By Beth A. Klahre
Connecting managers with employees has always been an important component of employee and, ultimately, company success. Tools that deliver two-way feedback with speed and ease of use are critical in today’s fast-paced organizations. But trust and experience are still the foundation of great employee-manager interactions.
Gail Thakarar is a seasoned HR executive in New York City with experience in every area of HR, across industries ranging from health care to manufacturing. She now consults for CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, startups, and private equity and venture capital firms that are going through major organizational change and transformation while building resilience.
Thakarar said employee surveys, pulse surveys, Net Promoter Scores, one-on-one meetings and team meetings are important ways to collect feedback. But they only tell part of the story. She is a firm believer in creating a culture where employees feel free to approach a manager or supervisor at any time.
“This kind of culture requires trust, transparency and confidentiality. Take interest in your employees first as a person,” Thakarar said.
WorkTok: 2-Way Mobile Feedback
Lisa Leath, SHRM-SCP, chief people officer at Vantaca in Wilmington, N.C., is the founder of Leath HR Group, which provides fractional HR management to companies that don’t have an HR director, need HR support or want recruiting for hard-to-fill roles. Under her leadership, Leath HR Group developed WorkTok, a mobile and web-based application for collecting employee feedback that grew out of Leath’s personal experience.
While working for a health care practice administrator, Leath noticed the administrator rarely had positive interactions with her nurses because they were always with patients. The only time the administrator saw her nurses was when they were complaining or, worse, quitting. Leath visualized a tool that regularly checked in with the nurses without being too time- consuming or invasive and ensured that the administrator was thinking about them.
“My idea was to drive feedback between a supervisor and employee to build trust and rapport, give employees a voice before they quit, and give the supervisor the opportunity to ultimately retain them,” she said.
WorkTok provides simple, two-way mobile and web-curated conversations for employee check-ins. Managers can conduct quick two-way communication through the app. Toks can be set to recur daily, weekly or monthly and are launched with push notifications to employees’ mobile devices. Toks typically take 20 seconds to two minutes to answer, enabling employees to quickly provide feedback while walking between meetings or on the way to their car at the end of the day. WorkTok sends a push notification once per day until a Tok is answered. The feedback is saved to the cloud for future reference. When an employee answers a Tok, their submitted responses are sent to the manager’s mobile device with a push notification.
“This app is not meant to replace face-to-face communication between supervisor and employee, but to supplement and ensure two-way feedback is regularly happening,” Leath said.
Frontline managers can launch their own Toks to employees, so HR doesn’t have to take the lead. WorkTok also enables a supervisor to create custom check-in questions. Managers can respond to feedback right away via the app or respond later when they have had time to prepare responses. Employees who require follow-up or a live conversation are flagged, enabling managers to prioritize them.
The Technology Behind the Tool
Leath developed the skeleton version of WorkTok using Outlook Calendar, Slack and SurveyMonkey. She ultimately partnered with Wayne Hippo, a fellow Penn State graduate and managing partner of PS Solutions, a software development firm headquartered in Altoona, Pa., to enhance the tool. PS Solutions developed the latest version plus enhancements using mobile app push notifications and auto-emails with calendar reminders.
“It has taken three years to get the app working the way it does today,” Leath said.
She said that developing the app as a mobile tool was an easy choice. “People carry smartphones with them 16 hours a day. There is no better way to make feedback easy to give and receive than to push it to the employees’ phones and throw automatic reminders on their calendars,” Leath said. “And as managers continue to support remote workers with regular micro-touchpoints and two-way communications about morale, priorities, resiliency, work environment and performance, employees feel valued.”
Positive Results with WorkTok
Supervisors from over 100 companies using WorkTok across industries have found it to be nonthreatening, quick and easy to use. “Responding from behind a screen is resulting in leaders receiving a lot of honest dialogue,” Leath said. “By asking for feedback regularly, WorkTok enabled the employee satisfaction needle to move in a positive direction. Teams have become empowered.
Leath, who often refers to herself as the “slayer of HR nightmares,” said WorkTok also goes beyond employee/supervisor check-ins. CyberTok, a collection of 20 security-focused templates within WorkTok, trains and delivers knowledge checks on cybersecurity. Requests for feedback about a specific project, COVID-19 check-ins, 401(k) communications, and meeting and training feedback are also integrated into the tool.
Ohanafy: Connecting Employees to Business Goals
Natalie Waggett is CEO of Ohanafy, a software company laser-focused on the craft beverage industry, which is typically lacking in HR structure and process. Ohanafy’s software is built on Salesforce serves as a customized end-to-end management tool from beverage production through sales, and enables easy manager-to-employee feedback. As Waggett and her co-founders—Ian Patrick, Chris Dowling, Davis Bryson and Matt Keeter— developed the HR components of the software, they set out to deliver the highlights of human capital management that worked for each of them in the past, particularly transparent communication on tangible, measurable goals matched to business growth.
“We help our customers invest in the people who serve in this industry by keeping employees informed, giving them actionable feedback on a predictable schedule, and ensuring goals are clearly and concisely communicated,” Waggett said. “These capabilities give our beverage industry customers a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
Managers can use the software to create employee feedback records specific to an individual’s performance on measurable goals with deadlines. Once set, goals are visualized on graphical dashboards. Workflow and automation then deliver immediate notifications when goals have been met.
Delivering a ‘Scalable Brewery-Specific Solution’
Waggett limited the functionality in the first software release to drive industry adoption. “Based on our belief that motivated, informed and inspired employees help drive success, we cut back on the sparkle and delivered the nuts and bolts,” she said.
She also employed an in-house development team. “Being former consultants, we were poised to ask the right questions and understood the impact of every feature we built into the tool as we delivered a scalable brewery-specific solution,” she said.
Ohanafy has additional functionality, including inventory control; equipment maintenance; raw materials and supplier data; delivery routes; and sales results. Brewery entrepreneurs can use the information to demonstrate performance to potential investors. The tool also stores interview feedback, creates offer letters and saves employee data necessary to employ a brewery worker legally. In addition, the platform delivers both generalized and industry-specific training.
“We made sure flexibility, security, safety, reliability and configurability were included in our tool,” Waggett said.