Y Combinator Challenge #14 – Tools for Measurement

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first 

14. Tools for measurement. Now that so much happens on computers connected to networks, it’s possible to measure things we may not have realized we could. And there are some big problems that may be soluble if we can measure more. The most important of all is the defining flaw of large organizations: you can’t tell who the most productive people are. A small company is measured directly by the market. But once an organization gets big enough that people on in the interior are protected from market forces, politics starts to rule, instead of performance. An improvement of even a few percent in the ability to measure what actually happens in large organizations would have a huge impact on the world economy, and a startup that enabled it would be entitled to a cut.

My Idea – Coworker Karma

I follow a pretty simple process for coming up startup ideas for the Y Combinator Challenge series.  Each night before I go to  bed I read the next idea on the list on my mobile phone, think about it for a few minutes until I fall asleep, and when I wake up – poof!  There’s my idea.  It’s kind of a fun little trick that I’ve been doing for a while, and it’s usually pretty reliable.  However, this morning when I woke up…nothing.  Zip.  Nada.  I could practically hear the squeaking as the hamster ran around on his wheel.

I have a good theory as to why my technique didn’t work this time.  It’s because, for all intents and purposes, this idea is impossible.  At least, if you look at it holistically and come up with a model that would be consistently applicable to every worker in every role at every level.  And, you’d need it to be 100% accurate and able to be defended against any claims of bias (both legal or otherwise) by disgruntled employees.  Therefore, I’m going to change the approach a bit and only focus on one segment of this problem – after all, as Paul points out, even a small improvement can be a big win for companies.

My idea is based on a pretty simple hypothesis:

  1. People generally have a pretty good idea who the high performers are within their organization
  2. The more closely you work with someone, the more accurate your assessments of your co-workers are

So, my idea is a system that would allow for users to give “karma points” to their co-workers each time they do something helpful, and then to combine the karmic data with additional statistics to create detailed reports for the management team.  In order for employees to participate, the ability to give points would need to be extremely simple and integrate seamlessly with their everyday workflow.  The front end would be a simple Outlook plug-in that would add a little “give karma” button next to the name of the person who sent the Email.  If the Email contains something helpful to you, instead of writing back a meaningless “Thanks!!!!!11ONE”, you can instead click the karma button and give them a karmic point (and provide optional comments).

On the back end, the karma points would be tallied to create a karmic score for each employee, but it wouldn’t be a simple sum.  The system would be linked in with the company’s hierarchical structure (do most big companies have that, or is it an MS-only thing?), and would weigh karmic points received from immediate co-workers or direct managers above those received from outside the team.  This information could also be used to assign extra weighting from VIPs (i.e. the general manager or VP of an organization).  The points should also be normalized, so that a user who only gives out points for above-and-beyond work isn’t dominated by Bob in marketing who gives out a hundred karmic “boo-yahs!” on a daily basis. 

For managers, the system would produce a series of slick-looking reports that would aggregate the data from the past 3/6/12 months and present reports for their specific team or division.  You could drill into individuals to view comments or view historical performance to see how they are tracking over time.   Ideally, the manager would this data to augment (rather than replace) traditional performance assessment tools – this would work especially well for companies that “grade on a curve” to encourage teamwork instead of a competitive me-vs-you environment.  Also, since there is no concept of negative karma or downvoting, the system would only provide additional data point to recognize high performers as opposed to weeding out workers who are under-performing.

What do you guys think?  Any products like this out there today?  Another good take on this idea that’s already in the market is a system from Traverse Corp. They were part of our “A Startup A Week” series – great guys and lots of smart ideas on how to tackle this big problem.

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3 responses to “Y Combinator Challenge #14 – Tools for Measurement

  1. Pingback: Top Posts « WordPress.com

  2. So essentially we are answering one problem – i.e how do we judge how good a team worker a typical person is. The only danger in this case is that it might become a popularity contest. Some people may get karma points for every tiny bit that they did for coworkers and others would get a zilch for even substantial work. So not a perfect system but yes some improvement over the existing ones. The whole thing needs to be taken seriously and not as a Hi – Fives, if it has to serve its intended purpose. Even if we solve all these teething issues, the big question is, in real world, which organization would be courageous enough to experiment with this. Google, are you hearing !

  3. I was intrigued enough with this idea, that I created KarmaPoints, a little site to do just that – visit http://www.getkarmapoints.com and let me know what you think.

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