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Rooting out corporate toxicity by advanced analytics: Interview (Includes interview and first-hand account)

Visier is led by the former CEO of Business Objects John Schwarz. Schwarz has built a thriving tech company that helps customers to root out corporate toxicity using advanced analytics. Visier also examine data from its customers to spot trends in hiring.

To understand the steps that can be taken to help secure the Internet presence of a company, Digital Journal spoke with John Schwarz about the services his company offers and the strategies that other companies can adopt.

John G. Schwarz is a business executive and entrepreneur.
John G. Schwarz is a business executive and entrepreneur.
John Schwarz

Schwarz is a Director on the Boards of Synopsys, Teradata and Chairman of the Board of Avast as well as a former board member of SuccessFactors and Verity, and a member of the Dalhousie University Advisory Board.

Digital Journal: Thanks for the interview. What are some of the major challenges facing businesses today?

John Schwarz: With voluntary resignations at an all-time high, unemployment rates historically low, and an aging population, hiring quality people and keeping them is a key challenge for most organizations. And with organizations looking for increasingly skilled–and therefore, more expensive–employees, optimizing workforce costs and focusing spend on the resources that have the greatest impact is more important than ever.

As events have demonstrated over the past year, management quality has not improved much. And since the old adage “people quit their bosses, not their jobs” is still true today, businesses are being challenged to improve the quality of leadership.

DJ: Is ‘corporate toxicity’ a major problem?

Schwarz: Toxic work environments are difficult to measure objectively. The task is made even more difficult because companies generally aren’t collecting data on harassment, so trends are hard to assess. But some point data does exist. For example, a recent CareerBuilder survey found that 29% of employees claim they’ve been bullied on the job.

There are several reasons for the rise of toxic workplace environments. One is that overall employee loyalty has been on a steady decline. This is primarily due to the elimination of key retention programs like defined benefit pension plans or health coverage that encourage employees to stay with a company. The tight labor market for skilled employees also adds to the problem since it makes it more difficult for companies to keep even management roles. The resulting lack of experience and alignment results in poor product and services and ultimately customer dissatisfaction which, in turn, breeds further ‘toxicity’ due to the stress of dealing with complaints.

Office block in London.
Office block in London.

DJ: How do you define ‘corporate toxicity’?

Schwarz: A toxic work environment is usually characterized by infighting within or between departments, lack of alignment on objectives, abuse of supervisory power, and culture where the ends justify any means.

Corporate toxicity in its many forms is almost always the result of misalignment of corporate and employee goals. Typically it is the consequence of poor management training and badly designed compensation plans that encourage internal competition. Often, employees are put in a position that in order to keep their job they need to behave in a way that erodes their personal integrity.

DJ: Is this a growing problem in the connected world?

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Schwarz:The socially connected world exacerbates the toxicity problem by doxing (online bullying someone for their belief system), disruptive social media campaigns conducted by disaffected employees or ex-employees, fake-news and blogs written to sow dissent and misinformation.

But the connected world also helps in that there are anonymous sites for people to share their experience to warn potential new employees about the toxicity in some firms, and a way for employees who have been abused to identify their abusers while minimizing personal risk.

Adobe will extend its cloud analytics to connected cars
Adobe will extend its cloud analytics to connected cars
Peng LIU / Pexels

DJ: How can advanced analytics help address the toxicity problem?

Schwarz: Analytics provide management with a window into the performance and health of the organization. Analytics can predict problems based on virtually instant understanding of current trends that may cause toxic environments, and can model the impact of decisions and policy changes before they are implemented.

For instance, manager’s engagement scores that are consistently low–particularly when coupled with high absence rates or with poor performance scores–may indicate a leadership issue. Or, incentive compensation payouts that are not aligned with the corporate objectives or significantly at odds between departments could be a source of dissatisfaction and misalignment. If the problem is not addressed, retention inevitably becomes a problem, followed by degradation of customer service (if it this isn’t already the case),

Looking at dissonant trends in other data such as promotion rates, performance reviews, resignation rates and hiring success rates, can reveal signals that suggest poor leadership or other malignancy.

DJ: What types of information have you uncovered through analytics?

Schwarz: In the past year, Visier used analytics to uncover some interesting information around gender inequality and ageism. Some of the questions that were asked included, “Why is there gender inequality?” and “Is there ageism in tech?” Our investigations looked at factors such as performance, promotions, retention, and many other data points to uncover a deeper understanding. The most insightful answers were a combination of many elements that, taken together, create a compelling story.

In the case of our “Visier Insights: Gender Equity Report“, we found that a direct correlation between what we call the Manager Divide–a growing underrepresentation of women compared to men in manager positions from age 32 onwards–and a widening of the gender wage gap for large US employers. The Manager Divide is closely tied to the childcare years, when women experience increased demands from their home life and may even exit the workforce as a result.

This new finding was only possible by combining a variety of data points from many disparate business systems, including workforce participation, the growth of compensation by age and tenure, compensation differentials for individual contributor and managerial positions, voluntary turnover, as well as data on when families have their first child.

DJ: What types of technology have you developed to help companies deal with corporate toxicity issues?

Schwarz: Visier Workforce Intelligence is a cloud-based business analytics solution that lets large enterprises analyse and plan their workforce. Customers use our solution to gain insights into the effectiveness of their leadership, HR programs, and policies as reflected in their workforce. It enables management to understand the impact of workforce culture, get ahead of workforce issues and risks, and make better decisions that drive improved people and business outcomes.

DJ: What types of companies do you work with?

Schwarz: Visier works primarily with Global 2000 companies who are using analytics to gain a competitive edge through better people plans and decisions. Today, our solution covers in excess of two million employees globally. Our customers include blue chip companies such as Electronic Arts, S&P Global, Time Inc, Bank of New York Mellon, Genentech, and LinkedIn just to name a few. In a recent study, we analyzed key financial performance metrics from publicly-traded Visier customers and compared them to public data. In doing so, we found that Visier customers earned an average return on equity more than double the U.S. market average.

DJ: What has been the interest from businesses for your approach?

Schwarz: Traditional business intelligence and big data analytics have largely failed because they focus on data structures and IT tools, and not on the user business needs and questions. Massive value can be attained when businesses use performance data to understand and optimize their operations. But, except for a few giant firms with nearly unlimited IT resources and a strong background in technology adoption, most organizations lack either the expertise or budgets to effectively leverage big data. Systems integrators fail to deliver value because their implementations are static and inflexible, and require constant expensive rework as business needs change.

DJ: Do businesses need to change?

Schwarz:To realize the immense promise and potential of analytics, a fundamentally different approach is needed. And that requires that analytics providers dedicate their focus to business users and their domain-specific and iterative questions.

This is what Visier is doing for the HR market – providing a solution tailor-made for HR to come equipped “out of the box” with best practice metrics and analytics that help businesses make better people decisions. And the interest has been incredible. We now have over 115 Global 2000 customers, representing many of the world’s top brands.

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In a follow-up interview, Schwarz looks to the future of business technology.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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