Blog Post

How to Make People Management Software More Human?

Ten years ago, would you have been comfortable putting your resume online? Would you have considered the web a place to socialize? LinkedIn and Facebook are clear examples of how software can change cultures. They’ve changed the way we interact and the way we work.

Some fear that software is creating an even bigger divide between people, by reducing our interpersonal interactions to a series of abrupt and impersonal blurts on a mobile device. There’s a lot of noise in cyberspace, that’s for sure, but when it comes to work, software actually can have a humanizing effect. It just has to be designed and used responsibly.

The problem is that most people management software isn’t built for responsible use. Online performance review tools, for example, are designed to make the oft-dreaded review process more “efficient,” by doing things like making it easier to capture, store and recall assessments. They offer fancy visualizations of organizational structures and lots of other features for ranking, calibrating and otherwise evaluating employees.

While moving from paper to online is a step forward, particularly for incorporating remote workers into the review process, these tools can be dehumanizing; they reduce each of us to a series of rankings and competence scores. They support an unnatural process of infrequent, uncomfortable conversations. They’re giving workplace software a bad rap!

It doesn’t have to be this way. A new type of people management software – social business software – can free us from these bonds. Here’s what it looks like:

1. It’s designed for people, not process. Traditional people management software is built to make archaic processes, like performance reviews, more efficient. We don’t thrive in the top-down, fear-based and rigid work environments that reviews can promote. Management software needs to work the way we work: in a social, collaborative and well-informed manner. It needs to encourage conversations, not stifle them. As Samuel Culbert puts it: “Asking and listening. Imagine that. It’s called a conversation, and it’s a rarity in workplaces today.”

2. It’s simple. Don’t let RFPs get in the way! The people who make and sell software often get caught up in the hype (and hope) of what they think it can achieve. In pursuit of the next big deal, they bloat their software with all sorts of extra features to accommodate every corner case and obscure scenario. Check out your HRIS system or performance management tools and work out what percentage of features you and your team actually use. When considering software to support your people, you should be asking: how many features has your vendor killed lately?

3. It’s social, not transactional. Features should be natural extensions of the way we actually work. Social business software should make it easy for people to express themselves, share ideas and help each other. It should improve visibility and transparency, and it should make it easier to work together as a team. That way it’s more likely to be used and less likely to be derided as a burden.

Traditional workplaces aren’t hyper-structured and process-laden because that’s a better approach. These constructs were management’s only way to create order. Rigid hierarchies and performance reviews, for example, are nothing more than coping mechanisms introduced by traditional corporate leadership to help them share knowledge, allocate resources and manage remote teams. Software that’s designed to make these processes more efficient is unnecessarily perpetuating the fallacy that organizations are better off this way. With so many companies still operating this way, it’s no wonder most people aren’t passionate about their work.

I’m all for automation, but not when its goal is to streamline inhuman and outdated process. The biggest gap in enterprise people management software today is that it doesn’t consider the actual people who use it. Instead, it’s a collection of features through which arcane processes manifest themselves more quickly and more efficiently than ever before. That’s dangerous.

Management software designed with people in mind doesn’t replace or truncate conversations; it simply makes sure conversations actually happen, that they happen often, and that they’re useful.

Daniel Debow is co-CEO / founder of Rypple — social software that makes feedback easy. He’ll be speaking at our Net:Work conference in San Francisco next month.

Photo courtesy stock.xchng user davdibiase

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):

One Response to “How to Make People Management Software More Human?”

  1. Well said Daniel. Geoffrey Moore at E2.0 in Santa Clara summed it up nicely by saying that we’re not talking about systems of record, but rather systems of engagement. Nice expression that furthers the thought around social software.