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Hear My Name, Hide My Grade

How can your employee directory impact company culture? On the face of it, it's just a valuable tool to help people identify and communicate with colleagues. But it can actually play a surprising part in reducing — or increasing — human risk in your organisation.

Hear My Name

On the positive side, it can help to drive inclusion. An initiative by my former employer UBS illustrates this well. They've recently made a very simple change to their employee directory, replicating a feature available on LinkedIn that allows staff to add an audio clip of their name to their directory profile. They've called it 'Hear My Name', and you can read more about that here.

'Hear My Name' helps inclusion because it removes the risk of people mispronouncing their colleagues' names. No one likes having their name 'mangled', and in a global organisation, there will be some people with names that aren't familiar to everyone. To pick a simple example, if you're not familiar with Irish names, it may not be evident that Caoimhe is pronounced KEE-va/KWEE-va or that Oisin is pronounced UH-sheen/O-sheen.

As companies like UBS evolve to have a more diverse workforce, there is a greater likelihood of co-workers having names their colleagues have never come across before. Putting an audio clip in the directory means no one needs to guess how to pronounce their colleagues' names, and they avoid the potentially socially awkward step of asking them. If necessary, they can even listen to it a few times, in a way that they couldn't in person. It's a small step that can help foster a more inclusive company culture, which is a good thing.

Hide My Grade

Yet the information in the directory can also drive undesirable outcomes. Data that seem relevant can actually be unhelpful. Take the example of grade or rank. On the face of it, there's no harm in knowing whether someone is an Associate or Managing Director (MD). But if you want a culture that encourages constructive challenge, then highlighting people's grades as part of their contact information isn't helpful because it frames interactions around rank. If that Associate needs to speak to an MD — particularly if the former is in a function like Compliance and the latter in, say, Sales — then highlighting the difference in grades between people is unlikely to help foster the most productive conversation.

Some companies even go as far as embedding grades in their video conferencing, messaging and email systems. They do this by either encouraging people to put their grade in their email footers or having the grade displayed in on-screen IDs. If the aim is to stifle challenge or encourage deference to the most senior person in the conversation, sharing participants' ranks will work really well. But if the objective is for everyone to speak freely and get the best out of everyone present — and if it isn't, why are they invited? — then actively sharing people's grades is incredibly unhelpful.

Time then, I would argue, for 'Hide My Grade' as well as 'Hear My Name'.

One caveat — knowing people's job titles is helpful because that's useful context for the discussion. But knowing what grade they are, really isn't. Of course, you can infer one from the other, but if that's the case, then knowing their grade adds little. It's a piece of data that's useful for HR decisions but counter-productive for everyday interactions.

Neither 'Hear My Name' nor 'Hide My Grade' are things that, on their own, will deliver the right culture. But they're likely to have more of an impact than we might think, and why wouldn't we do small things in the service of good outcomes? Because culture, and therefore human risk, is heavily influenced by our environment. And the systems we use — particularly when working in dispersed digital environments — will drive behaviour.


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