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By finding a way to get inside the thoughts of employees, eePulse has discovered office clairvoyance. President Theresa Welbourne talks about data collection, e-mail surveys, and confidential information.

Wouldn’t it be nice to read the minds of the people around you? Luckily, company executives who want to know what their employees are thinking don’t have to buy a crystal ball and hope for magic powers to make it work. Detroit-based eePulse has found a way to achieve office clairvoyance. President Theresa Welbourne talks about data collection, e-mail surveys, and confidential information.

How did the company get started?

While on the faculty at Cornell University, I conducted a number of large-scale research projects that focused on the drivers of long-term firm survival, stock price growth, and earnings. The research suggests that the “people factor” is very prominent in determining long-term competitiveness and performance.

The message rang true for a number of CEOs, and one in particular, Bob Felton was so interested in the research that he asked me to do some work with his company. Although he liked my research, he wasn’t so impressed with my research methods. I learned to do very long paper surveys to collect data from employees, and Bob said “no way.” He wanted me to find a way to use technology to change the way that I did my job.

How did you change from a paper-based to a technology-based method?

I took the challenge and started out with what I’ll call “baby technology” and translated my research process, using e-mail, into a real-time tool that asked three questions every week of his employees. Because I used e-mail, I was able to respond to employees and ask additional follow up questions, and my “deal” with Bob was that through my research and what I learned, I would give him the heads up that he needed to successfully navigate an IPO, merger, and fast growth. Bob loved the process so much that he offered to fund a business if I started it. And in 1997, eePulse was born.

Why do you feel there’s a need for your services?

Executives have tough decisions to make every day, and they all work hard to obtain data to help them make informed decisions. However, data is hard to come byÑparticularly real-time actionable data. The people who have data that will help you think strategically and consider new opportunities are your employees. eePulse allows employees to immediately give information on the business to the people who make decisions, and at the same time, the information is funneled through a third party, so there’s guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity.

Why do you provide for anonymity?

The confidentiality factor, we have found, is important in every firm–no matter how small, how great the culture, or how wonderful the management team. People have been burned in their prior jobs, and they are careful. The risk-averse nature of how we communicate means that most executives are missing critical information.

Do you find that there are personnel issues that companies may not be thinking about, but should be?

They should think about their middle managers and first line supervisors and how to help them be more successful. Performance is often a function of a lot of small things that add up.

And the executive team is not responsible for day-to-day morale. They can create mandates, change vision, enact new strategies, but it’s the everyday managers that have to explain everything to employees. Thus, giving managers new information every week helps them deal with the challenges they face today. We give managers information about the things that block performance so that they can remove the blocks. They find the data helpful, not personal, and they’re not defensive about their reports.

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