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Business Intelligence, Or Business Stupidity – Staff Surveys And Staff Suggestions

10 July 2019

AI – Artificial Intelligence – is the new Holy Grail. Everything is going to be better with artificial intelligence. Our shopping will be easier (the things we want to buy together will be on adjacent shelves; or will pop up on the web browser). Our cars will drive themselves and be safer. We’ll know what our customers want next, and order it into stock before they even know they want it.

Business Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is a general term. Business Intelligence is its application to the business. And business intelligence is a many-headed hydra. The specific aspect of business intelligence that I want to discuss today, is soft intelligence – how to understand the mood of your employees, when the staff survey seems to be an echo chamber.

Why do you need to know?

Why do you need to understand the mood of your employees? You don’t do everything yourself. Staff are your biggest asset – I’m not just saying that, it’s true. They’re also often one of your biggest costs. The biggest factor in success is how well your staff goals align to your organisation goals – do we all work for the success of the company, or against it?

Staff surveys 

People learn. At school, we give the “right” answer, to get the reward or praise of the teacher. At work, we carry on, and try to give the expected answer. Telling the truth, especially an uncomfortable truth, is rarely welcomed and even more rarely rewarded. We know what the company wants to hear, and we know that disobedience will be punished. We fib on our sales targets, and only tell part of the truth on our staff surveys. We show our displeasure with a lacklustre score, not with a very negative score.

How much do you drink?

I learnt long ago, doing social behaviour studies, that people aren’t honest – especially with themselves. When you ask someone “how much do you drink?”, a heavy drinker will answer as though they were a moderate drinker, and an alcoholic will only admit to being a heavy drinker.

We added an extra question: “how much do your friends drink?”. Most groups out in the pub match each other drink for drink – but universally the respondent answered that they are the sober one amongst their friends. Their friends drink 4 pints of beer, 4 nights a week, they drink 3 pints, 3 nights a week. Their friends preload (drink at home to get half drunk, and save money on expensive bar-served drink), they don’t preload. How could this be, when so many of the respondents drank together? Five people go out drinking together – but each one claims to drink less than the others. The obvious conclusion is that they drink as much as their friends, but won’t admit it – even to themselves.

Company behaviour

I heard of a company that routinely changes the rules of the employee survey, to protect the “in crowd”. A manager is rated by his or her team on performance, so a good manager gets a good rating. But directors and associate directors are excused this. My friend spotted this when he saw he had one more report making up his score than he had direct reports, and when he asked who the extra one was, he was told it was himself. He’d bravely slated absolutely appalling leadership from his director, and the low scores were used to lower his personal overall average which excluded him from management bonus payments.

What will he write about his manager next year? What will the company do with the results?

Suggestions for improvement

A similar thing happens with the suggestions box, or part of the staff survey for suggestions. We learn the acceptable suggestions, the acceptable ways of phrasing things. 

Directors and senior managers look through the staff suggestions and weep because there’s so little that’s actually new. If your company magazine last year highlighted an employee who saved costs on the production line, most of this year’s suggestions are about saving costs on the production line. At least they appear to be, because that’s thought to be the way to get accepted. And the computer (or human automaton) reading the suggestions doesn’t read past what’s immediately obvious. 

Alexa doesn’t really interpret your speech

We now know that Amazon’s Alexa, has a team of living and breathing humans as ‘backup’. Computers are great at interpreting what they are expecting, but not so good at dealing with the unexpected. Your staff surveys don’t tell you anything new, and your suggestions apper to be tame – because you told them what you want to hear.

A sister company to The Change Consultancy, a company called Soft Intelligence, addresses just this issue. As part of our Change Consultancy, we include a Business Intelligence app which keeps its finger on the pulse of the culture of your organisation (in particular, on the biggest driver of productivity – alignment to the organisation’s goals). So we’re constantly collecting data, constantly reviewing it, and discussing with you how our change programme is going. You (and we) know where you want to get to, the road map lays out how to get there, but the emotions and sheer cussedness of staff and other stakeholders keeps threatening to derail it. By knowing what’s really happening, we can make small adjustments in real time, rather than finding a big gulf after 6 months when it’s too late or it’s going to be expensive to bring it back on track.

Soft Intelligence uses people, instead of Artificial Intelligence. The team behind the scenes delivered NHS staff surveys and suggestions, and NHS has over 1 million staff. UK’s National Health Service is extraordinarily innovative, because it looks out for the unexpected, the brilliant changes needed, from what the untrained eye thinks is a mundane suggestion. UK’s National Health Service innovates so fast, invents so many new things, that the patient pathway that was perfect three years ago is still excellent, but in the meantime staff have come up with a 30% new and better way to deliver.

Soft Intelligence means that you get more with less. You don’t miss the best new ideas, and you don’t disengage and lose your best people. Soft Intelligence is a key option within The Change Consultancy’s offering. Email and ask us to come and talk about it.


“The organisation” doesn’t exist – it’s made up of people. Change only happens when people embrace the change. The ‘benefits’ are the reasons why they will embrace it

10 July 2019

Oliver Randall

"People are the most important consideration in any change." (On Change) "We are focused on exploring the world of change and helping it develop. All our thoughts try to challenge the status quo and take Change to a clearer, faster initiative. We simplify change." (On TCC)