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Tomo (Total Motivation) and Other Notes from the Slack Frontiers Conference

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Tomo (Total Motivation) and Other Notes from the Slack Frontiers Conference

By: -
18 Sep 2018

Earlier this month, I left the warm confines of the southeastern United States for the much cooler City by the Bay. Across McCovey Cove from the home of San Francisco Giants, I joined about 800 Slack enthusiasts at the Slack Frontiers conference.

The opening keynote focused on “tomo” or Total Motivation, a concept put forth by Lindsay McGregor, co-founder of Vega Factor and co-author of Primed to Perform. From her own research and pulling from decades of studies that have tried to make sense of what drives organizational performance, McGregor postulates there are two kinds of performance – tactical and adaptive. Tactical is about defining and executing a strategy, which most organizations manage fairly well – through goal setting, defined processes, real-time dashboards, etc. Adaptive performance is what kicks in when things don’t go according to plan. It relies on creativity, persistence and collaboration, and, this is probably not a surprise, most organizations don’t manage adaptive performance well. 

Like Yin and Yang, tactical and adaptive performance should be in balance for the best results. For example, good tactics would include a script and workflow for support reps so professionalism is projected and process is followed. But then, let the reps adapt based on their interactions with the customer. Too much tactical and it sounds like a robo-call, and too much adaptive and you get 10-hour customer service calls.

McGregor has found that underlying performance is motivation, and what she and her colleagues call tomo comes in six flavors. Three lead to higher performance – the first, she calls “play”, or is the work itself enjoyable; the second is “purpose,” does the work provide meaning; and the third is “potential,” is the work helping you grow. Southwest Airlines is one of the most profitable airlines and regularly scores highest in customer service; its employees, especially the flight attendants, are known to have a lot of fun at work. McGregor claims this is not a coincidence.

The other three motivations are detached from work and have a negative impact on performance. The first is emotional pressure, which might be something along the lines of working to fulfill your parents’ wishes (which are not your own). The second is economic pressure, which may be surprising, but when money is the main goal, the outcomes are often poor due to a greater propensity to cut corners or behave unethically. For an extreme example, have those of you in the U.S. seen Wells Fargo’s ads on TV?  The banking giant is trying to repair its reputation after pressuring its sales people, who opened millions of fraudulent accounts.  The third is inertia, which is essentially when you just keep showing up at work not because work is fun or interesting or has meaning, but because it’s just what you do.

McGregor’s company has developed surveys and strategies to help measure and elevate tomo. The big question is can tools like Slack help an organization raise tomo?  While, according to McGregor, a company’s culture is by far the greatest driver of tomo, I think Slack can certainly help improve communications, collaboration and transparency, which should have a positive effect on employee engagement and motivation.

In a breakout session, Rob Hansen, T-Mobile’s director of reliability engineering, discussed how he and his colleagues use Slack channels to help resolve network problems. Channels make it easy to include everyone who might need to be involved, and for those in different time zones, it’s easy to get up to speed on the most recent issue by reviewing earlier posts. For T-Mobile, Slack gets the right people involved and that reduces the time to resolution on most of the network issues they encounter. And with respect to culture, more open communication and fewer silos have led to a higher level of trust across groups at T-Mobile.

Becky Wilson, Director, IT Product Management at the Expedia Group,
explains how they are rolling Slack out to the entire company.

Another breakout session was led by Becky Wilson, Director, IT Product Management at the Expedia Group and Tom Bennet, Director, Technical Operations, at HomeAway. I hadn’t realized that Expedia was an online travel conglomerate, having acquired HomeAway and several other web-based travel firms in the past few years. After evaluating communication and collaboration platforms, they’ve chosen Slack to help unify the companies in the Expedia Group. Again, an organization’s culture only stands to benefit when employees can hear from leadership and work together with ease and have some fun.

Much of the exhibit floor was aimed at expanding Slack’s footprint within an organization. Pods were dedicated to onboarding, recruiting, internal communications, marketing and other departmental use cases. From our most recent Enterprise Communications survey, Slack has room to grow – only about 1/3 of the mid to large enterprises that have Slack have it deployed company wide. Their strategy appears sounds – Slack intends to be the core collaboration platform with hooks into enterprise apps, which they call App Actions. Actions can pull data from Salesforce, ZenDesk or Jira, while conversing about the content in Slack, and most importantly never leaving Slack. The extent of actions varies considerably: some apps only provide notifications, while others like ZenDesk and Jira allow one to do most everything you would need to, including opening and closing tickets, in Slack. And some like Workday’s integration, we’re still patiently waiting to see show up in the App Directory.

Slack has certainly got the war chest to expand their efforts. Just last month, Slack raised a whopping $427 million. But there was little discussion on how it will be spent. I figure some of it will go to shoring up their infrastructure and expanding capacity. There was a little chatter about outages, which might be expected to occur when you double the number of active users in 18 months. Few new features were discussed.  Security types will be happy to know Slack will soon provide encryption key management, so enterprises can control the encryption of their data in Slack. But the most memorable demonstrations were about faster loading time (1 second for the new version versus 6 seconds for old), a smaller memory footprint, and improvements to search. Stuff that makes your users happier, and maybe raises their tomo?

Kudos to Slack for putting on a conference where we can not only dig into features and hear customer stories but also discuss how we can work better.