Aug 17, 2018 Elsa Snellman
A Call For Employee Engagement Revolution
Peakon isn’t the first company Dan has founded: he and his co-founder Phil Chambers first tossed around the idea of Peakon in 2014, when Dan was getting more and more into people management. As he had noticed, the approach that startups and companies have to fixing things is generally data-driven. When it comes to their customer base, companies tend to be extremely (data) analytic: from data we learn, data we preach, seems to be the modus operandi of everyone. However, these same companies were not using marketing analytics with their own employees. “They sit in the same room as you do, but you don’t get the similar feedback from them. Data has revolutionized marketing, why is that it hasn’t done the same for employee relations?” Dan wondered.
Under these circumstances, the idea behind Peakon was born. “Companies these days – especially with younger leaders – understand that people are companies’ most important asset”, Dan says. “If you agree with this, decisions you make about those people are the most important decisions, more important than sales and marketing decisions are”. Accordingly, one should use data and evidence, not opinions when it comes to making decisions regarding one’s own employees.
This idea has been the bedrock of Peakon. Dan, having worked in data science and understanding the importance of comparing “apples to apples”, had understood that people measuring employee engagement weren’t using sufficiently standardised models when doing the comparisons. “One company would done it one way, another one in a completely different way, then they’d compare, let’s say, engagement scores from different managers. And they wouldn’t take in account that some people had started before than others. Nearly everyone is more engaged in the beginning”, Dan explains. “Those things we built into Peakon, so that we could understand all the variables and be sure we were comparing right things.” It’s easy to see that when every company has their own model of employee engagement measuring, the wisdom of the crowd is lost in the process.
Reflecting Inwards: Insider’s View on Peakon’s Work Culture
Peakon focuses on transparency and autonomy, allowing all the people in the organization to partake in making important decisions. “We have very few secrets to even to our junior employees”, Dan says. “If you’re not transparent, people can’t be autonomous.” Dan offers an analogy of his idea of leadership: “It’s like being a lifeguard. You’re letting everyone try out the deep end of the pool. They can freely learn to swim, but if something happens, you’re there. That’s what most ambitious employees want. They want a good environment with interesting, friendly people. They also want growth opportunities. I give rope – I delegate – and they get to grow and earn recognition. Generally, it is much better to have a company with ten excellent, well-treated employees than 20 average employees who aren’t treated that well. Our bar on hiring is high, but but we ensure that our employees are treated well.”
How To Survive a “Crazy Year” Without Breaking (too) Bad
2017 was a big year for Peakon, to put it mildly. A lot has changed since their spectacular funding round. They started 2017 as a team of 22, and have since grown into a 75-people-strong team with offices in both London and Copenhagen. Companies naturally start running into issues when growth accelerates. As the team grows, it’s more likely than not that things break down regularly, when certain staff capacity is reached. Dan identifies the sudden need for middle management as one point in the corporate growth cycle. Case in point: when a company reaches 150 people, it cannot possibly be run with the same structure as 50 people.
“We had quite a lot of those problems,” Dan recalls. “But we managed to avoid them by using Peakon internally, short cycles, running it weekly, fixing issues quickly, whereas most companies operate quarterly. You build up debt of people and processes when you don’t run these things too often.”
All in all, Peakon serves as a great example for how to survive fast scaling. “For us, nothing really dramatically broke because we were fixing things on an ongoing basis,” Dan says.
Peakon founders were mindful, as they’ve done startups before, they put things in place early on. They put sales force in early when we had ten employees, even if it was incredibly expensive! They made a lot of decisions, had they not done that, it would have been much more difficult to do when they had grown into a company of 50-60 people. If you’re moving quickly, fix things on weekly basis.
Thank you for sharing Peakon’s story, Dan!
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