likes to cite
on the two kinds of happiness. The ancient Greek philosopher spoke not only of hedonic happiness, Mr. Bock says, which has to do with pleasure and having a good time, but also of eudaemonic happiness, which is about feeling purpose and fulfillment. In Aristotelian ethics, this second kind of happiness is the highest human good. Mr. Bock expounds: “It turns out that if you drive meaning and purpose at work, people feel more eudaemonic happiness—and when they feel more eudaemonic happiness, they perform better and stick around longer.”
“There are seven billion people on this planet, and work sucks for most of them,” Mr. Bock adds. “How do you make it better without waiting 200 years for it to get better? What if you could actually drive business outcomes while also making work better?”
His answer to that what-if is Humu Inc., a behavioral-change startup whose mission is to “make work better everywhere through machine learning, science and a little bit of love.” Mr. Bock, 48, serves as Humu’s CEO. He started the company in 2017 with two of his former Google colleagues,
Based in Mountain View, Calif., Humu seeks to expand the kind of data-driven approach to personnel management that Mr. Bock developed during his 10 years as Google’s head of human resources (or as Google calls it, “people operations”).
Humu uses artificial intelligence to sort through employee surveys and identify changes likely to boost the happiness of a company’s workforce. Then it sends employees “nudges”—reminders sent by text or email that are tailored and timed to prod people toward small changes. Humu’s “nudge engine,” which is trademarked, draws on the research of the Nobel Prize-winning economist
and the legal scholar
who found that people are inclined to do what is easy, rather than what is in their best interest, and that the right nudge can prompt them to make better decisions.
By way of example, Mr. Bock pulls up a Humu nudge he has received in his email. It is aimed at helping him get better at explaining the company’s decision-making to employees. “Establish specific criteria. Be clear about how and why you’re making that decision,” the nudge instructs him. “Between us,” it asks, “are you going to take action or not?”
The idea is to “nudge from all directions,” says Mr. Bock. “If you’re just trying to change my behavior, it’s insufficient. Because change is hard. I’m distracted. But by nudging people around me, you create opportunity for me to change.”
‘You activate the group around them.’
One employee might get a nudge encouraging her to speak up in the first 10 minutes of a meeting. Another might receive a nudge urging him to ask someone who is quiet what they think. “You don’t put the onus on one person trying to change or improve,” says Mr. Bock. “You activate the group around them.” Slowly but surely, everyone can become a more perfect cog in a more perfect machine.
If you find the nudges somewhat annoying or big-brotherish, not to worry: They will adapt over time to best nudge you, individually. “It’s like a coach that shows up once in a while,” says Mr. Bock. “Turns out people really like it.”
Mr. Bock was born in communist Romania to Hungarian parents. “In Romania, that meant you were lower class, less than nothing,” he says. “The Soviet model was to relocate people, break up ethnic groups.” When he was 2, the family left, crossing two border checkpoints to reach a refugee camp in Austria. (When he went back to visit it five years ago, the camp was still home to a refugee population—though now from Africa.) His father, who had always dreamed of America, applied for political asylum in the U.S.
‘I had no idea about corporate America.’
“I had no idea about corporate America,” says Mr. Bock. His early jobs were on construction sites. He also waited tables, shelved books and acted, briefly, on “Baywatch.” He later worked in financial analysis and consulting, where his “biggest source of pain and frustration and rage” was the “disconnect between the values leaders espouse and what they actually live.” He thought he could have the most impact by working in human resources, so after an M.B.A. at Yale and four years at McKinsey & Co., he landed his first HR job with
Google sought him out in 2006, when it had only 6,000 employees. (Today it has around 114,000.) During his decadelong tenure there, Mr. Bock refined the company’s recruitment and talent-management practices and pioneered the field of “people analytics,” using data to unlock ways to improve the workplace. “A bad day at Google was still a pretty good day,” he says. “The free lobster bisque was cold.”
Mr. Bock sees a major opportunity in the field of human resources. “The same analytic intensity that we’ve seen in operations and manufacturing is now happening in the HR space,” he says.
At Humu, he is turning up some unexpected results. Nudging can be particularly effective in the aftermath of a crisis, he says, when the top brass has been fired but junior employees—loyal to the old management and old ways—are still hanging around. “They’ll go sub rosa, do stuff behind the scenes and hope the new leader washes out and they can go back to the way they were,” he says. “The only way to get at those people is with the technology of these micro-interventions. You just can’t afford to have 10,000 roaches crawling all over your organization.”
Mr. Bock also argues that nudging clusters of people has a protective effect against the behavior of a bad manager. Subpar bosses might not be acting to improve, but the people around them are, which pressures them to be their best selves.
Data analysis of people is more challenging than that of operations or manufacturing, Mr. Bock says, in part because people are more variable and in part because such analysis requires close attention to ethics. (Mr. Bock says that Humu’s software is built to protect employee privacy.) “The next Google or
has yet to be built in the people space, although I think we have a good shot at it,” he says. Yet along the way, “you’re going to have a lot of people doing bad things, either intentionally or unintentionally,” he warns. “It’s going to be a hot mess for a while.”
Write to Elizabeth Winkler at email@example.com
Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Credit: Google News