Employee Connections: A New Tool for Employee Meet Ups With Jeff Cates of Achievers

Ever wondered how fostering a sense of belonging at work can drive business results? Jeff Cates, CEO of Achievers, has got answers! As our special guest, he takes us through an enlightening discussion about the importance of employee connections and how Achievers is leveraging innovative technology to nurture these connections. He unravels the intricacies of their belonging framework, built on five key pillars: feeling welcomed, known, included, supported and connected. These pillars play a significant role in fostering a positive work culture and enhancing employee loyalty.

Diving deeper into the blend of science and technology that Achievers employs, Jeff shares insights into their mission.  They want to impact the lives of the 70% of employees who aren’t fully engaged. Then, he talks about the employee meet ups tool and how it can be configured to match people based on diverse interests, thereby encouraging varied perspectives and stimulating invigorating conversation. Next, we round up with a delve into the role of Psychometrics in creating meaningful matches and bridging the disconnection gap felt during the transition to remote work. So, tune in and discover the power of technology in fostering a sense of belonging and creating meaningful connections within the workplace.

Listening Time: 25 minutes

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Jeff Cates
CEO Achievers

An executive with a proven track record of leading sales and marketing professionals delivering leading-edge products and services in IT segments. Experience in Government, Enterprise, SMB and Consumer segments. A goal oriented leader that balances the challenges of running a P&L while building a workplace where people can do the best work of their lives.


Employee Connections: A New Tool for Employee Meet Ups With Jeff Cates of Achievers

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup, and you are listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Today, we have Jeff on from Achievers, and our discussion is employee connections, a new tool for employee meetups. I can’t wait to talk to Jeff about this. So let’s just jump right in. Jeff, would you do your, do us, do yourself a favor, do us a favor and the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and Achievers.

Jeff Cates: Sure, yeah, my name’s Jeff Cates, CEO of Achievers. Achievers is [00:01:00] an employee engagement company in the HR tech space, but the areas that we focus on in particular is recognition and reward, voice of employee, and other ways that help create a sense of belonging. With an organization that drives culture

William Tincup: and meetups as we talk about employee connections and frame that up for the audience as, part of the title is employee meetups.

I’m assuming that meetups today, probably we construct those or we think about those a little bit differently than we did at 19.

Jeff Cates: Yeah. Totally what we’ve seen in the. Over this last two years in particular, is that there’s this fundamental kind of drop in loyalty to organizations and you’re seeing it in high attrition levels that are also impacted by low unemployment rates and, high growth and, but this fundamental loyalty component

[00:02:00] And in particular, we’ve done work on a belonging framework that we believe fundamentally are the key things that connect back to things like loyalty and resilience and satisfaction with the job, satisfaction with a company, and those things are under kind of five pillars, or really four, but welcomed, known, included, supported, and respected.

And there’s a variety of ways you can influence each of those, but one of the core elements that we see. Often is that what drives energy and passion and loyalty is often the connections within the company. Course, we know that the connection to a manager really matters. Lots of research saying, people join companies and lead managers and it’s to their leader.

Do I feel connected to the leader? Lots of research on that as well. But fundamentally, there’s this core element of, am I connected to those around me, the people I work with, [00:03:00] within maybe a work group or just the other people you happen to run into or mentors or other areas. And so there’s this element of how do you create those sometimes serendipitous ways for people to connect around passions or hobbies or things that matter to people beyond their day to day.

And that’s… That’s really been shaken, if you will, if not broken in COVID when you’re literally zooming from one thing to the next. And you’ve really removed that, call it that chance for serendipity or that opportunity to run into somebody in a coffee, line and talk about something that wouldn’t have happened without that.

So connections. is a way using technology to help solve that. It can be used in a variety of different ways, but fundamentally what it’s trying to do is create those connections to people, to other people that help in turn connect people’s hearts and ultimately help connect the loyalty back to the organization that [00:04:00] they were, they’re proud to be part of.

William Tincup: Let’s go, there’s several things to unpack, but let’s go deeper into connections as it does that, and I would assume there’s a bit of of machine learning and AI that it finds, connects dots that maybe we don’t, or can’t connect ourselves, but just take us into the technology just

Jeff Cates: a bit more.

Yeah, essentially an administrator would set the program up determining, how they want to use the technology, but fundamentally, they’re putting in the criteria of how they want to create matches, and then the application’s doing that. It’s looking for people that are like each other relative to the terms, and then matches them up.

But that could be used in a variety of different ways. Originally, When we started this, it was a white space project where people were just trying to create connections largely to help with things like onboarding. People come into an organization, they don’t know people. This was pre COVID trying to help create that, that, I join a company and I feel welcomed in the company.

But then when we rolled it out as a beta product to [00:05:00] customers, they started coming back with different use cases. I’m just saying, wow, this would be really phenomenal to help perhaps diversity and inclusion. Maybe you have, let’s say, racially diverse challenges members in a small location.

But if you can connect those people with others like them in other organizations, now they feel a sense of community that goes beyond their physical location. It got up there and brought up with mentors. You could use this to connect. People that want to mentor with mentoring, if you can put your characteristics down and do matchmaking there.

And so I think we’re at the very beginning of the different types of applications that can be used for, but the fundamental technology is you put in what. What it is that you’re trying to match make on, and then the technology helps facilitate that, make it easy, and yeah help make it easy for the actual interaction to have or correct.

William Tincup: It’s funny because we’ve historically looked to use these ERGs or SIGs or even mentoring buddy programs, et cetera. Yeah. But with technology, and especially as the [00:06:00] administrator sets up kind of the parameters, they can set that up any way they want to. And so you can get matches on wine tasting or people that want to learn Python or whatever the, whatever it is.

So what I was initially afraid of is okay so if all Native American people, I’m Native American, so let’s just pick on us. If all Native American people wanted, we just wanted a software that would match us all together, that’s great. On one level, that is great. On the other level, it’s sometimes we need to actually have different points of view.

We need to actually meet people that are different from ourselves. But the way you fixed that for me, because you’re like the administrator can actually. Configure this in a way that, that in any way that kind of makes sense for their particular company or the objectives of their company.

So thank you for that. I want to get back to your belonging framework because it’s actually something we haven’t talked a whole lot about. Take us inside a, why you created that or why y’all went down the path of creating a blogging framework and what you’ve learned while you’ve been building the framework.

Jeff Cates: [00:07:00] Yeah. That maybe steps back to our mission and where we focus on making a difference. So our mission is to change the way the world works. The company itself has been now around for over 20 years, and that mission has never wavered. The view of how to get there has been informed by science and to some extent customer feedback along the way.

But it’s always been anchored in that mission, which largely is looking at how do we make a meaningful difference in the greater than 70% of employees that are not fully engaged. And we focus really on three core areas. One is. Science purpose built technology two is smart technology that’s actually nudging behaviors.

And third is service and community. The first theory around science, what I mean by that is, although, being around for that long, and we basically serve small business through enterprise in pretty much [00:08:00] every industry with the exception of government it’s a pretty, pretty ubiquitous problems that we solve, which is, largely anchored in our core product around recognition, but the science component is, your customers can tell you, Hey, I’d like this, I’d like that, but often that’s tweaks to something. The science actually helps us challenge, how do we go back to our mission and make a meaningful difference? So the Achievers Workforce Institute, which is our, essentially our think tank is charged with that, looking at.

What are the ways, what are the frameworks we should use to, to build purposefully towards driving real outcomes? Some of that is research done with customers and some of that is more frameworks. And so the core one from about two years ago was the belonging model, which has been incredibly powerful, especially, in this last couple of areas where there’s been so much more attention.

to employee experience. So dr. Natalie Baumgartner, who’s our Chief Workforce Science Officer, helped build this [00:09:00] framework after doing a lot of primary research in the market around, again, those five pillars. Welcomed, known, included, supported, and connected. And so we’ve used that to challenge ourself, both as an organization, what are we doing around each one of those, but we’ve also used it to say, what are these other things that we can apply technology to then help drive change?

And so that we take that and we fuse that into our product strategy, which is that kind of secondary around, around smart technology. So that’s where it fits in if that makes sense. Oh, it does. It absolutely does. And well received, like when you start talking about these things, inherently people get it, especially there’s a fair amount of research behind like why these criteria and how each of them have an impact in the organization.

In particular, we found that two thirds of employees this year are saying that they’re going to be in a job hunt. We know this from our recent research. But those that declare that they have a high [00:10:00] degree of belonging are twice as likely to be engaged, productive, resilient, committed to the company and satisfied with their job.

So we feel good about the core criteria in the model, that it actually stands up to how, what’s influencing the perception of employees. And there’s no better time when you’ve got two thirds of employees looking to leave that you lean in. On having defined strategies under each of those pillars.

William Tincup: I absolutely love this. I love both the framework, but also love the pillars of welcome, known, included, supported, and connected. Do you see those as interconnected with one another, or is that a maturity model? Like when you.

Jeff Cates: Yeah, very much welcomed, the things that you do to welcome somebody into the organization often obviously can very much be tied to, do you know who you’re welcoming into the organization?

That’s the known component or the things you do in those first 14 to 30 days, and particularly the first two days. To make someone feel connected into the [00:11:00] organization whom you are connecting them to is really powerful. And you can see that in the first, 180 day attrition of employees.

Those that come in and feel welcome and meet other people that they feel like they have a common alignment to. Are much more likely to stay on the job, be productive, and be resilient.

William Tincup: You know what I love about this is people talk about belonging, first of all. They talk about diversity, including belonging, equity, equality.

So it’s within a framework or it’s within kind of a, an acronym. So sometimes it gets lost. , because it’s in such a powerful acronym, and people talk about belonging. But I’m not sure they know how to actually make belonging happen. That’s what I think y’all have really unlocked is both the science and giving people a framework and giving people pillars at which those pillars have, there’s actions around those pillars which is, it’s super helpful to to people.

Again, you can talk about it, but at one point you’re going to be judged on your actions. [00:12:00] So I love that you’re working, first of all, you’re tirelessly working on just making this a better experience for all your clients, but also just making it a better experience for all those employees too. So it’s touching a lot of lives.

Jeff Cates: Yep. That’s the mission. And that’s really what drives us.

William Tincup: So tell me a little bit more about the meetups. So within employee communication or connections you’re helping people with these meetups, describe that for the audience. What are these meetups?

What do they look like? What do they feel like, et cetera?

Jeff Cates: Yeah. So the once you get a match, so you would, again, the administrator will set up what is the purpose the employee would say, yes I’m interested in doing this. And input relevant information if it’s required for the purpose of the meetup.

And then the, again, the system will actually connect you and help facilitate the time of connection. And then depending on how you set it up, might extract learnings after the fact. Like for example, one instance we’ve personally used is it’ll prompt the individual [00:13:00] to actually say, Hey, what did you learn about so and which then can be put on the platform, which then can help facilitate other people getting to know that individual.

That’s, something up to the program administrator if they want to do that, but that’s essentially the simplicity of it. Set it up with your, what is your trying to accomplish, communicate out to your organization. Employees self select to be in for whatever purpose that program is for.

It then does the matchmaking, helps you connect with the individual, helps you schedule the meeting. And then depending on how you set it up, you might have a follow up that comes out of it to share back.

William Tincup: So on one level what I love about this is you brought it back to purpose, which is also the purpose of achievers as well.

And. These are all kind of things that, you know, as an individual, so an administrator and an employee, there’s a known, how do we unlock the things that maybe they don’t know or haven’t thought of? So what I’m trying to figure out is, okay, so if somebody, if an employee gets something, a request that’s, looks like a [00:14:00] match that’s a known, but what if, what if there’s things that they’re, either their lives changed, they can obviously opt out of that meetup.

So I get that. How do we discover the things that are important to them that maybe aren’t as obvious? I guess is the question.

Jeff Cates: Yeah that’s interesting. Again, in this case, you were using the technology usually to drive some sort of purposeful connection. Not always. Not always.

Again the original the original kind of application for us and the original beta customers didn’t really necessarily have a defined purpose other than. Hey, if you want to meet other people at the company, sign up and it, and it matches people. But that’s really not using any particular purpose attached to it.

It’s just facilitating, facilitating people meeting people. So if you’re using it in a more defined way Hey, we want to help people that are onboarding meet other, other people that would be helpful to them.[00:15:00] Then obviously you’re that up with some sort of construct in mind of.

Who you’re trying to match. If the question was Hey, you want to meet if I knew this about you, I might match you differently. That’s fascinating. We haven’t really gone into how do we gather more feedback on the individual beyond the individual. Beyond the dataset used by the program administrator to create the matching, we haven’t gone in to say, what else might we find out about the individual that might make for a meaningful match?

But it’s a pretty fascinating area. And in particular, I think a fascinating area for psychometrics to play

William Tincup: a role. And then people change. So as they change, then they can add in more data that will then create different match, potentially create different

Jeff Cates: matches. Yes. Yeah, totally. Yeah. Again, depending on, on, on how you’re using it, but let’s say for example, mentorship you might say what would be an ideal match for you isn’t just work experience.

It’s actually maybe somebody with a different [00:16:00] behavioral style for you, or maybe we’ll find somebody with a similar behavioral style just actually gets better, gets a more productive conversation and a useful conversation who knows? So I think that’s a really fascinating area to apply. More research almost across different types of programs on how do you drive how do you create meaningful connections?

William Tincup: Yeah it’s like the we, as we’re talking about it right now, we’re not thinking about meaningful conversations as. As written in concrete, we’re thinking of meaningful conversations as fluid because the organization is changing, managers are changing, mentors are changing, the employees are changing, everybody’s changing like moment by moment and so their needs are going to be changing as well.

What do you see right now in the meetups of I wrote down fun versus work, which probably shouldn’t be that way, but like people that are exploring passions and matches around passions versus Things that are probably real work related. What do you, what’s the [00:17:00] kind of balance of those?

Jeff Cates: To date, I’d say it’s been more on that personal connection as opposed to a defined hey, I need to go meet somebody like this that’s going to help me with the following and I suspect as we continue to continue to refine the technology to allow you to customize that to different people. Different campaigns, if you will, that, that might start to change.

It might be a little bit more like I’m specifically trying to match to some sort of skill set or something like that might might be targeted by the individual, but to date it’s been used more as creating social connections. It’s that, what happens when you get a bunch of people in a room, in a social and people run into each other.

Yeah. Not necessarily, some have used it, again, for onboarding purposes and things like that, but in general, it’s been more around people expressing an interest in meeting other people, and therefore, it tends to have more of a getting to know you, as opposed to I’m trying to, extract some sort of specific value out of that conversation.

And I think that’s great, that, again, that. That’s what’s been, that’s been lost [00:18:00] in the last

William Tincup: two years. I’m not sure it was that efficient before that but yes. And it also matches people’s feeling of being disconnected. The beauty of going to remote work was, Oh my goodness, we could think about work differently.

And then all of a sudden after that, a lot of people felt disconnected. And this is a way to really connect all over the world. Again, now you’ve opened it up with, again, another beautiful part of this is it isn’t just the folks in the Toronto office, or it isn’t the folks in the Dallas office that you might’ve bumped into at the water cooler or whatever, in the elevator.

Now it’s, your company’s worldwide. You’ve got people all over. You can actually connect with everyone, which is you’ve democratized that kind of that meetup and those, those moments that might matter to people. And again, they can opt in. Thank you. I, you don’t have to, which again, I think is I love that because if it, if at that moment, it if they don’t need that, they don’t have top down.

Jeff Cates: Yeah. [00:19:00] Yeah. That’s, I, you’ve nailed it in terms of the power that technology can play in doing things that, would almost be impossible without. And we see this, the pandemic has. has really shone a light onto that in a variety of different ways. If we look at our core recognition product, if you want to create a culture of gratitude, we know that it, the science will show us that high frequency recognition equals better engagement, equals lower attrition, like specific stats.

If somebody’s been recognized in a month, they’re less likely to attract. So we’ve got hard data saying frequency of rewarding people for positive actions Tied back to values drives culture, drives engagement, drives resilience. So it’s super simple. It’s super, but without technology, you’re largely doing that, make a card or at a town hall.

And those things are really powerful and really personalized. But when you have a platform where it’s actually being broadcast, now what you’re [00:20:00] doing is you’re connecting people around the world and everybody sees. What positive behavior is in leadership or peers recognizing other. Now you’re creating a culture of gratitude.

You’re not just recognizing somebody, you’re actually creating a culture of gratitude. That’s hard, what technology allows you to do is do that, exactly that. Amplify. This is what great looks like. Oh, and by the way, We recognize people for that. It’s really powerful. Same as communications, I interviewed probably about 200 CHROs in part with a partnership with Avanta throughout the pandemic.

About an 18 month period. And it was fascinating we would do these meetups with, maybe eight to 10 CHROs, and every round had something different to talk about, because there’s just so much going on in this last 18 months, two years. I would always ask, what are the silver linings of COVID?

And one of the core things that, Individuals said is we’re now one, we’re communicating much more transparently, [00:21:00] but two, we’re able to now connect with people in ways that we wouldn’t have before. And an example of that would be, they’d say in the past, maybe you’ve got a, maybe you’re a manufacturing facility or sales, you have international sales and you would only talk to people.

If you happen to go to that region, you’d say, Hey, let’s, while we’re there, let’s do some meetups. And you meet people in that moment, but that’s very, defined. It’s very structured. Oh, I happen to go there. So therefore I do a listening in session. And now people are saying we’re no longer bound by that, right?

We can communicate and ask questions and connect with people without physically having to be there. So it’s been this massive liberator and facilitator of two way dialogue. And so that’s a role technology can play. And I hope we don’t lose that as much as I don’t think we’ll ever be quite back to the way of work in the past.

I hope we don’t lose that transparency to communication. And that two way dialogue and not being bound by physical distance to actually, ensure that we’re hearing [00:22:00] from all of our employees regard, yeah, again, regardless of time zones.

William Tincup: Yeah, I think, I don’t think we will regress because I think once candidates and employees, once they know, That this is available to them.

I don’t think that they’ll, I don’t think they’ll allow it. So I think if it was left to business leaders and boards and C suites, maybe, but if but I think that ship sailed last question and something I’ve struggled with and I’ve seen CHROs and leaders struggle with this last two years is how they’ve redefined culture, culture for a lot of folks, not everyone, but for a lot of folks, it was the office.

It was the box and with, without people going to the box, their structure, the way they thought of culture was demolished. So you’ve obviously, you’ve had a bunch of conversations, how have, how are you helping people think about culture differently now?

Jeff Cates: Yeah. Culture and employer brand, both have been hopefully those are [00:23:00] completely interconnected.

If you’re a genuine, a genuine organization but you’re right. A lot of that was, this is how we do things here. And it came about in the way of kind of physical habits that were done. And now without that, people are having to rethink What is it that we aspire?

What’s the experience we aspire to deliver? What do we want to be known for? What do we want employees to say about us? What do we want employees to say, not only to their friends, but on Glassdoor? And so they’ve had to really re, rethink, okay, what matters is what we want to be known for in the experience.

Now it’s time to rethink. How do we deliver on that experience? And in some ways, it’s complicated because if you’re hybrid, you actually, you may still have to embrace physical, which, I think is really important. I think that there’s a lot of power to that. But if you only relying on that, you are most likely going to exclude people from your organization.

And so it’s going back to the roots of being grounded in your values. and your mission and what you aspire to be your employee [00:24:00] experience, and then applying things like frameworks to help you say, okay, if that’s what I aspire for, here’s a framework I can work within, and then how do I break that down and audit each of these experiences and relook at them with a fresh set of eyes, hopefully with very strong employee Feedback and helping you redefine what great might look like.

That’s why I like things like the belonging model because it allow you to now say, okay that’s what we aspire for. I can take this framework and I can look at each of these areas. How am I welcoming? How am I connecting? How am I ensuring that the individuals be known? And they can actually start to think about tactics and strategies and yeah, things they can do around that.

William Tincup: And keep auditing and keep getting better at each

Jeff Cates: one. That’s right. Yeah, there’s no one and done. There’s no one and done. And I do think that there’s an opportunity for technology to cause people to say, Hey I could, I can actually, there is a better way. I can actually do this completely different.

I don’t mean to put too much onto technology but it certainly can help people rethink like, wow, I could actually do this in a [00:25:00] different way and actually be much more impactful. And so that’s exciting.

William Tincup: Drops. Mike walks off stage, Jeff, I know you’re busy. So thank you so much for carving out time for us and the audience.

My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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