WorkingTech Interview: LeapGen

WorkingTech Interview: LeapGen

The WorkingTech show talks about how tech can work harder so we can work better because hardly working simply isn’t an option. Our first WorkingTech podcast, hosted by Kevin W. Grossman, features a conversation with LeapGen Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Jason Averbook, and Co-Founder & Chief Service Officer, Mike Brennan.

Here’s the thing. We’ve come a long way in the world of work today when it comes to the business of human resources, recruiting, and talent management, empowering the entire workforce, and ensuring the right technologies are implemented, integrated, and adopted, but my guests in this episode believe that the workforce needs a continuous transformative hand in learning and in blowing up the status quo.

Read the edited transcription..

Kevin: Jason and Mike, thank you so much for being on WorkingTech. Now one of the things I do on my podcast is I’m always infamous for asking two, three, four part questions even in the beginning. Let’s start with this. First of all, why LeapGen? Is this a new take on the Knowledge and Fusion on that you both launched years ago? Is this something that’s a little bit different considering the current landscape of workforce tech? And what is one of the key primary challenges you’re addressing today? See, it’s a lot, but let’s start with there. So Mike, you want to jump in first?

Mike: This is Mike. Thanks for having us, by the way.

As far as why LeapGen, I’ll speak for myself and then Jason will jump in. I personally see an opportunity to serve an underserved market and that is the worker, using a broad stroke. And we’ve seen a lot of digital disruption happening in virtually every part of business, and a common theme is that a gap between a positive consumer experience as it relates to digital and a positive worker experience, the gap between those two things has been widening despite the innovation that’s available to both. So in terms of why LeapGen, we’re squarely focused on helping HR organizations and IT organizations, really digital workforce transformation leaders, to use a label, narrow that gap.

In terms of the relation to Knowledge and Fusion, historical references that you made. In some ways it is similar. We are providing some analogous service, we’re helping organizations to build strategies and plans that reflect a personalized take on the future of work, really tailor that future of work to their organization. We’re going to help with deployments, we’ve already started doing that, the company’s a month old, but we’re working actively on projects both at the strategy phase as well as the deployment phase where we’re focusing as much as possible on delivering value to different user groups, be they employees, be they managers, be they contractors.

We’re also focusing a bit more this time I would say than we did at Knowledge and Fusion on a concept we’re calling “ROI,” run, optimize, innovate, and really the way to think about that, Kevin, is realizing that the value of new processes, new technologies constantly evolving practices after software goes live. So it’s not success at go live, you hit a button and everyone walks away happy. A lot of people walk away from the project teams that were involved but what do you do with that technology? Those new practices to keep them fresh, to keep them sustained, to keep them delivering value in a way that evolves with the business over time?

And lastly, I think one way we really differentiate LeapGen from Knowledge and Fusion is through an offering that we’re calling LeapAcademy. And we can touch on that more later if we’ve got time.

But really the purpose of LeapAcademy is though a one-to-many model delivering education to digital workforce transformation leaders. So in traditional, if you will, educational context; onsite seminars, webinars, online learning and so forth.

Kevin: Jason, do you want to add on to that?

Jason: Yeah, just real quick Kevin. After going through the Knowledge and Fusion experience and then going to the vendor side. One of the things I noticed is that this area is lacking leaders. And not leaders from a vendor side or leaders from a consultant side, but leaders inside enterprises. So the word “Leap” and the name LeapGen comes from leap meaning love, energy, audacity, prove. Love what you do to give you energy to do the audacious and to prove value as we move into the next generation of work.

So what’s different about this than Knowledge and Fusion? I mean, we’re offering the same type of services but our mission is truly to coach and to help organizations build the future leaders in this workplace. If you look at the timeline from a history standpoint, at Knowledge and Fusion we did a lot of consulting that did some of that. Our real focus this time is “How do we build that skill set and capability within enterprises so they’re not using consultants 24/7?”

Kevin: The thing that I like, what I’m hearing the most right now is on the worker, on the employer, kind of the consumerization of what it is to work inside of an organization. Not just with being full time, but also you referenced being a contractor as well, which is a growing part of the workforce today. That excites me, and I know the research I do at Talent Board would focus on the candidate experience both external and internal, mostly for those that aren’t getting the jobs, but of course a chunk of those folks were those who are currently working. They’re saying organizations looking for work, so to focus on the candidate as consumer or the worker as the primary buyer of all this stuff at the end of the day, to be able to use it and Mike to use your words, to sustain it over time, that’s huge.

Jason: And Kevin, if I could just jump- I’ll just say, everything you just said, spot on. But it requires a completely different skill set within organizations. What you just did was perfectly paint the picture of what we’re trying to do, which is help to skill organizations for what that whole change is around the worker, the type of worker, the experience, and sustain them.

Kevin: So let’s talk about that a little bit more specifically. I know it’s something that we talk about incessantly in this space, and we have for years now, but just really the impact on different kinds of technologies in the workplace, right? So the social aspect, the mobile, data management even for that matter as it primarily to the business at large, but also to the individual workers themselves. Based on your extensive experiences in workforce transformation, how do we continue this, how is this impact effecting organizations big and small today?

Mike: Dramatically. And I think to varying degrees, and the gap that I referenced earlier in terms of the consumer experience and the worker experience, the consumers, we’re all consumers, we’ve realized greater changes in the way an organization serves us, serves us products, serves us services and so forth. We’ve experienced less dramatic improvement, I would say, that’s probably an understatement, in terms of how we’re served as workers. We are seeing that the adoption of social and mobile cloud technologies allowing our clients to be more nimble, however we think they need help. In addition to the lack of leadership skills, the lack of data management, the lack of storytelling skills that most HR and a lot of IT departments have as at least those focused on HR and workforce technologies. We’re finding that we should start by changing the mindset.

So just a quick example. In the case of a deployment, you’ll often have HR people from soup-to-nuts focusing on the design, the configuration, the testing of a solution before it’s rolled out. And a lot of HR organizations will in fact pilot a solution inside of HR. That’s the type of thinking, that’s the type of mindset that we’re looking to blow up. And we think we’re uniquely positioned to do that. Jason, anything to add?

Jason: I love this quote from Jack Welsh, I don’t necessarily love Jack Welsh, but I love the quote from Jack Welsh which is, “When the change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” And I think truly what we’re doing in the HR workforce base today is playing a catch-up game where the technology and the hands of consumer has truly outpaced technology in the hands of the workforce inside the way we roll out technology, inside the organization. And right now we’re playing a very fast game of catch-up.

Kevin: You touched on this a little bit, but there’s two things that I heard that I want both of you to expand on just a little bit further. So Jason you mentioned there’s a missing skillset in organizations today, and Mike you mentioned blowing things up the way they are today. Can you connect those dots for us and give us just an example of what you’re talking about?

Mike: I think maybe the best way to illustrate this, Kevin, is to ask ourselves the question, and when I say “ourselves,” I mean HR. How are we removing the friction and enhancing the experience of the worker? Regardless of where they are in their journey, and just some examples. A new hire in a field organization who needs to be enabled to do quality work with the right equipment, with the right information, with the right training potentially a contractor or a freelancer who works 100% remotely versus an office environment. How do we remove friction for these workers? And the answer is not the same when you ask the question when you ask the question “How do we remove friction for workers from one organization to the next, one department to next?”

And what we’re positioning ourselves to do is work with organizations to truly target the unique segments within their workforce to leverage forward thinking practices, to leverage new technologies that work for their particular constituencies, not necessarily taking a one-size-fits-all approach, which would be doomed to failure.

Jason: I mean the blow up in the skill set that I want to just talk about is this concept of perpetual data. We should always be innovating, we should always be trying things, we should always be moving things forward. It’s not we’re implementing a module and we’re doing. Similar to what Mike said. And that’s just a different skill set and a different mindset. How do I market all the time, not just on launch?

I think that it’s a different skill set required and a different mindset that I need to be really great at fail fast. I need to get really fast and really good at “How do I define? How do I design? How do I adjust and then start all over again?” Which is just a different mindset to how HR has worked over the last 30 years with technology.

Kevin: That’s also predicated on the fact that you’ve got to be able to find those early champions. What you’re talking about is something that I completely agree with but it’s also can be quite a daunting change management initiative, right? And that’s one of those things, talk about things that fail quickly. Getting an organization, big or small, getting their arms around that kind of customized change, internally, that can be really tough.

Even when you’re just having some early conversations with some of these organizations that maybe even have an inkling about, “Wow, we’ve got to do something different.” What are you saying to them?

Jason: Kevin, to me, it’s how do you actually think about the experience you’re providing your customers and parallel that to the experience you’re providing the workforce? A. So that’s first.

Jason: What kind of experience are you providing the workforce? The second thing I would say is based on the technologies that they’re using outside, so doing a quick search and finding what they’re looking for. Running a quick report on iTunes and finding the song, or Spotify, or looking for your podcast on iTunes. How easy is that? You’re not calling IS to do that or you’re not calling HR-IS department to do that.

You’re doing it yourself. So that consumerization is the second component. And I’d say the third component is getting out of the mindset of measuring adoption and starting to measure addiction. Getting out of the just measuring how many times did someone login because that’s not success. But how often are they coming back? How often are you putting out new content? How often are they consuming? That’s the model we want to get to.

Kevin: Let me shift gears a little bit because we’ve been talking a lot about inside organizations and the changes that need to take place. But also, let’s talk about workforce technology providers. And we don’t have to call any out specifically, but what are they getting right today when it comes to helping to facilitate these changes that you’re talking about? And so that need to happen in organizations and what are they missing?

Mike: I’ll give you a hit and a miss. We’ll start the conversation there. I think a hit, something that they’re getting right today, Kevin, is integrations. I think that’s an area where we’ve seen vast improvements over the past decade, meaning that integrations are much more easily designed, developed, and maintained. And that’s largely been enabled by open APIs.

And these integrations are allowing organizations to stitch together, best of breeds technologies in sometimes very seamless ways. So I do think that’s an area that is fast evolving, is fast improving, but is an area where I personally, on the ground working with clients have seen a lot more cost effectiveness, meaning it’s less expensive and the integrations work more effectively than they did a decade ago. Even five years ago.

As far as misses go, I have to say, I’ve sat across the table from HR and talent management executives enough times where they’re shaking their heads for one reason. And it’s been in different contexts, it’s been in the context of performance management transformations rollouts. And it’s been in the context of rolling out new applicant tracking systems. It’s been in the process of rolling out new case management systems. And they often shake their head because the software just isn’t usable enough.

And sometimes it’s because they may have inserted some unnecessary steps, maybe having a tough time breaking old habits. But I have seen many instances where it’s simply because the software does not allow for simplicity in … Just a quick example would be, I want a one page performance review. It may or may not contain ratings, different organizations are taking different approaches to how they transform performance management, but regardless of the simplicity that I want, I’m finding myself asking employees’ managers to scroll and scroll and scroll because there are certain fields that we just can’t get rid of because they’re being dictated by the vendor.

So I’d say readability, and that’s probably tied to a lack of testing with close enough to the end user or enough end users to test in a way that’s going to make for a better finished product in terms of simplicity.

Jason: I think the big hit for me and a big thing the vendors are doing is we’ve almost gotten away completely with people questioning cloud. So if you think about five, seven years ago, everyone’s like, everyone’s maintaining servers, everyone’s maintaining data, etc. etc. We’ve almost gotten away from that question like, “Is that the way it’s going to go?” Which is great, and I think the vendors have done a brilliant job 99% of the time in housing people’s data, setting up instances, in building software that works that way, so that enterprises don’t have to worry about dedicating people to that. And they can start of focus on the more strategic aspects of what they’re trying to do with the software.

What I think vendors have missed and will continue to miss, and it’s just an evolution, is helping people understand how to roll out their solution in a way that gets the most value. So I still see speed as the winner and in this case I truly think speed kills value. And vendors need to help organizations say “Based on you, you specifically, not down the street, not across the hall, you specifically as an organization, what is that you’re trying to achieve? And here’s how you use our tool to do that.” Versus, “Hey, 99% of our customers do phase one like this, so we think you should do it like that.”

We don’t live in a world where we’re all the same, and we shouldn’t put in software in that model.

Kevin: Completely agree and, gosh, we could have a whole other series of shows again about adoption and configurability and all those things that we’re talking about. But those were excellent points.

What size organizations then, are you, do you work with and will be working with? And what industries? And is there a couple quick hit challenges that are unique to them that you can share?

Mike: Yeah, sure. So in terms of the size organizations, I mean, we’ll primarily work with mid-size and large enterprises. We are finding that as the world has become flatter, if you will, due to largely to the social and mobile technologies we were talking about earlier. A lot of small and midsize organizations have problems that are as complex as their mega-enterprise counterparts as it relates to engaging, managing their workforces.

In terms of industries, we’re cross-industry. As far as unique challenges, they’ll be different from one sector to the next and even within sectors, but I’ll just give you some quick hits as far as organizations that we’re working with right now. In financial services, working with an organization that is looking to differentiate how it keeps, engages, rewards it’s senior-most executives and in the process rethinking how they manage performance and career-development for those folks. So we’re dealing with a senior population, and I don’t think that’s unique within financial services. Financial services, times are good right now and they appear to be getting better, so as it relates to engaging and retaining those folks, that’s one example.

Kevin: Jason, do you have anything that you wanted to add to that?

Jason: A lot of people think, so a lot of people say, “Size matters” or “Size doesn’t matter.” To me, one of the things that I think is really important is that the larger the organization usually means the more employees it has, the more locations it has, and the, I’m just going to use this word and it’ll get me in trouble, but the older it is. So when I say older, it’s got older habits. And I say one of the big things that we’re working with organizations on today is how do you break those old habits and how do you sell that up the food chain so that we don’t continue to live in this world of inertia.

I’d say that mid to large enterprises are our major target because of that. Because what we’re finding is a lot of work around governance, a lot of work in helping organizations sell this change, and it’s usually those mid to large enterprises that have issues with that.

Kevin: Speaking of breaking up those old habits then, what’s the deal with LeapAcademy? Tell us about what that is.

Jason: So one of the things, Kevin, that drives me crazy is, and you know, you’re out on the speaking circuit, I’m out on the speaking circuit, Mike’s out on the speaking circuit. Every where around the world people will say, “How did you learn this stuff? How do you stay up to date? Who do I follow?” And oddly enough, you’re still teaching people how to use Twitter. And one of my fears is Twitter is going to go out of business before HR people actually get used to using it.

So for me, what LeapAcademy is designed to do, it’s to bring the skill sets of the HR and workforce technology professionals and the business IT professionals up to the point where they’re ready for the software today. Mike and I both, and our whole organization, firmly believes that in order to make this work you have to move both vendors and customers up into the right on the whole curve. And in order to do that, we have to educate customers. It’s not just a consultant project where you go in, give them a strategy, say, “Sayonara and good luck.” It’s meant be continuous.

So LeapAcademy is in person education but it’s also an amazing community, ongoing through Slack where people continue to network, they ask each other questions, etc. So there’s always that support mechanism. Real quickly, I think knowledge is three Cs. It’s contextual, it’s conceptual, and it’s continuous. And if I could add a fourth, just the way we think, it has to be compelling. So if we take that in mind, what we’re trying to do, excuse the pun, we’re trying to infuse knowledge into people’s brains, not through a consulting project only, but in a way that they can take it back and infuse it into others. And I truly think that if we want to move the industry, this is another way to do that through the Academy.

Kevin: Yeah, I concur completely and I know that I do the same thing with our candidate experience workshops that we do in an ongoing basis. So yeah, kudos to that for sure.

Listen, you’ve both obviously been working really hard, but I always like to ask a quick personal question at the end of the podcast. What exactly are you doing when you’re hardly working? Mike, let’s start with you.

Mike: Well we’ve got this theme, and I’ll just carry it through from LeapAcademy. We’re preparing the future worker in HR through LeapAcademy. I spend a lot of my spare time preparing the future worker through youth sports coaching. I coach four sports. I have one child and I coach four sports and am fundraising actively for one of them right now with baseball season coming up.

Kevin: Right on.

Jason: Kevin, to me I hate that question. I mean, I love the question, but it’s really hard for me to answer because I think work is life and life is work.

As some people know, I have a really hard time blending them. But to me, I mean Mike just said it really beautifully. I think all of us have this moment in life where they have this precious presence and it’s to give back and it’s to leave a legacy. So I mean, what I’m constantly trying to do is to say, “How do I do that?” And that’s through the relationship with my wife, through the relationship with my kids, I coach and run … I just did a whole digital transformation for the Manhattan Beach Little League here around baseball.

So I think that Mike and I are very much aligned in knowing that in order to be successful in work you need to be successful in life, and the way to be successful in life is to make sure that you’re always giving back, not only your family but your community. So we’re very, very tied to that.

Kevin: Gentlemen, thank you. Lastly, real quick. How do we learn more about LeapGen? Where do we go? What do we do?

Jason: I’d say is a great way to find out about us and then our goal is to make sure that through the LeapAcademy as well as any other channel in the HR workforce technology, that the concept of Leap is out there. Which is you have to love what you do to generate energy to do the audacious and to prove the value. So whether it be the Academy, whether it be LeapChats, whether it be our website, or whether it be working with individual organizations one on one, I’m sure you’ll find us. But is where all the information is stored in central place.

Kevin: Excellent. Well, Jason and Mike thank you so much for spending time on WorkingTech. I appreciate it and look forward to seeing you both out there very soon.

Jason: Kevin, great luck on your podcast, it’s great to see that you have turned into the Ryan Seacrest of HR and workforce technology.

Kevin: I’ll keep that, Jason, thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you both.


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