Tech companies depend on data to make decisions on processes and product improvements, but there’s another type of data that companies should be collecting - people data. Leslie Miley, previous Director of Engineering at Slack says, “It's amazing what we in tech have been measuring for the better part of a decade that we haven't really been measuring in people.”
Employee surveys can provide valuable information on how people feel about different aspects of life at work. Some surveys, like the Culture Amp and Paradigm Inclusion survey can be used to understand the level of inclusion people feel in their office. That data can be used to create a more diverse and inclusive work environment, if companies are willing to embrace both the positive and negative sentiments they find.
Different demographics can have completely different perspectives on a single event or concept - so it’s important to consider feedback with demographics in mind. Miley says, “When you have a bouncy house that's not an inclusive culture. What you have to do is ask everyone the question, "What did you think about the bouncy house?" Then cut it across demographic lines. I'm sure you'll see people over a certain age will be like, ‘Yeah, no.’ These are the questions that I think you're going to have to ask. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable because those answers are not going to be what people want to hear.”
You can’t change what you don’t measure
As part of the Growth team, Miley’s team is responsible for every step that a user takes in Slack. Data is integral to their everyday work, including designing experiments. They know how long it takes Slack users to get from sign up, to their first message, to using the platform regularly. These measurements allow them to hypothesize on improvements. “Making experiences in Slack as delightful and seamless as possible takes a lot of measurement,” Miley shares.
Analyzing data to gather insights like Slack’s has been happening in tech for over a decade. “It comes from knowing that you cannot change what you don't measure,” says Miley. However, when it comes to applying this technique to employee data, companies are often not as open to change, especially when they’re faced with uncomfortable results.
Cut the data to reveal more
“It has always surprised me,” Miley shares, “At the companies I've been at they don't measure employee retention. They don't measure how the different groups are impacted. Look at an engineering organization that's 75% white Asian male. Companies aren’t going to see a problem because the ten women, five African American, two Hispanic and LGBT, never crop up. It's so important to cut the data. What is the breakdown? How are different groups experiencing the work environment?”
When running an employee engagement survey, it’s important to take a look at trends across demographics and identities to understand how people experience their workplace. Some of the results will be good, and perhaps reinforce a view that the experience at work is positive for everyone. However, as Miley says, “You're going to be distressed to find out that some of your employees, cut along very clear lines, are not happy. That is going to be the moment where courage comes into play. Almost every company I've been at (prior to Slack) the data did not agree with what leaders said. Or it looked really bad and they would bury it.”
It’s important to be prepared to take action in this situation, rather than ignore the issue and hope it works itself out. Miley asks, “How can you get better if you're not comfortable with what is uncomfortable? How do you get better if you don't take what your employees are saying at face value and try to improve upon it?”
Data wants to be unleashed
Having an inclusive culture is about making sure people feel like they belong, understanding when they don't, and making changes when needed. It can be hard for leadership to hear that the company they helped build may not be inclusive. Miley says, “Help leaders get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It doesn't matter if you don't have an answer. It doesn't matter if you don't have a solution. If you share the data people will come to you with solutions. It helps everyone learn, it helps everyone get better.”