HR Tech Interview With Arnaud Grunwald, Chief Product Officer at Betterworks

Journey into Tech

Please tell us a little bit about your role and responsibilities at Betterworks. How did you arrive at the company?

As the Chief Product Officer at Betterworks, I am responsible for leading the product management and design teams, as well as collaborating closely with our engineering organization to ensure we provide innovative and valuable solutions to our customers. My main focus is on refining and expanding Betterworks’ performance management offerings by developing our product roadmap and optimizing our tools for the present while creating forward-thinking solutions for the future.

I joined Betterworks in February 2020 through the acquisition of Hyphen, a company that I co-founded and served as CEO. During initial partnership discussions with Betterworks, I had the opportunity to meet CEO Doug Dennerline, and we quickly realized we were both bought in the fact that performance management and employee engagement are inextricably linked. Betterworks was committed to enhancing employee engagement to drive individual, team, and company performance. With the merger of Hyphen, we were able to combine our strengths to further develop innovative solutions to address this critical need. Our merger was finalized just two weeks before the pandemic disrupted everything, and I was able to spend a brief period at our Redwood City office before we transitioned to remote work.

We all know the role of tech-based enterprise communication strategies in the modern era. What is your take on the evolving role of this unique HR Technology from the perspective of global workforce management?

Enterprise communication strategies have always been vital to managing a global workforce, and HR technology has played a significant role in enabling seamless communication across functions, borders and time zones. In my opinion, we are currently in the midst of a third era of HR technology, one in which HR processes are integrated into the fabric of daily work life, and employees can access them without disruption or inconvenience.

The first era of HR technology was focused on digitizing paper-based processes, while the second era emphasized improving user engagement through consumer-grade UI and intuitive experiences. However, the current era is about taking HR technology to the next level by integrating it into employees’ daily work processes. The goal is not merely to engage employees around an HR process, but to blend HR processes in such a way that they enhance daily work experiences, improve productivity, and drive better business outcomes. By creating a seamless integration between HR processes and daily work life, HR technology can play a more significant role in enabling efficient workforce management on a global scale.

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Why are meetings unproductive and costly? Why are organizations still relying on traditional team meeting habits to meet business goals?

Meetings have become a staple of modern work culture, but they are often unproductive and costly. According to reports and studies, meetings can decrease employee productivity and happiness, and up to 92% of employees consider meetings unproductive and expensive. And things are not really trending in the right direction: Pre-pandemic, the average office worker was spending about 14 hours in meetings per week. Post pandemic it’s now 21 hours on average that we spend in meetings per week. That’s a 50% increase. And 80% of these new meetings are 1-1s.

One reason for the unproductive nature of meetings is the lack of focus and structure. Many meetings lack a clear agenda or fail to address previously unaddressed issues. Additionally, there is often a lack of consistent, shared visibility that can promote action and accountability. With the rise of remote work, back-to-back Zoom meetings have become commonplace, leaving little time to prepare for meetings or plan action items afterward.

Poor meeting habits can be challenging to break, but organizations need to rethink their approach to meetings, especially one-on-ones, as they can have a significant impact on performance. Finding a tool that is easy to use and addresses common meeting pitfalls can be a challenge, but it’s crucial to ensure that meetings are productive and lead to positive outcomes for both employees and the organization.

What is Betterworks’ doing to transform the meeting experience?

At Betterworks, we understand the importance of productive meetings and how they can impact employee engagement and performance. That’s why we developed Betterworks 1:1s, a new module in our software that enables employees and managers to adopt good meeting habits and carry out effective 1:1 meetings that bring structure, visibility, and accountability to any 1:1 within the organization.

With Betterworks 1:1s, participants can view each other’s goal progress alongside the meeting agenda and action item list, allowing both parties to actively contribute to both the discussion and desired outcomes. Our tool is designed to make every 1:1 effective and meaningful, while also being easy to use as part of an employee’s everyday activities.

We’ve also made it easy to get started with Betterworks 1:1s. Existing 1:1 meetings can be imported from an employee’s calendar into the module, saving time and promoting visibility. Additionally, our plug-ins for Gmail and Outlook allow users to add pertinent agenda topics directly from their inbox without leaving their email client. Overall, we believe that Betterworks 1:1s can help transform the meeting experience and drive better outcomes for organizations and their employees.

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How does the new product align with your other performance management solutions?

One-on-ones sits within Betterworks’ performance management platform, a major benefit to our customers. Other meeting tools lack visibility to key performance activities – like objectives and goal progress, recent feedback or recognition. Within the 1:1s module, both participants have visibility to each other’s goals and progress bringing greater context and alignment. Also, as said earlier, we have plug-ins for Gmail and Outlook that bring 1-1 preparation in the flow of work, which is a game changer in terms of user adoption and productivity improvements. No more due conversations will fall through the cracks!

What’s the most challenging aspect of building an HR Technology product? How is it different from building a software for other customers in Marketing, Sales or IT?

One of the most challenging aspects of building an HR technology product is the complexity of the HR function itself. HR processes and regulations vary across different industries and countries, which means the product needs to be designed to accommodate and configure for these variations.

Building an HR technology product also requires a deep understanding of the employee experience and the nuances of how employees interact with the technology. Unlike building software for other departments, HR technology must prioritize user experience and user adoption to be effective. The product must be designed to meet the unique needs of HR professionals while also being intuitive and easy to use for employees.

Additionally, HR involves sensitive and confidential employee data that needs to be handled with the utmost care and security. HR technology must be designed with the highest standards of security and compliance in mind to protect sensitive employee data. This requires extensive knowledge of data privacy laws and regulations across different jurisdictions.

To overcome these challenges, it’s important to have a team with diverse skills and experiences in HR, design, engineering, and data privacy and security. This ensures that the product is built to meet the unique needs of HR professionals and employees, while also being secure and compliant.

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Please tell us more about the role of AI and machine learning in HR Technology software development. How do you define new benchmarks for your product and marketing team?

AI and machine learning are transforming HR technology by enabling organizations to leverage data-driven insights to make more informed and efficient decisions. At Betterworks, we have integrated AI and machine learning into our platform and will keep providing more innovation to provide actionable insights – just-in-time or as part of analytics – into employee objectives, feedback, performance evaluations and engagement, identifying potential areas for improvement and making personalized recommendations for employees to help them achieve their business objectives and career goals.

Overall, in 2023, we can now say that AI and machine learning are critical components of modern HR technology, and we are committed to leveraging these tools to provide the best possible experience for our customers. One example is of course how Large Language Models can enable employees and managers throughout the performance management process- more on that later!

Thank you, Arnaud! That was fun and hope to see you back on HR Tech Series soon.

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Arnaud Grunwald is Betterworks’ chief product officer who is the master builder of the company’s product innovation, development and roadmaps — ensuring that the user experience is as delightful as possible, brings value, and is lightweight for employees, managers, and HR leaders. He was the co-founder and CEO of Hyphen, an employee listening and engagement platform that was acquired by Betterworks in 2020.

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Betterworks helps enterprises achieve agility, align their organization and accelerate business and employee growth. Our award-winning OKR and continuous performance management solution delivers the critical insights, conversations, feedback and recognition needed to align, engage and develop today’s complex workforce. With Betterworks, organizations can ensure alignment, transparency and accountability across the enterprise for sustained competitive advantage.

Based in Redwood City, Calif., Betterworks has received more than $65 million in funding and is used daily by employees and managers from 119 countries in more than 20 languages.