Monday, October 04, 2004

Two New Technologies to Shy Away From

Two new technologies are coming HR's way that have me concerned. The first is cell phone technology that uses satellite GPS technology to track the location of the phone and consequently the phone holder. The second is a polygraph type program that measures the sound of the voice to determine a speaker's emotional state.

Apparently my HR brethren are taking to the idea of tracking their employees' locations through their cell phones. The software maker, Xora, has signed on its 1000 customer and is adding about 200 new customers per month. The software maker provides a service called Geofence that "sets off an alarm at the office when field workers go to preprogrammed off-limits sites, such as a bar or a park." The CEO of Xora jokes, "There's no electro shock--yet."

Sorry if I'm not laughing. Even the name Geofence makes me bristle. Is this the kind of respect (or lack thereof) that we want to place on our employees? Do we want to keep our employees fenced in like sheep? This only serves to further distance employers and employees. If we want a workforce where our employees feel engaged in their work and dedicated to the company's success than we have to do better than spying on their every movement.

The polygraph type program uses something called LVA technology. LVA stands for layered voice analysis and was designed as a counter terrorism device by the Israeli army. According to this site
"LVA uses a patented and unique technology to detect Brain activity finger prints using the voice as a medium to the brain and analyzes the complete emotional structure of your subject."

Anne Freedman, staff columnist for HR Executive Magazine describes it this way,
"LVA uses 8,000 algorithms to track and analyze the mechanics of voice patterns. What it determines is more than just honesty; it measures emotions such as excitement, stress, uncertainty and depth of thought."

According to Freedman's article, a company called V & V Resources is hoping to distribute this technology to the HR community. They see many possibilities such as pre-hire interviewing and screening, background checking, reducing employee theft and gaining truthful information in exit interviews.

From a recruiting perspective, even if the software is shown to be 100% accurate (which I highly doubt) I'm not sure how an applicant's emotional state during an interview translates into how well he or she will perform in the job. Recruiters may find themselves doing a disservice to their companies by screening out applicants based on the results of technology such as this.

As for exit interviews, that is just a silly notion to even contemplate. Exit interviews are not for interrogation. (I have a picture in my head of the terminating employee strapped in a chair with a bright light on him and the HR rep with clipboard and LVA technology by her side.) Exit interviews are a voluntary communication where employees are free to share their observations of the workplace and the issues that motivated them to leave.

I really hope that HR professionals will be wise in their selection and use of new technologies. It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to control employees through external forces. That's short term thinking at best. A better method is to create a corporate culture where internal influences motivate employees. When employees are motivated internally, they are able to produce the kind of work that drives long term success. It may take more thought and effort to build a motivating corporate culture but ultimately it will prevail over those that rely on threatening and controlling environments.

Beth C.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The polygraph, beloved of entertainment and of control freaks, has a poor enough record in the law-enforcement world. I expect no better from some hot technology. For some corporate amateur to play tough guy in this way is simply stupid. I'm reminded of a cover article in TRAINING magazine some years ago: "Theory X Bounces Back! (Watch Productivity Soar.)"

Even with 95% validity, a difficult goal, you're producing 50 false positives per 1,000 subjects. Want to fund the lawsuits arising from that?

Of course, if the board and senior management were subjected to polygraph questions by, say, the SEC, maybe this would be a good idea.

7:21 AM, October 05, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous poster that these tools are a dream come true for control freaks. Employees can help stop the spread of these spying and interrogation techniques by choosing not to work at and not apply for jobs at places that employ such underhanded tactics.

As the job market heats up, the employee will have more power to choose who to work for and who to stay away from.

8:56 AM, October 05, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a great idea for a new business. Now that companies are tracking their employees whereabouts, it won't be long before parents use the same technology to track their children - for the children!

So here is my idea: A new service to replace your company or parent cell phone with a clean one (optional) along with a service to walk your tracked cell phone to approved places. If you tell your mom you will be at the library, we will make sure your cellphone is at the library all afternoon. Sleeping over your friends? We will bring your cellphone over to your friends for you while you do what you want.

In the corporate world, we will make sure your cell visits an above average number of customers or repair sites, while you go take a little well deserved R&R.

You will get that bonus or that increase in your allowance for good behavior without sweating out all those good-behavior details! Call the track-me-not(tm) service today and get back into your supervisors / parents good graces instantly!

Also works great for spouses! Would you rather go to church service or hold an important meeting with your secretary? Now you can do both!

What do you think? Any VC's want to fund this venture?

9:11 AM, October 05, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(return visit from Anonymous 1, hater of control freaks)

The third post is simply brilliant. And not far from the truth. Virgin Mobile offers a cell-phone service that will call you at a particular time--e.g., so you can arrange to get a call in the middle of a blind date or meeting that you might want an excuse to leave.

I recall some years ago a company sold phony pagers. They looked like the real thing, except all you could do with them was to trigger a pager-beep. Then you could pick up the pager and say to your client, "oh, that can wait -- I want to concentrate on you."

Mistrust leads to malicious compliance, and has done so since work gangs on the pyramids discovered the overseers were cheating them on the food meant as salary. In fact, the first recorded strike by public employees was by workers in the necropolis near the Valley of the Kings, irate that they were being skimped while unconsumed grain piled up as offerings for the gods.

Any bets that the geniuses behind this technology want the same kind of electronic leash?

One fast-food company considered warning systems and alarms to make sure employees washed their hands after using the toilet. Some sane executive stomped out that idea by suggesting it apply in the executive suite as well.

The alternative? A brief training video that explained some health risks, urged a 30-second wash time, and demonstrated that you can estimate 30 seconds of handwashing by singing to yourself two verses of "Happy Birthday to You."

So, a clear performance and a criterion for self-assessment.

2:59 PM, October 06, 2004  
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