Cultural Brilliance Radio host Claudette Rowley interviews Mark Somol, Co-Founder of Zeal Technology

Claudette: Today I am thrilled to have Mark Somol with us and he’s going to be helping us learn more about:

How Artificial Intelligence is changing the feedback culture in the workplace

Claudette: For anybody that’s new to your company or to the A.I. space in general, can you tell us a little bit about what you guys are seeking to do?

Mark: Sure, so we help companies/organizations with employee engagement or organizational culture. We do that through artificial intelligence and we use our AI in two ways: One is with a chat bot which interacts with employees, and two, we use some artificial intelligence techniques around sentiment analysis and crunching through our data to help you understand what’s going on with your business.

Claudette: Tell us about founding Zeal. What prompted you all to come together and do this?

Mark: Sure, so there was a group of five of us that have worked together for a couple years at a company called Percussion and we quickly took notice that at a smaller company like this, morale could shift at the drop of a dime.

The thing I noticed as a leader is that news travels very slowly upward to me and what my co-founders noticed is that we could easily miss out on the smallest mishaps which could have a massive impact on overall morale.

What I found with one of my co-founders who ran a department for Percussion, she and I would sit down once a week and go through a list of employees and talk about how we thought they were doing, both professionally and personally, and see if there’s anything we needed to address. After a couple months of doing that, literally in spreadsheet format, we realized there has to be a better way than doing it manually… And so that was really one of the main geneses of starting Zeal.

Implementing Zeal and Its Effect on Team Morale:

Claudette: I know you have some really great stories about how you’ve been able to help specific companies really uncover key pieces of information that were impacting morale… Do you want to share one of those with us?

Mark: Sure, so here’s one of my favorite stories from about a year ago that shows the power of gathering real-time feedback from your employees and making sure you’re doing it on a consistent basis. There are a lot of companies that still do annual or semi-annual engagement surveys, and those capture discreet moments in time but they don’t capture all those time zone moments in between where there’s so much going, which is tough because as I alluded to with my experience in founding Zeal, morale can shift on a moment’s notice.

We had one of our customer’s morale scores that we were recording drop by 40% in a matter of a week, so I get a phone call from the CEO asking “Mark what’s going on?” and I kind of jokingly responded “Well I’m not there so I don’t know but let’s go find out.” We sent out some additional anonymous questions and that was all prompted to just to a town hall meeting where they could speak openly with people and what they found with the anonymous responses that they got back from the employees was that there was a rumor going around that the company was for sale. So apparently everyone was in a panic in fear of potentially losing their jobs, which was undoubtedly why morale fell off a cliff. The company reacted immediately, so kudos to them. They held a town hall and they talked about it openly with the entire company and looking at the charts that we track for them morale rebounded within a week or two, back on track.

This was a great moment for the company for a couple of reasons the biggest one being that moments like that help you build trust with your employees, but of course it was a great validation moment for us as we were able to help one of our customers really solve a challenge very quickly.

Claudette: From your leadership experience and in getting to know the employees that work for you, have you been able to gather a sense of what is holding them back from bringing up certain issues in a more direct manner, rather than having to administer anonymous surveys?

Mark: I think in a word it’s fear and I imagine some people may even view these engagement surveys as a witch-hunt. I would guess many are jaded from bad experiences at previous jobs, and It only takes one of those in your career before you decide that you don’t want to give honest feedback because you’re worried about your job. So we aspire to have this complete trust and complete transparency but we have to recognize that people come with some of their own scars. I think in an ideal world, we’d have organizations where you don’t need anonymity where people are just able to say whatever’s on their mind. What we found in practice, though, is that people really need to have confidence that their identity is not going to be revealed for them to tell it to speak the truth which is what we really need at the top.

Claudette: On a final note is there anything else you’d like to leave our listeners with today?

Mark: Yeah I’d love for them to stop and take the time to listen to their team, ask their teams for feedback. It starts at the top, and if we engage in the needs of our employees we can use that feedback for good and build trust with each of them.

Listen to the full interview with Claudette Rowley and Mark Somol here.