How People Analytics Can Kill Pointless Meetings

Companies are investing in data-driven solutions that can shine a light on which business practices aren't working while offering solutions for improvement.

Ryan Fuller is CEO and co-founder of VoloMetrix, a company that defines itself as "a people analytics technology company that provides actionable insights to improve organizational responsiveness and drive productivity." That's a fancy way of saying Fuller's company analyzes the ways other companies run and determines what works and what doesn't. It's basically an HR juggernaut able to quantify things like employee satisfaction, efficiency, and overall time value. The entire people analytics movement, as explained in this piece by Forbes contributor Josh Bersin, represents a major shift toward companies finally investing in data-driven solutions to age-old problems related to efficiency.


Enter Ryan Fuller. The VoloMetrix CEO is author of an interesting post published today at Harvard Business Review all about one of the main things people identify with "age-old problems related to efficiency": the soul-sucking vacuum of the useless recurring meeting. Based on information and experience through VoloMetrix, Fuller claims to have a solution for doing away with the sorts of meetings that everyone attends out of habit yet from which nobody seems to benefit. It's not as simple as just abruptly ceasing to meet or, in the case of one of my prior employers, relaunching the useless recurring meeting as a more-useless recurring meeting that only recurs slightly less often. Instead, Fuller says you need a strategy:

"The key is to engage all employees in a new way of thinking about time management and to encourage them to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable. To liberate victims from this seemingly inescapable vicious cycle, it’s necessary to kick-start a virtuous cycle in which everyone is empowered to say no, ask why, and identify strategies to allow everyone in an organization to be more effective on a day-to-day basis."

Fuller offers a basic framework for doing away with unproductive meetings. It begins with transparency -- bosses need to let their workers in on the inner machinations that are going to alter their routines. A universal awareness allows for the understanding of gradual targets and eases the process by which benchmarks are met.

If you want to learn more about Fuller's precise recommendations, I recommend checking out his post (I've linked it again below). What's perhaps more fascinating here is the process through which VoloMetrix arrives at its solutions. Fuller explains:

"At VoloMetrix, we help companies quantify how much time goes into meetings and what effects they have on people. In the process, we have analyzed over 1 billion meetings across dozens of large businesses, so we have a rather unique perspective on both how widespread the problem is as well as how elusive the solutions are."

Initially I thought the billion was a typo but VoloMetrix apparently does have that much data under the hood. Just to illustrate how impressive that is: There are about 9.5 million businesses in the United States that claim revenues over $50,000. If you assume that each of those businesses (not necessarily companies, mind you) holds some sort of recurring meeting once a week, it would take over two years for the cumulative number of meetings to reach 1 billion. Safe to say that's a large enough sample size to glean some major insight. With that information stored in their vault, VoloMetrix performs diagnostics on client companies by first collecting relevant data and then analyzing it to determine places for improvement. This is how people analytics works. As it's put on the VoloMetrix site: "People analytics data provides a holistic map of your company's communication and collaboration behavior."

By collecting time management data from employees, companies that utilize people analytics can improve productivity without sacrificing employee engagement or morale. In fact, since this is basically big data doing the kind of work most people wish HR would do, most companies would be able to save time and money while simultaneously boosting employee satisfaction, especially if the agreed-upon solution includes the killing-off of unnecessary meetings. Fuller says VoloMetrix allowed one Fortune 500 company to gain back 5 hours per week per employee through its meeting-killing initiative. How much time could this sort of data save your business?

Read more at Harvard Business Review

Photo credit: g-stockstudio / Shutterstock

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    Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

    Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

    The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


    Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

    In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

    It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

    Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

    Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

    The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

    It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

    In their findings the authors state:

    "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
    upholding First Amendment ideals.

    Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

    With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

    As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

    • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
    • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
    • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
    • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
    • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
    • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
      Patriotic.

    Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

    It's interesting to note the authors found that:

    "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

    You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

    Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

    • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
    • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
    • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
    • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
    • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
    • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

    Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

    Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

    • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
    • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
    • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
    • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
    • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
    • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

    Civic discourse in the divisive age

    Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

    There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

    "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
    dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
    the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
    These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
    putting our democracy in peril.


    Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
    immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
    become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
    Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
    The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
    re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
    building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

    We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

    This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.