They’re Watching You At Work

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Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...I’ve told this story a million times. Years ago, I had the opportunity to speak at Google as part of the first Recruiting Innovation Summit. It’s a great event. That day, Laszlo Bock came on stage to kick things off. He talked about how every employee experience at Google — from eating to drinking to pooping — is a direct outcome of research, analysis and decisions that are made based on data.

For example, Google has an awesome cafeteria experience. In short, there are a series of restaurant-style cafeterias across the Mountain View campus. The spaces are nimble and Google can open/close a cafeteria pretty quickly. Let’s say you grab lunch and need to hustle back to your desk for a meeting. The time you spending waiting in the queue is long enough to encourage interaction with your colleagues but not too long to cause frustration. If the line backs up — or if the ‘food hall’ is busy due to unforeseen circumstances — Google will immediately fix the situation by opening up one of the closed cafeterias.

So you’re being watched. Monitored. Predictive models are applied to your tummy. Real-time data is collected. Something as simple as the cafeteria system is fluid enough to adjust to Google’s attempt to force you into talking to a coworker.

Crazy.

Most companies aren’t engineered to manipulate data (or employees) as well as Google so they rely on customers and business partners to fill in the gaps. In fact, I had a funny exchange with a new food service employee, the other day. I have to tell you — he is a nice guy but he seems wholly out-of-place in his job. Like one of those guys who used to do something else but is serving food & drinks because he needs health insurance. He seems surprised that he’s found himself working a coffee chain.

Anyway, this guy was busy talking and missed my drink order. Completely. And his colleague told him again but he missed my order AGAIN. So I stepped up to the bar and asked, “Did you hear my drink?”

I said it with a smile.

He laughed at the hilarity of it all. I’m working a a coffee shop, he seems to think. I don’t believe it, either.

Dude took a quick look at me and asked, “You angry? Don’t go fillin’ out one of those surveys on me.”

Excuse me?

“Someone filled out one of those surveys when I was new. Said I didn’t know how to make a drink. I’m trying, people. I’m trying.”

I’m sure he is trying but SNAP this dude is about three weeks away from learning how the free market really works.

I said, “Obviously I’m furious with you.”

We laughed… but then I added, “Those surveys are tough. You never know who is watching. Could be that one of your customers is a HR lady. A consultant. And maybe that consultant knows your company. Knows people who work there. And maybe a survey isn’t needed. Maybe she can just make a call.”

Then I employed the art of the long silence.

He looked at me and said, “Yeah, uh, never thought of it that way.”

I said, “Yup.”

He said, “You want whip?”

I said, “Yup.”

And that was that.

Now listen, this guy is a decent human being and his company has a great training program. I’m not worried about it.  But it’s a good lesson to all of you. You don’t have to watch out for Human Resources or statisticians who are crunching big databases. You don’t have to worry about security cameras and ERP software that is integrated with point-of-sale systems.

You gotta watch out for the people you see every day.

Those are the people who speak in the absence of data. And those voices matter.

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