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HR and the Out of Control Camp Fire

Why HR should become more like a the Nest learning thermostat and less like an out of control camp fire

Posted on July 20, 2017

Um, what the heck are you talking about? Well, it may be a crazy analogy, but we think it works.

Controlling the Fire

Let’s explore this a bit.

At it’s most primal, the campfire is a way for people to get and keep warm and safe outdoors. As technology evolved, we brought the campfire indoors, tamed it with the stove and the furnace, and eventually developed a thermostat to get a higher level of control and management of the fuel resource.

However, even in it's advanced state, the thermostat is a reactive device needing direct manipulation in reaction to the environment being too hot or cold.

The Nest Goes Beyond Mere Control, Introduces Analytics and Management

Then, came the Nest! A Nest Learning Thermostat takes input from people and devices and uses machine learning algorithms to learn people’s patterns and preferences. It then programs a schedule optimized for fuel savings and comfort based on its learning. Of course, there have been programmable thermostats in the past, but none could be optimized to the minute, and none could adapt on the fly, such as knowing to adjust to a more frugal setting when the house was empty.

Far from being a reactive device, in addition to being able to take input from people and their various devices, this internet connected device then produces analytics to increase the knowledge and awareness of residents. Based on the analytics, recommendations can be offered so people can make better decisions, striking the right balance of comfort and energy use.

Just as the Nest thermostat provides relevant and timely measures and information to help us better manage our resources and environment, we began to wonder, how can we bring technology to bear in managing a company's most important asset?

Giving HR the Advantages of Machine Learning Tools

As a thermostat helps us to manage one of our most important assets (fuel), HR teams are tasked with managing the most important resource of their organizations-human beings. Like the thermostat, the tools HR has at it’s disposal have evolved from mostly reactive tools like interviews, remedial training and progressive discipline plans. Some of the newer tools like brainstorming sessions, annual surveys, suggestion programs and the like, have attempted to be more proactive by seeking input; however, organizations have had wide ranges of success with such approaches because the information gleaned was often not tied together with meaningful analytics, and these programs often have operated in silos with little congruence or collaboration.

And Yet, Complexity Persists

So, while many of these approaches have been a good first step in seeking employee input and the resulting innovation and engagement, they have often fallen short of providing meaningful and actionable analytics that lead to a more proactive talent management approach.

Further exacerbating the challenge is the tendency to over complicate process and closely hold analytics in silos. If you think about it, most issues and problems regarding people in a company are the same from org to org. But, this over complication of things (so we can own the process and feel needed) often prevents leadership from getting the widest picture from a the broadest data set.

For leaders to make the best judgement calls and strategic decisions, they need access to timely and coordinated data.

Next Round of HR Tools Will Make Us More Nimble

Fortunately, through advancements in technology, HR tools are evolving like the thermostat. There are now technologies to help organizations get better, more timely feedback, make such feedback (and the resulting analytics) easier to share, and give them better processes to manage the ever important areas of innovation, culture and engagement.

In the case of Vocoli, we help our clients with technology that includes surveys for problem identification, automatic challenges for solution seeking, and idea management and collaboration tools so you're able to “brainstorm”so you can manage feedback using a repeatable process that delivers outcomes and reportable results.

Better Data

By providing tech that makes polls and surveys easy to create and launch (and are sometimes automatically launched), coupled with weekly “pulse surveys,” we're able to give real time, actionable data on key issues. Rather than rely on cumbersome, annual surveys which take forever to collate, analyze and react, organizations get quick answers. This enables companies to solve problems in a swiftly, giving them a leg up.

Much like the Nest thermostat provides data for better energy use, Vocoli helps organizations create thoughtful and relevant challenges which generate collaborative, timely and effective solutions.

Better Process

Once solutions start coming in, Vocoli provides a structured process for organizations to evaluate feedback and to implement, recognize and reward successful contributions. As collaborative solutions roll in, a second set of analytics manages outcomes and ROI. Throughout this process, the pulse surveys are running in the background, so you can measure employee engagement as you provide increasing opportunities for employees to provide feedback and take actions based on the feedback received.

As employees see their input is sought and valued, a renewed culture of engagement and innovation is enabled.

By using a process of seeking feedback to identify organizational challenges and then following up with timely and relevant challenge solicitations for solutions, organizations can take another step away from reactive management as they drive more timely and relevant strategic changes in their organizations. And, as the Nest thermostat has been able to automatically respond to stimuli in real time (such as lowering the thermostat when it senses occupants have left the home), we can be looking for even more automated, and less reactive, capabilities from HR technology in the future!

Contact Us

For more information about how Vocoli can help you improve your employee feedback, innovation and engagement, please call the Vocoli team at team at 888-919-5300 or email us at

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