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Dealing with people isn’t always easy, whether it’s having a difficult conversation with a boss or subordinate, handling a coworker’s inappropriate remarks, or making an impact during a meeting.
Australia’s The People Spot has developed an iOS app, dubbed PeopleSpot, that provides quick and easy access to resources to help in such situations, offering sound advice about interactions with coworkers or customers.
Colin Beattie, the company’s founder and CEO, positions the app based on his audience. When talking to a fellow CEO, for example, he presents it as a pocket coach – but when pitching to HR or risk management executives, the angle is that it is a survival kit for employees.
The sale is made easier by the growing recognition that people do everything on their phones, and they don’t want to wait for advice. Also, younger and casual staff are less likely to seek advice from their supervisor or manager.
Beattie, who has been a leadership coach for over 20 years, said tech companies love the app because their staff tend to be introverted, dislike training sessions and would rather receive guidance via technology. The CEO of a robotics company calls PeopleSpot “his secret weapon to deal with the people side of his job”, he said.
PeopleSpot incorporates analytics that can help reveal issues before they come to the organisation’s attention. The company is careful to work within privacy boundaries: users can choose whether or not they want to participate in analytics, and in any case, the data is collected anonymously.
While the development of these analytics is at a relatively early stage, one plan is to detect trends such as searches for material around harassment or bullying, so that organisations can act early.
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Analytics can also reveal that issues bothering employees aren’t always what the organisation assumed. One PeopleSpot customer acquired a company in the UK, expecting staff to be concerned about uncertainty and looking for new jobs. But the app revealed that the main issues were around belonging and fitting in.
This wasn’t part of the initial design of PeopleSpot, but came about as a bonus resulting from its implementation as a mobile app, said Beattie.
Although the app was designed to be used on the spot, users also turn to it outside of working hours once they’ve had time to think about something that happened at work that day. This reflects the way it can be used proactively, such as seeking advice on how to deal with nervousness about delivering an important presentation.
But Beattie observed that it’s not always about the content. Sometimes, what’s most important to users is the validation that they are normal. For example, it is normal to be concerned when someone makes an inappropriate joke. To this end, the company is considering creating multiple versions of its content to better address various groups of users.
There is some interest in PeopleSpot in the mining sector. Fly-in, fly-out workers spend their off-duty hours with the people they work with, so it can be hard to get away from any people problems. While counsellors are usually provided, there is a reluctance to use them, whereas the app can be used discreetly.
Karen Tipping, general manager of culture and organisational development at AIA Insurance, turned to PeopleSpot when she saw a gap in the quality of conversations about work and life. “Sometimes we forget to bring our whole human selves to work,” she said, and big HR systems don’t provide timely resources to help leaders meet immediate challenges.
Moving to self-service
Another issue with HR systems is that they are increasingly moving to self-service, which means it can become hard to seek help for a workplace issue. PeopleSpot can serve as a “personal coach” to augment process-oriented HR systems, said Tipping, though AIA also offers in-person coaching and masterclasses covering people-centric issues.
So far, AIA has deployed PeopleSpot to its leadership cadre of some 300 to 400 people with “very solid take-up” – around 50% of those are active users – and plans to extend the roll-out to all employees.
“It’s certainly not just for leaders,” said Tipping, but AIA realised there were some gaps in that cohort’s skills that could be addressed with the app, so that’s where it started. Customer-facing staff will probably be the next group before going companywide.
PeopleSpot’s analytics capability allows the company to see the topics people are searching for, allowing it to take steps to address the issues without having to wait for them to appear in formal feedback mechanisms such as staff surveys.
PeopleSpot was designed with integration with other applications in mind. Although “we haven’t done it to a great extent”, according to Beattie, it can be used as a plugin for HR applications such as Workday, and there are plans to deliver the content through Teams and Slack.
AIA hasn’t gone down that track. HR and other systems are process-oriented, and Tipping wants to keep PeopleSpot focused and relatively fun to use. Integration could dilute the experience, she warned.
The recently launched direct-to-employee version of PeopleSpot is free, but a subscription (A$9.99 a month or A$87.99 a year) is required to access the complete content library. The enterprise version (price on application) of the software allows an organisation with at least 1,000 employees to provide the app and all of the content to its workforce.