TecHR Interview with Shane Metcalf, Co-Founder and Chief Culture Officer at 15Five

How did you start in this space? What galvanized you to start at 15Five?

The educators at my high school were master culture architects. We had a four day school week and took our shoes off before coming into the building. Each new school-year was kicked off with wilderness camping trips and study at Zen retreat centers. We circled up every day for “Morning Meeting”, which was entirely run by students. Every Thursday we played “Goofido” the sacred art of goofiness. These cultural touchstones created such a positive and engaged student body that we all fell in love with the subject matter we studied. More importantly, we fell in love with learning in community. I recognized that I wanted to create these experiences for others and especially in the workplace where so much of our lives take place. Professionally, I initially started as an executive coach and moved entirely into the HR space as co-founder of 15Five. As the Chief Culture Officer I apply my understanding of what fundamentally motivates people and have learned to architect high performance early on with principles and rituals that create a “self-organizing culture” in the long run.

What is 15Five and how does it fit into the HR Technology landscape?

15Five is a continuous performance management software solution built around a weekly cadence of feedback to help managers understand their people.The software incorporates OKRs, 360 reviews, 1-on-1s, and employee appreciation. We are on a mission to unlock the potential of every member of the global workforce, by helping companies move away from what analyst Josh Bersin calls the “competitive evaluation” model of performance management, which has been standard practice since 1940 – and, towards a “coaching and development” model. This focus on “growing” people is driving some of the world’s most progressive companies—like Credit Karma and HubSpot—to use 15Five to help employees become their “best-selves” at work.

What are the biggest cultural challenges and threats for the modern businesses?

In fast-paced business environments, many leaders are focused on metrics like revenue growth. These are important to watch, and leadership must create high-level business priorities that each team can support. Often, a focus on just the numbers can create highly competitive environments ruled by fear. When creating cultures, we should focus on the underlying experiences, beliefs, values, and needs of the employees alongside accountability and productivity. Environments that lack psychological safety cannot produce high performance (at least not long term), and employees suffer there by not reaching their potential and due to the negative impacts of extreme toxicity. From the business perspective, half-hearted employees lack commitment, which creates a drag on the entire energy of the company. When employees are fully committed, they are able to get things done more effectively and efficiently. Ironically, the low morale created by a fear-based mindset of managers and leaders, actually diminishes productivity which hurts the business goals of those organizations.

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What are the five key qualities you seek in— An ideal manager and an ideal employee:
  • A growth mindset. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford professor Carol Dweck explains two very different beliefs we can hold about ourselves and how they manifest in our careers. On the one hand, people have what she calls a Fixed Mindset, where people believe that who they are is fixed. In other words their intelligence, creativity, etc. is set and unchanging. Diametrically opposed to this is the Growth Mindset. This is the belief that you are a work in progress and, with enough focus and attention, you can control things like I.Q., competence, and so on. Shrewd managers preempt this by orienting their teams toward a collective Growth Mindset as a foundation, and we can screen employees during the interview process to see how growth oriented they are.
  • A desire to connect on a human level. Some people see business as a necessary evil or just a way to make money, while others see an opportunity to have peak experiences as an individual contributor, to bring our the best in others as a manager, and to build genuine relationships along the way. One of the ways we do this is Question Friday—one employee (the Question Master) asks a non-work related question that everyone in the company answers via video conference. People share incredible stories about their lives and their unique perspectives and experiences. This creates instant empathy and insight into why people are the way they are and everyone can learn more about others’ lives outside of work.
  • A willingness to hear and share feedback. This is true for both employees and managers. Feedback loops create opportunities for course correction and contribution. If you’re not in a feedback loop, you can’t coach anyone as a manager and you probably have not built the requisite level of trust whereby an employee feels safe enough to offer this feedback. We do this internally through asynchronous weekly check-ins, and upward feedback every quarter, but people who are willing to engage in this process will be most successful in their roles.
  • Vulnerability as a strength. Our greatest fears involve shame. That is why public speaking is the #1 fear for humans, surpassing even death. Why is standing in front of people, even those who know and respect you, more fear inducing than the greatest mystery of mankind? Because deep inside we all say, I am not good enough. We are afraid to be judged, to be hurt and to lose that which we have worked so hard to build — our personal connections or maybe our business. But when we have the courage to be vulnerable, something shifts. We are no-longer driven by the fear of what we don’t want (i.e. exposure) and we are driven to communicate openly about what we want, and the obstacles that stand in the way.
  • Managers need to express appreciation for their employees. Many managers think that if they appreciate their people for doing something they will spoil them and create a culture of entitlement. That’s just not true. Appreciation is one of the highest leverage and inexpensive things you can do to have someone feel seen and recognized for the value they bring to the table. This is one of the easiest things you can do to build a culture of belonging and inclusion, and people who are built for naturally sharing and receiving appreciations are a huge contribution to an organization. It may seem difficult in an interview to determine a person’s relationship to gratitude, but it will tell you a great deal about their level of positivity and the impact they’ll have on the culture.
How can technology help to build a sync between these two:

Technology can’t manage for you. However, it can be a powerful tool for managers and employees to build a stream of nearly consistent and constant communication. Technology also helps you ask questions at the right cadence so that, over time, deep trusting bonds are forged. When we genuinely care about the people we work with, we naturally contribute more and our work-product is of a higher caliber. Coupled with everything listed above, technology can help managers to respond to employee needs and desires, and create environments where their employees show-up to work each day feeling like they are being and becoming their best selves.

Tell us about your experience with Employee Feedback mechanisms? How much have they yielded results for you at the various organizations that you have coached?

When I was an executive coach, I saw too many leaders and managers asking the wrong questions or no questions at all. Understanding human needs isn’t actually a mystery, but it requires asking good questions and listening to the responses. The annual engagement survey is as outdated as the annual performance review. We need far more frequent feedback loops if we hope to understand a generation that has come of age in the era of near-instant feedback on their actions and behaviors.

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What does your Ideal customer profile look like? How do help customers to adopt HR Technology products to optimize employee feedback policies?

We are focused on SMB and Mid-Market. We’re not about optimizing policies, we’re about helping people create more thriving cultures through regular feedback. Our customer success team is heavily involved with larger customers to help them get started on the right foot and to ensure adoption across the team or company. This includes asking the right questions, and understanding the cadence that works best for feedback, 1-on-1s, and reviews at each particular organization. We have also found that someone at the org (usually HR) has to be the internal 15Five champion. Most customers see the impact rather quickly, but in those first couple of weeks managers really need to be committed to encouraging employees to fill out their 15Fives and to responding with quality feedback. The champion often presents 15Five to the team and sets up the cadence of reminders (to fill out a 15Five, review one, etc.) until the process becomes an automatic and even enjoyable part of everyone’s workweek.

What is the state of Performance Management technology in 2019? How much has it evolved since the time you first started 15Five?

15Five began as a weekly check-in in 2011. There were just a handful of questions that employees answered and managers could respond, pass-up to company leaders, or flag for future discussion. There were very few software tools doing what we did, and they were basically the same glorified Q&A interface. Today, performance management technology is way more holistic. This reflects a need in the marketplace.

Josh Bersin, one of the main analysts in our space, explains how we’ve shifted from a model where executives are at the top and everyone serves them, to a model where leaders are at the bottom and serve those “below” them. Managers are no longer engaged in command and control hierarchies, rather they coach people to be their best. Essentially, we’re participating in a re-humanizing of business that not only feels good, but is also driving a change in technology.

What this means in that we are shifting toward an understand the the best performance results when organizations take care of the whole human being in their employees. In the past, performance management has been strictly categorized by measuring and managing business oriented results that an individual produces. The industry is beginning to witness a sea change in that approach where instead of just focusing on the outcome the business wants, we’re focusing on things like creating cultures of belonging to create positive brain states and realizing that personal development enhances and amplifies professional development.

This expresses itself in performance management tech with features to measure performance while simultaneously helping people to grow and feel like they belong. If we take a features/benefit analysis, the weekly check-in and 1-on-1s help with coaching and improvement, and OKRs help managers and leaders track progress on the highest priority tasks, while simultaneously showing employees how their progress impacts the company bottom-line and mission. We’re also seeing a shift from the outdated and defunct annual performance review to improved practices like our Best-Self Review, designed primarily to help employees grow and develop.

How can HR companies build their HR Technology stack with 15Five?

Integrations with HRIS like BambooHr & Namely help companies manage the entire cycle of every employee’s tenure at a company, from applicant tracking and employee onboarding, to quarterly OKR tracking, employee feedback, and periodic performance reviews.

According to #HRWins research, conducted by George LaRocque, mid-sized companies use an average of nine different HR software applications. In this same research, the top technology pain points were “lack of integration,” “gaps in automation,” and “too many systems.” This leads to wasted administrative time, siloed data, and a poor employee user experience.

Companies who use HRIS with 15Five solve these pain points and in a few simple steps inside the 15Five application, an administrative user can link the two accounts and import the company’s employees and management structure into 15Five. The user can customize the sync schedule to run automatically or manually, so that the two systems are updated with the latest employment changes. For companies who are managing hundreds or thousands of employees via 15Five and HRIS systems, it is imperative to have linked databases.

Tell us more about your vision into further expanding the opportunities for HR Technology Platforms?

Overall, we expect more and more organizations and HR departments to move towards the Best-Self Management frame of tying the product features to an overall philosophy of helping people to grow and develop into the best versions of themselves.  We are already starting to see a shift in that direction. More companies are starting to realize that culture isn’t defined by perks and that creating an environment where people feel seen and valued for who they are (fulfilling the human desire for belonging and inclusion) is the winning strategy. Tech that gives employees a voice will become as vital as any other in HR.

We will also start seeing more automated insights from qualitative data trending in 2020. Being able to read between the lines of what’s being said and not being said so that organizations can help people thrive.

Which start-ups in the tech industry interest you the most and why?

One of my favorite startups right now is – the founders were considering starting an AI company but then figured that we need to be investing more in mental health and not just tech that will be replacing most of our jobs. Their platform makes introducing the benefits of meditation to an entire company manageable and accessible.

I also love seeing the rash of companies like BetterUp, Sounding Board, Torch and GetGuided bringing affordable coaching to middle managers. Coaching is such a value-add for any leader and for so long was accessible only to execs. We all need coaches to help us become our best-selves and these companies are making that possible.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

Fill in the white space. On my morning commute I schedule in all the white space on my calendar to ensure that I’m being deliberate with my time. This also includes scheduling down-time, walks and thinking time, along with the reactionary things like email and meetings. It’s incredible what happens when I don’t leave my time up to chance.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Carrie Brandes is Head of People & Culture at RedBubble. She is a brilliant forward thinker who discussed the future of performance reviews with me at one of our meetups. Her responses would be a worthwhile read.

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Thank you, Shane! That was fun and hope to see you back on TecHR soon.

Shane Metcalf is a seasoned executive coach, speaker and currently chief culture officer at 15Five who is obsessed with building healthy organizations and creating the opportunity for people to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships. Shane also co-founded 15Five, industry-leading performance management software that is unlocking the potential of the global workforce. Along with his co-founder, David Hassell, Shane has developed the Best-Self Management methodology which proposes that if leaders build cultures and institute practices that support people in being and becoming their best selves, then high performance and uncommon loyalty will result.

15Five logo

15Five is a continuous performance management solution that helps employees grow and develop, in just 15 minutes each week. Through a lightweight weekly check-in, 15Five delivers everything a manager needs to impact employee performance, including continuous feedback, objectives (OKR) tracking, recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. 15Five is the #1 performance management software out of 170 vendors on G2Crowd, with over 1,600 forward-thinking companies using the solution to bring out the best in their people.