I spoke recently to Aaron Cohn, who founded Worknice, "the world's first artificial intelligence powered Chief Culture Officer," designed to make teams and companies happier. How, you may ask, can an artificially intelligent being create culture change? Aaron’s theory is that every organization needs daily nudges and reminders to support good workplace culture... and what if those reminders came from a bot? The Worknice bot emails employees with prompts reminding and inspiring them to create intentional rituals and norms around culture.
Soon Aaron will turn move his services from email to Slack (a message platform that combines the features of email and chat). Worknice will create a slackbot that sends prompts and reminders about culture via slack. As it turns out, there are several new slackbots aiming to help with workplace culture, and Slack is investing in even more bot startups, so we should expect to see more of these "culture bots" pop up in the near future.
Okay, so hold up for a second. Let's talk about what a slackbot is, exactly. According to WIRED, “A bot, at its most basic, is a piece of software that performs an automated task, be it finding an awesome GIF, ordering toilet paper, or downloading a file. While bots have long lived in the quieter corners of the Internet, apps like Slack (and WhatsApp, Kik, and WeChat) are pushing them into the mainstream.” Bots take information like schedules, notes, and notifications and make them more useful “by allowing people to interact with [the information] like they would in a conversation with a person.” WIRED reports that, “Slack bots range from the obvious—bots for recognizing good work, posting photos, translating text—to the utterly inane, like playing poker.”
Within this brave (and rapidly growing) new world of slackbots, there are several that are focusing on issues of culture:
Growbot is a bot that helps companies celebrate great work. It listens for and encourages praise (props, kudos, etc).
Candor helps people improve their relationships at work by facilitating caring but challenging personal feedback. Candor is in private beta-- and is based on the work of Kim Malone Scott, whose theories on feedback I greatly admire.
Wade & Wendy offers machine intelligence personalities that aim to make hiring more human. The company is named after two artificially intelligent personalities: Wade and Wendy. Wade helps applicants discover meaningful and relevant opportunities. Wendy assists hiring managers with filling open roles.
Awesome.ai makes teams more effective by offering communication playbooks for staying in sync, finding clarity, and reflecting on what’s important.
As cool as these new developments are, I’m not convinced that these tools should ever replace the role of a real human whose job is to help create and communicate cultural norms and rituals within an organization. If we rely on culture through tools like slack, we’ll lose some of the face-to-face conversations and physical artifacts of culture-- two important embodiments of any organization's culture.