By Gloria Lombardi

“Rather than having our executives telling us what our culture was all about, we wanted to hear that from our people.”

Doug Upchurch is the Head of Learning and Development at Insights. The global people development company operates across 30 countries with the mission of “making a positive difference in the world by supporting individuals in understanding both themselves and others.”

In order to help the outside world however, the company needed to offer a system to enable better understanding of their own internal environment.

Upchurch was looking for a solution to explore, collect and document the company’s culture in all its offices around the globe. “Part of my challenge was to engage our people in all these different zones. I wanted to ask them what they really thought about working at Insights.”

But, he did not want to commission a traditional survey. “It was really about creating a company-wide conversation on the topic.”

That is when Waggl came into play. The real-time communication tool helped Upchurch’s team to crowdsource employee feedback in a totally transparent and innovative way.

Five questions… and beyond

Waggl was used as part of an internal campaign called “Culture Jam”, which lasted for a week. The idea was to talk about the Insights’ culture collaboratively. “As in a musical jazz session where the players build on each other’s sounds, we wanted to spark meaningful conversations by building on everyone’s inputs.”

The digital tool was separate to Insight’s intranet, One. It is a hosted virtual system integrated into the company’s SharePoint platform. Staff were invited to go there and answer five open questions:

• ‘What one adjective would you use to describe our culture and why?’

• ‘What symbol, image, object, or place would best represent our culture and why?

• ‘How would you describe our culture to a friend of yours that is thinking about coming to work at Insights?’

• ‘If our culture had a tag line of mantra, what would it be?’

• ‘Share an experience you have had or heard about at Insights that you believe best exemplifies our culture.’

Upchurch received the highest number of responses compared to all the surveys he had ever done in the past. He cites a number of factors that contributed to this success. First, “the system was very simple to use. People could choose which questions to answer in a straightforward way.” It was also mobile friendly and staff could join it easily from any device.

But, what was really powerful about using Waggl was that employees could see the answers of their colleagues and vote on them. Those votes would bring the most popular answers to the top.

“As people were voting on each other’s answers, we started to see what they really liked and thought about working here.”

While a traditional survey is one-way and people never see what their peers are saying, “the situation here was entirely the opposite.”

That openness made all the difference. “That was the point of using Waggl.”

Staff could answer and vote as many times as they wanted to. “They would go back at the end of each day to see which new answers had been added, and to place their votes. It created the same appetite that people have when checking updates from their friends on Facebook, but in a corporate environment.”

A new language

The whole exercise unveiled novel ways to describe the Insights’ culture: “In employees’ words. No corporate speak.”

In fact, a whole new language was forming to describe the company. For example, on the question, ‘What symbol, image, object, or place would best represent our culture and why?’ the answer that came up at the top of the list was a ‘campfire’. The metaphor used by an employee said that Insights was like ‘everyone being on a camping ground playing his or her part. Some people would cook, others would gather wood or light the fire, etc.’ Other images included a tree, the ocean and a colourful school of fish.

On the question, ‘If our culture had a tag line of mantra, what would it be?’ the most popular answers included ‘Be yourself, be connected, and enjoy the journey,’ ‘Helping to bring out the best in each other’ and ‘The hugging company!’

“These were the words that our people used, liked and understood. Far away from any business jargon.”

Acting on Insights

After over 2,000 votes the process started to bring in new insights. “We began to see how employees were really perceiving our culture as opposed to what we thought it were. It was both surprising and revealing.”

For Upchurch, one of the most important aspects of adopting Waggl was the chance to listen to employees’ feelings and emotions and take action in real-time. “There is no benefit at all in inviting people to share their views if nothing is going to change as a result. We are talking about two-way communications and interactions.”

Inevitably, he got several pieces of negative feedback from some staff. “For example, someone said that our culture was over-critical. That feedback was striking, yet very important. We considered ourselves to be a fun place to work for. We realised that it was not all flowers and candy.”

Upchurch did not get defensive; quite the opposite. “We had always said that we valued differences and transparency. Now, we had the opportunity to prove that. We had to be able to hear those words if we wanted to be true to ourselves.”

What Upchurch did with all that content was to create a ‘Culture Book’ to send back to the whole organisation. It is a written document describing the culture based on all employees’ responses, both positive and negative. “It reports exactly their words. The Culture Book is now the official document for Insights’ staff and job candidates to get a sense of who we are and what it looks like to work here.”

Additionally, he produced a short video to orient new hires on the culture of Insights.

Most importantly, all the data generated through Waggl was integrated into new leadership development programmes. It sparked further conversations among executives. “This is what our people are saying about our culture. What does it really mean to us?”

“One thing is to get the data; another is to act upon it.”

Crowdsourcing the future With Waggl, Upchurch has found an interactive way to get employees’ feedback on an ongoing basis and from virtually everywhere.

He is already thinking about using it for future internal campaigns. “It is just the way it works. It is so easy to use and candidly more communicative than any normal survey.”

The main benefit is the ‘collaborative improvement’ where “my ideas become better because of everyone else’s inputs. I am inspired by my peers’ thoughts. And all of that happens in a virtual space, which breaks down geographical boundaries and time zones.”

There are other crowd-sourcing tools available, but the power of Waggle is how it brings culture alive from the bottom up at insight.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate