How Technology Is Enabling Leaders to Listen Better

Founder of Glint talks artificial intelligence and leadership

Posted Dec 09, 2016

"Jim Barnett, used with permission"
Source: "Jim Barnett, used with permission"

Anyone with any kind of people management responsibility knows one simple truth: You have to listen to your people! However, listening isn’t always that easy, particularly for growing companies. To learn more about the opportunities for listening that have been opened by technology I sat down with Jim Barnett, CEO and co-founder of Glint, a company focused on harnessing employee voice to illuminate the future.

Michael Woodward: What got you interested in the psychological health of companies?

Jim Barnett: Sometimes start-ups are very purposeful like FedEx or Jet. Glint was more of a journey of exploration. My cofounder Gotham and I are both really passionate about dashboards that allow you to measure the health of various things. We had an insight one day that there aren’t any good dashboards for measuring the overall health of a company. I have Fitbit for my workout, but where is the Fitbit for my team or my company? So, we thought gosh, that really should exist.

The problem we saw was that most companies were sending out annual surveys with 60 to 80 questions, compiling results and then emailing a report to the CEO and CHRO and that would be it. It’s sort of like going to an annual physical and expecting the visit itself to get you in shape.

Our vision is to make all of your managers change agents for engagement by giving them real time actionable insights and that’s where Glint came from. 

MW: How has technology allowed Glint to differentiate itself and enable managers to better listen to their people?   

JB: What differentiates us is that we are a continuous feedback platform designed to help grow leaders. There are three fundamental ways we stand out.

Number one is we are real time. We want managers to be able to pulse their teams as frequently as they want and be able to slice and dice those results in real time. So for example you could ask the question what’s the engagement level of women engineers that are Millennials working in our London office. Our real-time system will allow you to do that in five seconds.  

Second is insights. Our background is in artificial intelligence and machine learning so we wanted to build a system that would automatically alert you to when you have a problem and where. For example companies like United Airlines that have 85,000 employees across the globe can’t keep an eye on all their teams of ten or more in real time. We wanted to automate this capability. However, we not only wanted to create descriptive alerts, but predictive alerts as well. We can provide this because we have data from millions of employees and we know the types of responses that are correlated with things like attrition and performance.     

Third is to create a system that is actionable. The way the system becomes more actionable is to put the data in the hands of the people who can actually do something about it. So it turns out that sending a CEO a report isn’t nearly as effective as giving every manager his or her team data so they can see exactly what’s going on.

MW: What opportunity does this type of insight really provide for leaders?

JB: For us everything starts at the manager level. Think of this as an information gathering, diagnostic, and learning platform. The idea is to provide managers the kind of insights they normally wouldn’t get or may not even be aware of. 

I remember a meeting early on when we started where an executive told us he didn’t think he needed this type of information because he “talks” to his people all the time. In a brilliant moment his head of people turned to him and said “yes you do and you are great at it, but they don’t always talk to you.” He later became a voracious adapter of our product.   

MW: In the context of listening, how do you view opportunity as an entrepreneur?

JB: When it comes to opportunity, successful entrepreneurs focus on winning, not avoiding failure. I love winning more than I hate failing, so that’s why I keep doing it. I’ve learned valuable lessons from both failing and succeeding. Failing definitely gets me down. I don’t like to lose.

There are some basic rules I personally follow as an entrepreneur. Most importantly, I like to start companies that are in fundamentally good businesses. I also love to learn new industries and so I try to surround myself with leaders who are also learners. A leadership team must be a virtuous circle of continuous learners.  

When I started Turn (a previous venture) I knew online advertising was a large industry that was still dominated by spreadsheets. I realized we could apply machine learning to make online advertising much more programmatic. Turn was very much an opportunity we saw and went right after because we knew the space.  

Glint came from our passion for personal development. Our mission is for people to be happier and more successful at work. One of the requirements for being a successful leader is you must be willing to experience discomfort and listen to your people. Feedback can be painful, but it is a gift. It’s about the opportunity for course correction.