Toronto Entrepreneurs’ Revolutionary Book Tops Charts

Looking for a worthwhile business read? Pick up The Decoded Company: Know Your People Better Than You Know Your Customers (Portfolio/Penguin, February 25, 2014). The first book on big data in the workplace, it uncovers a transformational new (and long overdue) business management approach that leverages data like never before and is revolutionizing the workforce at some of the world’s most forward-thinking companies.

Data-driven companies like Amazon and Netflix have used behavioural analytics for years to decode their customers to personalize the user experience. Now, this concept is moved to the workplace as a growing number of companies start to decode the data trail that follows employees on their projects. In short, The Decoded Company examines the outcome when an organization is as internally connected as its customers are. The objective is to personalize each employee’s experience, increase emotional engagement, speed up mastery of new skills, avoid repeat errors and maximize their entire team’s potential. 

The Decoded Company teaches managers of any size organization to personalize experiences, rather than treating people as interchangeable resources and relying on typical, one-size-fits-all policies, processes and procedures. The Decoded Company is no theoretical concept; rather, it’s a proven business model that co-author Leerom Segal, a young entrepreneurial powerhouse in Toronto, and his founding team at Klick Health, has employed for years. Under Segal’s leadership, Klick Health – a $100-million data-driven, employee-centric company – has grown into the world’s largest independent digital health agency. The company has achieved a minimum of 30 per cent growth per year, and won over 80 awards in 2013 alone for its management, culture and work. 

It isn’t too surprising, then, that since its release on February 25th, The Decoded Company has quickly become a New York Times bestseller (it currently sits at #4) and has been praised by people like futurist and fellow best-selling author Don Tapscott. It was co-written by Aaron Goldstein (Co-founder and COO, Klick Health); Jay Goldman (Managing Director, Klick Health) and Rahaf Harfoush (technology author and lecturer).

We caught up with Segal to hear a little more…

The Decoded Company is largely based on the business approach taken at Klick. What was your inspiration behind creating such an influential corporate culture?
My partners and I were shaped by the early days of our careers spent at a multi-national public company that was less talent-centric. We recognized that certain practices weren’t necessarily in the best interests of the talented people working there and that we weren’t really benefitting from senior level talent within the organization because they were busy building PowerPoints for financiers. When we left to start Klick, we knew that if we could create a centre of gravity for brilliant minds, everything else would work itself out. The focus was on designing an incredible culture that was attractive to talent and to create an environment where talented individuals felt empowered to do their best work. If we did that right, it would ensure that our people create wonderful experiences and produce great results for our clients. Our clients would then reward us with their loyalty, and over time, that would translate into growth that would allow us to invest back in the company. It becomes a very virtuous cycle.

How did you decide you wanted to share this knowledge and create a book?
For a very long time, we didn’t recognize that what we were doing was so different because we had just been doing it for so long and were obsessive from the start to be a centre of gravity. It was only in the last two or three years that people started to ask, “what are you doing? How are you still growing at 50 per cent at $100 million in revenue? How are you winning all these awards for your culture and engagement?” With the increasing amount of questions, being an ultimately transparent company, we wanted to share our tools. When we saw the reactions, we got really encouraged and motivated to investigate whether other organizations were doing the same thing. Genome, our in-house management tool, has really been Aaron’s baby. It is essentially a custom built intranet that replaces e-mail, timesheets, spreadsheets, memos and has given us a real competitive advantage, as is discussed in the bookJay joined us about three years ago as an author and connected us with Rahaf. She was skeptical because, in her opinion, the last thing the world needed was another management or culture book. After we convinced her to hop on a plane and leave her job at the World Economic Forum for a few days to check us out, she very quickly changed her mind, providing she got clear access to everybody and an unfiltered view of how we functioned. A week later, the project was launched, and here we are over two years later…

What is The Decoded Company, in a nutshell?
We answer a deceptively difficult question: what would happen if organizations understand their people as well as they understand their customers? It is simple because, as consumers, we completely understand the benefits of being decoded. We may not consciously think of it that way, but so much has changed in our behaviour as consumers in this world. We turn to Yelp or Trip Advisor for recommendations, for example. Whether it is shopping, travelling, consuming media or entertaining ourselves – countless tools are making our lives easier. In many ways, the apps on our phone and tools like Facebook have replaced older Internet technology. We don’t use e-mail to send photo albums or invites – we use Facebook. We have created tools that are better at understanding us as individuals and customizing our experiences based on those understandings. In contrast, the culture in the workplace historically acts like an angry referee because it is all rules-based, with competing interests, and action is usually taken after the fact. On the other hand, the apps that you have on your phone are like a coach that whispers in your ear and helps you to perform better by anticipating your needs and understanding the context in which you were trying to do something.

If we simply took inspiration from how well these consumer tools are working and applied them to the workforce, we could eliminate a one-size-fits-all process of management and make things easier. A tool could understand and differentiate whether it was the first time I was doing something, or if it was the 100th time. It can completely change my experience; it can suggest a buddy, introduce training interventions, and suggest a time to get the practice and feedback we need. Additionally, data is starting to act as a sixth sense in so many facets of our daily life through tools that feed our intuition, like Nike Fuelbands. The same thing should exist in the workforce. Another core principle of the book is that ecosystems are going to prevail over hierarchies. This is facilitated by applying the social capabilities offered by the web to the internal organization. It can be done through tools like Chatter, or the ability to issue Kudos, as we do at Klick, which are essentially badges to thank people. It is also about taking inspiration from tools like Kickstarter and bringing that idea inside and letting our own people shape our innovation agenda, not just ourselves.

What do you hope young professionals take from the book?
Our hope is that the book really sparks a movement and that it encourages leaders in any industry. It offers a blueprint and tools that can be applied to any organization. We live in a time of accelerating change and complexity, and yet we have tools that capitalize on the data that is available. Our hope is also that the book becomes attractive to talented individuals who want to benefit from some of these data capabilities as well. The book explores Klick’s belief system of culture at the centre, and is really about how we put that into operation and how others can too. We don’t just tell the story through the lens of Klick, however, because we are specifically in the digital space and a little bit of a younger company. We found an alphabet of examples of other companies. With each one of them, we looked at how these practices are actually attracting people, dialing up engagement and enabling companies to execute and evolve faster.

Which other companies do you profile
We use examples from companies like Whole Foods, Google, Starbucks, and many others, who are being really smart about their organizations, and recycling information to make employees’ lives easier. We ask people to look at some of these emerging models to see if they may apply to organizations – the whole organization, or at the very least, one of your teams or departments. Exploring the companies was interesting because we uncovered a lot. With each conversation, we would come in looking for one thing but would find out they had all these amazing practices that apply to any organization. With Google, we went in to talk to them about one of their projects there, Project Oxygen, which was a really cool process but on the surface was deceptively simple. Looking at retention and growth models, they mapped out who their best mangers were. In the end, they reduced everything down to eight core principles. We thought, this can’t be it; it is so obvious. But then, when we actually saw the order of these eight, one of the most important criteria was how well the manger was providing daily feedback, and how constructive it was to the individual. All the way at number eight was their technical skills and craftsmanship. Most people wouldn’t put them in that order. But it was that insight that allowed them to completely transform their culture programs and how they essentially developed their leaders and more engaged teams. Any company can do it.

To learn more, get your hands on the book yourself here.


#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)


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