Interview: Matt Bradburn @ Peakon

This week I spoke with Matt Bradburn, VP People and Talent at Peakon. Peakon provides software to run real-time employee engagement surveys, and in doing so creates a wealth of data to drive people operations more effectively than ever before.

Matt Bradburn

You’ve recently joined Peakon – what drew you to the company?

Most people want to work for an organisation that fits their values, so for me, finding somewhere that truly believes that it can be the best place to work in the world is the dream. It helps that the product is super interesting, and has a lot of benefits from retention through to the bottom line of clients. I can’t deny that the team were very persuasive in interview as well – it would be impossible to fake the obvious enthusiasm people have for working there.

Tell us a bit more about the benefits of Peakon?

You can get continuous, real time feedback, combined with internal NPS scoring how engaged your employees are. Compare this with an annual survey – by the time you’ve collected the results, passed it by managers, related the results back to employees… it’s too long as a feedback loop to make a difference. Peakon directs management focus to fix problems incredibly fast. For example, a manager who was micromanaging would surface in about 2 weeks, allowing someone to intervene.

Is there some particular science behind the question design?

Indeed – most people don’t ask good questions. They add so much bias that the results are meaningless and lead to confirmation bias reinforcing the existing views of the person asking the questions. We have psychologists design custom questions for clients, as well as a standard set of questions that product can roll out to customers. We’re not just looking for whether someone is happy, but whether they are really engaged, which is slightly different. It’s about digging deeper into how someone feels as a member of your team and company.

Does Peakon herald a wider change in the way that companies think about managing people?

Very much so – I recently gave a talk at Peakon on just this subject. In the 20th century HR was policy based – employment contracts, holiday allowances and so on. But by 2008 larger companies started questioning whether anyone could sit on the board as an executive if they couldn’t support their decisions with data. Since then a lot more people are trying to bring data to bear on their roles, and Laszlo Bock (former SVP of People Operations at Google) reframed this shift as People Operations. It’s not just engagement surveys – you’ve also got other systems, and of course you still need the traditional policy stuff as well. All in all it allows you to take a more holistic view of people in the business.

Do you have a favourite case study about the impact Peakon has had?

Well, we use Peakon internally. Just before we moved offices over the summer, the working environment was getting more and more cramped. It was no surprise that our environment score (one of key drivers for engagement) started dropping off. But what was unexpected was that the collaboration score was also dropping off in sync. After the office move, the environment score recovered, but again the gains to the collaboration score were even more impressive. I never expected the physical environment to have such a dramatic impact on people.

What is the company vision going forwards?

We want everyone to come to work with their best self and deliver great work. What does that mean in terms of product? We’re quite flexible. We know the main drivers of engagement, as well as the sub drivers, and we know some of the potential actions to address problems. We can suggest these actions to managers, as they are the ones drive change, not senior management. We’ve just launched True Benchmark, which allows companies to see how they compare to each other, and we’ve several features in the pipeline that could be really exciting.

You’ve worked at several different startups (Lyst, Qubit, Peakon). What were the common challenges you faced, and what differed between them?

I think the same challenges exist in most organisations. Communication is a massive issue – in particular vertical communication is where it falls down the most – trying to maintain transparency and honesty is difficult. If founders take their eye off the ball it causes big problems, and emotional intelligence isn’t always founders’ strong suits! If I had one piece of advice for companies, it would be that when your employees give feedback, you can’t afford to dismiss it. If the same topic gets brought up time and again, it’s a problem, and you need to address it.

How has your role changed since you first starting working?

The move to using data to drive everything. I originally used a spreadsheet for recruitment, but at Qubit I was working with a team of ex-Googlers, and it became plain that using data was essential. I remember one period when I was trying to hire a dev-ops candidate. The funnel was showing a drop off after 2nd interview (with the CTO). I brought it up with him and he told me not to bring him anecdotal data. After that I started taking NPS-like scores for each interviewer asking: “Were the interviewers communicative and well informed?”. That showed the CTO scoring a 2 compared to other interviewers getting 8 and meant he changed his demeanour pretty quickly. By collecting this data we could ensure our interviewers were asking good questions and were being nice, and we hired two people very quickly.

What are the up and coming trends in HR at the moment?

Retention is a really big area, and what’s becoming clear is that training and development are key to this as they have so much impact on employee experience. Another is employee performance – some companies have got rid of performance reviews, others have done that and then U-turned to bring them back. There doesn’t seem to be a trend or process that consistently works, and even big companies are doing very different things.

Links here for more information on Peakon and to connect with Matt Bradburn.