Storytelling About Confirm With Josh Merrill

Are you tired of outdated and ineffective performance management methods?  Today, William Tincup interviews Josh Merrill, the co-founder and CEO of Confirm to tackle this very issue. With their innovative approach to performance management, Josh and his team are revolutionizing the way companies measure and recognize employee contributions.

Josh’s expertise and insights shed light on why traditional performance reviews are falling short in today’s rapidly changing work environment. He explains how Confirm uses Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) to provide a more accurate and comprehensive view of employee performance. By analyzing the connections and interactions within an organization, Confirm reveals who is truly driving impact and who may need support.

With Confirm’s unique approach, companies can gain a clearer understanding of their employees’ development and impact. By leveraging data and analytics, they can make better decisions when it comes to promotions, talent development, and even talent hygiene—ensuring the right people are in the right positions.

So, if you’re ready to unlock the potential of performance management and reimagine how work is measured, this episode is a must-listen.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 25 minutes

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Josh Merrill
CEO Confirm

Confirm is an all-in-one people platform fixing what’s broken with performance reviews. Grounded in the science of Organizational Network Analysis (ONA), Confirm empowers leaders with a true view of each employee’s influence, impact, and actual contribution. All with less time and effort. Unveil unique data to promote, PIP, and retain talent with precision and confidence.


Storytelling About Confirm With Josh Merrill

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup. You’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today, we have Josh on from Confirm, and we’ll be talking about his business and why the, you know, the business case or use case, why people pick Confirm. So let’s do some introductions. Josh, uh, would you introduce yourself and Confirm?

Josh Merrill: Yeah, absolutely.

So, uh, my name is Josh, uh, co founder and CEO of Confirm. Uh, we’re in the performance management, performance review space. Uh, and prior to Confirm, I spent six years at a company called Carta, uh, leading product doing equity management. Oh, [00:01:00] I’m

William Tincup: a huge Carter supporter, so yes, I absolutely love it. It’s funny because I’ve had entrepreneurs that I advise, they’re like, hey, is there anything other than Carter?

I’m like, yeah, stop. That’s right. It’s like, is there anything other than Google? It’s

Josh Merrill: just stop. Yeah, that’s what you want to hear as, as an entrepreneur. That’s what you want to hear. Yeah. It’s the

William Tincup: best, it’s the best product in the market. Just don’t waste your time trying to find another product. I hope that people

Josh Merrill: will say that about Confirm soon.

William Tincup: Uh huh. So what’s, uh, what’s wrong with performance management these days? Yeah, it’s a good question. We have, we have five hours to kill. Because so yeah, that’s

Josh Merrill: right. How much time you got? Okay. So I, I, sorry. So I think if you look at performance. Um, performance management. If you look at like the, the drumbeat in the last 10 years has been like, look, we all hate performance reviews.

Don’t do performance reviews, do continuous feedback, right? Do development plans. And that’s all great [00:02:00] stuff. But now we’re kind of in this environment where it’s like everyone is trying to do more with less. And suddenly it seems like performance reviews are kind of, they’re kind of back because it’s not just about the development.

It’s about the measurement. And the problem with how we measure performance today is that when you look at performance reviews, what we’re really talking about is that traditional, you know, four or five point manager rating scale, right? And if you look at where that came from, that, that rating scale is a hundred years old.

So it came out of the U S military after world war one, it was brought into the workplace in the 1920s and like work was solitary work was, was repetitive. It was pre digital. The way that we work. Now is totally different, right? We work in networks. So you can hop onto teams or slack. You have direct access to anybody.

You can use zoom to connect with people all over the world. That’s how we get things done. So the way that we that we work has totally transformed the way that we measure that work is is still [00:03:00] kind of frozen in time. And what we’ve done with confirm that is different is we’ve brought up Organizational network analysis into the performance review process.

And what it essentially says is anyone in the organization should be able to review anybody else. It can be positive or it can be critical, but the point is it’s the way that things are actually getting done. Um, and that gives you, you know, much more accurate, detailed information that you just can’t get in any other methodology.


William Tincup: like that a lot because I’ve had a series of, uh, problems with performance management over the, over the years. One of which is like, when we look at any sport, that we like, there’s a box score. And there’s a bunch of things that don’t show up in the box score, whether or not it’s baseball or football or, you know, pick your favorite sport.

You know, I’m thinking right now about Dennis Rodman, and it’s like the things that would show up in his box score are rebounds, right? It was really great at rebounds. What wouldn’t show up in a box score is the hustle plays. It’s how many [00:04:00] fast breaks he started, you know, by rebounding and how he did the outlet pass, you know, like there’d be a bunch of stuff we’d go through that.

It’s like, I think about that if people in companies work in a gig, there’s things that they get credit for, okay, box score, and then there’s a bunch of other stuff that they’re doing that’s valuable that they don’t get credit for.

Josh Merrill: That’s right. I mean, when I was in college, they, they taught me to manage by walking around and like, nobody has shown me how to do that over zoom.

Like, there is just the number of touch points that we have as employees has, has just exploded. Um, but the visibility, visibility of the managers has actually gone down. Right. Um, It is interesting, by the way, this may be a little bit of a, of a digression here, but, um, that you mentioned sports because I think one of the things that’s so interesting in sports is that both performance and compensation follow, follow power loss.

I mean, you have a small number of players who are really, really exceptional and are paid really, [00:05:00] really well. I think when it comes to performance management with that traditional five point rating scale, we’ve. You know, we expect it to follow a bell curve, right? And we’ve sort of fooled ourselves into thinking that that talent and employee performance is normally distributed, but it’s really not.

It really is, um, power law distributed. And what we find when we run performance cycles for our customers using organizational network analysis, what we typically find Are similar power laws where, you know, 15% of employees will generate about 50% of the impact and about 5% of employees will generate about 50% of the problems.


William Tincup: right. Yeah. And it’s funny because you talk to VCs and they still use kind of an 80 20 model, that 80%, uh, or 20% of the value of your firm comes from these employees. The other 80% are, they’re, they’re important, but they’re minutiae. That’s just kind of making the machine go. [00:06:00] And I’ve even had VCs tell me it’s 90 10, which is insane to think about, but you know, uh, uh, non sequitur, but the, the first time network analysis came on my radar was a hundred years ago, is it related to social?

So people would do social network analysis, basically find out like, where are the tributaries? Inside of an organization that aren’t the dotted lines, they’re not on the org chart, you know, Sally’s the EA for, you know, some VP, she, she knows everything and, you know, like, like they could figure that out with social analysis.

What, what, uh, what, what does it evolve to? Because again, I haven’t paid attention to it in a long time. So what, when you say network analysis, what do you, for the audience, what are you referring to?

Josh Merrill: So, um, it, it’s very similar to what you’re describing, except that when we talk about organizational network analysis, we’re talking, we’re talking about measuring those connections within, within the boundaries of an [00:07:00] organization.

And so if you do a, um, you know, if you do a performance review on Confirm, for example, you know, rather than. answering a bunch of questions about what you accomplished and having to sort of self promote and defend your, your record. What you’re going to answer are questions like, Hey, who do you go to for help and advice?

Or, um, who, who energizes you at work? Or, um, who have you seen making an outstanding contribution? What did you see? Right. It’s actually about the people around you. And I think that the, the, if, if I were to answer the question, like why now, I think that Or, social network analysis or organizational network analysis in the past, it was kind of like, well, communication happens over there, but, but work and performance happens over here.

And I actually think those, right, but I actually think those two things are, are kind of one in the same now. I mean, there’s very, there are so few jobs that, that, uh, I mean, really, I’m not sure I can think of a job that doesn’t [00:08:00] have other stakeholders where everything I’m, I’m producing is for the benefit of somebody else.

Right. Thank you. Um, and, and that actually is the way that work gets done. And, and we need a methodology that, that reflects that.

William Tincup: It’s interesting because as you’re talking about it, I’m thinking about culture and how culture is also, it’s, it’s like a DNA strand. These things are following each other, they’re tethered to one another and how we think about performance.

I want to get, I want to ask you your take on goal setting, uh, in a second, but how we. Look at this is also culturally, you know, companies that are still struggling after COVID to figure out like, what is culture? I think they’re having some of the same struggles with what is performance and what is a measurement?

Okay, great. We can, we can hire and we can figure that out, but are we using things for the. The audience, the employees that will actually make them better, make our company better. And so I like, I like the 360. I, first of all, I love that. And I also [00:09:00] love the, you know, you know, you, the public praise, private criticism.

I love that. In fact, years ago, I used to have this culture model where I’d ask employees, I’m like, all right, we’re opening an office on Mars. There’s only three employees that can go. Who are they and why? Do they deserve to go? And it was just a fun cultural experiment and exercise to find out who are those.

And there were never the people that I thought that was what was crazy as I, you know, it’s going to be Joe. No, it was different. That’s right. That’s right. I mean,

Josh Merrill: yeah, you talk about the 15 percent of employees who create 50 percent of the impact. Most companies have no idea who those people are. Maybe in a traditional manager rating system, they may be able to spot maybe 40 percent of those people by our data, about 40%.

The other 60 percent of Kind of fall into this bucket that we call quiet contributors, [00:10:00] uh, we always read about like quiet footers, but like quiet contributors are these people who, they, they do so much behind the scenes, but they’re just not. They’re not natural self promoters, and I want to, you mentioned 360s, and so I have to take this opportunity to hammer on them a little bit, which is, so the 360 methodology, right?

Which, um, believe it or not, created in, in the, by the Nazi military in, in the late 1930s. That makes sense.

William Tincup: Right? That tracks.

Josh Merrill: You know, when you do a 360, you’re, you’re talking about this limited sample size, right? You’re going to pick three to five, you know, peer, peer reviewers, things like that. Um, you know, we just ran a performance cycle for, um, for, for a pretty well known software company.

And when we asked that question, who do you go to for help and advice, what we found is that. The, the most helpful engineer, the most sought after engineer in that organization, [00:11:00] 77 people go to him for help and advice. The sample sizes that we’re talking about when you do ONA versus when you do like a 360, for example, there’s just no comparison.

And when you see how incredibly networked and valuable some people are in the organization, it really causes you to stop and think about the talent decisions that we make.

William Tincup: So I’ve, and please tear this apart, I’ve long since had the philosophy. One of the fails of, of historical performance management is that you can’t serve two masters.

Your, for performance management is either, uh, a tool of management to understand and have some visibility inside into what’s going on, or it’s a tool for the employee to figure out how to get better. It can’t do both. I’ve, I’ve, I’ve, and again, it’s one of those deals, you know, I, I stand on stage and [00:12:00] say these types of things and, you know, people then have to go and figure out like actually how to make it work.

But the, the idea is that, well, it’s like sales management. Like Salesforce. com, when it first came online, struggled mightily because salespeople saw it as, for what it was, it’s like, this is a management tool. You’re going to be in my business. You’re going to know what tool I’m talking to. You’re going to know all this stuff.

I don’t want that. And then, you know, fast forward and there’s. You have to do that to be a successful sales. So people in most sales people have gotten over it. They’re like, okay, it makes me better. I understand I got to make a hundred calls. I got to do this. I got all the tactical things. So how do you, how do you reconcile who this is actually for?

With confirm in particular, who’s it actually for?

Josh Merrill: Yeah, it’s a great question. There is this sort of, uh, conflation and kind of a tension between, like, let’s call it measurement and development, or you could call it measurement and feedback, you [00:13:00] know, and I think the reason those two things get conflated is Um, if you tell me I’m not doing well, if you tell me I’m not meeting expectations, I’m going to ask you why and what I can do to get better, right?

See, you already just sort of naturally go into this, into this feedback phase. But I think, um, I’ll use a little bit of a metaphor, I guess. I, I, I’m, I’m kind of a fitness nut. Um, and you know, fitness is every day. So like I have a, I have a meal plan that I. Stick to like I eat the same thing at the same time every day, you know, I go to the gym and after work, that’s those are the things I do every day, um, once every quarter and I actually do this.

I live in San Francisco. So I get in my car and I drive down to San Carlos about 25 minutes and I do a DEXA scan. So it’s actually a body composition scan and it tells me like, right, yeah, it’s like how, how, how much is muscle? How much is fat? What’s my bone density? And it’s, it’s the measurement. It’s the way that, that I know, um, that I, that I [00:14:00] can answer the question, are the things I’m doing every day actually working?

Or do I need to course correct? Right. And that’s kind of how I think of performance management and performance management. Is it, it it is every day, right? It, it is. You know, when, when I do something, I wanna get that feedback immediately from, from either my manager or the whoever the stakeholder is, the environment I wanna know right away.

But then what most of our customers do is every quarter. They’ll run this ONA measurement and they’ll deliver those results back to the employee and actually be able to say, are the things that you’re doing every day actually working? Um, so, you know, it’s difficult to have, um, it’s hard to imagine a world where there’s feedback, but no measurement.

I think if you’re, if you’re going to do performance management really well, you know, you get what you measure, you should get really good at performance measurement. Uh, and that’s what ONA is great at.

William Tincup: Should we call it something different? Have you, have you thought about having the. Category itself has such a stigma, [00:15:00] uh, and, and, and, and good and bad.

Let’s just, we’ll just, you know, it’s not all terrible. It’s not all that stuff, but it is, it’s, it should be even call it performance management. Like I’m thinking, I’m thinking to myself about like goals. If we’re sitting down together and you’re my boss, okay. You’ve got an idea of what my goals should be.

I’ve got an idea of what my goals should be. There’s a reconciliation of what those should be, like the, the, all those things that you do on a daily basis, we’ve got to figure that out and you might not have all the answers. I might not have all the answers, but being together might have all the answers.

That sounds a lot like collaboration. So, first of all, have you thought, have you, have you, have you, have you been down this rabbit hole?

Josh Merrill: Oh, you know, a little bit, um, so first of all, just sort of sharing opinions here, uh, I think probably performance management, maybe it’s more like stage performance because that’s what it really is in most [00:16:00] companies.

Right. Um, you know, Um, I’ve struggled more with, um, you know, at the end of the day, like I, I’m a little bit beholden to what, what people are going to type into Google. I know. Um,

William Tincup: well, it’s the Excel spreadsheet of, of HR. So the budgets are made in, in Excel and there’s a line item in every company, uh, called performance.

Yeah. So, you know, we could call it something different, but would they call

Josh Merrill: it something different? You sort of just sort of have to plug into, into what the world knows. 100%. Um, but you know what? Hey, I’m okay with that. Yeah. Like performance management. Performance reviews aren’t, aren’t sexy, but you know, neither, neither were cap tables, uh, when I, when I joined Carta.

So I’m okay with

William Tincup: that. Good point. Good point. All right, let’s do some by side stuff. Let’s, let’s flip the conversation to, um, what’s your favorite when you have the opportunity to show software? What is your favorite part of the demo? When you know, you know, if you can get them to this place, maybe a report or different part of the, of [00:17:00] the, of the software, you know that their eyes are going to light up.

Josh Merrill: Yeah, um, there are a couple, but one that comes to mind is, um, this is a real example, actually. This, this was something that actually happened with one of our, our customers. And we, we, you know, generalized it and anonymized it so we could talk about it. We, we had just done a performance cycle at, at an organization.

And we looked at a cohort of people who were doing the same job. So they were, they were like engineers, same level. So same, same job description, same comp band together. And Um, and we spotted two outliers. We have this graph that kind of shows, um, people’s development over time. One of the things that we notice is, um, you know, if I ask you, who do you go to for help and advice, you’re probably not going to pick the person who started last week.

You’re going to pick somebody who’s had enough time to become an expert. And we can actually plot that over time so that we can say, you know, if you’re an engineer doing this, you know, doing [00:18:00] this job at this company, this is how we actually would expect you to develop through the eyes of your colleagues.

And, and we can, we literally draw that trend line in, in the product. And, um, and we were looking at one cohort in particular, and we found these two outliers. And, and one outlier, um, at the top was this engineer named Tracy, and she was exceptional by all measures. I mean, just super influential, um, Uh, super helpful making this out an incredible impact, uh, some of the best data that we’ve ever seen on an employee.

And then we found her colleague, Michael, who had been at the company. They actually started, um, two months apart. They’d been at the company a couple, couple of years, but they started two months apart. So really the, the, the same amount of time. And not only was Michael not making an impact, people were actually raising concerns about him.

So, so these two people doing the same job. Yeah, they have followed completely different trajectories in this organization, but here was the [00:19:00] kicker. They had different managers and each manager had just rated them meets expectations. Wow. That’s, that’s usually like the, the light bulb moment when our customers, when our, when our, you know, a prospect sees that they go, Oh, this explains so much.

That is broken about performance reviews that I see around me. Right? That incredible person who just never gets promoted or that jerk who just always seems to stay in the same job, even though everybody, everybody hates working with him. Like it explains so much. And to actually put that down on paper and see it in data is, uh, is a light bulb moment for people.

William Tincup: Oh my God. Light bulb moment for me. Um, what’s your tagline? I’m not going to look it up. What do you, what’s after confirm? We are blah blah blah blah. What’s the, what’s the bit? Uh, it’s

Josh Merrill: a, it’s a good question.

William Tincup: So I’m not, I’m not trying to put you on the spot. I’m just like, I have an idea and I want to roll it past you, uh, but go ahead.

[00:20:00] Tell me what.

Josh Merrill: So I would say we’re the all in one people platform built on organizational network analysis to reveal who’s driving impact and who needs help. Um, I would also just kind of, yeah, it’s a mouthful.

William Tincup: So to me, confirm is, is confirmation. Yeah. You’re, you’re confirming contribution. So, if we, if we, if we look at the end of the day, especially those folks that are doing quietly, they’re quietly going about their business, adding value, helping people, etc.

Confirm unearths the contributions. That’s right. And separates the wheat from the chaff, that whole bit, it’s like, okay, again, in that scenario that you just said, that, let’s say in that case, that guy, he might be really loud and, and, and likable on some levels or whatever, but he’s not, his contribution isn’t the same.

That’s right. And it seems like we, in a just society, [00:21:00] we should be judged on our contributions.

Josh Merrill: The, the mission of the company is to rightly recognize everyone for the difference they make at work. Ah, I love that. And, and I think that, you know, when you talk about performance management, um, what gets missed, what doesn’t get talked about is that we work.

In an incentive structure where one person determines my advancement, one person determines my destiny in an organization. And that’s my manager. And what that really comes down to is it’s not about my contribution. It’s about what my manager thinks about me. And it’s about their ability to advocate and influence on my behalf.

Right. And my actual contribution is somewhere way down the list. And I think if you were to say like, Let’s redo performance management, you know, clean sheet of paper. I think you’d probably say, well, the contribution should come first, right? And my ability to self promote, that should be like a distant second.

And then my manager’s [00:22:00] ability to promote for me, that’s like, that shouldn’t even make the cut.

William Tincup: Yeah, the, the, the, the thing that’s in education is some people are really, really great at taking tests. And some people, It doesn’t have anything to do with IQ or that other stuff, it’s just some people aren’t great at taking tests.

And so it’s like, if you’re just great at working your manager, like, and you come out of school or come out of the, and you come in and you’re just really, really good at I said manipulate him, it’s kind of a harsh word, but you’re really good at maybe not the job. But about managing the politics and managing perception and all this other stuff that has nothing to do with the job.

That’s right. Uh, so I, I could see this kind of, first of all, finding those, that, that, those things out and then giving that data to, uh, confirms clients and then saying, okay, now you know, now whether what you do with it, that’s you. Uh, but now that’s, you can’t unknow it. Now you know who’s doing what. Um, last [00:23:00] question.

When people are, uh, buying Confirm, and again, this is different, this is different than what’s come in the past, it’s different than what’s out in the marketplace, um, what questions, if you could script them, what questions should they ask you?

Josh Merrill: Yeah, um, it’s a, it’s a really good question. I think the, the questions that I, um, the questions, the questions I get asked and the questions I hope, hope people will ask are often two different things.

Right. 100%. The questions that I hope people will ask are You know, how do I, how do I use this data to make better decisions? Right? Like I want to promote the right people. When you go through a promotion cycle, like a good promotion cycle is one where nobody is surprised who was promoted and who wasn’t.

Um, a question that I would love to be asked is, um, how do I use this data to practice good? Talent hygiene. [00:24:00] You know, no turnover is not good, right? There are some people in my organization who, who, who actually shouldn’t be there. Um, there are some people who should be there, but need to, need to change or develop or grow.

How do I use this data to make those decisions? Um, those are some of the questions I wish I would get asked. Um,

William Tincup: yeah. Yeah. And a bit about contribution. How do I, how do I figure that stuff out? That’s right. How do I, again, If it’s, if it’s, if it’s tied to compensation and it’s tied to promotion, succession planning, all these other things, the more visibility inside that they can have into how work actually happens, as opposed to how they perceive it happens.

So using data to then say, okay, this is how things actually happen. This engineer is the most helpful. You know, this is how this work actually happens. Well, I could talk to you all day and, uh. Likewise. Turns out you’ve got stuff to do. So, uh, thank you so much for coming on the show. [00:25:00]

Josh Merrill: Thank you for having me.

Yeah. Uh, we got to find some more

William Tincup: time. 100%. And, uh, thanks for everyone listening to the show until next time.

The Use Case 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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