Nothing erodes a company’s bottom line like a culture problem among the staff. Whether the company employs six people or 600, if the culture the company is espousing doesn’t match the one that truly exists, this disconnect can cause low productivity, satisfaction, engagement and retention. It can be difficult to identify a company’s true culture, and Ken King’s start up, Boost Innovation, is helping make that process easier.
Boost Innovation uses culture analytics to measure behaviour in essentially any organization where human interactions are a key part of the price model, anywhere in the world. The company started out manually analyzing the culture in a client’s workplace, watching interactions and documenting behaviours. They also conducted surveys asking staff questions about their workplace and its culture. As the experts collected more data they could identify issues and present clients with an action plan to create change.
The company created an algorithm to measure growth and performance in a group, with each interaction being assigned its own code. When they ran the observed interactions through the algorithm, they could measure the culture and performance of the group.
The problem was the data used to identify factors in culture were invasive and not reliable predictors of performance, and the process itself wasn’t scalable. Over the past few years, King and his small team have started to look at the process differently and decided to create a more accurate way to measure workplace culture. The path: digitizing the method for analyzing information.
Boost evolved from training and consultation surrounding performance, culture and how people interact in the workplace to now using cutting-edge software to predict and proactively address culture problems without relying on surveys or other invasive methods.
“In December 2019, I pared the company back and moved away from having people who were delivering the in-person services in pursuit of a more technology-based service,” says Ken King, founder and CEO of Boost Innovation. “The pandemic allowed me a lot of opportunities to move toward some things and away from others, and now we’re focused on the software and technology that measures human behaviour and to connect that to the culture of the spaces that they’re in.”
King’s background is in collegiate basketball coaching, and when he decided to become an entrepreneur he completed an intensive altMBA program focused on how to develop and build a business from the ground up. He saw that most software or tech companies that failed did so because they were run by someone great at programming but not good at business. His strength is building a team that understands their roles and works well together but remotely to help it grow. Boost Innovation came to be by King forging strategic partnerships with established experts in the field and allowing them to do what they do best to better the company.
“I’ve had a few people tell me that the reason why they enjoy our model of how the company is being built is that the team-building aspect needs to come first in business, and that’s really what I bring to the table,” he says.
He started with a group of advisors and now Boost employs a dedicated team of five – CEO Ken King, CTO Amritha Sebastian, director of marketing Andrea Avila, director of operations Alexis Garcia and CFO Trevor Oseen – who are combining their skillsets to build a revolutionary analytics company. King has a clear vision for the technology side so the next hurdle is to secure sufficient investment capital to facilitate the next phase of the company’s growth.
“I’ve worked with many start-ups and started a few myself,” says Oseen. “Ken posted a compelling job description about what Boost did and what he needed, and it fit what I do. Something this challenging to bring my expertise to Boost to help them get to where they need to be is key to me.”
Oseen, with his experience in international finance spanning 83 countries, is working with King to acquire and apply financing to realize Boosts vision.
Currently, that vision has two products in development: GRW Project for businesses and FLW Project for sports organizations. The FLW software is already released, and is a valuable growth mindset tool that helps coaches or managers identify knowledge needs of the team and measure sports-specific IQ and individual fit within that team. Boost’s strategic partner Adaptive Immersion Technologies out of Florida developed an algorithm used in the U.S. military to help place the right people in higher-level military positions, and Boost licenses this algorithm and has adapted it for its sport program. While it isn’t as intuitive as the business prototype yet, it produces extremely accurate results. In time, the FLW Project will share many of the same characteristics and capabilities as the GRW Project, where it will measure more behaviour and body language using groundbreaking AI.
The GRW Project captures, analyzes and builds culture using data analytics. What makes Boost’s business product unique is its integration of empathetic artificial intelligence software that captures body language and recognizes facial expressions in order to analyze behaviours and relate them to the broader culture of the group.
“It looks for anything as subtle as how somebody leans or the micro-expressions on their face when someone says something. The goal is to capture things that you can’t lie about,” King says. “The ability for AI to measure body language and micro-expressions is so beyond anything we’d ever get from having people fill out a 100-question workplace survey.”
After all, people don’t always answer surveys honestly, instead recording answers that they want to be true or that they think management wants to hear. Surveys also have an inherent white middle-aged male bias so people in other demographics don’t necessarily read and interpret those questions in the same way, skewing the results.
As the GRW Project fine-tunes and develops the software system to better identify culture trends from the myriad of data points collected, the team is serving clients using manual methods and algorithms with great success. Boost conducted a week-long proof-of-concept with Hyatt hotels in Miami Beach, and at the end management wasn’t aware of the problems that the system’s coding identified.
“We kind of refocused their leadership into these areas, and they made some pretty big moves to switch out leadership. Then, sure enough, it was almost two weeks to the day after we left, something happened. They could identify that this was exactly on trend with what we’d identified and they didn’t second guess it because they knew it wasn’t a coincidence,” King says.
The results will only become more impressive as the AI software develops. King expects to have the product digital, making it as close to objective as possible, in the next six months. CTO Amritha Sebastian is currently mapping the plan for what the workplace software will look like, and the potential is vast.
The software is capable of capturing hundreds of data points in just a few conversations between individuals, and it’s possible to start spotting culture trends in an organization in as little as five hours. More data leads to more comprehensive and more accurate measurements of culture trends. Boost recommends at least four days of data in order to get the most accurate measurement. And as it uses an AI software, the assumptions and biases of people get eliminated as the AI gathers and analyzes the information.
“(Analysis) has to have that constant learning and evolving side, and that’s why the AI piece is so valuable. The machine-learning aspect makes it way more accurate than a human ever could be,” he says.
It also makes scaling the company easier. The system is designed to fully integrate with existing security hardware so it will measure behaviours where the hardware is already capturing data. To protect privacy, the images are never stored. They are collected, coded and then erased leaving only the coding behind. King’s vision is to have the program ongoing and reporting in real time, allowing managers to pull up the software and monitor the trends and identify aspects of the culture that need action.
King’s goal is to continually develop and evolve the systems, eventually using virtual and mixed reality components that would allow managers to use data capture to recreate situations that occurred to give employees an opportunity to identify issues and learn to handle things differently. He would also like to apply the technology to improve the student experience at post-secondary institutions.
The possibilities of Boost Innovation’s technology are limitless, and as more companies realize and apply the benefits, this start-up is sure to change the way companies do business.
“People need to understand that these little behaviours, how people act every day, impact whether or not they make money, whether or not they win, whether or not the mental wellness of the group is positive,” says Ken King. “Noticing and measuring these things early matters. When we talk about all those things, you can make an extremely large individual impact that changes individual’s lives, but you also can have an extremely large organizational impact that improves bottom lines and wins more games and makes all your key metrics that much better.”