The Atlassian happiness meter

Atalssian knows that an employee's happiness is crucial to their productivity so it has devloped a means to measure just how satisfied their staff actually are.

Productivity Spectator

If you have a useless boss who loves blowing smoke up the corporate ladder while breathing fire on those below, now is the time to start plotting your revenge. If you are a CEO, you will finally be able to find out who has been lying to you – before you sign their bonus cheque. You also might find yourself on the end of some hard questions from the board.

This idea is simple but brutally effective. It has the potential to completely change the way companies are managed. And it’s free.

It was developed by Atlassian, a Sydney based software company that has taken on, and beaten, the likes of Microsoft and IBM on their way to gaining Facebook, Ikea and NASA as clients. But Atlassian knows their competitive advantage is ultimately linked to one thing – their ability to attract and retain top software engineers.

If those engineers aren’t happy, rivals will poach them in a second.

So Atlassian measures staff happiness every day. iPads are placed at the exit of every building (in Sydney, San Francisco and Amsterdam), giving real time feedback on the level of staff engagement, and consequently, the abilities of every manager.  There is one question; it’s completely anonymous and staff see the results instantly.

By the way, this app was developed by an Atlassian employee and voted into existence by his colleagues.

If you are not managing for staff happiness, senior execs will intervene

The company can determine exactly where and when staff happiness is under threat. Sometimes that might not be a bad thing. Stress levels will naturally increase as deadlines for launching a new product approaches but often result in a sense of satisfaction once the product is shipped. If worrying trends begin to emerge however, management can adapt the question to get more granular, location specific, information.

That allows top executives to step in to rectify any problems before they escalate, particularly helpful for satellite offices.

Then they can employ any number of management remedies. Perhaps that unit is understaffed and needs more resources, or the manager needs more training or to be reassigned.

Compare that to the traditional employee review process. How honest are you about your manager during your quarterly or (heaven forbid) yearly review? How easy it is for bad managers to game the system, sweetening your short-term memory just before the 360 degree feedback survey? How many managers use a slash and burn technique to secure a big bonus or promotion, leaving someone else to pick up the pieces.

This simple app has the potential to weed those bad managers out.

They have been hiding behind the pretence that you can’t measure engagement because it is one of those so-called ‘motherhood’ issues that can be dumped on the doorstep of the CSR team. Employee engagement will no longer be the sweet, forgiving mother of a Disney film. It will be the brawny forearmed, rolling-pin wielding battle-axe of a Dickens novel. Fail to measure engagement and its link to productivity and expect to be punished.

A way to end bureaucracy?

It might even eliminate much of middle management altogether. Evolution has shaped us to really only manage a small number of interactions. That has saddled the modern corporation with layer upon layer of functionaries whose job it is to look over the shoulder of those below them and only pass on or up as little as they can to protect themselves from scrutiny. Is it no wonder that most firms hope to emulate the start-up mentality of the Google’s and Facebook’s of the world? That’s because, when left to their own devices, workers are the best placed to design their jobs and will happily eliminate waste and busy work.

Instead of the current game of ‘Chinese whispers’, CEOs will know instantly whether the new corporate message is resonating with staff, or if they are aligned with the results of the strategy review. And chances are, if the staff think it’s a terrible idea, there’s a strong chance your customers will too.

Staff engagement leads to tangible financial outcomes

The profit potential of this is enormous.

  • A recent Gallup  found that disengaged employees cost the US economy $300 billion in lost productivity.
  • One of Australia’s productivity gurus, Neil Plumridge of Ernst and Young, says he can predict with almost 100% accuracy his next quarter’s returns via his staff engagement survey.
  • Research by AON Hewitt found that sales people who were engaged sold selling 60 per cent more than disengaged counterparts. They found that for retailers, for each percentage rise in engagement, there was a significant drop in the amount of goods lost to damage, theft and wastage. 

Imagine managers who have to compete on how they engage staff, along with the traditional metrics. That will force them to reverse the current course of short-termism, requiring them to foster bottom-up innovation and collaboration – the best long-term economic drivers of any business.

Atlassian understands that. According to AON Hewitt, they have a staff engagement level of 87 per cent. That’s compared to an Australian average of 54 per cent.

In a later post, I’ll show you how Atlassian uses that engagement to drive innovation. By giving staff time every quarter to create their own teams and experiment with new ideas, they’ve launched nearly 50 product extensions. These are the innovations that helped them grow from two blokes in a garage 10 years ago, to a company with 18,000 customers and $100 million in revenue today. And you can’t argue with that statistic.

Jackson Hewett is the editor of our new website, the Productivity Spectator. A video accompanying this piece can be found here.