Skip to Content

Data Sheet—Thursday, April 14, 2016

Adam Lashinsky is on assignment. Heather Clancy is a contributing editor at Fortune.

Few people appreciate annual performance reviews, regardless of which side of the desk they’re sitting on when one happens. Some naysayers lament the loss of hours of time that could be spent on way-more-meaningful activities. Other pessimists consider them simply a compliance exercise meant to justify salary adjustments or disciplinary actions. Never mind the original intention: to serve as a forum for identifying career paths or encouraging employee growth.

Naturally, there is no shortage of tech startups that think they can fix this frustration. Their mission: use data analytics to make on-the-job feedback available in the moment, when coaching or critique might actually make a positive difference.

Two I’ve interviewed in recent weeks are Kanjoya, which uses analytics to interpret potential language bias in written feedback or pinpoint cultural perceptions across teams; and WideAngle, an application that provides managers with data than helps refine one-on-one discussions. Another one that I’ve been watching closely, Y Combinator-backed startup Impraise, this week disclosed another $1.6 million in seed funding.

That may seem a modest sum, but the list of noteworthy companies willing to test the idea of 360-degree feedback using software to guide humans keeps growing. General Electric loves the idea, as do professional services giants Accenture and Deloitte, and tech companies like Adobe, Atlassian, Dell, IBM, and Microsoft. Zendesk even put formal reviews on hold. Instead, it uses Kanjoya’s software to evaluate employees on an ongoing basis through digital surveys. “If you can understand what motivates people to do better, then you can really unlock performance,” observes Zendesk’s vice president of human resources, David Hanrahan. “We’re coupling engagement and performance.”

Impraise co-founder and CEO Bas Kohnke says many of his company’s roughly 100 early customers are trying to separate feedback conversations from compensation discussions. “There’s a shift away from equating performance management with compensation strategy,” he claims.

WideAngle also embraces that philosophy, one reason it pitches mainly frontline managers and not human resources departments. “It’s easy to push this sort of thing off or lose track of what you should be doing, but this tool introduces accountability on both sides,” says Dave Henrichs, a regional sales manager for GE who has been using the software for at least a year. “It’s the best way to finish my week.”

The reality is most companies will never ditch annual reviews entirely. But any organization hoping to connect with employees in their 20s and 30s—who are used to ongoing input and criticism from peers—should probably introduce a continuous feedback loop to complement that approach, suggests Adam Miller, CEO of human resources software company Cornerstone OnDemand. “The conversation has become too polarized,” he notes. “The answer is that you need to do both, and the reason is millennials.”

On that note, what’s your feedback?

Heather Clancy

Share this essay: Find past editions.




Google apologizes for cloud service outage. The tech giant is offering some customers credit against their monthly bills after buggy software code bumped two services offline for almost 20 minutes early this week. The incident comes at an especially awkward time, given Google’s attempts to gain traction against its two biggest cloud rivals, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft. (Fortune)

Analysts would love to see Verizon buy Yahoo. The telecommunications company has been mentioned frequently over the past several weeks as a leading contender to buy the Internet company’s core assets. That sits well with many Wall Street analysts, who love the idea of an AOL-Yahoo combination. The bidding window closes April 18. (Reuters)

Facebook hires Google tech whiz. The social networking giant tapped Regina Dugan, a former Pentagon research chief who was running skunkworks research at Alphabet’s Google, to lead its “Building 8” hardware design projects. The idea is to create devices that help other companies build on advances in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and emerging technologies. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)

Meet Amazon’s latest e-reader. The Oasis is lighter and boasts a longer battery life. Those features come with a $290-ish price tag (for the Wi-Fi version), making the new product one of Amazon’s most expensive Kindles ever. (Fortune)

Snapchat beats out Instagram. Snapchat’s messaging service is gaining more mind share with teenagers, according to an ongoing survey series fielded by research firm Piper Jaffray. It’s now neck-in-neck with Instagram’s photo-sharing app as the most important social network among this age demographic. Snapchat’s climb came larger at the expense of Twitter. (Fortune)

GoPro poaches high-profile Apple designer. Daniel Coster was part of the tech giant’s secretive elite design team, where he made important contributions to the iPhone 4 and iPad. As of this month, Coster is the vice president of design for GoPro, reporting directly to the digital camera company’s CEO Nick Woodman. (The Information, Fortune)

California is leading state for commercial drone trials. Almost one-third of the permits granted by the U.S. for testing potential business applications are concentrated in California, Florida, and Texas, according to a trade group analysis. Many of them cover aerial photography experiments for real estate, agricultural, construction, and mining companies. (Fortune)


U.S. multinationals have a huge privacy problem across the Atlantic. Europe’s privacy regulators have urged EU lawmakers to resume negotiations with the U.S. administration over the “Privacy Shield” data-sharing deal, saying the agreement announced in February isn’t good enough.

U.S. multinationals therefore remain in legal limbo when it comes to importing the personal data of Europeans, such as emails, files, and even names and birth dates. That applies to corporations wanting to process the information of employees in Europe, as well as web firms providing cloud services to European customers. Fortune contributor David Meyer reports on the implications. (Fortune)


Verizon CEO fires back after Sanders sides with strikers by Aaron Pressman

GM’s $1 billion acquisition caught in legal battle by Kia Kokalitcheva

Facebook Messenger product chief talks about his love of chat bots
by Kia Kokalitcheva

Google Calendar wants to be your new life coach by Hilary Brueck

Another Zappos leader departs by Jennifer Reingold

Former Sun Microsystems guru surfaces at SugarCRM by Barb Darrow

Sling TV just added an important feature to its streaming service
by Jason Cipriani

China, chat bots, and cheap phones pose biggest threat to Apple, analyst says by Aaron Pressman

Samsung’s latest TV costs $20,000 by Don Reisinger


Paraplegic man moves his arm again, thanks to computer chip. A brain implant coupled with sensors have helped a 24-year-old man temporarily regain the use of his hand. (WiredNew York Times)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.