To Spy Or Not To Spy
To Spy Or Not To Spy
“All things are possible with the right technology!” said Helmut Schwartz, the recently appointed CEO of Globe Alive, Inc. (GAI), an Edmonton-based software company. Speaking at a monthly management meeting of GAI executives, Schwartz continued. “With the right technology in our organization, we can facilitate efficient communication between global partners, discern in-bound supply chain elements from out-bound shipments, expedite customer orders in a timely manner, electronically transfer funds around the world, and monitor employees to ensure they are being productive. And that list is by no means exhaustive. Believe me when I say, all things are possible with the right technology. When I shared that vision with the executive interview panel a few months ago, I was being sincere. I believed it then and I believe it now. This philosophy is the driving force behind everything I do here at GAI and I strongly suggest it become your philosophy as well so that together we can build a brighter stronger future for this organization!” Unfortunately, not every member of the management team was buying into the philosophy.
After the meeting, a few members decided to go out to lunch together where some began speaking out against Schwartz and his belief that technology held the answer to many managerial issues. “You know, technology offers a lot, but it can’t do it all,” said Stuart Miller, Director of the Human Resource Department. “Technology can’t build a team-oriented workforce at GAI. Employees are not the same as out-bound shipments— monitoring and measuring the activities of boxes is not the same as motivating or leading people!” “I had heard rumours that Helmut was thinking about introducing spyware into the network system. Is it possible that he has already started the ball rolling by hiring a company to work with our IT people? Has anyone else heard that?” inquired Ali Khan, Marketing Manager.
“I’ve been talking to my department about the value of HR metric services and the benefits they offer, especially when measuring turnover, resignation rates, sick days … things like that. But I have never heard anyone speak about introducing spyware into our organization. Where did that come from?” asked Miller. “I think it’s a big mistake Stuart. How are we to build trust between management and non-managerial staff if we use spyware to watch every move our employees make? It is counterproductive,” argued Thuy Singh, Production Manager. “I agree with Thuy and I don’t appreciate Helmut forcing his philosophy on us,” said Patrick Photo, Operations Manager. Soon everyone at the table was nodding their head in agreement. Among the four executives eating lunch together, there was little support for introducing surveillance software at GAI. But what were they to do next? HELMUT SCHWARTZ, CEO
Helmut Schwartz was a 48 year old ex-tech guy from Ottawa, Ontario. After graduating from Georgian College with a three-year IT diploma, Schwartz went on to earn his degree from Carleton University in computer science. Schwartz cut his career teeth working in Kanata, the hi-tech centre outside of Ottawa, and for the next 25 years he did everything from writing programming for such companies as Nortel and Mitel, to selling mainframes for HP. On a sales call to Smart Technologies one day, Schwartz was introduced to the idea of jumping into management, something he had always been interested in pursuing but had never had the opportunity to do. Schwartz had ideas—a lot of them—and always felt he was being held back by those around him who didn’t have the same drive or passion to explore new IT territory. Eventually he made it to vice-president in charge of network systems at Smart Tech, overhauling and revitalizing the computer network system unlike anything the industry had witnessed before.
It became the envy of the entire Kanata region and there was talk that Schwartz was soon going to be offered the position of president. When the CEO position at GAI became available, Schwartz was approached by an executive head-hunting firm and invited to interview for the medium-sized software company out west. After flying to Edmonton for the initial interview, Schwartz felt that leading a firm like GAI was the opportunity he’d been looking for to take his career to a new level. When the position was finally offered, Schwartz eagerly accepted with the understanding that he would help GAI develop into a global organization with the help of the right technology. His knowledge and belief in technology was well-known across the industry and was a contributing factor for the GAI board of directors who eventually came to a consensus to hire him as CEO. The first few months out west proved to be a frustrating time for Schwartz.
There were so many differences between Kanata and Edmonton—both geographically and socially—that he knew it would take some time before he felt comfortable in his new surroundings. But the frustration was also occurring at work where he felt there was a lot of resistance to new ideas and a lack of innovative thinking at the tech firm. Based on conversations with the HR Director, Stuart Miller, Schwartz learned that he was the first senior executive to ever be hired from outside of the GAI organization; all others were from the southern Alberta region and had moved up the ranks throughout the organization, including both the previous president and CEO. In addition to that, Schwartz was only the second senior executive to lead the firm since its creation in 1997.
The principles that guided the previous executive team seemed far more limited and traditional when compared to the strategic philosophy Schwartz embraced. Within weeks of his arrival to the GAI offices, Schwartz introduced weekly strategy meetings that were mandatory for all managers, he insisted upon professional development for all employees, but especially the managers, and he scheduled off-site management meetings that were at times innovative brainstorming sessions that became part sales, operation, and HR-oriented. “I want to get these people out of their comfort zone to stop thinking locally and shifting toward a mindset of change. I represent the new philosophy of the board and I need to develop this team into a more competitive global organization,” thought Schwartz.
Stuart Miller was one of the first managers hired by the GAI executive team in 1997. At the time he was recruited, Miller had held a number of HR jobs around the Edmonton area, including many years with the federal government, a few years in the banking and financial services industry as HR manager at Canadian Western Bank, and eventually head of the HR department for Briskal Systems Ltd., a growing computer software company. During his employment at Briskal, Stuart became involved in the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA), where he was able to network with other HR professionals in the Edmonton area. When the opportunity presented itself, Miller completed the courses needed to earn his CHRP designation as an HR professional. He felt this certification, together with his good reputation at Briskal, would provide the kind of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes to qualify him for many HR positions in the city. One evening, Miller was attending an HRMA meeting and overheard a member talking about a new company that was going to be opening a large office in the city called Globe Alive.
The rumour on the street suggested it was going to be hiring over 250 people. Moreover, their market focus was going to be assisting in the network design and servicing for Canadian companies who were conducting business in a foreign country. When Miller heard about Globe Alive, he thought it would be a great fit for him and made a conscious decision to investigate further. At the age of 40, Miller was looking for an executive position. More specifically, he wanted to become the HR director of an up-and-coming firm that would provide new opportunities for growth and development. He felt he was ready for a change, and believed he had the relevant experience to head up a department and the certification to oversee the recruitment and hiring of 250 people. After throwing his resume into the pile of applicants, Miller was granted an interview and offered the position within 24 hours to become the new HR Director of Globe Alive, Inc.
Over the years, Miller saw the company grow and prosper under the direction of the new management team. Although they never did grow to the intended target size of 250 employees, they nonetheless became a medium-sized firm. Working together, the management team was able to create policy, processes, and systems that would guide the organization for years to come. Miller especially enjoyed strategy meetings, as he felt great satisfaction knowing that he was contributing to the development of a structure that would serve GAI for decades.
Throughout his years at GAI, Miller remained committed to the human services industry by networking through his Edmonton HRMA contacts, maintained his CHRP certification by attending workshops and monthly meetings to stay informed, and always tried to keep his sights on new and upcoming issues facing the HR industry. Several months ago, Miller helped the GAI board of directors find an executive recruiting firm to replace the soon-to-retire CEO, Stan Ryder. After several weeks of interviewing various candidates, a new CEO was decided upon: Helmut Schwartz. Miller didn’t know much about him other than hearing he was a tech guy from out east with a reputation for making significant changes to organizational systems.
Stan Ryder was one of the original founders of GAI. He had recruited his friends from various Edmonton-based businesses to join him at GAI, which was how the original executive team was created. They were friends in the boardroom and outside of the office. They trusted each other a great deal and never felt the need to question the overall direction GAI was going. Ryder scheduled management meetings on an ad hoc basis, and they were usually informal discussions held in his office rather than the GAI boardroom.
The first few weeks Helmut Schwartz worked at GAI were about observation, although he did spend time meeting people, asking questions, and trying to understand process. The employees didn’t know what to expect of him at first, but over a few more weeks of hearing him talk, people began to understand the kind of person Schwartz was. He was driven, arriving at his office by 7 a.m. each morning and not leaving until well past 8 p.m. most nights. He was involved, asking questions, seeking advice, and making inquiries. Whenever possible, he would stop and talk to employees to ask who they were, what they did, and what they needed to do their job better. At the first monthly management meeting, Schwartz announced that he wanted people from the executive team to become innovative leaders for the organization. He challenged them all to find new and innovative ways to run the business and to bring ideas back to the team to share and discuss.
Schwartz was known for making changes and used the first official management meeting to do just that. Stuart Miller found the executive team challenge refreshing and welcoming, believing that other managers would feel the same. He spent the next several days reflecting on his duties as a senior manager, the processes developed within the HR area, and how changes could be implemented within his department. He was having difficulty seeing things anew, admitting to himself that perhaps he was not the best person to assess the need for change since he was so instrumental in creating past practices. On his way to the elevator one evening, Miller ran into Patrick Photo, Operations Manager, who was also leaving for the day. He and Photo were hired within two days of each other back in 1997. As colleagues, they had shared a long and respectful working relationship. Standing in the lobby waiting for the elevator to arrive, their conversation began. “How’s it going Patrick?” asked Miller.
“Not bad Stuart, and you?” responded Photo. “I’m good, but I have to admit, I’m having trouble fulfilling Helmut’s directive to find new and innovative ways to change my department. I have looked around at what we do and how we do it and I don’t see one thing that needs to be changed. It all seems to be working and I certainly don’t believe in change just for the sake of change. Know what I mean?” “Stuart, I have to be honest, I haven’t even started to look around for things to change. My days are so filled with fires that have to be put out that I don’t have to go looking for more work, thank you. I figure this is Helmut’s attempt to try to make his mark on the company. I don’t need to make a mark—I already made mine years ago. If he thinks we need to change, then shouldn’t he be the one to identify it and give reasons why?” “Hmm, never thought of it that way. Maybe you’re right.” “Sure I’m right. And I’ll tell you one more thing.
He’s pushing himself around the departments, asking questions, and the other managers don’t like it. They are wondering what his intentions are. Is he being nosey? Is he checking up on us? Does he think he’s the big shot now around here telling others what to do? I don’t know what you think, but I believe that if he keeps this up, there’s going to be some problems around here.” Just then the elevator door opened and the two men joined the others already inside for the ride down. “Let’s talk about this later,” said Photo. “Yeah, that’s a good idea,” agreed Miller. The next day Miller was away from the office attending an HRIA workshop on HR Analytic Benchmarking Services, part of his CHRP designation requirements to earn the necessary points by attending professional development activities. The workshop facilitator was from a company called HR Analytic Systems that provides a benchmark of norms for organizations to gauge whether their employee performance is stronger or weaker than the provincial and/or national averages. Miller found the day-long workshop very informative, especially as it related to gathering data on turnover. GAI was having a rash of people leaving in the last eight months, and Miller couldn’t identify causes or reasons.
The workshop got him thinking. Maybe this could be something to introduce back at the office as part of Helmut’s initiative to find new and innovative ideas on how to improve the organization, specifically for the HR Department. Before leaving that day, Miller collected as much information as he could in anticipation of presenting the idea to the GAI management team. Back at the office, Miller became excited about the prospect of implementing an analytical data collection program to begin tracking HR trends within the organization: sick days, attrition rates, turnover, retirements, job openings, first-year resignation rates, etc. Within a few weeks, he had shared his idea with all of his key employees within the department and collectively they agreed that GAI could easily begin introducing the data collection and tracking process before the month ended. This was good news, Miller thought. He had buy-in from his people and the process appeared to need little resources to get it started. Shirley Zimba, a long-time department employee, jumped at the opportunity to take the lead by conducting a gap analysis of what they needed, what they had, and what they wanted to achieve. In the meantime, Miller put in an agenda request to Helmut for 10 minutes at the next monthly management meeting. He would present his idea then.
Originally started by the BC Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA), the HR Metrics Service is now an inter-provincial collaboration involving four HR associations across Canada. The service provides data on more than 100 metrics, from revenue per full-time employee and 90-day voluntary turnover rates, to the cost revenue percentage of learning and development. A participating organization receives quarterly and annual reports that show its scores against a comparison range, enabling employers to track their progress and benchmark their performance. The HR Metrics Service is the first comprehensive source of metrics that a company can benchmark against externally. Even if an organization is tracking certain metrics internally, comparing their results against those who they may compete against for talent is worthwhile knowledge.
It was only the fourth executive management meeting since Schwartz was hired, and Miller was going to be the first person to make a presentation on implementing a data collection and tracking process within the HR Department. The meeting began, Schwartz introduced the agenda, and soon Miller was standing at the podium enthusiastically showing a Prezi presentation about the benefits of changing the processes within the HR Department. Members of the executive team were impressed with the information Miller brought forward, and even Schwartz complimented Miller on the creative initiative. “I really enjoy the idea of analytics and tracking data of our employees. It is for that reason that I would like to present my own creative and innovative idea to you all today, and it builds upon the HR idea. It’s called surveillance software and I’d like to tell you more about it. I’ve spent the last few months visiting every department of this organization and I have witnessed an awful lot of time being wasted, resources being underutilized, and a general lack of productivity in the workplace as employees spend too much time on their computers doing personal things!” said Schwartz.
Walking up to the boardroom podium, Schwartz plugged in a small memory stick and opened a file while continuing to talk. “With the assistance of our IT department, I think it would be beneficial to increase our productivity by introducing surveillance software into the network system. There are several products on the market, and I won’t go into them all, but collectively they offer a broad range of applications that can benefit the workplace. For example, one can tell us what sites our employees have visited and for how long and also take screenshots that reveal exactly what our employees were doing on those sites. Managers will be able to scan through employee surfing history page by page, or receive short summaries of employee habits. I’m sure you can imagine just how beneficial this could be for your department.”
Stopping for a moment to smile and take a drink of water, Schwartz went on. “Another product analyzes an entire organization’s email, determines what the average employee’s correspondence profile looks like, and targets those who deviate from that norm for further scrutiny. The idea here is to catch data leakers, whistleblowers, abusive employees, and sexual harassers. It can also identify those employees spreading time-wasting Web links or who might be contemplating a move to a competitor. That’s it! That is my creative and innovative idea to help make this company more productive and efficient. Like I’ve always said, all things are possible with the right technology.”
Schwartz kept talking, but moved to more general terms about the value of technology in finding solutions to management problems—but no one was listening. The management team was in shock by what they had just heard. Did the new CEO really want to begin spying on employees? Monitoring sick days was one thing, and they unanimously agreed that it was a good idea from an HR perspective. But surveillance software to watch employee Internet and email behaviour was something that the management team had never talked about nor heard concerns over. Was productivity really a problem at GAI, or was this Schwartz’s way of gaining control?
SpectorSoft, one of the world’s largest purveyors of surveillance software, designs products used by more than 50,000 organizations. Founded in Florida in 1998, the company first described its products as “spyware” then later coined the phrase “stealth” solutions; today it is commonly referred to as monitoring software. They also have a home version, marketed to parents who want to spy on their kids. SpectorSoft promises its customers that their programs record “every exact detail” of employee Internet activity. Websense is another popular program. It is used by both organizations (the CBC in Canada) and governments (China and Yemen) to block websites. It has been criticized as being a tool of oppressive regimes to filter websites containing forbidden keywords, such as names of political dissenters.
Cataphora is claimed by some to be the most sophisticated workplace spyware. Cataphora looks for possibly distressed employees who write in ALL CAPS, devious employees who give conflicting information to different people, and suspicious employees who suddenly take conversations off-line. IBM Algorithm software snoops on employee email to build user-friendly visualizations of complicated work relationships. By tracking the colourful, radiating spheres emanating from the new employee in sales, a manager can see that this employee is building a vast professional network within the firm. The new employee probably considers her daily chatter with friends at other companies something to hide from the boss. To her it’s networking, but to the boss it is cyber slacking.
The 1983 Canadian Privacy Act puts limits and obligations on over 150 federal government departments and agencies on the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information. It also gives Canadians the right to find out what personal information the federal government has about them by making a formal request under the Privacy Act. The governments of all provinces and territories in Canada, except Newfoundland and Labrador, also have their own provincial legislation governing the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information. The legislation varies from province to province, but the general right to access and collect personal information exists in all, and each has a commissioner or ombudsman who is authorized to handle complaints. The laws controlling privacy in the private sector fall under The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA, which regulates how private sector organizations collect, use, and disclose personal information in the course of business activities.
PIPEDA establishes ten principles that organizations must follow when collecting, using, and disclosing personal information in the course of commercial activity: accountability, identifying purpose, consent, limiting collection or use, disclosure and retention, accuracy, safeguards, openness, individual access, and challenging compliance. According to some law experts, almost every employer monitors employees. It has become a fact of corporate life not even worth discussing, some argue. Many companies ask employees to sign away every possible claim to their own data, even agreeing to be spied upon when signing their employment contract. Organizations are advised to have well-publicized and well-written policies in place prior to introducing actions that could potentially violate employee privacy rights.
THE LUNCH DISCUSSION
“… philosophy as well so that together we can build a brighter stronger future for this organization!” Schwartz concluded. After a few more agenda items were discussed, it was time for the management meeting to break for lunch. Four executives from the management team hurried out the door to meet in the lobby. “Who’s ready for lunch?” asked Photo. As they made their way out the door, each manager was reflecting on what they had just sat through in the morning meeting.