The new compensation: going to anti-hoarders?

Yammer's founder, David Sacks

Today Rocky and I visited Yammer’s headquarters and had an interesting chat with founder/CEO David Sacks.

Don’t know what Yammer is? Two-and-a-half years ago they won Techcrunch 50 for its enterprise collaboration system (think Twitter for businesses). Now they are a lot more than that, and growing fast. Tons of big businesses like Chevron are using Yammer to help people work together.

That interview will be up soon, but during our chat I asked him when companies would be compensating people based on the value they are pouring in the system.

I got a very strange look.

A year ago I asked Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff the same question and got the same strange look.

Tells me I’m onto something.

Here’s what I am thinking of.

If someone adds a lot of value into a company’s internal system Yammer could keep track of that (thanks to engagement, etc) and when yearly bonuses get handed out management could just look to see who has put the most value into the system.

Fairly straightforward, but it’s interesting that both Sacks and Benioff don’t want to push this potential use of their systems. At least not in public.

Why would that be?

Well, they are both in adoption mode. They are still trying to convince people and companies to use these systems instead of more private email.

Remember back when I worked at NEC (a huge world-wide company?) When I left there all my email was private. I don’t have access to it anymore. Neither does the company.

Lost value.

But now Yammer and a host of other companies are trying to convince people to do their work “in the open.” In other words, instead of writing down some detail about a sales account in email, or in a contact manager only one person has access to, put that up on a news stream and into a contact manager everyone can see.

This freaks many employees out.

Why? Being open is antithetical to how they were trained. Many people think they are compensated by the value they hoarded.

Think about a lawyer. They went to school to gain exotic knowledge that they hoarded. People paid them for this hoarded knowledge.

Today? We’re asking people to blog, Tweet, put up YouTube videos, and to use Yammer and other systems like Salesforce.

That’s scary for a lot of people.

So, when I go and ask whether we should compensate people based on the information they SHARE with a company, that’s a topic these new CEOs aren’t quite willing to talk openly about.

Why? It freaks the information hoarders out and makes them less likely to change to information sharers. In such a world old systems like Microsoft Sharepoint stay relevant and new systems like Yammer don’t get adopted.

I’m quite convinced though that in the future at least some of big-company compensation will come from whether you have good knowledge sharing skills.

It’ll just take a couple of years to get there. In the meantime these new CEOs will remain a bit cagey about the potential for compensating people based on how good their Yammering is.

Oh, and now you also know why they are watching reputation systems like the ones that Quora just put in place.

Photo credit: David Sacks photo shot by Robert Scoble in Yammer’s San Francisco headquarters.

UPDATE: Brian Solis talk at lift, called “Digital Currencies” gives a further hint as to what this world might look like.

Comments

  1. I’ve actually considered going back to school for Knowledge Management with that very goal in mind: getting people to share knowledge rather than “hoard” it. Many of my coworkers are Gen-Yers and even Millenials, and you can tell they are far more open to sharing. One project, we actually used the Sharepoint wiki to gather information, and used Sharepoint shared folders, too. It’s a real shift in thinking, from “what can I learn?” to “what can I teach?”

  2. Scoble, if you went to GigaOm’s Net:Work conference a couple of months ago you would have heard Benioff announce that he us basing peoples compensation in Salesforce to the measured value they put on the internal Chatter implementation regardless of position. I believe the quote was: “Entry level people can make more than SVPs!!”

  3. This will definitely be the trend for companies with forward-looking management. It would be such a sea change for a lot of the mega-corporations, though… I don’t think they would implement this kind of thing, at least not beyond the “here’s a shiny new idea that wins some manager a few brownie points — we’ll all pretend to be on board with it but forget about within three months” stage. Which will give the companies that are able to implement this well an even greater advantage.

  4. As companies look to adopt systems like this, it’s going to be important to be able to tell the difference between good information and junk (which can be propagated at a pretty remarkable pace). This is one of the problems that Quora tries to address, though it’s far from perfect (personally, I like the Stack Exchange model a little better).

  5. I agree with you Scoble! I see this as a great way to increase accountability in the workplace, which should lead to increased productivity! That should make yammer based compensation a little easier to calculate! Is there a global rating system for the yammer posts identify importance/relevance?

    1. I didn’t say that. But there’s a LOT that CAN be shared with an entire company, or, at least, with a workgroup. The value built up this way CAN be measured by such systems.

  6. In the Knowledge Management space (and prior to that in the mid-90′s, where we called it Problem Resolution) we always struggled with assigning value for knowledge contributions. There is a a lot of work some very smart people did at the Consortium for Service Innovation when they came up with their Knowledge Centered Support Practices Guidelines. How can companies measure knowledge contributed? KCS says that you should use “Legitimate Metrics—tied to independent feedback and customer input/surveys vs. anecdotes/opinion.” If you compensate people for the number of posts they make on Yammer or for how many solutions they enter into the Knowledge Base you will end up with quantity, not quality. The difficulty is assigning value measurements to the contributions.

    One of the things I tried to push when I participated with the Consortium directly and indirectly was to view rewards and recognition programs as part of a company plan, and that people shouldn’t feel that they should only contribute because they will get compensated for it. They should contribute knowledge as PART OF THEIR JOB. As a matter of fact, I go the opposite route and if people aren’t sharing and helping others learn I feel that they shouldn’t be part of a thriving organization. That sounded harsh, didn’t it? :-)

  7. Robert there is a technical solution to this. ActivityStreams has a “verb” called creator and it has 30+ other verbs. – like, dislike, play etc. It simple enough for a system to record who the creator of the social object was i.e document, presentation, video. Then that objects unique ID can be tracked through the enterprise and voted on or measured by number of reads, plays or another value measurement linked to compensation. It would encourage staff/creators to share their content.

    In fact you could even add a gamification layer to the ActivityStream verbs which would then auto-calculate the value of each interaction. 5 points for creation, 2 points for review/comment, 1 pt for reshare or play.

    There is a company that has developed this launching in February but I can’t say who just yet. They are aiming at the consumer market first but this same AS/gamification model could work really well in a corporate company model you describe.

  8. Knowledge can only be shared, not conscripted, to quote Dave Snowden. In setting up a system like you’re suggesting, you’ve done two things: there’s an attempt to game the system and you’ve also created a spontaneity paradox. By explicitly building a system where you’ve asked people to share, you’ve taken away the conditions whereby sharing can occur. Be spontaneous! Oh wait, I can’t be, because by asking me to, it’s impossible. Lurking and acting upon the information provided shared by others in a system is still valuable. Drawing a straight line to which bit of information exactly it was that made that decision possible…

  9. Money drives behavior? In some western cultures it will work and hence it will help adopt Social Business systems like Yammer in large corporations. On the other hand leaders need to lead by example and use these systems themselves in an appropriate way. Connect to that a culture of Open Leadership in an organization and the adoption of Social Business will fly and will give the organization a giant leap frog over the competition.