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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Viktor Mirovic, Owner, Chief Financial Officer at KeenCorp
Episode: 353
Air Date: February 14, 2020




Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

John Sumser 0:13
Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. I’m your host, John Sumser. And today we’re going to be talking with Viktor Mirovic, who is the CEO and founder of KeenCorp. Fascinating company. Victor, how are you?

Viktor Mirovic 0:29
I’m great, john. Thanks for having me on the show.

John Sumser 0:31
Oh, you’re welcome. You’re welcome. So why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself? Tell people you are how you ended up in this position?

Viktor Mirovic 0:39
Well, okay. It’s always an open question. But I am 48 years old, my father to a young boy and a girl. So I’m proud of that and business wise have been always fascinated by numbers. So I started my career in private equity and really spend way too much time doing financial models, only to found that there was no truth in there. And I realized because We spend, you know, especially in the early years of an analyst spend too much time in data rooms that whenever we invested in a company that was somehow service driven, or had to leverage brainpower that there was very little information I could find in the balance sheet that we were trying to analyze. So I was wondering, back in those days when it was possible to, to get a number on people, and of course, there was payroll information and pension stuff, but there was never any pulse on how really they dsst people are doing. And when I was venturing out on myself, I found the group and we started having conversations, whether it’s possible to actually measure what really is the driver of winning teams. And I think today, this is called neuroscience, behavioral science. I didn’t know that at that time. So I think with kinko, we have found a tool that actually helps leadership to become more effective in a different way than today. It’s been available in the marketplace. So this is really what drives me and I find that we’re in a total blue I guess I think the world is just waking up to the potential. Well, so what you’ve said sounds a lot like a lot of Voodoo that I’ve heard about over time, but you do it, you do a digital version of this analysis rather than, you know, most of the stuff that talks about helping companies figure out how to be better leaders featuring a mystical moo shu who’s got five basic principles, you know, well, right. And that’s not what you’re talking about. And all you have a hyper analytical approach. So tell us a little bit about what the company actually guts. Okay, I understand that you’re, you’re thinking that and you’re saying this, by the way, so if we try to really explain kinkle in a miniature way, I can only use three words, its language, behavior, and results. So I think psychologists are a long time ago explained that language is a great predictor of behavior. I can carry on for that for hours, but I will not Do that, because I’m going to spoil your show. But behavior is a driver of results. I think everybody buys into that. The part that was not clear is that language actually is a predictor of behavior. And if you start to monitor language on a daily basis, in such a way that you can protect privacy, because that’s fundamental to the conversation, it becomes a much more effective way to capture data on your basic brain power process than any other survey can offer you. So what our company does is we’ve got explain it like a spam filter that we place on the company’s communication pipes. And we render a signal from that digital exhaust, if you will, can email receipt or chat or, or slack and we translate that back into a number. So you get a daily number, just like Google Analytics gives you a number on your traffic on your websites that you can feed back into your business intelligence systems. And you can start having a conversation about your people just like you talk about your cash flow or your sales. So it becomes a very normal kind of coming Ponant that you can connect to your people when and where it matters, does that make any sense?

John Sumser 4:04
Sure, that makes no sense whatsoever. Let me spit it back to you by casting a net across the entire digital communications footprint, you’re able to quantify some variables. And so you don’t actually look at the specifics of interactions, which you look at is the shape of the language in general, in the institution, and from a turn of an instrument in view of that language, you’re able to make an assessment about something and then then I think the next step is that measured moves over time. And because that measured lives over time, you can make some assessments of changes and elements of the culture by watching somebody that sort of next step.

Viktor Mirovic 4:47
Yeah, well, I think that’s your summary is great. I mean, let’s just take two examples. Take a dealer back, typically filled up with you know, alpha male, high testosterone, smart people and the language that goes with those Group is very typical to that. So if the language suddenly would change, right? I mean, I don’t want to generalize and stereotype. But I would expect people in that space to be cursing, winning mood, what our system wakes up to, if suddenly those people will be all different. If they would stop cursing, it will be silent, or if they will be emotional. That’s all, we wouldn’t expect it. By the same token, if you go to a healthcare institution where people are typically caring, and you know, they’re very allergic to human connection, if their language suddenly would translate into a very clinical cold kind of language, that’s also something we would not expect in this pattern in those two environments we track and the moment those patterns fundamentally change, typically, there’s something that in behavior management wants to be aware of.

John Sumser 5:51
So this would not be a useful measure for the entirety of an organization but it’s something that to look deeper into Individual clusters inside of the organization. And so the deeper that you look, the more people are going to think that you are looking at the behavior of individuals rather than aggregate behavior. Let’s talk a little bit about how you make sure that privacy is respected in the analysis that you do.

Viktor Mirovic 6:20
Yes, absolutely. Privacy for us is, first and foremost, it’s a fundamental human rights mean, been a lot of conversations going on, on Big Brother. And, of course, we’ve all followed the news on Cambridge Analytica, which is not done the conversation much good, I guess, too. So we’ve taken a different view to that. So we’ve got a process which is called privacy by design. So for us, as a vendor, it is impossible to single out an individual and analyze their conversations. We simply cannot do it because we don’t have the data. So the way how we capture the data. I would like to, like I said before, to think about as a spam filter, so we don’t actually store any emails, we just render a signal from a group of individuals with at least 10. And the industry standard, for example, in the survey business is to use groups of at least four people. So we’ve at least doubled that standard. I’ve taken groups of at least 10. But social science teaches us that emotions are very contagious. So it’s a very reliable way to tap into search group. If there’s core changes you want to know. So as we don’t store data from individuals, but we only measured an index number from the group, it becomes impossible for us to actually look at individual or breach individual privacy. We also do though, is we inform all the individual employees that we’re having a measurement, and we offer them an opportunity to opt out. But if given all those precautions, people still feel uncomfortable. They’re all fine to opt out. The reality is that our opt out ratios are very modest. So usually, it’s typically less than 5%. Because the funny thing is, is people decided To even opt out, and they see the energy that actually gets unleashed because of the entire measurement. Usually they want to back in because people start to realize actually that they’re being heard. Right? This is very interesting, because very often in organizations, there’s a lot of complaints going on of people talk to the leadership, absolutely nothing actually happens. What you see with our clients is because now in typical clusters, there’s a conversation going on why the index performs in a certain way, people don’t want to be left out. So I think privacy by design for us is the standard the way we operate, it’s impossible for us to measure individuals. And the index number really, I think is a safe bet to say that groups of at least 10 people, individuals who complete the Okay, and if they don’t, they just don’t participate. Does that answer your question?

John Sumser 8:47
Yeah, sort of. So let me take it a step further. Yeah. Well, on the privacy topic, yes. But let’s take it a step further. So you have this measure, and you know that the measure changes over time, but this is all new territory and So how do you tell if the change in the measure is a good thing or a bad thing?

Viktor Mirovic 9:05
That’s a very good question. I think that that by itself has certain judgment and it’s good or bad or you don’t win either the holder I think that in general, we measure is a product of personal involvement in tension. So I’d like you to think of language as a situation we’re in a situation of high tension and high personal involvement. That typically is a good situation. Because when things Think of it as a department leader who tells his team, you know, we’re under pressure, we’re going to give it our best shot. People know that there’s a certain risk, we may lose this battle, but we’re all involved to make it into a success to the tension is high, but the personal involvement is also high, you know, go to any war zone, you will know that those Marines that are fighting for the country, they’re all highly involved tension for sure is high. You can also imagine situations in an organization with tension is high and the involvement is low and There, unfortunately, you’ll find, you know, in political organizations don’t like to use the word but people have covered their ass to that already care when things are going south because they’re not getting hurt. That’s an environment I’d rather not be in because I would imagine that there’s risks looming that leaders want to know about. So polarizing highly intention tie in involvement is high. This is pretty good. involvement is low, you want to be alerted to intention is low, it can be very trivial, because it could go into mundane, you know, regular tasks, but that’s pretty much the space where good or bad houses, you ask that question. And leaders can start to realize when they look at the tool, and they can start asking questions, and then they can make up their own mind whether that’s good or bad, but at least now you’re aware to the situation.

John Sumser 10:47
That’s great. So there are more than a few companies should claim to be able to look at the network given an overall organization or other aspects of the overall organization. How are you different from them?

Viktor Mirovic 10:59
Well there are networks of organizations? There’s a great landscape out there know, today on network analysis, oh, and a vendors. And I think you’re in a space is very intriguing. We also know, some players out there. And we’re working actually, with some players out there today. Our clients are hot to work with organizational network analysis vendors, because it’s one of those no topics that is on everybody’s radar screen. So that’s good. The same goes for survey providers, I think that’s a tool that never will actually will fade away because it’s very valuable to, you know, to drill deep. However, I think we’re replay it’s a space where you talking about actual intelligence, because with us, the typical oland, a network of who talks to whom we always like to call a to demand what to do, and it doesn’t change much over time. And once you understand the profile or the spider web with the organization, you can start to really zoom into groups, which I think is a very worthwhile exercise. I’d like to call kinko more of a 3d analysis because with us, you don’t only know The roadmap who talks to who, but you also know where the traffic jams are, because traffic jams is the places where you have a, you know, tension situation or as I’d like to call it a blind spot or a hot spot. And typically, that’s where you really want to start focusing your attention. Because if if it goes on for too long, it could turn into a situation where ultimately you were surprised as a leader because something’s cooking, that you may not want to happen. So I think the landscape is so far if I if I judge Well, it’s very much still centered around take are taking pulses of the organization, we’re trying to piss it away into a tool that actually helps business leaders, where the board if you will, to get a good grip on what’s going on with the people because once that’s there, and if an organization is truly connected, it can become this thing that’s called an irresistible culture.

John Sumser 12:46
Oh, you think that’s you think you can help people get to an irresistible culture? That’s an interesting concept.

Viktor Mirovic 12:51
Yes. I think ultimately, this is very interesting. I may be crazy, but I think AI there’s a lot of work going on around that domain. I know there’s also a lot of noise To be honest, john, I think AI really is good in one thing only is that it can automate parts where we are weak. And we as humans have one characteristics that’s only present for all races. I think it’s we’re highly biased. And I think this is where our tool actually helps to take away some of that bias because we continuously measure that language. And the moment you start to get a picture of that, and this pattern, and you start to have this conversation, you can see that some leaders simply are blind to their own behavior. That’s why I think ultimately can help people better connect, because once you talk about grace, I don’t have to offend. You can just say, john, did you see the same grace as I do? And what is your take on it? Right? It’s much less offensive than going to talk to you then john, I heard there’s a lot of complaints about your department, and you will automatically go into defense mode saying who said that? Right. But right now, I think it helps us to start a conversation when there are situations that you can still repair. So if that possibility, I would love to see that right now becoming something that is mainstream.

John Sumser 14:04
That’s good. So So there’s some level of modeling and AI embedded in the product. Have you let customers know where that is? That’s a big problem that people have deploying AI is they don’t often know that they have it. So what what does training look like when you bring this in and give it to somebody and all of a sudden, they’ve got this new measure that how do you help them understand what to do with it?

Viktor Mirovic 14:31
Okay, we normally start with the client by offering them a retrospective analysis, which we call a vulnerability scan. So it shows over a period of one or two years in the past, what happened and what we always do is we we try to correlate the two critical events, because the good news is that once you get to graph and you can all remember what happened six months ago, when this big company was acquired, or there was a layoff, or there was a huge customer coming along, or there was a reorganization people see, and it’s start to become aware like, okay, apparently that was also visible in our language. So we train, usually some leadership teams to understand how to then take that piece of information and that awareness that within our language, these kind of signals are hidden only for us to discover them, we then start to cascade that level of awareness to other parts of the organization. Right? It’s like that’s like a wave, if you will. And when you start with the star team that is completely comfortable with this. And And believe me, the first two, three weeks, people are really asking themselves, what am I looking at? I because it’s new, and we got to accept that there is not a golden answer, because everybody responds differently. When you first start wearing an Apple Watch, you start counting your steps. Some of us are natural athletes and others of us CPR are scared, right? But we will help them by understanding the language and within a month, people start to get the first grips because they’ll start to say, hey, I’d like to just give a training, right sometimes, especially in hatred. People like to quantify and label this as an engagement ring. It’s all fine. In compliance, people may not like to use this as a compliance tool, right? This is leaders might like to use this as an alignment. So there’s different kind of groups of people basically, practice these two ways. Ultimately, for us, it cascades up to a leadership effectiveness to and leaders want to really understand how can I align my people strategy with my company strategy? And I think this is really where ultimately it’s kind of a generic a ubiquitous kind of instrument to pick up behavior and leverage this into better performance. Does that help?

John Sumser 16:37
What’s interesting about what you just said is that the alignment of people strategy, business strategy is the kind of esoteric thing that people talk about it nauseum, but never really have a way of doing because we haven’t had dynamic measures of these things. Right. And so we’re starting a new era here, where our going real time dynamic measures that are not rooted in the claim of bias that cloud surveys is starting to be possible. And you’re sort of at the cutting edge of that it imagine this unfolding. What do you think some of the positive consequences of this will be over time?

Viktor Mirovic 17:18
Well, I think the best consequence I can believe is that we’re a bit less lonely. It may sound kind of cheesy, that the right word, but there’s a lot of people in companies but also I’ve taught companies which are awfully lonely, especially in this digital world. And if we’ve got a tool here for people to better connect, that’s just amazing. It doesn’t only translate in better profitability, that business case already is improving the law, but it also just creates a super better business culture and think of it in Silicon Valley. I was recently in San Francisco, there’s this massive story on success. But recently also there has been some pretty painful meltdowns, opening people that go back home with a bad day. And if we can help just producing a percentage Those bad days because there’s more attention. I’ve had a good career, my friend.

John Sumser 18:04
Well, that’s good grand ambition. I just was down in Silicon Valley last night, the ethics and technology event. And I wonder what you think beyond privacy, the ethical issues are the KeenCorp touches.

Viktor Mirovic 18:19
Parallel privacy. Like I said, he’s such an such a large topic, Kelso. Sometimes I can tell you, we’ve probably had two, three years of delay because of the entire privacy back like world peace, you cannot disagree on it. And if people are scared, that’s okay. But this whole thing, you know, ultimately going to translate in some new form that actually is palatable to all of us. And I think this is where we’ve taken it’s pretty strong stance on how we want to design this. There are simply many, many customers right now or many businesses that are not qualified to work, but it’s because they are in a different space. But we find also many clients right now that are actively looking for solutions to work with privacy. Respected, but also acknowledged that it’s much more important to reach out to your people. One of the big pitfalls is that we’ve been trained to look for root causes, right? And that’s one of the ethical things, once you look for root causes, like who said, what, when that led to that resolve? This is where I’m very honest, as a I simply cannot answer the question. Today, there’s simply not enough data. And the number of false positives that really pointed in the wrong direction is so massive that we’ve decided to really stay away from that. We just offer a signal and if people want to go for the root cause, and we simply cannot sell to them because we don’t have the answers yet. Secondly, I think like on privacy side, if I tell you how many clients ask us the question, can you please just zoom in that individual? Because I’d like to fire the person or so it’s just amazing because it’s the most natural question to ask if you start measuring, right? But our stance is very simple, to transparent to be don’t want to be transparent. You know, let’s just wait for a couple of years because we can’t be a partner and all the room callsign I’ve said already, I don’t think the AI is that far away to give some real answers there. But what we can do is we can open up your eyes to blind spots. And if you’re then happy to work with us to resolve them, it does also challenge many people, because many leaders actually don’t want to know, if you’re afraid, look at truth. That’s an ethical question, right? But let me ask it in a different way. If your wife was having an affair, would you want to know about that? Right? So leaders that are ready to take action and connect to their people, they’ll find this to be the right tool for them at this point in time.

John Sumser 20:36
So I want to double back on something you said one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in a long time, which is that you don’t focus on root cause. And so I translate that to me that what you provide is a measure of tension, not an explanation for the tension, kind of like a blood pressure monitor so I get a blood pressure but it doesn’t tell me why my blood pressure Like that just tells me about my blood pressure and the discovery of what the actual problem is. And what I need to do about that is a separate thing from the measurement. And I think that’s really interesting because most of the measures that I see come with the sort of implicit assumption that there’s an obvious solution to come out of the measures. That’s really interesting. So how did you arrive at that? That’s, that’s fascinating.

Viktor Mirovic 21:28
Well, I was a CFO for quite a while. And what really transformed my thinking was the SFP came to the market. So tells you that I’m quite old, by the way, but the entire premise of the RP and MRP materials requirements planning is from industry perspective, already as old as ro but si p did. It just changed the way data was being captured looking at HR or if you look at, let’s say, human capital, the way data is being captured still today. It is still predominantly through surveys and I think surveys are great but they have one limitation they capture conscious behavior because I asked you a question with a request to answer it. But we capture is unconscious behavior. And that I think really it becomes a different kind of data capture, which is just like what I said about ASAP SAP came. And they just promise they will real time capture the information and all rendering into one piece of information. That’s the same thing we do. But now not for machines, but on people. And I think that just opened up a complete new realm of intelligence so far has not been part of our conversation.

John Sumser 22:31
I agree with you. I think that the KeenCorp software is some of the most impressive stuff that I’ve seen in the last 10 years. So I’m excited to have had this chance and talking about it and look forward to our next conversation. Thanks for doing this Viktor. Would you take a moment and introduce yourself and tell people how to get hold you?

Viktor Mirovic 22:50
Absolutely. Thanks for having me again, john. I really appreciate it. My name is Viktor Mirovic I’m one of the founders of KeenCorp and people want to know more they can visit our website We usually publish some news and we’re more than welcome to take calls because we’re a young company and eager to grow.

John Sumser 23:07
Thanks again for doing this. We’ve been talking with Viktor Mirovic, who is one of the co founders and CEO KeenCorp. Thanks for listening in. Thanks for doing this Viktor. And we will see you back here same time next week. Bye bye.

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