Using Technology as a Coach, Not a Referee

If you’ve used The New York Times’ Fourth Down Bot, an application that “evaluates whether an NFL team should punt, attempt a field goal or go for it on fourth down,” you’ve used data like a coach. But there’s a lot more to coaching than crunching numbers. As former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs put it a long time ago, “You don’t win with X’s and O’s. What you win with is people.”

We couldn’t agree more. At Klick Health, we recognize that no computer can ever begin to duplicate the creativity, intuition and passion that drive the best businesses. We absolutely believe that our people’s unique talents are the key to our success. This is precisely why we use technology as a coach instead of a referee.

If you’re not into football, then perhaps another metaphor will help explain our approach. A couple of years ago, the MIT architect Carlo Ratti gave a presentation at a TED conference that made a lasting impression on us. He flashed a picture of a bright red Formula One Ferrari—an image, he said, that was thumb-tacked to the wall of his and every other Italian boy’s bedroom when he was growing up. If you wanted to win a Formula One race back then, he said, you spent your budget on a great car and a great driver.

Then he showed another picture—of a room crammed full of computer consoles and technicians. “Today, if you want to win a race,” he noted, “you need something that monitors the car in real time, that has a few thousand sensors collecting information from the car and then transmits this information into the system. The info is processed and used in order to go back to the car with decisions in mind. You can then change what you need to in real time as information is collected. This is what, in engineering terms, you would call a real-time control system.”

Our real-time control system is a custom-built, proprietary operating system. It manages all our day-to-day and long-term affairs, relying on sensing and actuating components similar to those found in Formula One racing. The system’s sensing components constantly sift through the terabytes of data that any busy company generates—deadlines met or missed, people hired, expenses incurred, payments disbursed and received—but we also look beyond automatically generated data and tap into our team’s innate sense for how projects and relationships are progressing.

Because all our work communication flows through this system, we know what each member of our team is working on. Once a week, everyone in the company answers a simple question about each of his or her projects: “How’s it going?” By analyzing the results—red, yellow, green or blue (for awesome), and correlating it against a decade’s worth of data points, we can detect problems long before they occur and coach individual team members on how similar issues have been resolved in the past—at the exact moment the issue occurs. We call these interventions “teachable moments” and have seen them dramatically increase the effectiveness of training. This distinction between using technology as a coach to help avoid a problem, rather than as an angry referee yelling after the fact (or what many companies call a post-mortem) is huge.

What this real-time system does for our employees is no different than what a Formula One coach can do for his team: Caution a driver about compensating for a pressure loss in his right rear tire, for instance, or alert the pit crew to a misfiring spark plug. Having the ability to implement slight course corrections in advance is much less disruptive than performing infrequent and massive ones later on. What’s more, positive interventions that turn potential slips into teachable moments can improve and inspire a team.

The idea isn’t to automate our decision-making or eliminate human intelligence from the mix, any more than the aim of a computer-enabled Formula One racing team is to replace the driver. The goal is to enable faster and better decision-making. Faster because it is collected in real time; better because it is based on real data. It’s our belief that companies that build sensing and actuating centers, which decode the data trail created by their people and projects, will have an indelible speed and talent advantage.

Sidebar: Turning the Lens Inward: A Game Changer

Q&A with Leerom Segal, CEO, Klick

PM360: Is using “technology as a coach” part of a larger trend?

Segal: Using technology as a coach is part of the trend toward using Big Data for a competitive advantage. However, whereas companies like Amazon and Netflix use data to decode their customers to personalize the user experience, the biggest opportunity for companies these days is to turn the lens inward. That is, to decode the data trail that follows employees on their projects to customize their user experience and ultimately raise employee engagement and productivity.

This, of course, is completely contrarian to typical HR thinking that forces one-size-fits-all policies, practices and procedures on its employees. But we’ve come a long way from the industrial revolution when this type of thinking originated. We now have the technology platforms to advance things to a higher, more intelligent and respectful level.

Using data as a coach can, among other things, take your employee on-boarding program to a higher, more effective level. Systems that can detect when a new hire starts can link to training videos and modules at the most appropriate times for each employee and allow for better communication with their manager.

How does this trend specifically affect our industry?

Healthcare organizations, like those in all industries, need to rethink the way we manage our businesses by using data as cleverly internally as we do externally. We’re at the cusp of a new frontier. Companies that better understand and treat their employees as well as they do their customers won’t only win the war on global talent, they’ll enjoy higher growth, customer satisfaction and profits than their competitors. It’s a game changer.

  • Leerom Segal

    Leerom Segal is a pioneer of the “Decoded” movement and CEO of Klick, a $100M company with an award-winning culture that puts employees first and uses technology and data to fuel its 30% annual growth. He is also co-author of "The Decoded Company" and a winner of the “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” award from Ernst and Young.

  • Jay Goldman

    Jay Goldman is a Managing Director at Klick Health and leads Kick’s Sensei Labs team in addition to heading the company’s Innovation group. He is a co-author of the New York Times bestseller “The Decoded Company” and has been published in the “Harvard Business Review.”

  • Rahaf Harfoush is a co-author of "The Decoded Company." A digital strategist, she also wrote "Yes We Did: An Insider’s Look at How the Media Built the Obama Brand."


You May Also Like

Risk of Sudden Changes in Adherence

Taking a new medication can change the levels of other medicines—sometimes dangerously. Methotrexate is ...

Digital Marketers Must Learn to Tame Big Data

I’m often asked, “What is big data?” Frankly, everyone’s favorite buzzword means very little. ...

Can Pharma and Physicians Engage Meaningfully?

It’s the holy grail for pharmaceutical executives. Physician engagement—the ability to achieve a meaningful ...