The introduction of data to the workplace has been hailed as a revolution as often as it has been assailed as a digital Big Brother. Just last month, The Wall Street Journal deemed data "the new middle manager"—a way for start-ups to transparently take cost-cutting measures that are backed up by numbers.
At the same time, another trend has been taking hold in the management realm: an increasing emphasis on employee happiness and teamwork. Keeping employees content and engaged is widely considered important for both productivity and profits.
But what happens if you try to prioritize both of these trends at the same time? Three researchers from New York University and Columbia University looked at a trucking company in the midst of an internal culture change to see how these initiatives interacted with each other. The study followed over 5,000 drivers at approximately 150 locations. The company was starting to apply lean management, a philosophy pioneered by Toyota that emphasizes teamwork and empowering employees. Lean initiatives are meant to change employee-manager relationships, and at this company it included drivers running meetings and working together to reorganize their workplace. Meanwhile, the company was also starting to monitor the performance of all their drivers using electronic onboard recorders. Driver performance was measured based on efficiency: a score was given for the difference between the average miles per gallon and the potential miles per gallon. Data was also collected on how much fuel was lost from drivers idling, speeding, or shifting inefficiently.