Julian Cook, Founder and CEO
The success of an organisation hinges upon the productivity of employees, and consequently, the productivity of employees largely depends on how happy they are within their company. However, the direct correlation between business excellence and employee satisfaction is often understated. Especially in the knowledge-economy of the Millennial era, employee engagement and satisfaction have become a vital component of the HR function. “In recent years, HR has evolved from a back-office function to a strategic one, effectively being the core organic growth driver of a business,” elaborates Julian Cook, founder and CEO of Howamigoing. “The Millennial workforce strives to learn, progress, and evolve consistently. As a result, measuring their progress, in tandem with the business growth, is of great importance for the HR function.”
Cook’s narrative emphasises the need for continuous employee growth through regular 360 feedback, clear, transparent and measurable role-specific goals, along with complementary personal growth-specific goals. “Feedback, goals and education/training are the three fundamental elements of a powerful employee performance programme, the ‘Performance Pyramid’ if you will”, says Cook.
In the current enterprise setting, most of the employee performance solutions are designed for HR, focused on reviews for the sake of legal compliance and having a paper-trail to support remuneration decisions. Such a solution set, built for a small minority of the workforce rather than the non-HR majority, does not necessarily drive the business forward as it overlooks the most critical success factor.
A Psychological Perspective
Howamigoing addresses this predicament through an employee-first HR platform that is designed to overhaul the traditional review system. The platform is a sweet concoction of technology, design, and psychology, crafted to deliver an intuitive and engaging experience for its users. It provides employees with a psychologically safe space to own their feedback, goals and conversations in a way which is aligned to the business’s objectives.
“Our platform looks at the HR ecosystem quite differently. Being guided by the Jobs To Be Done innovation framework, we use psychographic profiling to guide the employee journey. Traditional role-based or career-based personas don’t capture a person’s real motivation (or lack thereof) for progress,” says Cook. For example, Howamigoing has established through iterative qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys what really causes employees to engage with their company’s feedback culture. This approach has allowed them to truly understand why some people are more proactive when it comes to career development and why others “stick their head in the sand.”
Few HR professionals will dispute that regular feedback helps teams to work collaboratively and constructively toward shared objectives. But few companies do feedback well. “Feedback is the backbone for self-awareness, which is the backbone of emotional intelligence, which is a powerful driver of professional development. Unfortunately gathering and giving feedback is a bit like eating our greens though – we know it’s good for us but we just don’t do it,” says Cook. “What typically blocks us is our fight-or-flight reactions. We perceive there to be possible emotional harm, so we avoid a conversation, just like our ancestors avoided sabre-toothed tigers. But technology, if designed with the employee-experience in mind, can go a long way to overcoming these natural anxieties. A beautiful user interface along with an intuitive user experience can create a psychologically safe space that motivates employees to proactively gather more feedback and guide colleagues to be more constructive in giving feedback”.
With so many companies still using Email, Microsoft Word or Google Docs in 2019 for employee reviews, there is a significant amount of lost time and lost data – killing employee productivity and in many instances, killing employee engagement. “It’s 2019 and consumers expect a lot from technology. Consumers are used to well-designed user flows in their day-to-day experience with apps. Then they join a ‘forward-thinking, innovative’ business that asks them to download a .docx template, provide critical feedback to colleagues, and email this critique to a personal assistant or someone in HR for aggregation. Why do employees get treated like 2nd class consumers when it comes to such a critical business process? When a highly motivated, tech-savvy Millennial sees that their company hasn’t bothered to invest in modern software solutions – this can reduce trust and signal complacency from senior management.”
By simply removing the words review or evaluation or appraisal, and instead just saying feedback, you immediately reduce employee anxiety
“We often hear HR personnel say ‘Yeah our review process is lousy, it could be better, but there are higher priorities right now – for example making sure we’re meeting our hiring quota.’ The irony is that time and money spent on hiring great talent is wasted if they’re brought into a business without an easy and effective feedback, goals and training/ learning process. It’s often when a great employee leaves that senior management realises that it pays to be proactive with regular feedback processes,” says Cook.
For a business with 1,000 employees, 10% turnover means you’re losing 100 employees each year. The annual cost of losing a productive employee can be up to 1.5-2x salary once you add in the loss in morale, team productivity and know-how. Yet the annual cost of Howamigoing’s platform is less than £100,000 for a business with 1,000 employees. Additionally, there is an increasing amount of research suggesting that businesses with clear, transparent quarterly goal-setting processes achieve greater revenue growth than those without. One study suggested that less than 10% of employees know what their company’s business objectives are and what’s required of them to help achieve those objectives. “In a big business, this adds up to a lot of waste and a lack of competitiveness,” adds Cook.
An Employee-First HR function
One of the biggest findings of Howamigoing’s latest Jobs To Be Done research project was that except for one category of users, time is not a key determinant for people when deciding whether to reach out to their manager for constructive feedback. “For most people, the two core catalysts that cause them to proactively solicit advice from colleagues are being in a new role, new team or new environment, and experiencing a general feeling of uncertainty about one’s work or contribution. These are much bigger motivators than not having received feedback for 3 months or having just wrapped up a project,” explains Cook.
So in addition to making company-wide feedback and goal management processes easier and more effective, Howamigoing enables employees to securely ask anyone, any question, any time – and only the employee will see the responses. Employees are provided with a number of psychologist-backed question templates, to remove any blocks.
To ensure colleagues provide constructive feedback, Howamigoing removes names from comments and ratings. “Even our smallest clients, with 10 employees and ‘a flat, social hierarchy’ report receiving rich feedback with this approach that doesn’t surface during regular 1:1 conversations. No matter how comfortable you are with someone, it’s easier to be honest when your thoughts go into a pool alongside other people’s thoughts. The fear of being ‘shot as the messenger’ subsides. And as the feedback recipient, you’re forced to respond to the feedback rather than respond to the person giving it.”
To ensure colleagues respond to feedback requests in a timely manner, Howamigoing limits feedback responses to 280 characters, following Twitter’s lead. “This forces people to be focused and concise in giving guidance. It avoids the sandwich that happens when you write a paragraph of feedback – saying something nice, then something constructive, then ending with something nice, which just confuses the message for the feedback recipient.”
Based on their client surveys, Howamigoing saves managers on average 10 hours each per 360 feedback cycle with this approach. The majority of users report that they feel “more confident, more valued and more informed” as a result of the faster, more intuitive feedback process. And because it takes less time to conduct a 360 feedback cycle, companies end up doing it more often, resulting in more performance data points throughout the year. “This helps avoid those ‘year-end’ surprises in performance reviews, because both employee and employer are looking at the same sheet of verbatim performance feedback collected over the previous 12 months,” concludes Cook.
“Our mission is to be the world’s easiest and most effective people progress platform, so that we can prevent 1 million people from having to go through painful performance management processes,” says Cook. “It is essential for us that people feel comfortable using the platform; otherwise, they tend not to open up and treat the process as a ‘tick the box exercise’, often to ‘just get the best pay outcome possible’, putting aside honest discussions around personal growth.
This is a lose-lose situation for employee and employer and a massive lost opportunity to create a lasting emotional connection between a company and its staff.” The founder yet again draws attention to how his company does not optimise its platform for the purpose of determining bonus and salary rise decisions, rather focusing on developing soft skills for employees. Collectively, Howamigoing nurtures a personal development culture for the modern-day workforce. “Except for salespeople, where revenue tells a clear story of performance, it’s near impossible mathematically in a knowledge business to correlate an individual’s contributions to the firm’s bottom line. Many academics have tried, all have failed,” Cook expands.
“We are visual animals,” he says. “And, the intuitiveness of our platform engages employees to adopt it easily, all the while delivering the technological feature sets needed for smooth business orchestration. Because the design of an application is similar to creating art, we make judgments with our eyes before words can begin to describe the beauty of something. Such a business platform should be visually appealing, to begin with, in order to effectively make use of the application.”
This culture can be observed in a recent collaboration with Metro Bank in the UK. As a challenger bank with an ultra-modern branch fit-out, Metro Bank is renowned for excellence in customer service. To keep employees engaged and prepare them for internal promotion opportunities, they engaged Howamigoing to help implement a simple 360 feedback process focused on leadership and teamwork. “It’s great to see such positive outcomes in such a short time frame. One branch manager told us, ‘I’m always wondering, what do the team think about what I’m doing? It was nice to receive recognition for the effort I put into being there for the customer-facing staff. I’ve really been trying there. Now I know how I’m perceived and what I need to do to get to the next level.’”
Applying Best-Practice Design Thinking to HR Software
When asked about the differentiating factor that sets Howamigoing apart from the competition, Cook says that it comes down to being easier to use and more effective.
“So many software companies get sucked into the trap of building every analytics feature, every customisation, every option so that they cater to everyone and cover every scenario that a HR Director might ask for. But when you try to cater to everyone you end up catering to no one. You’ve chosen complexity over simplicity. I’m yet to find somebody who says ‘I wish this product was more complex, more nuanced. It’s just too easy to use’. Through design thinking and our Jobs To Be Done research we’re intensely focused on providing an amazing user experience to a specific psychographic profile – namely those employees focused on becoming partner/ director/ CEO and those who may not be so ambitious but who are still focused on excelling in their role. These are the employees delivering the most growth to a company and who cost the most to lose.”
The attention to detail that can be observed on the Howamigoing platform is undoubtedly one of its many differentiating factors. The company goes the extra mile, using bespoke fonts, colour palettes, and background graphics to make the user interface much more engaging than anything that is out there in the marketplace. Observing such a meticulous design language, it is safe to say that Howamigoing does not compromise on the visual aspects of the platform for the features or functionalities it brings to the table.
"Howamigoing has established through iterative qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys what really causes employees to engage with their company’s feedback culture"
“Humans are visual animals,” he says. “That’s why art exists. We make judgments and feel things within a few seconds of seeing something, before our brain can put words together. Sometimes, we can’t even explain why we like something, other than to smile and say ‘it just looks and feels really nice.’ When you get that reaction, then you’re breaking down barriers for people to engage with your product. UX and UI are carefully intertwined and equal-partners when it comes to HR software, in my opinion.”
“Language and tone of voice on the platform makes a big difference too,” adds Cook. “By simply removing the words ‘review’ or ‘evaluation’ or ‘appraisal,’ and instead just saying ‘feedback’, you immediately reduce employee anxiety. We all know we have faults and we’ve made mistakes, but few people like to be ‘reviewed’. You wouldn’t wait 12 months to give your daughter a review on her development. You’d quickly help her correct for mistakes and you’d supply her with positive reinforcement when she does something good,” concludes Cook.