Editor’s Note: ERE’s Joshua Jones spent this week at SXSW Interactive in Austin where he was playing with new technology and mixing with those who create it.
Toxic culture can wreck a company and it can kill employees. Like carbon monoxide it can sometimes be undetectable until it’s too late. But what if there was a way to monitor this threat? Like those canaries miners used to take with them into the coal mines?
Enter Geoff Pitfield, Founder at Canary Mobile Development. His company has developed a new app that seems to be an echo of that other app, Whisper, if Whisper catered to people with jobs, and bills to pay, and student loans . . . you know . . . if it catered to adults.
Pitfield and I sat down to talk during SXSWi in Austin, Texas, and discussed his team’s new product, an anonymous chat service aimed at working professionals.
A company email address is required to sign up for the app. People who don’t want a Canary confirmation email coasting through their employer’s mail server can use their LinkedIn account to prove which company they work for.
Once logged in, employees can anonymously post content and reply to specific threads. Conversations are carried on by assigning random avatars to to each unique user, on each unique thread, meaning a user won’t have the same avatar on two different threads. Thread participants can directly reply to each other by saying things like “good point green car” or “stop whining yellow shoe.” Users are not limited to content from their own company. They can view posts and comment on other threads related to companies they don’t work for.
According to Pitfield, his team has no idea how many users they have, however he says they have confirmed that 3,000 unique companies have employees using the app. I played around with the app for a bit and nearly all of the content I saw was from one company using the service: Horizon Media.
Canary has actually partnered with Horizon Media to pilot an initiative that coaxes workers to be heard. But that’s a relationship even some Horizon Media employees don’t fully understand.
My mind raced as my imagination cooked up scenarios of rage and scandal. Yet Pitfield explained that what they’ve seen so far is quite tame. There are threads ranging from unlabeled lunches being stolen out of the fridge . . .
. . . to rants about company laptops being too heavy. Responses can be voted on. So a debate about the ethics of taking someone’s food can actually find closure. Should you have labeled your food and stop complaining? 1 person thinks so. Is it wrong to take any food, labeled or unlabeled, that is not yours from the fridge? 3 people think so. Is this thread pointless? 4 people think so.
Pitfield admits there hasn’t been anything nuclear or epic, so far. However, there is enough there for outsiders to begin getting an impression of what it’s like to work at a company. And this could be a point of concern for business leaders and HR executives, while simultaneously being a boon for recruiters. Professionals in talent acquisition could potentially use this service to figure out which companies have good cultures, which companies have bad ones, and which companies have disgruntled employees.
Nothing I saw on the app was shocking, however the content is bratty enough to make some employees feel alienated and delete the app.
So is there a payoff here for recruiters? Possibly. Hypothetically, people seeking talent could create an account on this app and browse the cultures of different companies. They can anonymously interact with employees in various work environments and learn more about what someone likes about that job, or what they dislike. And if a person (probably the recruiter, not the candidate) wants to reveal their name in a comment, they’re free to, and they can follow that up with an email address with an invitation to take the dialogue into a private and professional forum. For this to work Canary is going to need a ton of more activity from more companies. I saw one comment from a Best Buy employee that simply said, “First?” The first reply to this person was: “I don’t like Best Buy.” That was a small arrow, but imagine a confrontation between La Senza and Victoria’s Secret employees over which company uses more sweatshops. Could be interesting. Feeling voyeuristic? Want to gather some intel on some companies you might try recruiting from? Download the app, sign-up, and look around.
OK… now I’m interested in anonymous applications and what they mean for HR and talent acquisition. I’m headed to the app store now to see what I can find. Look for more from me on this topic.