Why you should care

Because tracking the mood of your employees might be the most valuable metric for your bottom line.

My sixth-grade teacher used to poll students every morning on how they were feeling, using a scale of 1 to 10. “Our temperature,” she called it, as a classmate tallied up the responses on the whiteboard.

Turns out she was on to something.

Team morale matters, whether in a Fortune 500 company, nonprofit or struggling startup. Studies have shown that good moods correlate with good results. And since nobody wants to work with Oscar the Grouch, tapping into how employees feel could improve their satisfaction and retention — and a company’s productivity.

Which means, of course: There’s now an app for that. The Niko Niko platform is an emerging service that can measure and track mood data via iOS app, email or a Google Chrome extension. The idea is that managers can pose an emotional question on the platform — e.g., “How do you feel about progress you made on your priorities for the week?” — and team members can indicate how they are feeling on a quick smiley-face scale.

[Niko Niko] hopes to create the “world’s sentiment platform.”

Employers can then layer that mood data across sales, project milestones or absenteeism stats — and the results could be hugely instructive. A company might be able to see what’s hindering progress, or, as Niko Niko suggests, a sports team could even match mood with performance.

Niko Niko’s co-founder, Max Webster, believes the driver behind any company — and therefore its most prized asset — is people. “People are emotional creatures. So understanding what motivates people, what makes them perform well versus not well, what makes them want to stay in a company … these are like literally the most important questions for any business or really any organization,” he says.

Webster says some in the software community have already been tracking emotional data with pen and paper. In fact, he explains that “Niko Niko calendars,” where people would put smileys on a board each day, came out of Japan. Today, this digital platform brings that process into the 21st century big-data world where a human resources department or a progressive manager can gauge employees at scale. On the platform, mood data can be collected openly — with names linked to responses — or anonymously.

“Right now, most companies are in a data desert when it comes to their employees; they literally have no idea what’s going on at scale,” Webster says. “So the first step to making any changes is to give them a baseline.”

Niko Niko has yet to offer any sort of consulting regarding how to make mood insights actionable, but the platform, which launched in January 2014, already has about 40 teams on board gathering data. Webster says interested companies can contact Niko Niko for custom pricing, and its website offers a one-month free trial.

In the bigger picture, government or businesses could someday purchase aggregate mood data for strategic purposes.

Of course, some might think mood-tracking is pretty creepy in our world of NSA and TMI (too much information). Our digital footprints already reveal so much about ourselves. Must our bosses, too, know what exactly is going on inside our heads at every moment? There’s also no guarantee that employees won’t lie with this self-reported metric. And no one wants to get the Meet the Parents lie detector treatment.

While Webster stays focused on creating what he hopes will be the “world’s sentiment platform,” he’s also staying mum about the potential of a platform collecting all this mood data.

Still, the implications of gathering mood data could be huge. Sure, a company could determine that employees feel stressed on Thursdays and host an ice cream social to boost morale. But in the bigger picture, government or businesses could someday purchase aggregate mood data for strategic purposes. If mood data shows Chicago residents feeling overworked, whereas people in Dublin are mostly just tired, marketers might push vacation promos to Chicagoans and coffee ads to Dubliners. Emotional intelligence could become a quantifiable and lucrative asset.

And with wearables becoming hotter and hotter — Apple Watch, anyone? — mood data might be the next metric, after steps and sleep, that you — and others — start tracking.

Maybe those cheap mood rings weren’t so silly after all.

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