morale, hone in on longer-term insights, spot outliers that need special attention, etc.

The system they developed also met the following requirements.

  1. As CEO, maintaining a healthy culture isn’t someone else’s job — it’s my job. I had to take responsibility for knowing my people and knowing my company. That buck starts and stops with me.
  2. Answers only come when you ask questions, so the tool had to be built around questions. People generally don’t volunteer information re: morale, mood, motivation unless they’re directly asked about it.
  3. The entire system had to be optional. No one at the company should be forced to use it. Forcing people to give you feedback is ineffective and builds resentment.
  4. This couldn’t be a burden on my employees. Employees would never have to sign up for something or log into anything.
  5. Information had to come in frequently and regularly. Huge information dumps once or twice a year are paralyzing and lead to inaction.
  6. I had to follow-through. If someone (or a group of people) suggested an important change, and it made sense, I had to do everything I could to make it happen. I wasn’t creating this system to gather information and do nothing about it.
  7. It had to be automated, super easy (for me and my employees), non-irritating, and regular like clockwork. This had to eventually become habit for everyone involved. If it ever felt like something that was in the way or annoying, it wouldn’t work. It had to be something people looked forward to every week.
  8. Feedback had to be attached to real people – it couldn’t be anonymous. You need to know your people individually, not ambiguously. If someone has a problem, you need to know who it is so you can talk to them about it. This requires trust on everyone’s part.
  9. Success depended on a combination of automated, and face-to-face, back-and-forth with my team. The unique combination of automated and face-to-face communication play off each other in really positive ways.

Those nine requirements could work for any online tool, I reckon!

The whole thing sounds pretty cool and I would imagine that this kind of business intelligence tool is the sort of thing that anyone wanting to work a bit better needs to have available. Right now the Know Your Company website is pretty coy about what this thing looks like and how it works – but if reality matches the promise, it ought to be a terrifically useful tool for leaders in organisations.