Discover your Listening Villain
Apple Award Winning Podcast
Podcast Episode 016: Cai Kjaer CEO of Swoop Analytics explains how leaders and employees can listen to each other across issues, departments and across the world

Subscribe to the podcast

Cai Kjaer CEO of Swoop Analytics explains how leaders and employees can listen to each other across issues, departments, and across the world. Today, we explore beyond the one on one dialogue. We also explore beyond team dialogue. We dive into listening at scale including thousands of conversations simultaneously.

Cai Kjaer is an extraordinary leader in this field. His company Swoop Analytics focuses on the power of collaboration and people networks to get work done. They are a consulting company that maps organizational networks to find the most valuable metrics to drive collaborative business performance.

Tune in to learn

  • The difference between the way men and women network.
  • How everyone in the warehouse went to a guy named Elvis for help, yet it was completely unknown to upper management.
  • There is no simple manual way to get this information sent to you.
  • Cai shares how he got involved surveying people about who they contact to get work done. This eventually led to the founding of Swoop Analytics.
  • Yammer is an enterprise network where people can collaborate.
  • They took all of their IP and built the platform about relationship insights to build a profile around collaboration habits.
  • If you have an enterprise social platform is make yourself visible and start to read.
  • Having biases and seeing many sides.
  • Collecting data across multiple industries.
  • 5 archetypes: observer, broadcaster, responder, catalyst, and engagers.
  • Engagers are most aspirational as listeners.
  • The difference between listening and hearing.
  • Being authentic in the way you interact with people.
  • Killing myths and conversation at scale.
  • Pay attention, look at people, and stay in the moment.
  • How men and women play different roles in communication,
  • Women are better at interaction with women and with men.
  • Men don’t interact as much with women than they do with men.
  • Gender issues and diversity in Silicon Valley.
  • Forming more relationships with women and listening and engaging.
  • Appreciating the role of women in a networked world.
  • Ask questions. Listen and ask followups. Don’t get into the mindset of just telling.

Transcript

Podcast 016: Deep Listening with Cai Kjaer

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words.

Cai Kjaer:              

We looked at some of the data where we have gender data, and what we can see is that the women are actually a lot better at interacting than the men are. They are better at interacting with the women, they form more dense reciprocal relationships than the men do, and they’re also better at engaging with the men. The men have less dense networks and they don’t interact as much with the women as the women do with the men.

What we’ve heard from Stanford University is that men seem to be very good at establishing new relationships, but it’s more from a transactional perspective. So, we establish a relationship to get work done and then we move on. But if we can start to appreciate, especially now that we’re moving from more hierarchical world into a networked world, I guess the inherent power the women will have, the benefit that they will have because they’re just better at operating in this networked world than the men are.

Oscar Trimboli: 

In this episode of Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words we have the opportunity to explore the one-on-one dialogue in listening, we have the opportunity to explore beyond the team dialogue in the meeting, and we explore listening at scale. And when we talk about listening at scale we’re talking about listening to thousands of conversations, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of conversations simultaneously inside large, global, and multinational organisations.

I’m really fortunate to be joined by an extraordinary leader in this field. Cai is the leader and founder of an organisation called SWOOP Analytics. And SWOOP Analytics is a software technology that helps people, whether they’re leaders or employees, to listen to everything that’s happening around the digital campfire of the modern networked organisation. Listen out how Cai talks about the difference between the way men and women network. And we even have a fascinating guest appearance as Elvis comes into the building.

Oscar Trimboli: 

So Cai, one of the things I was fortunate to see was a piece of published work, some work you did with Qantas. My theory is this: if you want to bring about change in an organisation really quickly, make sure you communicate the message to the smokers, the admins, and the bike riders. What struck me in the work with Qantas that was published was that lines of authority have nothing to do with lines of influence in the organisation and you were able to measure that.

Cai Kjaer:

I think we all know it but it’s a bit disappointing as well, is that senior leaders, and I’ll say it bluntly, in my experience senior leaders have no clue about who are the ones that really carry the most influence in their organisations. So, every time we run these practice where we ask people who do you rely on to get work some people will pop up. And in the example, you’ve mentioned from Qantas there was a guy, Elvis, who was out in the warehouse. And he was one of those real opinion leaders, the one that everyone out in the warehouse went to. And his voice and his opinion carried a lot of weight. He was totally unknown to management.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Well what would be the three questions I could ask to find the Elvis of my organisation?

Cai Kjaer:

If it was that easy I think everyone would be doing it. The thing is that the work we did back then with Qantas, that was a survey base where you would ask, “Where do you go to get work done?” And it’s really only when you ask everyone these things are going to come up. So, there’s no shortcut to replace that.

The shortcut could be if you do this, as I said, at the enterprise scale where you got some analytics that can do it for you. But there’s, unfortunately, not that I know of any simple manual way where you’re going to get this sort of just sent to you.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Talk us through the origin of the idea that was SWOOP setting up this amazing piece of technology to help leaders listen to their staff and beyond.

Cai Kjaer:

This actually started quite a long time ago. All these things with startups being an overnight success is quite far from the truth, and I’m sure you know. And probably nearly 20 years ago I got involved in what was called knowledge management, so in the late ’90s. And it was about knowledge sharing. And I ended up doing a lot of projects around, it’s an area we called social network analysis. It’s, really, mapping interaction patterns. And we would ask people in a survey, “Who do you interact with to get work done?” It’s a really simple question. So, we don’t care about the formal business hierarchy, just tell me who do you interact with to get work done. And you can imagine when you ask lots of people that question that you’re going to see all these relationships being formed and you can start to analyse that. You can find out, well, who are the influencers? To what extent are people connecting or collaborating across business boundaries, whether that being location or structural boundaries? So that’s been a lot of our work as consultants in the past.

Then we were contacted by a friend who was working at Microsoft, 2014 I think it was. And he was saying, “You know Cai, we have this product in Microsoft that we bought a couple of years ago called Yammer and it’s an enterprise social network. So, it’s like a Facebook inside the company where people can connect and collaborate. And our customers are really liking this and they are using it a lot, but they want to understand how those interaction patterns are panning out. We bought this tool to help us become more connected and more collaborative for leaders to listen to staff participate in online discussions, but we’ve got no way of measuring that.” And then he said, “We know that you have been doing this work as consultants, but can you scale that? Could you build something that would make us do this sort of analysis in real time?” And we thought, “Yeah, well surely someone is already doing that.” And we looked around and found out that no one was doing that, certainly not at this scale.

So that was basically how… So, it’s forward three years ago now we formed SWOOP Analytics. We took all the IP we had learned as consultants, wrapped up out to a platform. Took us about six months to build the platform itself, which is really around relationship, collaboration, interaction insights to help us build a profile for every single person about what their collaboration style is. You can then aggregate the data and we can see what does that tell us about the team, what does it tell us about a group, about a whole business unit, or the whole company.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Now, given everyone can’t buy or afford your software, what tips would you give a leader, maybe one or two, three tips that help identify the Elvises of their organisation so that they can go and listen to them.

Cai Kjaer:

I think you have to get out. And the challenge, to be quite honest, in big companies is that it gets very hard physically to travel around. So, to do this effectively that’s why organisations are investing in these enterprise social networks as a way of having this conversation and being able to listen at scale. If I am the head of a big bank in this country or overseas with tens of thousands of people, how on Earth am I going to go out into branch offices? It’s just not possible. So, I think a practical step is that, if you already have one of these enterprise social collaboration platforms, make yourself visible and start to listen, start to read and follow the discussion.

The other thing I think you got to be aware of are your own in-built sort of biases that you have about who you listen to and who makes themselves visible to you. And as you know, the more senior you get in your organisation the more managing up… What will happen, naturally, I think everyone is aware of that. But maybe it’s also about asking to see people that you would not normally see as a part of being a senior leader in the organisation. So, I think you have to quite a bit to get exposed to these opinion leaders, have to ask around.

Oscar Trimboli: 

In your work, you have an extraordinary capability to help leaders listen to their organisation to what’s unsaid. Equally, there’s an enormous amount of metadata that you can collect that tells you what that looks like across multiple organisation context, multiple industries, multiple geographies. You’ve come up with five archetypes of people who are inside organisations. Help our listeners understand a little bit more about those five archetypes and what leaders can learn to get the most out of those people.

 

Cai Kjaer:

Yeah, absolutely. As you said, we got five different ones, and we ranked them in order of what we consider the least aspirational to the most aspirational. And if you’re listening you need to be part of a conversation. Collaboration is kind of like a contact sport – you can’t be on the sideline, you have to be in it.

So, the first group, the one we call the least aspirational one, is what we call an observer. And they have decided that they’re not going to listen, they’re not going to talk, they’re not going to participate at all. And we certainly don’t believe that that’s a good persona to have.

The next one, also of the least aspirational ones, certainly are – and I’m talking here broadly for senior leaders, there will be exceptions to this – but it’s the one we call a broadcaster. So, broadcasters are people that their interaction style is typically one of posting things that they are doing but they don’t really ask for feedback. And no feedback is typically provided, or not a lot.

So, the three personas that we feel are the best ones to aspire to become, and the first one of those is a responder. So at least you are reading, you are listening, and then, where it’s appropriate for you, you will go in and participate in the conversation. You may not be the one that, if we look at everything you do, be the one that starts the most conversation, but once it’s there you will happily go in, you chip in.

The flip side of that is what we call a catalyst. And the catalyst there will start the conversation and it’ll really get things started. So, if you want to listen, for instance, to the mood of the organisation you might start with a question. We’ve been working with NBN, it’s one of our customers, and they have implemented technology from Facebook called Workplace, which is basically Facebook on the inside. And Bill Morrow, he’s the CEO of NBN, and he said, “Well, I could go out and just post what I think you need to know.” But he asked his staff, “Rather than me telling you what I think you should know, why don’t you tell me what you would like to hear from me?” And he got a lot of responses coming back to him. And that turns him into… That’s a typical catalyst post. And I think that’s something that we would like many more senior executives, to adopt that style of listening where they ask the question and then they listen for the feedback and react to that.

The most aspirational profile though we would like people over time to become is what we call engagers. And what’s special about the engagers… So, I will not always be a responder, I will not always be a catalyst, but I’ll be both, basically. So, what I do, I will both start conversation, I will respond to conversation, and I will get things back in equal proportion. It takes two to have a conversation, and if I’m talking all of the time, I’m not listening. So, I need to get someone that I’d give them the opportunity and the space to then respond back to me. And then I call listen to all the conversations that are happening. And that profile, the engager, is the profile we think is the one that’s most aspirational for most senior executives.

Oscar Trimboli: 

The thing I love about the responder, the catalyst, and the engager is although you talk about it through an online environment, I think the same is true for face-to-face conversations, as people who are leaders like that engage in group meetings and town hall meetings as well. Some of the most powerful leaders I’ve seen are the ones who let the staff set the agenda for the meeting rather than them turning up to tell the staff what they think they should hear.

I’m curious though, what was Elvis? What would you kind of speculate he was?

Cai Kjaer:

Whilst we didn’t do this sort of analysis on Elvis, there’s no doubt in my mind that he was an engager.

Oscar Trimboli: 

What were the things that Elvis was doing as an engager that made him so powerful?

Cai Kjaer:

His ability to become the person that everyone went to. I mean there’s a reason when you have someone that becomes the natural go-to person. By the way, there can be several reasons why people go to you. They can go to for good reasons or for not so good reasons, and we going to be conscious of that. The project we did with Qantas, the first round just identified Elvis as someone that was very influential. We didn’t know why. Knowledge is power, and I’m generic in a way that you have to come to me. And that’s not the engager we are looking for. Having met Elvis, just seeing the way that he operated, he was totally stunned when he was called into a workshop and was engaging with senior leaders. To be quite honest, I thought more that he was going to get fired than anything else.

Oscar Trimboli: 

One of the things in my work with my clients is they always talk about this big difference between listening and hearing. And I’m curious what signals do you think those two leaders are sending back to the organisation, that they’re not only listening to what people are saying back to them but they’re doing something about it.

Cai Kjaer:

There’s a lot of cynicism in large corporate, and the ability of using these direct communication ways with staff through enterprise social networks, there’s a real opportunity to really be very authentic in the way that you interact with people. David was amazing in that. And I mention him because we met him so he gave us some stories from the way that he was interacting with staff.

One of the stories he was telling us was that Net Promoter Score was a concept that I think he introduced into the organisation for them to become more customer-focused. And they all knew, it was crystal clear that all bonuses would be tying to the Net Promoter Score. And they hit the goal in year one, I think they hit it in year two, and then year three they didn’t hit the goal and suddenly no one got a bonus and there was an uproar. And he was telling us that these discussions would be happening in Yammer, which was their enterprise social network platform. And the ability for him to listen to what people were saying and respond back and say, “Well this is what we agreed” instead of waiting for the annual culture survey or whatever, so those sort of annual events, to have those and hearing it straight from David’s mouth, “This is what we agreed on.”

He gave us another wonderful example where someone had a discussion somewhere and they said, “Oh, management will never approve of this.” And then he saw that discussion and said, “Well, I’m management, I’m at least one of them, and I don’t think it’s such a bad idea.”

So, killing myths is actually a good thing that management is able to do. And the power of this, it’s conversation at scale, is that other people, not just the leaders, but other people listen into that conversation and saying, “Whoa, actually we had this idea about what management thought we should or shouldn’t be doing.” But now listening into the conversation or reading it online allows senior leaders to paint a different picture of themselves.

Oscar Trimboli: 

I want to kind of go from telescope listening at scale to microscope. In your own business, you need to have dialogues with prospective customers and existing customers and get into a conversation and listen to them. What advice would you give people that you think is a good listening skill that you have in talking to your customers? And maybe being really honest, what do you think you’re really poor at when it comes to listening too?

Cai Kjaer:

Someone told me about the analogy to the marine life and said, “Well developers, they are more like dolphins. They are very intelligent but they speak a language that few really understand. And then executives are more like goldfish, they like shiny things and have short attention span.” And I can see myself turning more and more into the goldfish thing as we get more and more busy and I get pulled sort of, from one thing to the other. And one day we talk about shareholders agreements, in the other one we got to do a new employment contract. And then I’m sitting deep in some challenging conversations with our chief scientist Dr. Laurence Lock Lee about an algorithm that we’re working on. And with our chief scientist, with Laurie, they are deep, long conversations. And with our developers, some of them, I don’t really understand all of it. And nearly all of this happens virtually. So, it is actually very challenging.

I am not a good listener. If you ask my wife she would say that I can easily say yes and nod, and the day after I’m oblivious to the fact that I made some sort of commitment to do something. And she has an active part in the business as well. So, these are unfortunately not just social conversations at the dining table, it’s also business conversations. So, unless I take notes and I write down, I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to concentrate when I’m listening. And I know that’s a weakness and I’m working on it, I would like to say, but I recognised it as something that my mind wanders.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Are there any tips and tricks you could provide the audience in how to listen during those virtual conversations, whether that’s the telephone or Skype session or a webinar?

Cai Kjaer:

Yeah, when I turn the camera on. So whenever possible we have web cameras on. And I find it’s very

hard to do emails at the same time, or anything else, as you are trying to have a conversation with someone and when you are looking them in the eyes. It’s very, very hard. So, turning the camera on is forcing myself to stay in the moment and listen and pay attention. And I’m very conscious when my thoughts sort of drift off and then try and get myself back into the conversation.

Sometimes if we are talking about things that maybe aren’t relevant for the thing we are trying to achieve, then just stop it and bring the conversation back to something that is the topic of the conversation.

Oscar Trimboli: 

So Cai, I’m going to go and skate on some thin ice, and the reason it’s thin is because I know my wife Jenny listens to this podcast. In my work I know, both from my research and from my practical consulting, there is a very significant difference in the way that men and women approach listening. And part of the research work I’m going on and doing is to prove that hypothesis. I’m extraordinarily curious if your systems say anything about gender differences.

Cai Kjaer:

Yes, actually it does. So, there are two things of interest in this. We’ve analysed interaction patterns at scale in these large enterprise collaboration forums and looked at whether the men and the women played different roles. And we run a global benchmark study, it’s the largest of its kind, independent Yammer network study in the world, and we have about 60 organisations in that. And we looked at some of the data where we have gender data. And what we can see is that the women are actually a lot better at interacting than the men are. They are better at interacting with the women, they form more dense reciprocal relationships than the men do, and they are also better at engaging with the men. The men have less dense networks and they don’t interact as much with the women as the women do with the men.

We have just started a collaboration with Stanford University on this. So, I met up with Mark Nelson who is a co-director of the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab, and they’re very interested in understanding gender diversity in tech firms in Silicon Valley, because there is a real issue, as we all know. And what we can see is that the men are weak, and I say that on behalf of all the men that are listening in. One of the things that we can do, particularly if we are in large organisations, is to make sure that we start to form more relationships and listen and engage and make sure we have more women in the conversations, because with men it just turns out that we don’t.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Well, it’s good to see you’ve got the data to back it up. Now, a great insight, apart from men reaching out in that example, are there any other tips you’d give men or women to improve the way network density works inside organisations?

Cai Kjaer:

I’m not a gender expert, I should say that out loud. Men have strengths and weaknesses and women have strengths and weaknesses. I’m not saying we should all become the same. But I can see in my personal life that my wife is very good at building and sustaining relationships. What we’ve heard from Stanford University is that men seem to be very good at establishing new relationships, but it’s more from a transactional perspective. So, we establish a relationship to get work done and then we move on. And I can see that there are so many of my good friends back home in Denmark that, even though I appreciate the friendship as much as my wife does, she takes the time, investing in that and keeping them up-to-date on what we’re doing, and I’m not so good at it.

So, I’m not advocating that we should change, I think there are some physiological differences and I think that’s fine, but if we can start to appreciate, especially now that we’re moving from more hierarchical world into a networked world, I guess the inherent power the women will have, the benefit that they will have because they’re just better at operating in this networked world than the men are.

Oscar Trimboli: 

So Cai, we have covered a huge gambit of listening individually and how you and your wife have a great time talking together. You talked about how you run your own organisation and you’ve talked about how you do that for organisations with hundreds of thousands of employees at scale.

Personally, if you were to leave one tip for our audience members about something to think about in the context of listening, what would be your parting advice for them?

Cai Kjaer:

Ask questions. Too often we can get into the sort of the senior executive mindset of just telling. And to be quite honest, even for myself, if I know there’s a particular thing I want, I just want it done and I just want to go there as fast as I can. But I also know that there are things that I might then be missing. So, for me it’s asking questions. And then, of course after that, you actually have to listen and then maybe ask a follow-up question. But I think we could do a better job at asking more questions.

Oscar Trimboli: 

And I think on that note, thanks for listening to me, Cai.

Cai Kjaer:

You’re welcome. Thanks for having me, Oscar.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Of creating a very different perspective on listening. It’s organisational and systemic and market place listening that’s the difference between organisations that are growing and organisations that are making an impact worldwide. As a leader in your organisation or when you work with leaders inside your organisation, are they asking that question? If there was a question I should have asked, what would that have been? Are they systemic enough in their listening to understand that they need to be listening to one-on-one conversations, group conversations, divisional conversations, and organisational conversations? But not enough just to listen. They need to show that they are hearing what everybody is saying, and even more importantly doing something about it.

As you work inside your organisations, how willing are you to make the change when you hear somebody asking something different of you? And as leaders in our organisation, beyond the annual engagement survey, beyond the half year engagement survey, beyond the town hall meetings, culture is built in every meeting, in every moment, in every corridor, in every conversation. So, if you want to create a powerful culture that has an impact, it’s listening in those moments that’s the difference between good and great leaders. Thanks for listening.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Deep Listening, Impact Beyond Words.

Subscribe to the podcast