What A Difference A Year Makes: Peakon’s First Year On A Mission To Change How We Work

Michael Dean
What A Difference A Year Makes: Peakon’s First Year On A Mission To Change How We Work

Exactly one year ago today Peakon was born. Back then, Dan was mainly working on his own, figuring out how we could bring together decades of organisational research with the latest data-analytics possibilities.

A year later and we’re now a 12 strong team, with a product that’s already changing how businesses work!

We’ve not shared the story behind Peakon before, but given this milestone, I thought I’d write it down for the first time. So this is how we got to where we are today – as we prepare to head out of private beta and bring Peakon to the world.

Dan working hard

Prologue: Dan sticking a static sheet to the outside of a summer house that we’d borrowed for the weekend. We were about to pitch our ideas for new businesses and evaluate them.

If you believe the Silicon Valley cliché, technology companies are only started when heroic, near mythic, founders, have a eureka moment, before battering down all obstacles and competition to conquer the world. Well, we started ours because we have a shared belief in a better way of working, and because we wanted to start the company that we’d want to work for.

Of course, we didn’t just pick a random day in December 2014 to get going. In the summer of that year, we spent a weekend together pitching four ideas for new business to one another. As the sun began to set on Sunday evening we had a unanimous favourite. Our decision was based on five objective criteria, along with an “Excitement score” we’d given each idea. This related to how much we cared about the problem we were going to try and solve with a new product – Peakon scored top-marks from all of us.

Decision time: Kasper totals up the scores we’d given each idea. Peakon was the clear winner.

Why People Analytics?

We’ve had some very varied careers, from building business software companies and consumer web services from scratch, to working in huge consultancies and banks. We’ve worked in jobs that have challenged us, where we’ve made some of our best friends, and where we’d often go home tired but very happy. We’ve also had jobs that were exhausting for all the wrong reasons: no vision, non-stop political wranglings, and dead-end roles that drained us of all enthusiasm.

We’d all experienced the huge influence that management (good and bad) could have on companies and ultimately our own lives, and at the same time we were reading study after study that pointed to management causing a crisis of engagement in our workforce.

In the vast majority of cases bad managers were not intentionally making work miserable for their employees. They weren’t being malicious. They just simply didn’t understand the needs of their employees or what it took to be a good manager. We saw a clear parallel here to the problems we used to face in almost every business discipline.

Before Google Analytics and Salesforce came along, you could easily plough money into sales and marketing campaigns only for them to fail and leave you with no idea why. Before the lean startup methodology was popularised, people would build complete new products with minimal proof that there was a market for them.

Data revolutionised how these processes are run. Or to be more precise, the tools that made the data understandable did.

These days it would be unthinkable to only use an annual survey to learn how your customers felt about your product, or how traffic reached your website. Yet, despite most business leaders agreeing that their employees are the driving force of their business’s future success, we’ve always lacked data and insights on what truly motivates people at work.

That’s unless you’re Google, Facebook, Airbnb or any other of the Silicon Valley companies who now employ people analytics professionals whose jobs are to help employees perform to their best, and to retain the most talented people, in a hugely competitive market. Now we’d set out to give these capabilities to every business.

Peakon today: A real-time people analytics dashboard that helps you improve employee engagement and retention.

Building the Loop

Employees often hate answering annual surveys because they seem so fruitless: you’re asked your opinion once a year, then nothing comes of it. With potentially thousands of answers to decipher, it’s no wonder understanding what employees need as a result of their feedback has always been so difficult – and thus, so hard to act on.

For Peakon to make a real impact on the productivity and happiness of workers it would need to create a virtuous loop of feedback, insights, and actions.

By June of 2015, Mads and Dan had already built an MVP to test our assumptions with our very first beta customers. At the same time, with many team members joining in the space of two months, we organised our first Peakon Summit – a quarterly event we’ve done ever since where we talk about the longer-term goals for our company and product.

Where do we want to be in five years? What kind of organisational structure will suit us best now and in the long run? What should we be paid? All this and more is discussed on our three day out-of-office Summit events.

It was now starting to feel like we were a proper company, although there was one thing in particular missing for me. In my last role I’d worked on a product used by millions of people, where reasonably often I’d meet people and they would have heard of the company (and perhaps had a request for a new feature that they’ve been waiting for). But now there was none of that, our world was very small.

That soon started to change, however, when we announced our initial funding and formally moved into private beta. The Next Web covered the news in Peakon wants to help you keep your best employees by bringing ‘people analytics’ to the masses.

With our team now working full-speed ahead, we quickly progressed from an MVP to building the first version of Peakon’s real-time dashboard.

August: In the evenings, we rolled up our sleeves and used about 20 pots of white paint to turn an old warehouse into our first real office.

Our beta customers have been helping us build and refine Peakon all the way. By late summer we were seeing the first of them use the product for their second and third times. Their feedback lead us to create Peakon’s recommended priorities, and manager dashboards. Now, executives and HR leaders can see the most influential drivers of employee engagement at a glance and set them as company-wide priorities to focus on.

One of those companies was European startup, Autobutler, who use Peakon to help define their KPIs and provide an actionable plan for their managers. We spoke to co-founder Peter Zigler to learn all about it:

Through the autumn we expanded our data-science team and brought benchmarking into Peakon – enabling you to view your scores in line with industry averages and get a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses.

As well as recommending focus areas for your company, Peakon explains the psychology behind your scores and provides actionable next-steps to improve them. Linda and Charlie [pictured below] have helped create our extensive Management Tutorial Library.

As the year’s gone on, with every product improvement, and every time we’ve heard about Peakon improving how a company works (there are more of those story on this blog), our excitement has grown.

We can see now that we’ve closed the loop that I mentioned earlier: enabling employees to easily share relevant feedback, providing actionable insights and guidance to management, and demonstrating how changes have lead to improvements over time. And that also neatly rounds of a great first year in business for us.

Thanks to the help of our beta customers we’ve created a unique product, that we can already see is making a real impact in the businesses utilizing it. We now can’t wait to launch Peakon publicly in early 2016, but if you really can’t wait either, get in touch and we’ll set you up the Peakon beta today!

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