Start-up uses artificial intelligence to identify behavioural changes to improve employee satisfaction
Technology companies like to promote artificial intelligence’s potential for solving some of the world’s toughest problems, like reducing automobile deaths and helping doctors diagnose diseases. A company started by three former Google employees is pitching AI as the answer to a more common problem: being happier at work. The startup, Humu, is based in Google’s hometown, and it builds on some of the people-analytics programs pioneered by the Internet giant, which has studied things like the traits that define great managers and how to foster better teamwork. Humu wants to bring similar data-driven insights to other companies. It digs through employee surveys using artificial intelligence to identify one or two behavioural changes that are likely to make the biggest impact on elevating a work force’s happiness.
Then it uses emails and text messages to “nudge” individual employees into small actions that advance the larger goal. At a company where workers feel that the way decisions are made is opaque, Humu might nudge a manager before a meeting to ask the members of her team for input and to be prepared to change her mind. At the heart of Humu’s efforts is the company’s “nudge engine” (yes, it’s trademarked). It is based on economist Richard Thaler’s Nobel Prize-winning research into how people often make decisions because of what is easier rather than what is in their best interest, and how a well-timed nudge can prompt them to make better choices. “Often we want to be better people,” said Laszlo Bock, Humu’s chief executive and Google’s former leader of what the company calls people operations, or human resources. “We want to be the person we hope we can be. But we need to be reminded. A nudge can have a powerful impact if correctly deployed on how people behave and on human performance.” Sanjiv Razdan, the chief operating officer at Sweetgreen, a salad chain and one of Humu’s customers, said that if nudges did not have a track record at Google, he would probably consider the concept a bunch of “hocus-pocus happiness nonsense.” But after receiving nudges for a few months himself in emails, Mr. Razdan said the bite-size reminders made it easy to take action right away.