Klick developed the revolutionary management tool – Genome. A custom-built intranet with a full suite of tools aimed at managing time, budgets and people; replacing e-mail, timesheets, spreadsheets, memos and office gossip (amongst other things) by harnessing big data and social technologies. It has been the key competitive advantage that has allowed Klick to evolve into the world’s largest independent digital health agency.
Klick Health is the world’s largest independent digital health agency. We are laser focused on creating digital solutions that engage and educate healthcare providers about life-saving treatments. We also help inform and empower patients to manage their health and play a central role in their own care. Every solution hinges on our in-house expertise spanning the digital universe – strategy, creative, analytics, instructional design, user experience, relationship marketing, social and mobile.
We pride ourselves in creating one of the most unique and innovative workplaces in North America. Klick Health is the sole recipient of the triple crown of Canada’s most recognized awards: Best Employers, Best Managed, and Fastest Growing Technology Company in North America.
We are so proud to have celebrated our fifteenth anniversary this year, especially as we’ve been able to achieve an average growth rate of 30% every single year since our inception (achieved entirely through organic growth). As an industry-leading organization that relies solely on organic growth (in an industry dominated by mergers and acquisitions), we are 100% dedicated to investing in our internal talent.
We are a data driven company, and what sets us apart most is our obsession with understanding our talent just as much as we understand our clients. We are a center of gravity for the best talent in the world (currently ~300 employees), and it is our goal to equip our people with the very best tools at our disposal. That’s where Genome comes in.
The Genome Story:
Many of the tools that are used for management today are simply digital artifacts of a bygone management era. As Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked them what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Email, spreadsheets and memos replace letters, ledgers and the paper posted in the lunchroom. Meanwhile, our very lives have been transformed by the powers of social and data. Everything has changed, from the way we buy, sell, socialize, and even find dates. Despite this transformation, management has held fast to its traditions, solving modern problems with antiquated solutions. As a company, Klick wanted to harness those technologies and transform the way that we work. We wanted to make working as simple, enjoyable, and smart as the rest of our lives.
Genome is unique to Klick, and the reason that we called our platform Genome is because it’s such a fundamental part of our company that it might as well be our DNA. Every single employee is logged into Genome from the time they arrive in the morning to the time they go home at night (and often beyond that on their mobile devices). To give you an idea of scope, today Genome has over 1.4 million unique pages, which represents over 450,000 tickets (tasks), over 4,000 projects and over 50 unique tools. Genome is a fully integrated “social” environment, including a dynamic and personalized social feed, positive feedback through kudos and recognition, profiles, etc.
Genome has three primary goals: project consistency, engagement, and performance. The way we work is collaborative, data-driven, and fun, and we try and weave this into each of the three major buckets.
We started out with a simple idea: we despise e-mail. It seemed like an incremental improvement on the office memo. We challenged ourselves to find what was right for us; just because everyone else is doing it, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.
But we didn't just want to get rid of e-mail and replace it with another product, or suite of products; we wanted to create a centralized set of tools tailored to the task, to allow for big picture oversight of all the moving parts. The only solution was to build a custom in-house intranet system that can address ALL of our business requirements in one place and allow us to codify our battle scars, predictively model outcomes and ensure that we've got the right data to drive our direction.
At its core, Genome is a task management system that allows for the organization and prioritization of key tasks. It provides clear accountability, shows the relationship between tasks and employees and avoids the pitfalls of vague emails sent to multiple recipients. It also serves as a critical process enforcement tool, managing everything from project budgets and invoicing, to time tracking and scheduling, to even automatically ordering lunch for you when you scan into the building!
So our first A-HA moment was annihilating e-mail, but once we centralized everything through Genome, we realized we were sitting on a gold mine: data. Tons and tons of data. This data has allowed us to streamline processes, provide personalized data-driven experiences for our employees (think about what you see when you log in to Amazon.com, and imagine if your work was that smart) and even incorporate more fun in our business.
Genome has been an evolving process. When we started, we were focused on process, accountability and task management. The system practically paid for itself by allowing us visibility into all projects and tasks, allowing us to redirect our course earlier, and save on the kinds of expensive mistakes that happen when you find out about a problem too far down the line. And we had data to prove it, showing leaner projects, better budget estimates and ultimately, better more consistent work for our clients.
Once we had that part of Genome created, we had data. We knew what was working and what wasn't, and we used that to make our decisions about the next new improvement in Genome – and our business.
But we weren't just about data. We used our ticketing system for tasks to allow any employee in the company to suggest an upgrade, fix or feature for Genome. The best judges of what you need are the people using the tool, and a lot of our best features have been suggested by employees.
All of these features were built in-house, and for the first few years, it was a downtime project. If you were waiting on work, you could go in and grab a suggestion and make it a reality. This was cheap, gave us a lot of awesome features and ensured buy-in (how cool is it to have that much agency in your work!), but we found that the bigger projects were harder to complete, so we created a dedicated team.
Everyone on the team had experience in the front lines of different areas of the company, and they were able to handle the bigger projects that the one-off solution hadn't been able to handle. The results have been awesome, with the rate of new features increasing almost five-fold.
We've nearly doubled our number of employees in the last year, and that is really thanks to Genome. Where other companies would invest in an acquisition, we've invested in Genome, as we see it as the key to our future success and a totally scalable solution to the kind of massive growth we've experienced.
Although the original idea for Genome was conceived by Aaron Goldstein, COO, the driver’s seat has shifted over the last 10 years to an even mix of grassroots and executive vision. New features are suggested by our entire team at least half the time, with the other half representing executive mandates from our Senior Leadership Team (SLT). The divide leans more heavily to our team for minor updates and improvements, with 70% coming from employees and 30% from the executive team.
We’re careful not to put more emphasis on the tools that come from the executive team unless they’re mandated as part of our operating procedures. This is particularly true for the more social features, which we view as ongoing experiments subject to digital Darwinism. If our team uses the tool, we keep it. If they don’t, we make a few tweaks and redeploy. If we still don’t get use, we abandon the tool and move on. We don’t have egos about it. We want Genome to be loved and we don’t enforce use with the exception of things like scheduling time because, try as we might, we can’t get people to love scheduling their time.
A full-featured roadmap is a significant undertaking, so the development of Genome has been an evolving process over the last decade at Klick. Like any strong functional or tactical undertaking, our long-term Genome roadmap is rooted in key business strategies. Having a well thought-out plan ensures that we are all focused on the same target and, more importantly, ensures that we aren’t building a set of independent features, but rather, are creating an ecosystem where the whole is significantly greater than the sum of its parts.
In our experience, core components can be developed and deployed in self-contained modules, creating very rapid development cycles. The cycle time for any one feature, from concepts to deployment to critical mass is generally less than ten weeks.
In terms of execution, we’re far too realistic to believe that a full-featured strategy can be carefully crafted, executed, and “turned on” on some distant launch day. Interactive development cycles — borrowing heavily from Agile practices — quickly emerged as the fastest and most cost effective way to make tangible progress towards the ultimate vision. They allow for frequent feedback loops from end users, ensuring they are part of the solution and dramatically reducing any resistance to adoption and change. They also provide a logical opportunity to revisit the roadmap and make subtle course corrections based on new inputs or changing landscapes.
Our timeline of launches began with ticketing and task management tools; followed by social tools (both non-traditional and traditional); followed by tools aimed at business communication, collaboration and data exploration. We already had the most robust business platform we could imagine for our business, tracking every possible data point. The next step was to consolidate and organize data into actionable insights, present those insights to users, and trigger the conversations we wanted teams to have. These include conversations about trends, patterns, avoiding landmines, and making the course corrections necessary for success.
This started at the project level, evolved to the program level, and eventually to the user level, where each user is presented with a guided review of their entire professional universe, specifically tailored for them. Whether they need to dive deep into project details, focus on the health of an overall program, take action on their personal objectives, or support a direct report in an issue flagged in their review, each user is presented with the insights they need to inform their intuition and take action.
We next focused on knowledge management. Our work is managed by homegrown business systems, our teams are part of an integrated orchestration of moving parts, and our clients require us to have deep knowledge of their industry. All of this must be part of our knowledge and skillset in order to be successful and investing in the proper training tools would certainly produce results. The result was the next phase of our social platform, Klick Academy, including the more informal Klick Talks, and timely executed Teachable Moments (tools described below).
The Roll-Out Plan:
We believe in including our end-users in the process from the very beginning, along with making sure that we're using our data to make decisions. Strong buy-in and successful adoption is achieved when you involve the users in the change itself, and through feedback loops that continuously enable that change to happen.
For example, when planning to introduce a new project management feature into Genome, Project Managers should be involved in the spec'ing process. When the final product is launched, the tool has incorporated their ideas and has their stamp of approval on it. The changes will have truly addressed their needs, and they can feel a sense of ownership over the tool and the entire development process as well.
Once the tool is built, we use a soft launch approach. When about to implement a new tool or launch an updated version of a tool, we create a small sample group to represent the company. They test out the tool, gather data on usage, provide feedback, and the team makes adjustments before it's launched to the entire company.
The people in the soft launch group feel like an elite team with the privilege of seeing things in advance. This in turn creates advocates for the tool’s adoption, as well as creating ambassadors for future changes. It’s win-win for the Genome team because it means that we get fewer suggestions for fixes after launches, and it gets everyone involved in their work environment, increasing engagement and agency. It also helps that every big new feature in Genome has an executive sponsor, so that people understood that we were serious about innovation and change.
Tools in Genome:
Many consider email to be the first online social network in that it creates connections between people and facilitates the exchange of information in various formats. Although we would agree that it deserves recognition as a proto-network, it brings along a number of challenges from a business perspective, including important messages buried in inboxes, lack of proper archiving, loss of content and attachments over time, etc. Critically, we believe that email fails to model the ways in which we connect and collaborate with our colleagues, particularly as we work together on complex tasks that touch many files stored across multiple networks. This led to our very first tool in Genome over ten years ago — the foundation of our social environment — called Tickets. Tickets replaced email as the primary mode for collaborating with colleagues and understanding the social and talent graph within our company.
Unlike email, tickets were more like conversations, complete with comments and the ability to obviously direct a question to a user through unique assignment. It encouraged colleagues to ask questions and collaborate on a task, and kept a history of the evolution of a task for team members joining part way through its completion. Although we’ve added features over the years, tickets have remained largely unchanged since their inception.
Tickets created a new expectation of social behavior and Klick had laid the foundation for the culture we enjoy today. Although they were an excellent start, there are many situations in which technology cannot replace some good face-to-face or phone time. Recognizing the need to facilitate social connectivity both inside and outside of our electronic environment, we developed a set of tools aimed at making it easier to collaborate in-person and on the phone.
Klick has grown to occupy three floors of an office tower. As our team travels between floors, they swipe in and out using their security badge and badge reader at each door. When we need to physically find a fellow team member, we simply log into Genome, hit control-space, then type their name — we call this quick search utility “Finder”. Genome will reveal their location within the building as well as other information it knows through our 50+ tools: 2nd floor, 3rd floor, 4th floor, Travelling (all travel is booked through Genome), Not in yet (when away for > 5 hours), Away (when not in the building but has been in < 5 hours ago), or On Vacation (also booked through Genome).
The next iteration of Locator will include the ability to inform people that you’re looking for them, with the alert finding its way to their mobile device or displaying on screens by each door when they swipe back in.
The same Finder search also allows you to dial someone directly from within Genome by hitting control-space, typing their name, tabbing to the action pane, and then typing dial, allowing you to choose from desk phone or mobile. This also works for commonly dialed numbers not associated with a person.
Sometimes Locator lets you know that your colleague is out of the building but your request isn’t urgent enough to phone their mobile and interrupt them. If you see someone is away or not in yet, you can subscribe to receive an alert via instant message when he or she arrives in the office.
You can also use the same Finder search to locate where someone normally sits in the office, which is useful in an environment in which people frequently relocate to sit with new project teams.
Project Homepage and Wiki
Klick is a professional services company, which gives our work a certain structure. Genome mimics the same format, organizing our workflow into Clients, which contain Portfolios, which contain Projects. Each Project has its own home in Genome, which serves as a living archive for the work. Every team member who joins a Project has access to the Ticket history, files involved in the engagement, and the people who have touched it.
In addition to tracking the progress of a Project, the Project Homepage also becomes a social hub for all of the team members working on it. Team members can easily discover who else is engaged on the project and can determine who has been assigned from each of Klick’s disciplines and departments. The Project Wiki is their collaboration space, collecting all of their organizational intelligence in a single, secure, archived location. It includes all of the social features users have come to expect from wikis and provides new team members joining a project with an easy mechanism for catching up on progress.
Knowledge capture is one of our overriding Genome design principles. As noted above, some types of information are particularly well suited to a wiki-like environment and live within the Project Homepage and Wiki. We are concerned about all types of information, and are particularly interested in digitizing the subtle, non-verbal cues that might help detect project issues before they occur. This information is captured in weekly Project 360s.
Every week, each team member on a project is asked to complete a very quick 360 review. The review consists of two simple questions: rate the project as green, yellow, or red. If you feel it’s yellow or red, specify why. We think of this as Klick’s Spidey sense, encoding the creepy feelings and raised neck hairs that our highly trusted and experienced team sense during client engagements. It is, in some ways, our anti-social tool in that it creates a safe environment outside of the need to expend social capital or risk exposure during live in-person meetings and frees our team to be honest. This simple social engineering has enabled us to build lightweight feedback loops that provide an excellent early warning system.
Genome can be a useful tool for both moving awkward face-to-face interactions into a safe virtual realm and for using technology to make face-to-face interactions less awkward. Project 360s are a great example of the former, as documented above. The Portfolio Management Meeting Agenda is a perfect demonstration of the latter.
Projects in Genome ladder up to a Portfolio level, which is really a view across a number of projects that share the same Client. Whereas an Account Director and Project Manager might partner to oversee a number of Projects, a Group Account Director and Program Director partner at the Portfolio level for additional oversight. Genome helps them manage that viewpoint by carefully constructing a Portfolio Management Meeting Agenda that is used to run their review meetings.
Portfolio Management Meeting Agendas
Klick introduced Program Management Meetings, helping to support a holistic perspective by making sure that department leads who work with the same clients regularly have face-to-face contact in order to discuss projects, progress, and flag any issues.
Genome analyzes all of the relevant data and evaluates who should attend the meeting. It also generates a list of items that need to be discussed based on their status, such as tasks that were approaching deadline or missed checklist items from Gene Sequencer. The Agenda is strict, and deviations aren’t permitted. The entire meeting is timed to last no more than 20 minutes. The result is the creation of a highly customized meeting that delivers relevant information to every single person in attendance, resulting in more people participating because of the increased perceived value. Additionally, the public nature of the meetings, actually getting all the team leads to meet face-to-face regularly creates a mechanism that is designed to facilitate raising issues in a public setting, and motivating the team leads to act accordingly to manage their reputations, while also creating feedback loops.
Chatter is the heart of what people might think of when they hear the term “social”. It represents the activity feed of everything happening at Klick, streaming on the right hand side of every page within Genome. Chatter was designed from the beginning as an experiment, intended to grow and change as our needs for the tool grow and change. What began as a simple status update has already morphed into the ability to share links and videos to common interests, post photos from the road to bring teams together, feed Genome news and social good tracking activity to keep everyone informed, and proudly feature Kudos (description below) to make sure we maintain a positive feedback ratio.
Most corporate news feeds are tightly locked down and rigorously controlled by Corporate Communications. In much the same way that anyone can post to Chatter, the Genome News feed is open to anyone in the company with information to share. The design encourages social interaction with the posts, which are fed to TVs throughout the three floors of office. News item surface in both the News tool for archival and continued reading purposes and on Chatter for conversation, where users can comment on and like the feature. Some of our most insightful business feedback has come from comments and posts on News.
Kudos are small acts of appreciation expressed through the Chatter feed. At almost all times you can see a number of Kudos displayed as post-it notes featuring a user-selected badge in the Chatter feed. Their presence in this feed exposes them to the entire company on a regular basis and encourages interaction by everyone in the form of likes and comments. Each interaction moves the Kudo back to the top of the feed, ensuring that popular posts will get lots of attention.
Posting a Kudo is kept intentionally lightweight to make it as easy as possible. A Genome user only need define who the Kudo is in honor of, provide a message, and select a badge. The badges are archived into the recipients’ Genome profiles, highlighting how frequently they’ve received each form of recognition.
Stories are a more evolved form of Kudos, used when a team member has made a more significant contribution to the success of our business. Genome users are prompted to consider a story nomination when creating a Kudo, which helps to ensure a regular stream of positive content.
Stories appear in many places throughout Genome, as well as on the Genome TV network throughout our physical office. Everyone at Klick can interact with the stories; expressing their respect and attribution by voting for the ones they feel most strongly about. The team members featured in the top stories regularly receive physical recognition to complement their electronic stories: the most popular story recipient gets to drive the company’s Porsche Boxster (a.k.a. the Klickster) for a week.
Using Genome and our underlying data to recognize our people often creates a virtuous feedback loop, enabled by social features, which turns recognition into new Chatter posts, including videos of team members enjoying their prize.
Team Member Profiles
Each team-member has a profile page that they can customize to tell their story before life at Klick. Profile pages include their Genome photo, contact details, links to Social Media accounts, bio information, photos of them from Klick events (automatically tagged), and social data such as Chatter posts, Kudos sent and received, and Klick It Forward dollars spent.
Klick’s own in-house education knowledge hub, where the collective learnings and experiences of Klick’s staff is continually collected and institutionalized. The system helps track the evolution of each person’s experiences which then determines the level of “training wheels” that are needed within the project management workflow.
Klick Academy delivers a personalized training experience tailored for each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. There are additional elective courses, resource libraries, and lunch and learns that are available to talent as well.
The philosophy that underlies Klick Academy is that there are no such things as generic, role specific requirements. Depending on the actual work required that are pre-requisite experiences.
Klick Talks are an internal initiative that lets Klick promote a culture of idea sharing and knowledge transfer. The rules are simple: You can ask anyone in the organization a question and they have 48 hours to respond with a video that’s less than two minutes in length. All videos are searchable by person, subject or keyword thanks to extensive tagging. The video format helps people become familiar with other members of the organization who they don’t normally interact with and it encourages people to ask questions and share knowledge. It helps encourage curiosity and an appetite for learning that are key components of Klick’s culture.
Core and Elective Courses
The Academy’s core courses are a group of short online courses that are a part of onboarding new employees. They include an overview of company culture, an introduction of Genome, and a layout of the health industry, Klick’s primary market focus.
In addition to the core courses, there are a wide variety of elective courses designed to help employees continuously learn and refine their skill set. The courses are not mandatory, but a manager who sees a gap in one of their team-member’s capabilities might recommend that they complete that specific course (or Teachable Moments will recommend an appropriate course when needed).
Lunch & Learns
One of Klick’s longest running learning and development programs, Lunch & Learns are a great way to share internal expertise through the company, and encourage continual learning. These Lunch & Learns can be held by anyone in the company wishing to share their knowledge, and any employee can request a Lunch & Learn topic that they are interested in. A subject matter expert is identified and the content for a Lunch & Learn is created.
The Lunch & Learn is announced in News, and pushed to Chatter when it is commented or liked. The content goes on to become an elective course on Klick Academy for anyone to view who was unable to attend or who wants to refresh their knowledge on the subject.
A unique events page is created any time a Klick event is held – whether a large company event for all employees, or a small Lunch & Learn intended for a specific portion of the organization. The created page shares details of the event, and includes the ability to RSVP. We are able to gather accurate numbers of attendees at each event, and employees are able to determine who is expected to attend.
Events are also posted to News, which of course, is integrated into Chatter. Comments and likes regarding the event are shared with the entire company, promoting the event and eliciting feedback.
New employees are often unfamiliar with the area directly surrounding Klick’s head office. Curious about great spots to go to lunch, the nearest walk-in clinics, or other places of business that may be of interest to employees, Klick Local provides this information without the new employee even needing to ask.
Klick Local consists of an online map which displays the locations of some of the greatest spots in the area. The locations are based upon employee recommendations, and the map is consistently updated when new recommendations are made, or requested.
This system ensures each employee receives just the right amount of help and structure to successfully complete a project, essentially using data-powered analytics to create a customized management approach for each individual thanks to Genome’s data gathering abilities.
It enables Klick employees to receive a personalized experience when they start a project. Gene Sequencer is a high level workflow tool for Project Managers. It provides a detailed checklist for any Klick project as well as highlighting any considerations that the project manager should be aware of. In essence, it considers things to watch out for honed from past experience. This is a way to leverage all of Klick’s collective experiences and failures in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
For the newcomer, Genome does several things to help ensure a smooth execution. First, it alerts the PM’s team and manager to let them know that this is the first time their colleague is running this type of project. Genome automatically pairs the PM with a “buddy” who has extensive experience and will reach out to be a source of support for the PM during their first run. If the project requires certain training, Genome will send an alert to the PM letting them know they need to take an online mini-training session at the relevant moment in the project’s timeline. This ensures that the PM gets the information at the moment they need it.
One of the most important tools we use at Klick is our Genome-powered dynamic dashboard. Employees use this on a daily basis to help prioritize their goals based on an ever-changing set of priorities. It gives the employee and their manager the freedom to define anything as a goal as long as it can be tracked using Genome’s available data repertoire. Genome then tracks the necessary inputs and displays the values in real time taking into account milestones, deadlines, and goals. The platform balances all of these priorities and then displays the most essential goals and tasks that need to be completed at that time. That way, each employee’s goals are constantly being updated based on current information, and each employee knows that their dashboard will show them the right information at the exact point in time where they can act on it.
This system enables managers to maintain a sense of agility around goal setting, taking into account that priorities might change and be able to adjust goals accordingly. Dynamic changes are important because it helps eliminate surprises and minimize risk by flagging any potential issues. It also adds a level of neutrality because Genome looks at objectives for the entire year and not just a specific period in time. Finally, it provides employees with constant feedback because they never have to wonder how they are performing against their metrics.
Gene Sequencer codifies all the learning from a project level in order to minimize risks. Weekly Reviews do the same thing but at the individual level, enabling managers to be forward-looking and use the data they have at hand to flag any potential risks or issues before they happen. This is one of the ways that we turn technology into a coach instead of a referee.
Data can help inform your intuition. Thanks to the lowered cost of cloud storage and computing ability, the time it takes to run thousands of queries has dramatically decreased along with the costs. Thanks to this ability, we can run thousands of queries at once, enabling us to check scenarios and monitor a multitude of data streams simultaneously, checking progress, deliverables and budgets in a meaningful way. Any issues are flagged early on, making it easier to respond and course correct before any real damage is incurred.
This system increases the likelihood of a balanced and objective review since there is a wealth of data that is being collected from different sources that are used as a basis of the evaluation. This means that one person’s performance review is never solely dependent on one other person. Instead, the data uses a wide variety of sources including ticket statistics, likes, comments and project 360 information, which incorporates data from colleagues and collaborators.
Because the weekly reports are linked to the ticketing database and Gene Sequencer (among others), Genome will remind you if something needs to be done, and will pester you until that task is completed. This is important because a tool won’t get upset if it has to remind you 25 times to do something, versus your manager who will get frustrated if they have to repeatedly nag you to complete a task, which could negatively impact your review.
A teachable moment is identified using data to recognize the exact instance when an employee should receive training (based on data determined by Project360s), and delivering that training in a customized way that caters to that employee’s exact needs. Instead of having reporting systems flag an issue after a mistake has been made, teachable moments recognize opportunities for building necessary skill sets and help create an environment that is geared towards helping that employee succeed by teaching them what they need to know to complete their task.
Data helps revolutionize training programs by identifying the exact moment an employee should receive training. This just-enough-just-in-time approach increases the rate of retention of the knowledge being shared, while increasing overall quality, productivity and performance.
Teachable moments can trigger online learning via Klick Academy, or can connect the employee needing additional learning with the subject matter experts within the company that is most suitable to help the employee with their learning and development needs. This tool will also alert their team and manager to ensure everyone is aware of the situation and knows to provide any assistance that they can offer.
This is an example of a useful data byproduct which came about from the link between Klick’s business travel database and Genome’s social and project management capabilities. The platform knows everyone’s business flight plans and logistics. If they’re traveling to see a particular client, Genome has their flight information and half an hour before their flight takes off, it will email them an updated project dossier summarizing all the major items, changes, comments and any other information that its algorithms identify as being useful and emails it to them for some handy inflight reading. The information sent by Genome is already being collected for Gene Sequencer and the other systems, so this application is just a byproduct of having access to this ambient data.
Inefficiency of Email
One of our biggest changes came from our intense dislike of email for practical, day-to-day handling of our work. Email used to be the best way to communicate, but as the company grew in size, the increasingly complex client projects were creating emails that were tens of pages long, sent to a list of 20 recipients, who were forwarding them to yet more people, resulting in a confusing cacophony of correspondence and miscommunications, project delays and unnecessary mistakes. It became clear that email wasn’t working.
Klick’s technical team, the company’s most vocal opponents to this email dystopia, raised the alarm. The problem was twofold, they explained. First, they were receiving such a high influx of tasks that were being assigned to them through email that it was difficult to keep up with what needed to be done; changing priorities and modified work-orders. The second issue was that due to all of this confusion, an annoying habit had developed amongst the staff who would send an email, and then minutes later, walk over to tap a technical team member on the shoulder, asking plaintively “did you get the email I just sent?” The frustration level of the technical team was rising.
Leerom and Aaron found inspiration from IT Help Desk ticket systems. Help desks have a very basic workflow: once a task is assigned it’s marked as open until it’s completed and then it’s closed. We implemented this same system for development tasks for Klick’s technical team. The process was simple: if you needed something done you created a ticket, which was assigned to a member of the technical team. Whoever created the ticket had to verify the ticket once it’s been marked closed. A new rule was introduced: no ticket, no work. It worked! Accountability, quality and efficiency all went up, and much to our relief, the technical team’s anger levels went down.
It worked so well, that we started adding the same ticket system to all of other teams as well. Our ticket system was carefully designed to contain context, relevant conversations, the ability to prioritize, accountability by being assigned to only person, etc. Even that simple change quickly effected our entire operation, driving far greater efficiency and precision and enabling us to grow at 30-60% per year for the past fifteen years.
Klick has had a phenomenal growth trajectory over the last 15 years, but in 2011 and 2012, we saw that growth speed up dramatically. We added 50 new positions in 2011 and 100 in 2012. Our client base is mostly located in the US, and as we took on more Portfolios we had a lot more travel, so we added some US employees to better serve our clients and ease up the travel requirements on our Canadian team members. Although this was a significant improvement for the business, it introduced some scaling challenges of its own. Previously, we’d had one location and when someone was new, everyone knew who they were immediately because you knew or at least recognized everyone.
As we saw ourselves approaching Dunbar’s Number (the largest number of people that an individual can establish relationships with; estimated at 125-200 people), we wondered if Dunbar’s Number is still relevant in a world where the average user has 250 Facebook friends. We decided to really focus on social tools, creating four net-new tools to help address this influx: Chatter, Klick Academy, Kudos, and Stories, as well as to updating News with social features such as comments, likes, and the ability to surface the content in Chatter. The idea was to make everyone feel like they were still part of a community and a small company, even if we’d grown beyond the traditional definition. Because of this, we are able to maintain our small, intimate start-up feel, regardless of how much we continue to grow.
As a data-centric company, we measure everything. You can track to the second the time you spend on a task, and we even have an interrupt button for the moments when you need to chat or chatter. The metrics that led us to develop certain key features were each unique.
Prior to developing the Weekly Review Klick was measuring the cost and value of running weekly client status meetings with an average of 8 to 12 people (representing each of the stakeholder groups involved in the delivery of a client’s projects) for 2 to 3 hours across 9 different teams.
Quantified, at an average hourly rate of $140 per hour for 50 weeks a year, this was an investment of $1 million to $2.26 million. While the value of these meetings in terms of collaboration, problem solving, and issue resolution was acknowledged as important, it was difficult to measure and there was universal agreement that it was not worth the investment. A new solution was required that accomplished many of the same goals while dramatically reducing the costs and improving the efficiency of the process.
The Weekly Review technology solution was measured by its cost to develop (385 hours @ $140/hour = $53,900) + cost to still meet face-to-face to deal with things that require that type of interaction (8-12 people for 1 hour across 9 teams, once a month = $121,960 to $181,440 for the year) + the time to participate in Weekly Review process (8-12 people for 15 minutes across 9 teams, weekly = $126,000 to $189,000) = approximately $300,000 to $424,000 total cost, relative to an original cost of $1 million to $2.26 million. This initiative had a payback period of under 3 months.
We also generally measure success of new technologies by their adoption rate. We practice “Digital Darwinism” where features either get adopted or die. For Weekly Review that was 83% weekly usage 3 months after launch, which means that people are finding utility and value in it. Same goes for our Kudos and Chatter features. The number of positive peer recognition nominations grew nearly tenfold from 143 over a six month period prior to launch to 1272 Kudos being given from one employee to another in the six months post-launch of Kudos.
In terms of aggregate social interactions, like Chatter posts, news stories, Kudos, comments, etc. engagement has surpassed all expectations, averaging a new interaction every 76 seconds of the work day, over the first year.
Intangibles such as increasing employee engagement by actively addressing complaints (e.g., long and useless weekly status meetings, or improving morale by sharing positive feedback publicly) is another big measure that, while difficult to directly attribute, cannot be ignored.
Here’s an example that clearly demonstrates the less tangible benefits that can be achieved through Genome:
Not long after we launched Chatter, the unregulated stream of consciousness of the organization, our COO, Aaron Goldstein, posted a message to the organization about the importance of accurately tracking billable time. The post, intended to serve as a reminder to be diligent and accurate, actually created a heated discussion, producing 44 responses, comments and rebuttals within the first day of being posted, and many more after that, citing specific reasons why that level of accuracy could not be met. A traditional organization might frown upon a direct challenge to the COO and those publicly criticizing a policy could be flagged as troublemakers who aren’t willing to tow the party line. The conversation about it would have been hushed into the background. Instead, we were able to engage with those most adamant about the issue and work out a solution within three days of the original post being made.
The moral of the story is that those types of conversations are happening in your organization right now. Employees want nothing more than to be successful and are frustrated when they encounter an obstacle that they feel they can’t overcome. It is up to the organization to decide if they want to pretend those conversations aren’t happening, or truly open up the lines of communication and collaborate on solutions.
Fifteen years as a company and ten years building Genome has given us a lot of battle scars. One of the most important lessons we’ve learned is to make sure the team building the tools feels empowered to push back on executive requests. That’s a difficult balance to maintain, but if you end up with a spineless team then you will end up with tools no one wants to use. That’s a ton of wasted time and effort that could have been much better invested elsewhere.
We’ve also learned that it’s okay to be wrong and make mistakes. We take a page from Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement in terms of trying to build Minimum Viable Products. Each new feature or function for Genome gets built in the smallest way possible for us to test its effectiveness before it gets launched to our team. It only grows after that with their support, so it’s also critical to have feedback mechanisms and proper tracking in place.
The biggest secret is simply involving users in an iterative development and release process. We have always found iterative development cycles to be the fastest and most cost effective way of getting new tools into our users’ hands. It turns out that iterative (phased) rollouts are also the secret to well-refined tools that are not only used, but also loved by our user base. Each release is launched to a group of select users, who provide feedback for the next release and, in turn, build up a base of advocates for the tool who are part of the “inner circle.” Each subsequent release is more refined and the users who were part of providing direction and feedback are then asked to unveil it to one or two more peers.
By the time the tool is released company wide, it has already been refined during the previous phases, but we still keep the stream of feedback open. A great example of this is our Chatter tool, which truly is the social stream of consciousness of the organization. As we released the tool, we asked users to make any suggestions using the tag #dogfood, aptly named because we were truly eating our own dog food by using the very tool itself to provide a mechanism for feedback. The #dogfood posts with the most likes were an indication of updates that were most pressing, and they were moved to the front of the development queue. A year later, we’re still seeing new posts with the #dogfood tag, and the ideas have far surpassed what the initial development team could have ever dreamed up.
Lastly, we learned that we can’t be afraid to kill things off when they aren’t working. They only get more and more expensive to maintain, so we start sharpening our knives and get ready to be ruthless. There are no sacred features.
Leerom Segal, President and CEO
Aaron Goldstein, COO
Peter Cordy, Chairman
Jay Goldman, SVP, Innovation
D’Arcy Rittich, Chief Technical Strategist
Benjamin Nadler, Senior Director, Internal Operations
Andrew Woronowicz, Director, Business Process and Systems
Rey Crisostomo, Technical Architect
Chelsea MacDonald, Director, Talent Management
Website for a book called Decoded (written by Leerom Segal, Aaron Goldstein and Jay Goldman) about management philosophy that will be released later in the year:
Blog post about why email sucks:
Blog post about a Financial Times article that briefly featured Genome and our approach to moving away from internal emails:
Financial Post article about an innovative feature found in Genome: