These last few years have been a huge turning point for the evolution of HR processes around employee development and performance management. Whether you have 10 or 10,000 employees, companies of all sizes are making the effort to update their review processes to more accurately reflect the way work gets done.

A rising problem is that nearly everyone has an opinion on what these new processes should look like. Taken out of context, some of this advice can send a company down the wrong path. The challenge companies are facing is learning how to separate the valuable research from the noise.

Here is where Kazoo comes in. We culled through the research released in 2016 to create a list of eight findings that should be considered when developing a new performance management process. They run the gamut from feedback and coaching statistics to how to address the newest generations in the workforce. For example, did you know…

  • Less than 70% of employees are clear on what it takes to get promoted?
  • 80% of Millennials expect to be able to evaluate their managers?
  • Or that the same performance management strategy will have a different effect on another company?

Download our newest research, 8 Performance Management Truths from the Experts, to get a Cliff Note’s overview of the top survey and research findings from 2016.

In his uplifting Ted Talk “The happy secret to better work,” Shawn Achor teaches us a thing or two about the power of positive psychology and creative ways to improve work performance.

He starts with the premise that when it comes to performance evaluations, we typically use data to determine what’s average. We then evaluate all employee performance based on this middle of the road, ho-hum benchmark. If you think about traditional performance evaluations, a bell curve comes to mind, which is a depiction of a normal probability distribution. Under-performers and high-performers are the outliers that deviate from the majority in the middle of the curve.

Employee Performance Bell Curve
Achor argues that by studying what’s average, we remain average. Our focus shouldn’t be on the average but rather on the behaviors that lead to above average performance. By doing so, we can begin to identify creative ways to improve work performance for the entire company.

Moreover, according to Achor, above average performance has less to do with IQ (25%) and more to do with optimism, social support and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat (75%).

The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%.

— Andrew Carnegie

So, how do we determine the behaviors and traits that lead to an above average employee? Once defined, how do we use this information to identify creative ways to improve work performance for the entire company?

To provide an applied example, I’ve created an “above average” employee profile by using data we capture within our employee engagement platform. The entire process took about five minutes.

Step One

I started by looking at our company dashboard to see the top receivers of recognition over the past several months. My hypothesis was that the most recognized employee over time was also a top performer. Based on a study conducted by San Francisco State University, my hypothesis is likely correct.

Here’s a screen capture of our employee engagement platform dashboard. It lists the top senders of recognition and top receivers. Note that Chris is the top receiver during the measured period.

Example Kazoo Employee Engagement Dashboard

Step Two

I then looked at Chris’ profile and activity over the same period to identify what skills and core values his peers “tagged” along with their recognition posts.

Example Core Values Tags Using Kazoo

When it came to core values, Chris was labeled the most for Leave it Better* and Eyes on the Prize*. In addition, Chris was tagged the most for skills like Teamwork, Collaboration, and Leadership.

*Core Value Leave it Better:
Compete and win as a team. Be bold and gutsy; look to do big things. Work harder and smarter than the next guy. Think like a boss. Act like you own it. Take risks. If you fail, own it, fix it, move on.

*Core Value Eyes on the Prize:
Strive to leave people, processes, and yourself better than you found them. Give time, help, and compassion to those in need. Go the extra 10 miles for the customer. The phrase “It’s not my job” doesn’t exist. Repeat this to yourself: Progress, not perfection.

Step Three

By sifting through some of the recognition posts sent to Chris over the past several months, we’re able to understand better the attitudes his peers have of him.

Example Recognition Post on Kazoo Employee Engagement Platform

Per the sample Kazoo recognition posts, keywords used to describe the sentiment towards Chris include:

  • Positive
  • Willing to adjust
  • Leadership
  • Patience
  • Listener
  • Feedback
  • Support
  • Impact

Step Four

By summarizing this data, we can define the behaviors that most likely lead to culture fit and above average performance.

An above average employee is frequently recognized by peers, has a positive attitude, is patient and flexible, works very well with others, is a calm-cool problem solver, and consistently exhibits leadership skills. This same employee displays behaviors aligned with two of our core values including Leave it Better and Eyes on the Prize. This connection suggests that (s)he is collaborative, takes calculated risks, works smart, and feels a sense of ownership. (S)he also shows compassion for fellow employees and customers and believes in progress over perfection.

Step Five

Once defined, we can use this information to identify creative ways to improve work performance for the entire company. Employees will rise to a higher standard as this ideal is communicated and reinforced while recruiting and onboarding new hires, within existing employee engagement initiatives, and as part of day-to-day performance management.

Whether you use Kazoo’s employee engagement platform or not, there are some basic steps you can take today to nudge more and more employees into the “exceeds expectations” performance evaluation category.

Here are 12 Creative Ways to Improve Work Performance

Focus on Culture:

  • Align company core values with above average behaviors
  • Communicate and incorporate these core values and expectations every day
  • Make sure your leaders also have these traits so that they can lead by example

Start Early During Recruiting/Onboarding:

  • Identify personality traits most likely to result in high performance and include them in job descriptions
  • Incorporate these traits within interview questions and during interviews
  • Set expectations for above averageness during new hire orientation with examples of what top performing employees do differently

Make It Part of Continuous Performance Management:

  • Measure all staff against above average behaviors and traits during annual performance reviews
  • Set individual performance goals to build on these traits
  • Provide access to soft-skills training for collaboration, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills development
  • Train leaders to provide frequent coaching and feedback to employees lacking the traits
  • Publicly recognize employees who exhibit these traits, so others understand what behaviors to model
  • Ask top performers to consider mentoring others

Curious about the magic that happens when your employees are fully engaged? Check out our data-driven guide with real-world examples and ROI data to back it up.

About Kazoo:
Kazoo is a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. By providing tools to connect, reward, reveal and report in real-time, Kazoo can consolidate employee engagement initiatives into one, easy-to-use mobile platform for teams of all sizes. Since launching in 2012, Kazoo has delivered its flexible software to small enterprises and Fortune 500 brands across several industries. Visit for more information or schedule a quick demo here.


(In this blog series, we share the stories of companies that have taken the first steps toward their employee development transformation. You can read our first post about Patagonia’s transition to real-time employee development and our second post about Adobe’s check-in culture.)

An employee development strategy that pulls triple duty

Goldman Sachs made headlines earlier this year when it announced that the company was revamping its employee review process for its 36,500 workers. The decision was largely based on feedback from employees. In a nutshell, the company plans to:

  • eliminate its nine-point employee rating system, and instead use a non-numerical scale to measure performance
  • change the purpose of its annual review to provide more direction as to how employees can improve vs. grading past performance
  • implement technology to carry out more frequent, continuous feedback initiatives
  • move review conversations up to take place during the summer, giving employees the opportunity to improve before bonuses and other workforce decisions are made at the end of the year

While all of these changes signal Goldman Sachs’ move to a more modern employee development approach, it also very smartly allows the company to achieve three benefits as a direct result of the new process.

  1. Keep younger workers happy.

Millennials crave feedback. One survey cited that 42% of Millennials want feedback at least once a week, more than twice as often as other generations. The traditional HR practices of Wall Street won’t cut it with the younger generations in today’s workforce. If you want to keep your most promising young talent, you’ll need to appeal to them with modern processes.

  1. Eliminate time-consuming review processes for managers.

Unless managers have diligently tracked employee achievements, issues and peer feedback throughout the year, it can be difficult to prepare a thoughtful review of an employee’s cumulative performance. Reducing the number of reviewers will lessen the time commitment, but even more helpful to the process will be having more frequent discussions to refer back to when preparing reviews.

  1. Promote a healthier culture.

Goldman Sachs has a famously competitive culture, not unlike other Wall Street banks. Using a numerical system to rank employees fueled a non-collaborative, “me first” environment. The company realized that an entire workforce of me-first employees created a negative and unstable company culture. Giving employees the right tools to both praise and coach each other along the way creates a more collaborative, engaged workforce.

You can read more about Goldman Sachs here:

Not every job allows Halloween costumes, of course. I’m not sure how comforted I’d be if my neurosurgeon arrived at the operating theater dressed as a “Juice Demon.” But many workplaces do allow and even enjoy a little fun around Halloween with a one-day pass to pretend to be someone else. Here are a few costume ideas that won’t get in the way of your job, and won’t freak out anyone who happens to visit the day you’re in costume.


A mouse or a cat is as simple as a tiny bit of face makeup for whiskers and a set of ears. Likewise, a bunny just needs ears and a cotton tail. Any animal with a recognizable nose, ears or tail would work. Best to leave the full head mask at home, however. And a reminder that wearing a gorilla suit all day tends to get… sweaty.

Fruit or Vegetables

There’s lots of opportunity for being creative here, including a fuzzy green hat and orange shirt/pants combo for a quick carrot costume (substitute red for a hot pepper). Or, try this creative take on a pineapple. Any veggie or fruit with color makes an easy win. There’s also the perennial favorite of the cheapo store-bought banana costume, which many people seem to have hidden in a drawer or closet at home. It’s probably best not to dress up like the old Fruit of the Loom guys, however, as they wore tights. Unless you work at a ballet company, tights are rarely appropriate for work.

Where’s Waldo

Who knew red and white stripes would be so popular? Yet this is a really popular costume, in part because all you need are big round glasses and the iconic shirt, plus a white toboggan with red stripe you can make with a little red tape. This has the added advantage of not looking like a costume if you take the hat and glasses off. The other advantage is people will be able to spot you in a crowd easily.

Pop/Rock Icons

Here’s a quick and easy costume: Sia. Just a wig and some black clothing. Or, dress up as 80’s era Bruce Springsteen, with jeans and a bandana. Another 80’s hit is Michael Jackson with the iconic glove and red leather jacket (if you can find one). However, there are plenty of pop icons that dress up so outlandishly as to be a problem at work. When Bjork wore what looked like a giant swan, or many of Lady Gaga’s most outrageous outfits could be unwieldy or downright dangerous when sitting at a desk! Other stars to consider: Janelle Monàe, Drake,, Beck, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison or early 60’s Beatles.

Just Add Cape

Want to be a vampire? Black lipstick and a cape! Want to be a superhero? Wear a bright blue shirt and add a red cape! There are also lots of t-shirts with superhero logos on them which are just begging to add a cape and presto, you’ve gone from casual Friday to easy costume day. Bonus: Wear a suit and “nerdy” glasses, but wear a Superman t-shirt underneath, then unbutton the dress shirt halfway through the day to show Clark Kent’s transformation while you work.

Classy Characters

Get inspired from some of the sartorial entertainment on TV or film by becoming Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, anyone from Mad Men, or Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, Olivia Pope from Scandal, anyone from Gossip Girl, agents from Men In Black and just about anyone with a distinctive look is fair game. All you need are a couple of extras, like an ID badge or costume jewelry to pull it off.

Science Fiction

OK, the full Alien Xenomorph costume is a bit much. But consider a jumpsuit and become Ripley from the Alien movies. A jumpsuit would also work for the cult hit Mystery Science Theater 3000. Or, try the smart-but-quirky costumes of everyone’s favorite Time Lord, Dr. Who. A mad scientist just needs big hair and a lab coat. For perhaps the cheapest, easiest costume in history, just strap on some antennae and go retro with My Favorite Martian — or pretend like you don’t even realize they are showing and be yourself. Because maybe you are from another planet!


Characters from the Harry Potter universe are not only recognizable, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with many sporting comfortable, quality outwear like cloaks and sweaters. Besides, this year’s Snape costume easily transforms into next year’s Robert Smith (The Cure) costume. There’s also the new Doctor Strange, who will no doubt be a big hit if the movie takes off. It’s a good idea to stay away from more elaborate wizards like Gandalf, as that wizard’s beard really starts to itch around 4pm.

About Kazoo:
Kazoo is a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. By providing tools to connect, reward, reveal and report in real-time, Kazoo can consolidate employee engagement initiatives into one, easy-to-use mobile platform for teams of all sizes. Since launching in 2012, Kazoo has delivered its flexible software to small enterprises and Fortune 500 brands across several industries. Visit for more information or schedule a quick demo here.


(In this blog series, we share the stories of companies that have taken the first steps toward their employee development transformation. You can read the first post in this series, on Patagonia, here.)

An employee review process that inspires people to do their best work

Adobe’s performance review process looked very similar to other organizations: Once a year, managers would assign an overall rating to each employee (high performer, strong performer, solid performer or low performer). All employees were then stack-ranked, with thresholds assigned for how many could fall into each bucket. High performers were rewarded while low performers were let go.

In some cases, managers had a great eye for talent and assembled a team of “high performers.” Unfortunately for those employees, the stack ranking system forces those managers to make decisions that don’t necessarily reflect how each individual performed.

It was as confusing as it sounds and even more time consuming, taking an estimated 80,000 hours each year. Managers were wasting time, employees were frustrated and voluntary attribution became a problem in the months following each year’s reviews.

Adobe solved for this in two ways. First, the company dropped both the ratings and the stack rankings. These traditional strategies are 50+ years old and didn’t fit the way a modern workforce operates. Second, the annual review was replaced with a more frequent process for giving and receiving feedback, which the company calls “check-ins.” The company shared its new approach in a blog interview with Donna Morris, its senior vice president of global people resources.

“Adobe’s new check-in culture revolves around clear expectations, frequent feedback — both positive and constructive — and no ratings or rankings. No more late nights for managers scrambling to write detailed reviews for the record, and no more competitive motives underlying teammate interactions. Different parts of the business can even determine when they should hold check-in conversations. For example, if engineering is on a schedule of eight-week development sprints, managers might decide to hold check-ins every eight weeks.”

While the check-ins aren’t on a formal schedule, they do all cover the same three components: expectations, feedback, and growth and development. Applying a structure around these check-ins allows Adobe to ensure managers are arming employees will all the information they need to be successful. Taken singularly, these components could mislead employees about their performance. Here’s why.

  1. Expectations

Adobe managers perform these employee check ins in the context of role expectations. Ensuring that these are known and understood helps employees prioritize their responsibilities and understand where they can make a difference on their teams. *This step creates a starting point for feedback and growth conversations. Discussing expectations alone will help employees understand their job responsibilities, but it would help them course-correct or grow into a more strategic role.*

  1. Feedback

Feedback is critical for so many reasons, but perhaps most of all, feedback of any kind shows employees that their work matters. According to one article, 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were being better recognized. A feedback culture allows managers to ensure high performers that they are valued while helping lower performers learn how to improve. That said, feedback provided outside the context of the expectations can be seen as subjective. *To keep these check ins productive and positive, managers must be able to tie all feedback to job expectations. And while feedback is important to today, it won’t help them get to where they want to be in the future.*

  1. Growth and development

Once expectations are set and feedback is provided, managers have the opportunity to help employees not just right their wrongs, but perform beyond the job description. Exceptional performance isn’t about checking off the boxes, it’s about finding new ways to drive additional value to your work. For employees who see a future with an employer, these coaching sessions are critical to helping establish and course-correct up the career path to their dream roles. *These conversations simply aren’t possible without first establishing current expectations and then perfecting work via regular feedback.*

Adobe has seen tremendous results from changing its employee development strategy including:

  • Less employees are leaving the company – resignations have dropped 30% and involuntary departures have decreased by 50%.
  • From an efficiency standpoint, Adobe has returned most of those 80,000 hours to managers, previously spent on preparing ratings and rankings.
  • Employees are happy. The number of Adobe employees who would recommend the company as an employer has increased 10%.

“The check-ins are a 180[-degree turn] in terms of giving people the material they need to improve their performance and change course,” Morris said. “It completely changes how employees feel about their jobs and opportunities. Feedback is now viewed as a gift.”

You can read more about Adobe here:

High performing employees are self-starters, always looking for a new challenge, and tend to be more upbeat. But what about employee engagement? A study from 2013 shows that in 42% of companies the best employees are the least engaged. Losing engagement in your highest performing employees could lead to losing your best people.

Luckily we’ve got some tips for re-engaging anyone who is doing a great job but maybe isn’t “feeling it” at the office. No matter what, it’s important to keep communicating and recognizing great work when you see it.

Involve Leadership and Offer Mentoring

High-performing employees are likely on track to become tomorrow’s executives, so now is a perfect time to engage them with mentoring from the leadership team. This provides clarity into the work of the company and grooms them for more responsibility later on. A mentor can provide guidance that helps high performers succeed in their careers. This will ensure top talent is engaged and performing well as they strive to meet new goals and challenges.

Keep Them Learning

The best employees are always seeking new opportunities to learn, so consider cross-training them. This gives them new skills and prepares them for further leadership opportunities. Or, have them perform a personal SWOT analysis to better understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Show Them They Are Valued

While high performing workers often have an internal locus of control, it’s still important to provide positive feedback on a regular basis so they know their work is valued. This shouldn’t just be management thanking them for doing a great job, ideally co-workers should be enabled to give praise as well. Consider a platform that enables peer-to-peer recognition for the maximum results. When an employee sees a contribution to the company is valued, that employee feels valued as well.

Offer Opportunities for Advancement or Growth

One reason these employees excel is that they’re smart, active and curious and they are always looking for something new and interesting to do. Satisfy that need by providing them with a constant stream of interesting assignments and projects. Even if the organization doesn’t have room yet for upward mobility, creating new challenges for employees keeps them engaged and helps them expand their skillset while providing potentially new opportunities for the company. Top companies like Google and Apple know that these people want to be constantly challenged to be better, and that’s why they are allowed to try new things. Whether they can be promoted or not, consider projects as experiments or try special assignments, and set your best people loose on the toughest challenges facing the business.

Identify Future Goals

Related to advancement, ask employees what they want. Ask questions such as: “What do you want to be known for?” or “What matters most to you?” This will give them a chance to reflect on their career path and how this current role and next performance frontier fit in. Also, consider how their personal goals line up with the core values of the company. This is a lot easier when you’re able to consistently demonstrate core values with real-time feedback. Again, a platform that recognizes achievement and emphasizes how achievements align with core values makes this easier.

Provide Visibility Into the Future

Many high performers want to know the company will still be around in a few years, and they want to know that the entire company is working hard to succeed. Sitting in on executive meetings can help (see mentoring above), as can providing a clear path to future growth. Think about the best ways to increase company-wide communications, with a focus on sharing successes and providing real-time positive feedback to keep engagement high while sharing a positive view of the future of the company.

One recurring theme is communication. Don’t take high performers for granted, thinking they’re doing just fine on their own. Don’t think that just because they are going a great job that they see how their work is contributing to the company’s larger goals. Consider the advice of Jamie Harris, Senior Consultant and Board Member at Interaction Associates and author of Harvard Business School Press’s Pocket Mentor book Giving Feedback, who says “The higher the performer, the more frequently you should be providing feedback.” Don’t wait for the annual review to give this feedback! Praise early and often, and be specific. This way the individual feels appreciated for doing great work.

Finally, think about how you currently give feedback and how the company communicates throughout the organization. Ensure that this is being effective at motivating everyone, from the lower-performing employees who need encouragement to the highest-performing employees who need more challenges.

About Kazoo:
Kazoo is a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. By providing tools to connect, reward, reveal and report in real-time, Kazoo can consolidate employee engagement initiatives into one, easy-to-use mobile platform for teams of all sizes. Since launching in 2012, Kazoo has delivered its flexible software to small enterprises and Fortune 500 brands across several industries. Visit for more information or schedule a quick demo here.

I remember my first Swiss Army Knife. I was amazed that so many useful things could be packed into a little pocket device — a screwdriver, awl, toothpick, tweezers and scissors plus a pretty great knife. Later I got a Leatherman, a finely crafted multi-tool that has survived more drops to the ground than an Army recruit in basic training. Going higher-tech, think about all the individual tools your smartphone replaced: a music player, a GPS, a flashlight, a PDA, and many more.

Today HR systems are often fragmented. You may have a system for tracking wellness, one for rewards, one for performance, and at the end of the year you do the requisite annual review by pulling together a dozen dashboards. Do they all coordinate? Do they show managers a top-level view of progress?

Most tools are created for a single purpose. Let’s be honest, you’re not going to build a house using a Swiss Army knife. That’s why you need a combination of robust tools with a platform to connect them all together. In software, it’s possible to connect data in ways that give true insight to managers. A platform is foundational and solution-based. It should tie tools together. It should also evolve as the need arises to collaborate across the organization.

Features you want to look for in a platform:

  • Collaboration and Workflow: Is it easy to use? Is it easy to share? No one operates in a vacuum, so transparency across the organization is critical.
  • Engagement: Are able to coordinate, track, and measure from within the platform? Jumping around to disparate systems wastes a lot of time and can hide key insights from managers as they try to connect the dots.
  • Scalability: Does your system grow with you? And ideal platform not only scales with your company, but encourages cohesion in times of change. It could be a merger, acquisition or just expansion within. Either way, the best platform enables cross-team communication and solidifies intent by connecting groups as they expand.
  • Provider Stability: how the platform will deliver on long term solutions and/or if the provider will require resources from your organization to upgrade. Look for a platform with integration specialists at the ready to ease the process of implementation. Things like single sign-on greatly increase the effectiveness of organizational tools.

Now your head may be swimming with worry! Never fear, we’re here to help you sort out the tangled web of HR tech that’s out there. If you’re looking for a way to connect, communicate, and reinforce behaviors aligned with multiple engagement initiatives, but you don’t know where to start sifting through the choices, check out our Field Guide to HR Tech here or schedule a demo to see how Kazoo’s platform can help you increase retention, unify culture, boost engagement and redefine recognition.

Kazoo and Virgin Pulse Field Guide to HR Technology and Employee Engagement

Download here!

About Kazoo:
Kazoo is a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. By providing tools to connect, reward, reveal and report in real-time, Kazoo can consolidate employee engagement initiatives into one, easy-to-use mobile platform for teams of all sizes. Since launching in 2012, Kazoo has delivered its flexible software to small enterprises and Fortune 500 brands across several industries. Visit for more information or schedule a quick demo here.

Think about the last time you bought a car. Did you do any research to see how other consumers feel about the vehicle? Did you read reviews of the pros and cons of purchasing it? What about choosing a physician? Did you read online reviews of the doctor to gain a better understanding of their performance? With today’s proliferation of information online, consumers are used to accumulating feedback before making a decision. The workplace shouldn’t be any different. Employees need frequent feedback and opportunities to regularly solicit opinions in order to make the most important decisions regarding their work and performance.


It is human nature to want to know how others feel about something, good or bad. And it’s no different when it comes to the workplace. Employees want to know how others perceive them, whether related to performance, a project or working with team members. They want feedback. In fact, according to a February 2106 survey conducted by PwC, 60% of employees reported wanting feedback on a daily or weekly basis.

Unfortunately many organizations do not have a process or solution in place that allows their employees to seek feedback in real-time. As a result, they are forced to rely on one annual review summarizing an entire year. Yet, 77% of HR execs believe annual performance reviews aren’t an accurate representation of employee performance. Too often it feels forced and fails to address the majority of noteworthy accomplishments. Instead, it tends to focus on ratings or overall job success and typically only includes thoughts from a manager, not an entire team or co-workers. Rarely are peers and coworkers empowered to share their insights even though they are often working together on projects and daily work.


More frequent communication and input from others helps employees stay engaged and increases workplace satisfaction. For example, Gallup cites that employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not. Checking in with employees allows more focused conversations to address any current or potential issues and to better understand how your team is feeling.

Managers can use these opportunities to share both positive and negative feedback. Consider that employees who better understand their strengths tend to be better performers. In one study of nearly 66,000 employees, those who received strengths feedback had turnover rates that were 14.9% lower than for employees who received no feedback. Keep in mind that managers also need input. The same study examined 530 work units with productivity data and found that teams with managers who received strengths feedback showed 12.5% greater productivity than teams with managers who received no feedback.

To address these needs, Kazoo recently launched the next generation of its Check-In and Feedback products to empower employees to take ownership of their career development by initiating conversations with supervisors and soliciting feedback from peers, leading to more frequent, quality conversations. Learn how your organization can leverage Kazoo to boost performance, increase workplace satisfaction and reduce turnover.

It was a whirlwind week at HR Tech October 4-6 here in Chicago. We had the opportunity to attend sessions, hear about the trends affecting the HR space and connect with attendees. Here’s what we learned:

Competition is Tight to be the Next Big Thing

The conference kicked off Tuesday afternoon with the “Next Great HR Tech Company” session featuring eight up-and-coming startups. The format was similar to NBC’s “The Voice,” with each company working with a coach during the competition. Madeline Laurano served as our coach with Jason Averbook and Steve Boese hosting the session. While we didn’t win the audience majority vote, Kazoo fared well and got some positive feedback after voting ended. You can learn more about the session and results here.

Customer Stories Resonate

Patagonia is in the midst of undergoing a performance management transformation. While it considered itself a progressive and unconventional company, its performance processes were the opposite. To give attendees a real life perspective, Carly Huey of Patagonia appeared on stage during the Next Great HR Tech Company session with our Chief Engagement Officer, Andee Harris, to discuss performance development and uncovering new talent insights. We learned that customer stories resonate the most. Here’s where you can learn more from our customers on how they’re modernizing their approaches to performance development and employee engagement.

Puppies Always Win

We worked with local rescues Magnificent Mutts, the Anti-Cruelty Society and Animal House Shelter to bring puppies to our booth. Needless to say, the puppies were a big hit and gave us the opportunity to share more about what we do. (Check out the gallery here to see the puppies doing their thing in our booth.) All the puppies were up for adoption and in fact, 11 out of the 14 HR Tech puppies have found new homes!

With HR Tech 2016 successfully in the books, we’re looking forward to staying connected with everyone we met. If you’re not already, please follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. See you next year in Vegas!



Businesses have changed dramatically since the 1960s, and so have many traditional HR practices that were established during that era. Ongoing performance management has replaced the cumbersome annual review process. Real-time employee development, agile goals, continuous coaching and feedback, and social collaboration are the “new normal.” They embrace the best of how business environments operate today, with multiple generations in the workforce, a reliance on technology and a focus on building an authentic culture.

The first companies to adopt the notion of real-time performance reviews were those that were using other agile methods, such as within product development, at their organizations. Adobe, followed by other tech firms like Dell and Microsoft, killed the annual review in 2011, and by 2015 Deloitte reported that 88% of companies planned to revamp their performance management processes.

So, today is the start of a new series here on the blog. Over the next several weeks, we’ll put a face to the name, so to speak, of the companies that have taken the first steps toward their employee development transformation. These are their stories.

An unconventional company takes a conventional approach

Before undergoing its transformation, Patagonia was using an HR tool that just simply digitized the paper and file system made popular in the Industrial era. The tool was still based on the same old HR process, with employee data captured and stored via technology rather than within file cabinets. Unfortunately, both the process and the philosophy on which it was based were dated and created little value.

Patagonia’s existing performance management tool was cumbersome and difficult to use without extensive training. The administrative burden was significant, especially when it came time for the annual goal-setting and review process. Users often logged in only twice a year: once merely to recover their user ID and again when it was time to discuss their goals. It was a very traditional, hierarchal approach to performance reviews that was slow, arduous and not aligned with Patagonia’s celebrated culture of being unconventional.

Using business values as a guide to performance management

Patagonia’s starting point was truly at the very top. It wanted a new process that reflected who they were as a company and the values most important to its employees. For Patagonia, these values were transparency, collaboration and improvement.

Whether it’s around the down used in a jacket or the type of labor used in its factories, the company is committed to being transparent around its products and services. It was important that its performance development process have a very high degree of transparency around the goals set across the organization. Next, the new approach must be highly collaborative, allowing employees to work together toward goals and help each other find new ways to reach them. Lastly, they need its system to help employees get better individually and as team members. At the end of the day, performance development, to Patagonia, was about improving its employees, not checking boxes and assigning scores.

From these values, Patagonia established a new mission for performance development – to improve employee performance through effective goal setting that leveraged the crowd.


Establishing a clear path

To achieve this mission, Patagonia created a list of goals. To re-invent its performance management process, the company would need to:

  • Realize its data potential. The company wanted its new approach to take data to the next level. What can the platform uncover from the conversations, recognition and activities being captured? This would arm HR with data that allows them to ask more relevant questions and drill down into performance-related metrics.
  • Democratize performance. Patagonia wanted its employees to have a real-time view of their performance, and not wait for a long, subjective annual review that looked backward, covering issues out of context and oftentimes beyond repair. It wanted its employees to have access to personal performance data at all times.
  • Incorporate social. Patagonia aimed to reduce personal and manager bias by enabling the power of the crowd. With multiple data points based on a series of relationships –whether from peers, managers or even customers – managers would see a more balanced picture of performance.
  • Be intuitive. Patagonia needed a tool that had a clean, intuitive design that could be used without training. After all, if no one was using the tool, there would be no data or activity to manage and measure. They realized that bells and whistles, if not directed tied to improving employees, were nothing more than a distraction.

Introducing COMPASS, powered by Kazoo

COMPASS is Patagonia employees’ personal device for improved performance every day. It leverages the science of objectives and key results to help employees set goals, promotes a growth mindset by treating development as a regenerative process and leverages the power of the crowd through an easy-to-use interface.

You can read more about Patagonia here: Fortune article: How Patagonia Keeps Employee Turnover ‘Freakishly Low’