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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: Christian Sendler, Co-Founder and CTO, Giraffe
Episode: 364
Air Date: May 8, 2020

 

Transcript

 

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 0:14
Morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. I’m your host, John Sumser. And I must be an international man of mystery given the theme music. Today we’re gonna be talking with Christian Sendler who is the CTO and co-founder of a company called Giraffe.

Christian. How are you?

Christian Sendler 0:33
I’m doing well. I’m healthy. The family is healthy. Our team is healthy. So there’s not too much more I can ask for at this point in time.

John Sumser 0:40
You are in the home office in downtown New York City.

Christian Sendler 0:45
Yes, Hell’s Kitchen, New York in the what I guess is the current epicenter of everything has been here. Well lived in New York now for five years, but I’ve stayed in New York throughout the course of the current pandemic and taking it day by day and making the most of some small living quarters but finding good routine and all of that, or at least trying to.

John Sumser 1:04
So introduce yourself. I’m sure that’s the right place to start. Tell us about Cristian.

Christian Sendler 1:09
Sure. So as you mentioned, I am the co founder and CTO of Giraffe. Giraffe is obviously given the theme of the show an HR ech startup. We were founded last year, and have just recently over the course of the last six weeks brought our first major release to market in the people analytics and insight space and are very excited for that. I think it’s certainly a product and a solution that has become even more timely given the current conditions. And very excited to be here today and talk to you a little more about that in that journey.

John Sumser 1:40
So how did you get here? You know, the idea that you’d want to start a nature tech company is not something that people start dreaming about in the sandbox when they’re six years old. How did you come to do this?

Christian Sendler 1:51
I think very few of us are lucky to really know exactly where we will end up with our careers at a young age. You know myself personally, I’ve always been someone who loves Legos as a kid building and creating things. And you know, I also like to talk and grew up thinking, well, maybe I’ll go to law school become an attorney, I was a bit of an argumentative child, I guess you could say and my parents will vouch for that. But about halfway through my undergrad experience, I realized that was just not the path for me that I wanted to be on. I think I had a bit of an awakening there and started to get involved with some computer science programs and really enthralled by the growing startup scene in Boston at the time, and it just was absolutely smitten with it and wanted to spend time there. I you know, move shortly after graduation into the technology, consulting space, doing software implementations and the like working with HRIS systems ATS systems. ERP, EPM. It’s a consulting world, there’s more acronyms than you could imagine. But working with enterprise grade software, really right out of undergrad and spent a number of years doing that, and as a part of that maturation. In a role like that, you end up working with teams that are very tight knit often working very short timelines with very, very high expectations and often low budgets. And so that team dynamic became something of increasing importance and focus for me was, you know, how do we shape and consistently shape teams that are engaged, are fulfilled and are high performing in and of themselves, was struggling to really find consistency in that. And through all of the software implementations you realize how much data the enterprise generates. It’s really unfathomable, especially when you’re looking at financials and sales processes and customer acquisition. But realized when it came to HR data. In particular, you had a lot of information on people logistics and a lot of information on compliance. But the insights in terms of how do people like to work, what unique skills do they bring to the table? What skills are they looking to better? You know, what are their behavioral traits? How do they work on a team. Realized there was an inherent gap in the space and it was something that was really Giraffe as an idea and running a company that is, in some parts an assessment company, but more broadly, a people analytics company was something really needed and was solving a personal pain point for me and we found that it’s a pain point for a lot of folks in the industry.

John Sumser 4:15
So Giraffe…What a crazy name for a company. Help me connect the Giraffe to the business that you’re in.

Christian Sendler 4:21
giraffe was born out of the taglines I think we couldn’t we couldn’t not deal with the puns at hand, we have gained a new perspective on talent, stick your neck out, rise above the rest, all geared with a focus toward gaining a new perspective and extracting new insights related to your people data. And so the Giraffe just was a fun and approachable icon for that brand and ultimately represented a brand ethos we wanted to put out there which was something fun, accessible, meaningful, nothing that took itself too seriously.

John Sumser 4:51
Got it. So let’s go to the basics. What does Giraffe do? I think I’ve always sort of seen you as an assessment company, but you’re making these care that you’re more of a people analytics and insight company. So what is the basic thing?

Christian Sendler 5:05
So at the core, there are a series of assessments we offer, which includes behavioral assessments, which many folks in the HR space will be certainly familiar with. We have a special formula for ours, which I would love to touch on. But assessments are a part of what we do. Ultimately, it is a platform that extracts insights related to the behavioral traits, the skills, both vocational and technical ways of working preferences and values the l&d goals of the individual and brings all that information together for the organization and allows everyone you know, we really encourage radical transparency with this data at an organization to ultimately allow everyone to tap into that information and break it down, analyze it to ultimately make better decisions for themselves, but also better teaming decision hiring decisions, keep their talent strategy aligned with their operational strategy, which Certainly, I know you’ve spoken on this before, but something that a lot of organizations struggle to do is keep that adaptable and keep that in flux. And we’re certainly seeing that right now as the dynamics of work change unbelievably rapidly.

John Sumser 6:13
So the core of this is an assessment or assurance of assessments, then you are able to make some prognostication from those assessments or give me a deeper look at the ground layer here.

Christian Sendler 6:28
Sure, we do have a behavioral assessment, what really makes that stand out is the length and duration, I think many folks will be familiar with the current state of the assessment market. These are often things that take a while to ramp up to they can take an individual employee between 30 minutes to an hour to complete. And then you’re waiting a week or two for results to come back so that you actually have data to work with. And by the time that results come back, the data is already going stale, because these behavioral insights are always changing. And so we Took a radically different approach to this assessment and have gotten it down to something that can be completed well under 10 minutes with the same if not more accuracy in terms of the results, it is significantly less questions and the data is instantaneously available upon completion, and can also be sent out with little to no ramp time or configuration time for the platform, all you need to do is be sharing the link and inviting people into the platform, and they’re up and running and good to go. And so that’s kind of the cornerstone of what we offer.

We also offer a number of different polls and engagement surveys around ways of working. And then this all kind of finds its way into a profile for the individual employee that helps to bring and digitize their resume more traditional data points that we’ve had or at least exist in LinkedIn, but generally speaking internally to a company, they’re not really stored anywhere. And the real power of draft has been that we bring all of these different dimensions together into a profile for the individual into composite views, for the team for a department and the entire org and allow you to really break those analytics and data points down by things like department roll level or compare individuals, compare individuals versus team, or compare teams against each other to really get granular about, you know, what success looks like at your organization.

John Sumser 8:16
So is that success of an individual inside of the organization, or is there an aspect of this that has to do with the structure of teams?

Christian Sendler 8:25
it’s a little bit of both, I think we really positioned Giraffe as a multi tool, similar to how you may view a platform like a Slack or Notion, or Trello, for example, in which there is a core function it does, which is extract these data points and insights and present them to whoever throughout an organization very readily, but in terms of what you can do with it. We certainly have a few scripts that we help implement in the platform and use cases and workloads that we have built in but we see a lot of our customers using this in a lot of different ways. So it can be facilitating one on ones between a manager and one of their direct report and gaining more insights and making those conversations more impactful for the employee.

We see organizations, having incoming hires take the assessment and take their results and overlay them against the two or three department scores that they interact with or would be interacting with most heavily. We also see people creating L&D roadmaps and journeys that are tailored to not just a department or a team, but specifically to the individual and what their goals are, and what unique thing they want to bring, you know, to the organization and improve.

John Sumser 9:36
So give me a couple of bullet points about precisely what makes you different from the “cajillion” other assessment companies in a nutshell, what’s the difference?

Christian Sendler 9:46
Yeah, this is a good question. Because there is some noise in this space. There are a lot of point solutions that try to tackle behavioral insights. But you know, to what we kind of just were speaking to I think the primary differentiator here is that, you know, we are not just an assessment company, the assessment is obviously a critical part of the insights we provide. But the one thing that is really missing in the space and that we bring to the table is this holistic view that brings many more data points, ultimately to the table and provide real time and dynamic analytics, which is something with behavioral assessments, there’s often these professional services line items tagged on to the process of unpacking the results. And you know, there’s time to prepare and share. And the reengagement potential with the assessment is usually not there. And so we really kind of flip that model on its head to provide real time insights, dynamic data to the organization and allow for the potential of reengagement without these long ramp times. It’s something the organization themselves can facilitate and really run on their own. We try and build the training and insight directly into the platform so that as you’re using you’re getting smarter about your own people management skills.

John Sumser 11:00
So what are the ethical issues about this from your perspective?

Christian Sendler 11:04
Well, I think one of the biggest ones, which we’ve seen a lot of news coverage on, John, I know you’ve written on this is AI, and the use of AI.

I think ultimately, we’re at an interesting crossroads with how HR as a function leverages AI and how AI and how that will evolve. And it has to do with kind of something you’ve coined, which is this partnership versus decision making model. And ultimately, we’ve seen a lot of companies really push the bounds of what AI can do in the HR space. But they’ve unfortunately created some of these black box scenarios where you don’t really understand what’s going on behind the scenes. And so we’ve taken a much more collaborative approach when we leverage AI and as we continue to leverage AI and ML and natural language processing within our platform is to have it be a partner to the user of the platform extracting insights combing through more data than an individual can but still leaving the decision making in the hands of the individual. And so I think that’s something a lot of platforms in the HR space are going to be grappling with over the coming years.

John Sumser 12:07
So one of the things that I think about what I’ve talked to people who are doing similar things, to you, is that the idea of pigeonholing people into little boxes so that decisions can be made out of them is actually a pretty significant ethical question. How do you know if you’ve got that right? How do you think about the consequences of some of the somebody being labeled x when they’re right on the line between X and Y? Because that’s the thing that you run into when you build labeling machines like this, is that people get somewhere in the process, there are people who get labeled incorrectly and that’s got a big deal consequence for them. So how do you think about that? How do you think about making this safe for the people who take it?

Christian Sendler 12:51
Yeah, that’s something really important to us. In the construction of all of our surveys, most prevalently the behavioral insights and assessment. You know, we have worked with a community of neuro psych and clinical psych PhDs to ensure that we are being as non-directional as possible. That we are, that there’s value in the insights and that ultimately, there’s meaning in it without inadvertently labeling someone in a way that may have a negative connotation at their organization or in the context of their work. And so we’re very conscientious at the outset when we design features for the product and leveraging a broad community there to avoid the issues of bias that can arise when developing.

More specifically in terms of how do we avoid labels that may pigeonhole individuals and may calf type them in some sense, and that comes back to the dynamic nature of the behavioral traits and the dynamic nature of our platform. I know I’ve said that word a lot in the course of you know, our conversation thus far, but the reengagement side is I think, what helps that Because ultimately, one person is not one set, you know, we use 8 traits, are kind of the output , all of which are, you know, positive traits such as structured, adaptable, strategic, creative, everything has a positive to it. And they all add value in their own ways, but they change. No one person is always this one set of traits in perpetuity. As they learn new skills, try out new roles get interested in different things, they change and evolve. And as the context in which they’re working changes, these things evolved. And so by keeping our survey short, accessible, and building a natural reengagement update points, so we provide the ability for organizations to specify an interval that they want their employees to retake the survey, and so they can see the trends and evolution at the individual level and at the team level. And so I think that inherently just the usage of the platform in and of itself helps prevent that.

John Sumser 14:47
So I picked up the idea somewhere along the way that you guys believe that the core driver in work is meaning. Meaning and contribution impact the product values of the company like that. Do you think that that holds true after the pandemic, you know, before the pandemic, you could make the case that meaning was important because there was a shortage of workers, that isn’t going to be a problem that we have for decades, probably as a result of this thing. An d so people are going to be taking jobs, to have money not to have meaning, meaning it strikes me as a luxury that comes after body rather than before in terms of job choice. So do you think this idea that work is important part of work is weaving is still true?

Christian Sendler 15:34
Yeah, I mean, I think absolutely. And fundamentally, I mean, you’re looking at sort of a Maslow’s Hierarchy thing. And I think you’re spot on to say, look, we’re facing record unemployment today. And what people are looking for in work most immediately in the short term is going to change but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people don’t want to derive meaning from their work. You know, I think every one of us does, and we all find different meaning in the context in which we work. But I think one factor that may bring us back or shift the power dynamic back to some semblance of where it was before, because we’re certainly seeing a swing away from the employees being in the driver’s seat. And now the employer is holding a lot of the power given the market conditions. But one thing, if you could call it a silver lining, and I think to some extent it is of this whole situation, is the very rapid acceleration of this trajectory of remote work. And I think for many industries that we’re holding out, it is proven that remote work is the thing, and it’s going to be here, and it’s going to be here forever. This has fundamentally changed that paradigm. And what that means is that for many organizations on the other side of this, the geographical constraints that existed before are no longer there. So I think we may even see a quicker uptick in terms of applicant volume and competitiveness in the labor market because of that, because no longer do you need everyone moving and living in a city like New York in order to run your business. We’ve started to prove that that is far from a necessity, and people aren’t going to want to work that way, especially around big cities. So I think to some extent, we will see that shift back, which which gives more space for companies to really need to focus on some of those things that are higher up in the in the Maslow’s hierarchy of need for the employee, which meaning is a very important one, in my opinion.

John Sumser 17:23
That’s interesting, I think there probably multiple perspectives to be taken on that I am hearing broadly that what’s liable to happen next is a retrenchment of all of the globalization because you really can’t predict the infrastructure in big country X with cheap workforce, Y. And so those jobs and the requirement for people to do those jobs comes back into national borders all over the place. And that might argue a little bit against the idea that there’s going to be a instantaneous radical shift to decentralize work because when you start to do something that somebody else used to do, you’d need to be close to it to get it right, I think, I don’t know.

But when I think about this question of meaning I think about my grandfather, who lived in North Canton, Ohio and walked a mile down the alley behind this house to the Hoover vacuum cleaners were where he put vacuum cleaner belts, or vacuum cleaners for 40 years without ever missing a day of work. It’s hard to imagine the meaning in that job. It’s just it’s impossible for me to see the beating and putting the belts on vacuum cleaners at the end of the assembly line. But for him, his meaning came from the walk down the alley and the relationship he had with his kids. So I’m not particularly persuaded that meaning is something that comes from work. I think that’s a that’s a novel idea of privilege, generally speaking, and we may or may not be seeing it coming along, but if meaning is not essential to work, does Giraffe still have a place in the world?

Christian Sendler 19:04
You know, I think to your point, John, you know, meaning is purpose and very much derived by the context. And that can be meaning in the sense of the the individual work I do, the contributions I make at work, or it can be meaning in terms of I work to fulfill these other things and support my family and make sure that I have time in the day to spend with my kids or pursue the hobbies and things that I find, you know, that I am passionate about. But I think ultimately, when employers are able to understand the whys of the values their employees ultimately hold sacred and the reasons why they engage with work and to some extent tap into that nature that are facilitating a culture around the ways of working that aligns with that at an individual level, the organization is going to be more successful, the individual is going to be happier with the work that they are doing and the work that they have to do in many instances. And so I think that benefits everyone. That is ultimately what we enable organizations to see so irrespective of the value of meaning, or what meaning any one individual finds in their work, I think that Giraffe provide insights into what that is. Because there’s always some semblance of meaning for why we work. And I think if organizations can get better about understanding that at the individual level, they’re going to build better products, they’re going to have a happier workforce, they’re going to retain the talent that they need to make their business successful, and people are going to be more excited to show up every day.

John Sumser 20:27
That’s great. So let me give you one last question, which is how does a company get ready for the implementation? What do you need to do to be there?

Christian Sendler 20:35
So getting started? I think there are certainly some steps to take in advance. When we talked about pre implementation time starting to align and understand your talent strategy. And how that ebbs and flows with your operation strategy is really helpful and helps set the stage very well for an implementation of a product like ours. And second to that we asked a lot of our customers to take a hard look at their teams and to try and find teams that are seeing above average metrics and KPIs when it comes to things like retention rate where or output or productivity or team satisfaction and start with them, because they make a very good baseline to understand and really get granular about what success looks like, not just at your organization, which I think organizations are getting better about understanding that, but specifically, you know, a senior product manager working on this niche of your product, what does success look like. And starting to crack those pictures earlier on, is really helpful. So there’s a bit of tivity, we like organizations to do before they ramp, but once they’re ultimately provisioned on the product, you’re good to go.

As I mentioned earlier, the training and information you need to use the product effectively is built in and if there’s any questions, our team is there along the way to provide information and advice and tips on usage. And if you want to dive in a little more before you send things out, we we offer the ability to do some configuration and customization of the tool. But none of that’s necessary. And what’s really cool and I think for many who have used assessments in the past, the participation and engagement rate is always a pain point. And one really great thing we found with our product and platform is that for most of our customers, they’re seeing critical mass of responses within a week, which means that from the email or notification or announcement at an all hands meeting, that we’re going to be using this platform that we want people to start engaging with it to having meaningful data and insights with the organization and individuals can start using it. It’s happening in just a couple days, which is a big shift from what we’re used to seeing in this category. And so the implementation processes, we really, really, really value that first mile customer experience and want to make sure now more than ever, we can get this in the hands of as many people as possible.

John Sumser 22:46
That’s fantastic. So we’re coming up to the end of time here. Any final thoughts?

Christian Sendler 22:53
You know, I think this has been fantastic. And John, I do really appreciate you allowing me to share our story with your listeners. And one piece of advice that has really stuck with me or that I’ve arrived at for anyone leading an organization or working as a co-founder at this really unprecedented time is, it’s very easy to keep your head down. In fact, we’re generally, and I find this myself running from fire to fire, trying to keep things afloat, and you know, keep things moving in the right direction. But now more than ever, it can be really helpful to stick your head up and observe and listen both to your people, what they need, you know, what they’re doing to innovate their position in these new working conditions. And also what’s happening at a macro level in crisis comes some of the best innovation. And so the companies that are going to be really successful on the other side of this and the people that are going to find a lot of fulfillment on the other side of this will be those who have taken those moments, not to mention the benefits it has on your own mental wellbeing and health. So, just one little observation I found that’s been unbelievably helpful for me in these times, hopefully that resonates with a couple of your listeners.

John Sumser 23:54
That’s fantastic. So take a moment and reintroduce yourself, please.

Christian Sendler 23:58
Yep. So my name is Christian Sendler. I am the co-founder and CTO of Girafffe and if any of these messages and stories resonate with you or you’d like to learn more, or you happen to be a coffee geek I would love to chat with you on any of those things. And you can reach me at Christian at hiregiraffe.com. Or find me on LinkedIn and Twitter. I’d love to connect and learn about your stories.

John Sumser 24:22
Thanks so much Christian. It’s been a good conversation. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. We’ve been talking with Christian Sendler who is the CTO and co-founder at Giraffe. You can find them at www.hiregiraffe.com. Thanks for tuning in today and we will see you back here next week. Bye Bye now.



 
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