TecHR Interview with Doug Dennerline, CEO at Betterworks
Tell us about your journey into HR Technology. What galvanized you to start at Betterworks?
I had been a sales leader for 25 years and then I was given the opportunity to become the CEO of Webex following its acquisition by Cisco. I have been running SaaS companies ever since, including as President of SuccessFactors in the HCM space. I feel fortunate to be CEO at Betterworks, because not every CEO of a software company can have such a direct impact on the work people do every day and, more importantly, how they feel about the impact they make with that work. Betterworks fuels the continuous performance process that today’s workforce is craving — one that will allow everyone to perform at their highest level and achieve their wider career goals, and most importantly helping companies perform at a higher level.
You have gathered a solid experience in leading decision-making teams in companies such as Cisco, Salesforce, Skype, and Alfresco. How does it help you lead your Betterworks team today?
My leadership style is all about empowerment; I hire experienced, motivated, smart leaders and I challenge them to strive to reach new levels. I want them to have an opinion, voice it thoughtfully and then gain agreement and move forward as a team. My experiences from earlier on in my career taught me the value of leading smart, motivated people, when to step in and help them and when to stay out of their way so they can do those things that they’re experts at. I’m also a big believer in radical candor; I’ve always given and been an advocate for continuous feedback, so I’m running the right company.
Tell us more about the changing landscape of HR Technologies. How does Betterworks fit into the ecosystem?
One thing I’m really excited about is expanding our emphasis on applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to the human resources space. There is so much important data that is part of goal setting & aligning along with progress tracking and career development conversations. HR and business leaders need to be able to quickly and easily consume the actionable insights from all this important data — insights into making promotion or succession decisions or identify troubled areas in their organizations. AI and NLP (natural language processing) can be used to create powerful visualizations that HR and business leaders can drill down into to identify areas of focus. And Betterworks is working hard to be on the bleeding edge of applying these advances to the HR Tech space. We think HR leaders need to become more focused on business results. Our best customers are ones were an informed CEO who understands the importance of her or his people working with an HR leader who is focused on business results and using continuous performance management and coaching to help achieve those results.
Which markets and industries have been the fastest to adopt your products?
Our early adopters were primarily in the financial services and technology sectors. Those sectors tend to be forward looking and keen to optimize every resource they have, so they are hungry for this type of solution. However as the market for Continuous Performance Management has matured, we’ve expanded into many other sectors including healthcare, manufacturing, retail and others. They are also experiencing very low unemployment and the war for talent.
As a CEO of an HR Tech company, how do you see the converging trend of leveraging Performance Management Technology for Marketing, Sales, Support and HR Managers?
If your managers and employees aren’t using their talent management tool effectively or at all, the business won’t see a return on its investment, regardless of what department they work for. The biggest deciding factor for organizations choosing a talent management technology is user experience, so when a business wants the benefits of a continuous process an intuitive, seamless and social UX is critical. Employees are spending more time than ever using real-time communication and productivity tools and to be effective, Performance Management tech has to be a seamless part of their everyday “Flow of Work.” Unless it’s fully embedded into these systems, HR tech can become a burden that employees and managers use reluctantly, rather than a tool to enhance their performance and careers.
How can HR Managers best leverage Betterworks for holistic (360-degree) Workforce Management?
Betterworks is designed to support open communication and continuous, transparent feedback at all levels of your organization, and is best leveraged by ensuring the entire workforce is using the tool but also being trained to both give and receive effective feedback. Deloitte says 78% of employees in a company don’t understand how their work helps a company achieve its goals. When employees and their managers are able to trust and partner with each other, everyone is motivated to achieve their goals and to develop themselves to meet tomorrow’s challenges and they know how their work is helping the company. Companies that are able to build the muscles of both giving and receiving continuous feedback are agile, aligned and motivated and can enjoy sustained competitive advantage.
How does Betterworks play a part in the Digital Transformation of culture-driven organizations?
A company’s culture not only defines the environment in which your employees work; it is the personality of your organization. When properly established, structured and communicated around, a company’s culture can be a powerful tool for increasing the performance of an organization. When managers and employees are aligned around goals and business priorities, and equipped with the tools they need to make their conversations worthwhile for feedback and career development, companies can create a “Culture of Performance” that can help ensure their long-term competitive advantage. Betterworks fuels the continuous performance process that today’s workforce is craving — one that will allow everyone to perform at their highest level and achieve their wider career goals.
Which technologies sync well with Workforce Management, such as HRMS, HRIS, etc.
Betterworks seamlessly integrates with most HRIS backend systems to include SAP SuccessFactors, Workday, Ultimate Software, ADP, BambooHR and Oracle. Our software extends the capabilities of these platforms by giving HR teams access to up-to-the-minute data that can be used to inform and feed other critical HR processes such as calibration, succession planning and compensation.
With Technology at the core of Workforce Management, should employees feel frightened or overwhelmed at their monitoring/ management at work?
Employees should feel neither frightened or overwhelmed by their performance management process and the technology that supports it. However, that also requires a cultural shift on the organizations’ part. When you say ‘performance management,’ a lot of employees still think of backward-looking, compliance-focused annual reviews that do nothing but cause them stress and anxiety. In order to create an effective performance management program, the focus has to be on development, both for the employee and the organization. Your talent is your most precious asset, and if they feel developed and coached rather than monitored or criticized, they will be motivated, engaged and productive.
How do you see new emerging trends of AI, machine learning, automation and robotics impact Workforce Engagement?
I think the biggest impact that machine learning will have on workforce engagement is to allow HR teams to gain a real-time view into their entire organization’s level of motivation and the health of their corporate culture. The lightweight, frequent conversations that make up the core of a continuous approach to performance management are full of insights, learnings and sentiments around employee engagement, but these insights are often trapped and not able to be applied more broadly. We have started applying natural language processing (NLP) technology to our product to allow HR teams to rapidly analyze and glean insights from thousands of these conversations. This helps HR unlock the power of those insights and gain a much better understanding of their workforces’ overall sentiment, and identify areas where they should focus their resources to have the greatest impact.
Tell us more about your vision into growing revenue opportunities for HR Technology platforms?
I believe that it’s less about monetizing HR technology itself and more about helping organizations realize the business impact that these technologies can have. Companies need to stop looking at HR as a cost center, and start viewing them as change agents that are critical to the success of any business. HR knows the company – and the people that make it up – better than anyone else in the organization. As companies grow, evolve, and adapt to changing market demands and challenges, the strategic decisions behind these shifts are all based in some part on the “human capital” that makes up the company. So investing in technology that supports them in continuously developing and retaining their workforce, and making sure the value of that is clear is the best way to grow revenue opportunities in this space.
Which start-ups in the tech industry interest you the most and why?
The companies that are focused on next generation learning and development. The skills gap is large today and growing. The need to find ways to have your employees get the training they need to be ready for the future is huge. The other big need is helping organizations find the talent they need internally, across functions, across the world. They are some great companies trying to help solve that problem like TalentSky.
What technologies within AI and HR Technology are you interested in?
There is so much important data that is part of goal setting & aligning along with progress tracking and career development conversations. HR and business leaders need to be able to quickly and easily consume the actionable insights from all this important data — insights into making promotion or succession decisions or identify troubled areas in their organizations. AI and NLP (natural language processing) can be used to create powerful visualizations that HR and business leaders can drill down into to identify areas of focus.
In HR Technology, what are the new emerging markets that you see providing the biggest opportunities?
I lived in Japan and Hong Kong for four years running Asian operations for 3Com. The Asian culture is historically hierarchical with less emphasis on performance management. That is changing and companies are looking for ways to manage their millennials population that same way we are in the United States.
We are also seeing a large uptick in use and knowledge of OKRs in Europe, almost surpassing the demand in the US.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
I begin every day with a workout. Getting that exercise has tons of health benefits, makes you feel accomplished first thing in the morning, stimulates your brain and always seems to put the whole day on the right track.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Thank You, Doug, for answering all our questions. We hope to see you again, soon!
Betterworks aligns, develops and activates your workforce for business growth. Through our easy-to-use, integrated software solutions and expertise, we help organizations replace outdated annual review processes with powerful Continuous Performance Management® programs that help managers be better at the conversations, coaching and development necessary to inspire and motivate the entire workforce to meet today’s goals and be ready for tomorrow’s challenges. Our solution supports truly global workforces, and is used daily by workers from 119 countries in more than 20 languages.
As Chief Executive Officer of Betterworks, Doug Dennerline brings deep experience leading high-growth enterprise software companies and businesses. He was previously CEO of Alfresco Software, held President and Director positions at SuccessFactors, and was an Executive Vice President of Sales, Americas and EMEA for Salesforce.
Doug holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Arizona State University.