HRExaminer Radio

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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Rajeev Behera
Episode: 104
Air Date: July 24, 2015



Audio MP3


Rajeev is the Founding CEO of Reflektive. Reflektive is modernizing performance management by simplifying it and making it more real-time, so employees get feedback on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Reflektive is funded by Lars Dalgaard, of Andreessen Horowitz, who previously founded SuccessFactors. Rajeev built Reflektive after spending the last 4 years of his career at Disney Interactive, where he ran an 80 person mobile application development studio, building highly engaging Disney games. During his time at Disney, he developed two of Disney’s top 10 grossing mobile applications. Prior to building mobile applications at Disney, Rajeev worked at various startups running demand generation and marketing teams.


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Begin transcript

John Sumser:            Good morning and welcome to the HR Examiner radio show. I’m your host, John Susmer. It’s nice to have you on board again. We’re coming to you live from beautiful downtown Occidental, California. We’re between the rose seasons, but the marine layer has come in over the mountains and settled in the valleys, so we’re bathed in a lovely fog this morning.

Today, we’re going to be talking with Rajeev Behera, who is the founding CEO of a company called Reflektive. Reflektive is one of the major companies in the initiative to rethink the way that performance management conversations and processes work. They’re funded by Andreessen Horowitz and real names in Silicon Valley. There’s a lot of reason to believe that Rajeev and his company are going to be the next thing in performance management. How are you, Rajeev?

Rajeev Behera:         I’m doing very well. Thanks so much for having me, I’m excited to be here.

John Sumser:            It’s great to have, it’s really great to have you. You’re running a company that does performance management, how did you get there?

Rajeev Behera:         Great question. That was actually a funny story, before I started this company, I worked at Disney. We went through a performance management process. It was really interesting cause my manager wrote his review of me and he released it to me, without any warning, without sitting down with me. I was waiting for my next one-on-one with him, to ask him, “Hey, can you go over the review and talk through some things with me? There’s some things I didn’t understand, some things I did understand.” He said, “okay, that’s fine.”

Our next one-on-one rolls around, he starts talking about a lot of other things and keeps piling things on until that hour’s over and we don’t have time to talk about it. I say, “Well, we didn’t get to talk about the review, maybe we can do it next time.” He’s like, “Yeah, definitely. Let’s definitely touch on it next time.” In my next one-on-one meeting, the exact same thing happens, he completely avoided the conversation about the review. That happened, probably two or three more times, until I decided to email him and ask for separate meetings specifically to talk about the review. We finally had that meeting, and in that meeting he actually did the exact same thing. He starting talking about everything else and skipped the review.

It was actually really, really funny and it really drove home the fact that, why are people so fearful about the process? It’s something that managers don’t feel equipped for, and I thought that was a funny story. It doesn’t actually explain how I got here, but just wanted to talk about why I started even thinking about performance management and why it needs to change a little bit. My boss previously just had troubles talking me through things.

Here’s how I actually got here. Whoever thinks, when they’re growing up, that they want to revamp the performance management process? Not many people. When I was a kid I probably wanted to be an archaeologist and build the next Jurassic Park, but now I’m building HR stuff, which is quite a turn. I’ve always wanted to start a company and because of that I’ve designed my career around doing many different things. I’ve worked at a finance company, marketing companies, e-commerce, gaming. Really what got me into, besides my experience with my last manager, was the fact that at my last job I was building mobile games for Disney and when I was doing so I had an 80 person group and I realized my middle managers didn’t spend enough time managing their employees. They would task manage, but they wouldn’t really people manage, that was a big problem, as everyone listening to the show probably agrees to.

It’s so important to spend time with your employees to develop them and make them feel empowered so that they can do well in their job, creates a better culture, everybody is going to perform a lot better. When I thought about really what made a good manager, a big part of that was giving your employees a lot more feedback. When you give someone feedback, they really feel like they’re important, and when they feel like they’re important, they’re going to contribute a lot more. Really, that’s where the genesis came from, I wanted to make something very simple, very easy to use, that could really help with developing these relationships between managers and employees for more feedback.

John Sumser:            The things about the performance management conversations that are just hard, there’s some interesting work looking at how well people do at appraising themselves. If you imagine that we’re talking about how do people rank themselves on the scale of one to five say, five being the top. The five’s tend to think of themselves as three’s and want feedback. It’s often the case that the two’s and three’s think of themselves as four’s and five’s, and are not actually interested in feedback that contradicts that.

If you are a supervisor and you have people who have some misalignment between their self-assessment and the organization’s assessment of their work, you get this very dicey human relations intersection, where you have to deliver information that contradicts the employees view of themselves. I think that’s a lot of why people hide from the conversation. Do you have ideas about how to make that easier?

Rajeev Behera:         Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s a really hard question. It’s a hard thing to scale even if you have an answer for it.

John Sumser:            Right.

Rajeev Behera:         In general, the way I think about it is it’s really about those relationships between managers and their employees and how it’s built, and the culture around feedback. What do I mean by that? In general, when I mange people I give them a ton of feedback, a lot of positive, a lot of constructive, constantly. Even the five’s, the five’s get a ton of feedback as well. The five’s get a ton of feedback because I want them to be promoted to the next level, so I stress that.

When people get a ton of constructive feedback and a ton of positive feedback, as long as they know that you think they’re great, then you can give them tons of constructive feedback and they’ll be excited by it. They just know that you’re looking out for them and trying to get them to get to the next level in their career. Really, I feel like when you do have a transparent relationship, which happens when you give people a lot of feedback.

If you don’t give someone feedback often, then the first time you give them constructive feedback, let’s say someone joins and you don’t give them constructive feedback for six months, they’re going to think that’s a big conversation and they’re going to think there’s a big problem. First is, hey every week you give someone some constructive feedback, it becomes normal and part of the routine. It creates a level of transparency which makes it easier so that you’re not as worried telling them what’s working, what’s not working.

I see the other side of the coin where if you’re not comfortable doing that, you don’t want to have that difficult conversation if you haven’t given them frequent feedback. Then you have to sit down with them, that’s a really uncomfortable conversation, that most people aren’t even prepared for. Even if you train people, it’s going to be such a dynamic conversation, it’s probably a hard thing to train on, in general.

John Sumser:            That’s true, that’s right. This is a really fertile area, I’m really glad that you’re tackling this stuff. I know that for me, my equation in relationships that have to with producing value is, I can tell you trust me by the degree to which we don’t interact. There’s some sort of minimum threshold.

What I’m interested in, my relationships for work, is figuring out where autonomy is and getting to that place as quickly as possible. I don’t think I’m like everybody, but I do think that  there’s a certain group of us who believe that constant feedback is micro-management. That Micro-management is the single, best way to ensure that I don’t do my job.

I think the challenge of being a supervisor is very interesting, because some people really do well with a constant stream of feedback. Some people really do well with just surgical precision devastating feedback, some people don’t want it at all and just want to know where the boundaries are so that when they skate past the boundaries, they can get back on the rig. Figuring out what the right style is for this conversation with each employee, I think maybe the hardest part of being an authentic supervisor.

Rajeev Behera:         I definitely agree and you’re touching on micro-management versus a lot of feedback. I think it depends on what level the person is, as well as how you frame things. For example, someone has less than five years of experience, they’re still learning tactically, how to do things. You can be seen as micro-managing if you don’t have the right tone or you don’t really address it correctly. If you ask things as question instead of, “Hey, this is how you should do it”, then they kind of come to their own conclusion and “Oh, yeah. That makes sense.” Half of it they think it’s their idea, but really that’s how they develop. They get that you’re getting at something whenever you’re asking a question, but I think some of it’s just a tact around doing it.

As you said, with higher level employees, it’s a lot harder. You can’t prescriptive, you have to be a lot less prescriptive, you just have to, you almost have to be a little more vague and let them come to their conclusion about it. Then eventually, they’re smart, they’ve been in business for a while, they know what you’re doing, as long as it doesn’t happen too often.

That brings me to the next point, who do you give it to? The high performers, the medium performers, the low performers? If you’re in the middle of the pack, and you don’t want feedback, maybe you’re just never going to change anyway, so then maybe it’s not even worth it to give those people feedback. It just depends, maybe the people who are more ambitious regarding their careers, they’re the ones who want it more. You just have to feel each person out and see if they’re responding to it.

John Sumser:            I think the degree to which the first level supervisors job is singularly challenging, it’s often not talked about and that’s what we’re really getting at here. How do align people’s behavior and performance so that the organization’s objectives are met, particularly in environments were these objectives change fairly rapidly?

A lot of this model of who’s the supervisor and who’s not the supervisor, assumes in some ways that the supervisor has superior technical knowledge. That may or may not be true. If you don’t have superior, if your employee knows more about the subject of his or her job than you do, how do you give performance feedback? I think that’s an interesting sub question. There’s a lot of chatter about performance management being broken. Do you think it’s broken across the board? Or is this an evolutionary thing that we’re seeing?

Rajeev Behera:         Well, that’s a great question. If you ask HR executives, a lot of them are very dissatisfied with their review process. If you ask a lot of employees, they full-out, just really, they really dislike it. It causes emotions of fear and defensiveness and things like that. At some places, I’m sure at some places it works, it’s hard to say, like a statement about anything in general. I think if you’re trying to … When I think about what makes a good performance management system, what do people need to get out of it? They need feedback so they can develop. The good thing about having a review process is hopefully you bubble out of the day-to-day and talk about your career path with your employees. It’s also good to know, for companies, who’s under performing, people use it as an input for calibration.

A lot of these things are just not accurate with the current review system, in general. If you give feedback once a year, how do you develop? In general, I used to give feedback, if you’re talking about an issue or an area of improvement, pretty constantly, to help somebody actually first, believe it’s happening, then second, start working on it. The career path discussions may or may not be happening, so that’s one good thing that could be potentially happening still, with the current system. When you think about who’s under performing and input for the salary discussions, in general, the current performance management process is pretty inaccurate.

When you think about ratings and you read studies, Deloitte put out some numbers, around 50 percent of a ratings score from a performance review is  inaccurate because it’s based off the rater and what the rater thinks, and the selected information the raters uses when they’re evaluating the person, rather than logical performance. That kind of throws off the whole process if you think about it. You’re spending so much time on performance management, it costs millions of dollars. If you think about how much time it’s taking and how many expensive executives, expensive employees are spending time on this, then the end result is a rating that’s not accurate, then you can say, “Well overall, there’s probably a big problem.”

John Sumser:            That’s an interesting construct, the construct that you just said is that the supervisor who rates her employees performance, is libel, probably some word like that, inaccurate. That seems like bullshit to me. Who would know better than the first level supervisor and where is this data that you can actually substantiate the fact that the supervisors perception is off? That’s seems wildly … If that’s true, then the entire discipline of being a first line supervisor is in trouble. If you can’t trust the judgement of the rater, and you’re going to come up with some other source of data, other than the tactical leaders view of what’s happening on the ground. Wow. That’s quite an indictment, it’s way bigger than performance management.

Rajeev Behera:         Well, it’s not, it’s not even critique of the manager, it’s more of a critique of the system, where, in general, people are just human. It’s hard to have a holistic view of any employee. First off, you need a 360 view of how they work with everybody else. You don’t know everything that’s happened and you don’t remember what’s happened. People are just, they’re people, some people are different than others. Some people will think the person rated, did a great job, then another manager might think, oh, that person didn’t do a good job even though they did the exact same thing. There’s different ledges of how people view what’s important in their job, what’s less important and their defense. No one’s going to rate the same person the same way. That’s just natural, it’s inherent. It’s one of those problems that’s going to be hard to find a solution for, in general.

Unless you have a great calibration process and you have people who sit down with each manager and help them level the playing field. I feel like people are just different and they’ll view things differently and they’ll learn everything differently. If you give an employee 100 things over the last year, how many things do you actually remember when their year comes [inaudible 19:01], maybe five or six, maybe ten. You don’t remember all 100 and you probably are going to be weighing the more recent stuff, more than the stuff that happened a year ago. It’s just a hard problem to solve, where you don’t have the data points as a manager, or you don’t remember the data points. Especially if you have five or six direct reports, how are you going to remember those 600 data points? It’s a tough hat.

John Sumser:            That’s great, that’s great. You run a company that has a solution. What’s the solution and how does Reflektive answer the [inaudible 19:39]?

Rajeev Behera:         That’s a great question. It’s an evolving process, as we said before. This is something that’s very difficult, that everyone’s trying to figure out, and we’re trying to get people a little closer. I kind of think of it as there’s an old paradigm of just annual reviews, which is the process I just spoke about where you give feedback once a year, and it’s hard to remember what’s happened over the last year. Then you have the new paradigm of certain companies trying to move to more real time feedback, with more lightweight check ins throughout the year. Basically more bite size, smaller versions of reviews, plus organic, real time feedback.

Really the goal of doing that is if you do have to have a annual review process or some type of overall score or something like that for a rating, at least now you have all these data points that are documented throughout the year to help you remember, it gets you closer. Like I was saying before if 100 happened, you remember 10, now at least you have 50 documented, which gets you a lot closer, a lot more accurate. It just makes the process better for a rating.

Outside of ratings, and ratings is a topic by itself. Even outside of ratings, I just believe real time feedback’s really important because in order to develop, you really just need more feedback. You need to know what you’re not doing well on, you don’t want to [inaudible 21:12] the end of the year, you want to improve throughout the year so you’re ready for a promotion after the new year, or getting closer to that in time.

Really what Reflektive does is we built a platform that makes it really easy for more real time feedback with technology and light weight check ins. We did it in a way where we realized, if people are going to try an do it from annual reviews to this new system of real time feedback and check ins, it’s going to be a change management process. We ended up building out both. That way companies can start with an annual review, and then later add in real time feedback, start layering in check ins. When they feel comfortable, if it makes sense and the process works for them, then they could potentially migrate over. Basically the goal is trying to get, if people give more feedback through my system and employees get more feedback, then I’m excited. I think that’s a big win.

John Sumser:            Cool. I get how this might work in a hierarchical environment where I work for a single boss, but I think if it’s not the case that most people work in complex project environments, it’s rapidly becoming the case that most people work in complex project environments with multiple bosses, on multiple chores. How do you make the performance conversation extend when you’re in matrix organizations?

Rajeev Behera:         That’s a great question and the answer’s even more complex. I think that, in general, you need … Taking the check in system or some type of system of giving someone feedback, whether it be a review or real time feedback, it has to be more 360 from everybody that person works with. In some cases the direct manager barely works with an employee, the employee works mostly with other people and other indirect mangers and peers and whatnot. In that system, there’s less accountability over tracking performance and giving that person one-on-ones and sitting down with them and developing them. In that case, really building a system around more peer-to-peer feedback can be vital. That just helps people understand when they’re doing things well. It’s harder to get constructive peer-to-peer feedback just in general, cause people aren’t comfortable doing it.

As the non-ideal solution, but probably the best solution I can think of is real time peer-to-peer feedback, that’s organic. That allows employees to at least know when they’re doing something well. A lot of times, a lot of people creating new processes, creating new meetings to address different issues, sometimes that could be moving the company forward and sometimes it’s moving the company backwards. You have no idea, you hope it’s moving you forward. It’s great to get peer feedback and know if something you’re doing is making an impact on you and your team. Really I think, real time peer-to-peer feedback is probably one of the better ways of going about it.

John Sumser:            That’s interesting. One of the things that I know about complex project environments is, I always was the perfect employee, that’s why I’ve taken to working for myself and being an entrepreneur so quickly. When I was a member of a variety of project teams, there were project leaders who coaxed great performance out of me, and there were project leaders for whom I was a non-performer. I’ve never heard of a performance management approach that allows for the possibility that I’m a five in one area and a zero in another area, in the same job at the same time. Do you see that kind of dissonance in feedback when you get Reflektive up and running in a complex matrix environment?

Rajeev Behera:         That’s a great question. In general, those cases don’t happen too often. That’s actually one of the reasons why I really like 360 feedback and I like when people use our 360 review product or a check in product as well. Generally, certain things change where you don’t see huge distributions of scores for certain people, as much, which is pretty great. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that if a peer is comfortable talking about an issue, with another peer, even if it’s anonymous, even when it’s anonymous they’re not comfortable talking about a lot of things, it’s probably a pretty big issue. If it’s a pretty big issue, a lot of times other people have seen it.

Interesting question. In general, [inaudible 26:37] there’s no perfect answer and that usually it’s pretty messy, but what I’ve seen so far, in general, if there is a big issue and people are willing to talk about it, it’s somewhat consistent. Which I think is why 360s are pretty awesome. As people, we tend not to believe negative things about ourselves, but if we hear it from five or six different people, then that’s going to make us really think about it a little bit more.

John Sumser:            That’s interesting. We have blown through our allotted time. What should I have asked you in this conversation?

Rajeev Behera:         One thing that people talk to me about is what should HR do to elevate themselves and how do you enact a bigger change on something so ingrained and intense as performance management? My answer for that is, what we want to try and do is start small. The idea of just blowing up performance management, it’s a big scary thing. You don’t know what the new process will be, you know there’ll be a bunch of ‘gotchas’ on the other side of it. It’s scary for people to move over to a process with more real time feedback and check ins and whatnot.

I would say, start small, pick a small group of people who are willing to try something new and then try it. Iterate on it with that one group. Then expand that group once you fell like ti’s working. Then when you’re ready, deploy it to everybody. One thing I did notice is, when you do find that group, that group will be really excited to participate. You’re going to tell them that they’re not going to be doing their annual review anymore. That’s the way to start and I think as soon as more companies start doing it, people will get more comfortable with it. Baby steps is definitely the way to go.

John Sumser:            That’s great. Please reintroduce yourself to the audience and let the listeners know how to get ahold of you.

Rajeev Behera:         Definitely. Again, I’m Rajeev Behera, I’m the founding CEO of Reflektive, which is a real time feedback and performance management system. To get in touch, please visit our website, our website is and that’s reflektive with a K instead of a C, Feel free to just contact us from there, or you can just contact me directly at Rbehera, Thank you so much for taking the time and I really enjoyed being o the program today. I really appreciate it, John.

John Sumser:            Thanks, Rajeev. It was a lot of fun and we’ve got another pile of insight going into this great question about performance management. We’ve been talking, thanks for being here. We’ve been talking with Rajeev Behera who is the founding CEO of Reflektive. You can find him easily on the net, Reflektive is R-E-F-L-E-K-T-I-V-E, and they’re a new school performance management shop, building software in San Francisco. Thanks everybody for listening. Over the last half hour the sun has popped out of the fog in Occidental and we’re headed in towards a beautiful weekend. Hope it’s the same where you are. Talk to you next week.

End transcript

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