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When I think about startups, certain traits almost always come to mind. Creativity, passion, agility and, most importantly, focus. While focus is important in any job, it’s critical when working toward goals that have direct impact on a company’s bottom line and future. It’s not uncommon for startups to get so caught up in the hustle of building a company that they forget about their most important asset: the collection of beating hearts that powers the machine. People.

This is something we keep in mind every day at SmashFly. Sure, smaller companies have less people, which means more time to focus on each and every one of them, right? Not always. Sometimes with the pace of change at startups, living in a small-company model, it’s easy to overlook the “touchy-feely stuff” in quest for the bigger picture and bottom line: great software. Thankfully, we operate in the talent acquisition world and get everyday reminders of how important it is to treat people right. We know better!

Keeping with this insight, I recently took on a new role as SmashFly’s first-ever Chief People Officer. This role is important to me because it represents an investment by our leadership to ensure that our people have what they need to be successful, which in turn makes the company successful. It proves that we are committed to ensuring people are happy and fulfilled at work, from the top down. For years, I’ve had an interest in people management, which transcended my ongoing responsibilities as leader of our Customer Success organization, and I’m proud and excited to lead this charge.

I’ve already had the chance to dive into the relationship between people and technology at SmashFly. Aside from selling technology, we use a lot of it too – from performance management to internal communication and more. Throughout my career, I’ve learned that striking the right balance between humans and technology (and humans and humans, for that matter) is critical to our teams and our companies. Thus, this was one of the first undertakings I wanted to focus on.

 

It starts with defining the problem

“We need new technology.” “We don’t use this technology.” “I hate this tool.” “I need this to do more.”

The list of disgruntled one-liners orbiting the technology situation is endless. But somewhere along the line, the technology in question was bought by someone for a purpose to solve a need. That’s not to say the purpose or need is still relevant or priority, or that it was the right tool for that need, but still: one of the first things to consider when trying to find the right balance between people and tech is identifying why you need (or needed) the technology.

Take performance management, for example. We use a system called “Perform-eeze.” (It’s not really called that, but we’ll work with some funny anonymity here.)

People at SmashFly have long said disparaging things about Perform-eeze (see above). But now that I’m digging into the problems with this technology, I’m realizing that the software has a lot of great functionality and is sufficiently flexible to solve our needs.

The way we’ve been using it is the problem.

Whoa, there’s a revelation, huh? We implemented this product during a time when company goals were in flux. We lacked clarity around the purpose of the performance management system and tried to make it all things to all people. We threw technology at the problem without really defining the problem – or the desired outcome. The implementation was over-complicated and communication around use cases was a challenge. The result was inconsistent adoption, along with all those harsh sentiments I shared above.

There are two lessons in this: Technology can’t fix a problem you haven’t defined, and people can use an adequate (or even great) technology poorly.

 

Technology and the employee experience

Ensuring we’re using technology efficiently may not seem like the responsibility of the CPO. To be honest, very few people want the burden of responsibility for successfully utilizing technology; most people think that adoption and success should just happen naturally. But when technology is implemented poorly, or not adopted universally, it complicates the lives and jobs of our people – and that certainly is my responsibility.

I decided to take a new approach. I started thinking about why we do performance management. How does it add value to the business and to our people? Simply, to ensure that there is an ongoing dialogue between managers and their employees. On a broader level, it’s so that everyone in the company is clear on what they are supposed to be doing, their success doing it, and how they can grow and develop. It’s about driving these conversations with consistency and clarity; something I consider a “basic human need” (I’m calling this BHN, by the way).

The system in which our employee performance gets managed and tracked is not as important as our need for doing it and how we get employees to actually use it. (No offense, Perform-eeze!)

Rather than change the technology, I need to change the approach. (Side note: That’s not to say that technology is never the problem; I’m saying that after my digging and vetting, I definitely know our approach was the issue!) My next step is to peel back the configuration of Perform-eeze to provide a simple process that will serve as a framework for these ongoing conversations between our people. Then, I need to re-communicate our goals and how we achieve those goals using this technology – all previous notions aside. And then after that, continue to check in on adoption and feedback. As we go forward with this reboot, I intend to keep the idea of the “BHN” present in my mind.

 

Considering the BHN in the buying process

When it comes to Perform-eeze, I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle trying to change the perspectives of the people using it. I’ve seen all too frequently that once someone thinks, “This isn’t working for me,” they give up on it. But you can avoid this conundrum I’m in by considering the BHN before you buy and implement your next technology solution.

I saw this a lot in my Chief Customer Officer days: vendors and buyers alike got caught up in feature talk, and FOMO often won out. Meaning: The buyer gets excited about everything a product is capable of and wants to do it all right now, when maybe an intro-level package would have been a better solution for the problem they are actually trying to solve.

The cautionary tale here is that humans get excited about the amazing abilities that our new cybernetic implants give us, but often we lose sight of the BHN that brought us to the technology in the first place. Companies make a big technology change, then push to implement everything they purchased quickly at the expense of an effective rollout and succeeding in one or two key areas first. In reality, that initial success in one or two areas is what can solidify buy-in and advocacy and prove to users that the technology drives results. When that happens, technology simply doesn’t help anyone.

 

I’ve learned that when you focus on the basics, you can get your tech running in a way that the people will take to, I daresay even enjoy. That’s what I’m going for as I look at adapting several tools and processes to help me get rolling in my people-focused role in this technology-focused world.

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