Storytelling About KeepWOL With Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 161. This week we have storytelling about KeepWOL With Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks. During this episode, Lauren and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing KeepWOL.
Lauren is the creator and CEO at KeepWOL (Keep Wondering Out Loud) and an expert in all things employee engagement, company culture and strategic communication. Her passion for working in teams and collaborating with people really comes through during the podcast.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 30 minutes
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Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks PMP, CSM, MBA
Lauren brings a breadth of knowledge in facilitating meaningful and impactful engagement within organizations of all types, including universities and corporate enterprises. With over a decade of experience working at 5 Fortune 500 companies while being a black millennial woman in engineering & tech, she knows what keeps employees engaged and wanting to stay at a company.Follow Follow
Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens, or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better, as we speak with the brightest minds and recruitment in HR tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Lauren on from KeepWOL, and we’re going to be talking about the use case or business case, a cost-benefit analysis for how her customers and prospects make the business case for KeepWOL. Why don’t we just jump right into introductions? Lauren, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and KeepWOL?
Sure. Sure. Thanks for having me, William.
Just to say it again, my name is Lauren Fitzpatrick Shanks and I’m based in Phoenix, Arizona. Being an outsider was pretty much the norm for me, that was just like my everyday life. Specifically, being an outsider in school and the workplace is what motivated me to start KeepWOL. Just for a little background, I’m a black woman and I’m an aerospace engineer. I was the first black woman to graduate from the University of Kansas’ Aerospace Engineering Department.
I was also the only minority and one of two women in my graduating class. Because neither the students nor the teachers understood me and my life experiences, I felt misplaced. Relationships were challenging to build. My mental health was terrible. I consistently questioned changing my major. Think about that, feeling the need to change your entire trajectory because you don’t feel like you belong, right? That’s kind of insane.
I entered corporate America, but not much changed. I spent 14 years working at five Fortune 500 companies and they all promised diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging programs, but all of them were based on vanity metrics. None of the programs were geared around retention or ensuring the success of the diverse hires.
What was worse, was managers received no training on managing, leading, motivating, and communicating with people from all walks of life. I spent those years watching other employees either suffer and provide less-than-optimal output, or get fed up and leave the company.
My lived experiences and the lack of resources and support for managers, but also for the team members to have those complex, non-combative conversations that provide context details and learning through storytelling so that everyone can thrive and achieve their full potential, is what really led me to founding KeepWOL.
KeepWOL, if we were to bubble that up for folks, what does KeepWOL do?
Yes. Yes. At KeepWOL, which KeepWOL stands for Keep Wondering Out Loud, and we’re all about curiosity, courage, connection, and learning by doing. Our platform is made up of a digital library of development games that use storytelling to subtly uncover connections and overcome vulnerability to really nurture inclusion and team bonding. We build learning and development technology that maximizes cultural intelligence in the workplace.
Simply stated … Because a lot of people are like, “Well, what’s cultural intelligence? What’s that really mean?” Simply stated, it’s having the ability to relate and work effectively across different cultures and demographics of people. This is simple to state, but harder to put into practice because it all starts with interpersonal skills, such as communication, listening, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion.
All of these have to be regularly practiced to become second nature, and if we were good at them, people who got in relationships would never break up, right?
As employees at all levels, we don’t receive in-depth training in any of those areas and then we wonder why there’s infighting in teams. We wonder why employees don’t get along with their managers. We wonder why the dynamics of teams isn’t great. That’s really what KeepWOL was focused on.
Our solution enables those recurring, guided, immersive team experiences that are fun, super informative and they’re full of all emotions, especially laughter, to elevate that human experience, to really unlock productivity within the people who are employees. Let’s say that first. They’re people first and then employees. KeepWOL is powered by software. We’re a technology.
We’re powered by software, but we’re really driven by humans to truly cultivate engagement with the people you work most closely with, regardless if you’re remote, if you’re in-person or if you’re a hybrid of the two. The truly unique aspect of KeepWOL’s learning and development platform is that it provides a library of those live multiplayer psychology-based games that facilitate employee development in areas across all lines of business.
Then we track the data based on how those sessions are impacting the employees. We collect that in a platform and then we provide accountability and measurable change in resources to keep the continuous learning going.
A few things to unpack. One is, are you technically a rocket scientist or are you real dangerously close to being a rocket scientist?
I am technically a rocket scientist.
When people say, “Listen, this isn’t rocket science.” It’s like, “Eh.” Actually, you could actually call them on it.
Kidding aside, you mentioned vanity metrics, which for the audience I’d like for us to unpack that for just a second. Vanity metrics, as you’ve seen them and you’ve lived them, let’s just call it what it is. What are those? What are examples of vanity metrics?
Absolutely. Vanity metrics, there’s a few different things that you can call vanity metrics. Vanity metrics can almost be synonymous with quotas. It’s stating like, “We need to get a certain number of this demographic of people, of new hires in, so we can showcase that we’re so diverse.” And/or, “We need to have this many programs, initiatives, employee resource groups, this many attendees at an event to showcase that we’re actually providing support.”
When in reality, you don’t care about the outcome and the impact that your initiatives are having, but what the percentage or the numbers look like to state to the public of what you’re doing so well.
Right. It’s a game of perception.
Not reality. It would almost lend itself to a marketing or PR initiative to where it looks good on paper, but not necessarily the reality behind the veil.
Okay. Now that we’ve got some of that out of the way, I want to talk a little bit about, so obviously our worlds have changed because of COVID. Got it. Stated and covered. It seems like a lot of these social movements that have been building on one another, different, we can go back 50 years if we want to, but let’s just go back, Me Too, Love is Love, Black Lives Matter, George Floyd passing away … Excuse me, getting killed. Let’s just call that what it is.
Yes. Let’s call that what it is.
Let’s just call that murder.
Yeah. Murdered in front of us. We can just call that that. It seemed to put society … Like it seemed to put a lot of pressure on companies in a different way than before, pre some of this. Some of these really, really public demonstrations and some of this public pressure, it seemed still diversity, even 40/50 years later was a nice-to-have and even vanity metrics were … People wouldn’t call HR, call a leadership on those metrics.
Now it seems … Again, outsider looking in, it seems like candidates and employees are more apt and more willing to call BS on some of those things. First of all, do I have any of that right?
You have a hundred percent of that right. When we even look at this great resignation that’s going on, that’s a lot of the reason why people are leaving. They’re saying, “The environment is non-conducive. What you’re saying, these awards you’re winning and that you’re putting out into the public for PR and things, that’s not what’s really happening inside.”
Then you also have employees that we were working with the organization and during one of their KeepWOL sessions, which I was so happy to be able to sit in on it, somewhat an employee said, “We don’t see the company doing anything for us survivors, the ones who have stayed.” When your employees are calling themselves survivors, what is that saying about your culture? Survivors?
Yeah. They shouldn’t be survivors. They should be thriving. Not surviving.
Right. Exactly. Exactly.
How do you move people … I mean, you don’t do it through words, clearly, you do it through actions and-
Through action. What they were basically saying was what was happening was all the effort was either being put on people who were out the door, which at that point they’ve decided, “I’m leaving.” They’re trying to throw money at them, which I told you, I’ve worked at five different companies. That happened every single time, “How can we keep you?” Begging. I’m like, “I had conversations with you for months, if not years telling you what you could do. Yet, it seems like … And now that I’m-
I drew it on a wipe-off board at one point with a black mark. I think I even used a Sharpie. It’s on your wall. Here’s what to do. It was a map.
Right. I told you. I told you. Really my last and how I had to come and say, “Okay. I’m going to do KeepWOL.” Was it was, I can’t change it within the company. I have to come out and go in and say, “Here’s your resource. Here’s your tool. Here’s what’s going to help you do this.” The real thing they were saying, they’re throwing money at people or they’re begging, “What can I give you? Tell us anything, we’ll make this happen.”
Then there are new hires and perspective employees, “We’ll give you the world.” Then you get in and you’re like, “They lied to me.”
“This is not what they’re going to do.”
Now, that happens to … Now that … Just to be clear for the audience, that happens to all candidates. The lying happens to all candidates.
That’s everybody. Now, the depth and breadth of those lies for people that are marginalized is far more extensive, because they’re putting lipstick on a pig, but make no mistake. We lie to all candidates or we embellish.
All. Embellish, and even with that … Because part of it is like, well, how can we make it so there’s transparency? That’s a lot of what KeepWOL is about, because we’re like, if you look at Glassdoor, for example, whenever someone’s looking for a job, everyone wants to go and look for reviews on the company. They want to know, what am I getting into?
They might talk to a friend that works there or an associate or something that works there, and they get some insight, but it may not be the team that they’re specifically going to. On Glassdoor, you get a company view, like the global view, but not who you’re going to be working with, and a lot of it’s anonymized.
With KeepWOL, the statistics and the metrics that we are giving that recruiters could use, we are giving information at the team level and we’re giving information like, how comfortable are employees? Do they feel being themselves on that specific team? What’s the team’s working relationships look like on that specific team?
Oh, that’s beautiful.
How often are employees learning new approaches or skills from their teammates and leadership? Because upward mobility is important. Am I going to grow? Am I going to learn? That’s important. We’re doing all of this at that team level.
When an employee … And that’s one of KeepWOL’s goal, is for prospective employees to be asking, “Well, what are you doing, to, what tools are you actually using? Are you going to be using to make sure I thrive and I grow, and there’s long-term term success for me? Not that I’ll be looking and trying to decide, what’s my next move? In six months, a year or three years.”
Well, and it’s for candidates, show me examples, like point to a gal or a guy or someone in the organization that started at a place they’ve moved through the organization successfully. What were the mechanisms that made that happen? Again, not Brad, but someone that looks like me, acts like me like. Again, I think that’s important for candidates. I think it’s been true of all time, but even more so now, is they want to see people like themselves in a recruiting process.
Then they want to hear stories, to your point, of success and thriving of people like themselves. Shocking, not shocking. I don’t think some of this is new. I think our … I won’t use cuss words, but our ability to then voice our disdain is new.
It’s been there. All this stuff’s been there for a long time. However, the willingness to just go, “Yeah. Done. Out.” My only fear with that … And I have several fears, but a fear of the great resignation is that they’re just changing jobs. It’s-
Right. It’s not changing the … That’s what … We’re trying to change. You’re maximizing cultural intelligence because you leaving the job … And I actually had a conversation with someone who they identified as a trans woman. I asked them … And we do a lot of research because we want to make sure all the games that we provide are inclusive of all human experiences.
We want to make sure the questions we’re asking aren’t going to offend, and we have to do our due diligence to make sure we’re talking to … Because obviously I can’t go talk to 3 billion people and get all that insight, but I can go talk to different communities. I can talk to different groups. I can talk to people that identify differently from me, because that’s one of the problems we have in general, is we sit and we think about, “How would we react to this?”
Forgetting that we are not the only people that are going to deal with the consequences of whatever decisions we make and make-
Well, and the stories that you’re building, I mean, Lauren, one of the things I love about it is, it’s not done. It’s not like it’s fixed and you built a story or 10 stories or 20 stories or whatever. You and us and society in general, we’re constantly learning, or at least we should be. Excuse me. Oh, wow. I should probably rephrase that.
Right. We should be.
We should be. Yeah. We should be. When one of our friends tells us that they’re non-binary the first time that it happens, it’s like the question is, “Okay. Well, tell me a little bit about that. I don’t know anything about it. All right. Explain that to me. Great. Now I have a data point, a story.” I mean, the stories for these companies and for the audience to understand it isn’t a one and done.
It’s not a simple … Again, it was never a simple solution. It’s not going to be a simple solution. If you truly do want diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity, equality, learning these stories and then continuing to pursue new stories that develop right in front of us.
Right. Just think about how that affects your innovation. Because if you think about AI and you only have people that look like you, or have a similar story to you, then how are you going to train models to be able to be inclusive of all of society, of all of your customers? How are you going to give all of your end users the best experience they can have if the team that’s building that doesn’t even know the human experience of each other?
Oh, a hundred percent. I mean, so let’s talk a little bit about the storytelling that happens and then how you bring people together and again, how they learn from these stories, because there’s vulnerability. Like everyone goes into these stories. No one’s going in as the expert, because we can all learn something new. Tell us a little bit more about those experiences and how that happens.
I can see it happening … I mean, obviously you’re doing it remotely, now you’re doing it through an LMS and other technologies, but take us into how the stories get rendered and how people play with the stories and interact with the stories.
Yeah. It’s a beautiful thing. We’re a platform of games, and so our games spew the gamut of talking about things from diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to things like how to please your clients. Something for sales and marketing folks, or even people who have internal customers, because we all have internal customers. Then it also could be like, “Hey, we’re forming a new team, a project team. How do we go about the forming, storming, norming, performing phase?”
We have games that’s applicable to your development and areas to successfully do your job. What we’ve done is inherently built in the aspect of inclusivity and belonging in that diversity of thoughts and figuring how we can make things equitable, how we can meet people where they’re at, because Lauren might need more support in an area than William because of the circumstances Lauren has come from.
That’s equity. It’s not, “We’ve given Lauren and William the same resources.” No. The same resource, if I don’t know how to use those resources, then I can’t be successful. That’s one thing. With our games though, when you come in, it’s a game. It’s like a question-answer game. Think truth or dare, but the truth part.
You get these questions, but all of our questions are based on how you personally feel. Your perspective, your experiences, your opinion, your path. What has your life taught you? We don’t want to hear about the Global Week. You cannot talk for the … Right.
Right. Victorian. Yeah.
You cannot talk for the entire community you come from. You can’t.
I can’t talk for all black women in the world. I can’t and I won’t. I think that’s part of the problem, how we get to stereotypes and the marginalization of whole communities and stuff because of that.
A hundred percent.
That’s one thing. Obviously we did it in game fashion because people, for whatever reason, our brains, the psychology of our brains decide it’s a game. It has rules. We must follow those rules. If you ever play a game and someone isn’t playing by the rules, you say, “You’re cheating.” Right? You get upset. It’s follow the rules.
We never have any issues from that perspective because also the people who you’re playing with are now going to hold you accountable for answering those questions from your perspective. We have voting.
There’s voting, there’s points, there’s penalties, all that jazz to make … Because I said, you have all the emotions, but it’s so much laughter, so much fun, even when you’re having those tough conversations or those difficult conversations, because what’s really difficult about conversations is the fact that you are worried about judgment and what people will think of you and how they’ll think of you as a person.
That’s when we begin to walk on egg shells and try and do the runaround with what we’re really trying to say. For our voting, because we’re humans, all humans judge, we’re now trying to shift, what are you judging? You’re not judging that person and if you believe … Or if you think what they’re saying or their experience is true … Because you can’t say their experience isn’t true, that it didn’t happen.
Now you’re saying, “I’m voting on how open, honest, and vulnerable I felt you were being.” Now, once you’re in that realm and people are being vulnerable, it builds that foundation, that beginning foundation of trust because you’re like, “Wow, they just shared something that if this game didn’t ask that question, we never would’ve heard something like that.”
“I now feel comfortable asking for further contextual details so I can understand because I had this assumption or unconscious bias that I didn’t realize that I’m now privy to and I want to learn more. Now I want to work on continuously improving in that blind spot or void that I had.” That is what KeepWOL’s focusing on.
Then it’s like, now you’ve gotten these points and stuff, and initially people were focused … They got in there like, “I’m playing a game. I want to win. I want to get the most points.” By the end, it goes super quick and they’re like, “Wow. I just learned a whole bunch about William that I had no idea about. We never would’ve got to and now I know how to best support William, how to make William most successful.”
And if I’m William’s manager, I now see, these are the things that I need to be doing for William to get his most optimal output from him and then to guide him on his career trajectory to where he wants to be.
Yeah. Again, from survive to thrive. Two questions left. One is around when folks look at the software for the first time, what do they give you feedback? What do they fall in love with?
How simple it is. KeepWOL has two different aspects because our business model is it’s SaaS. It’s subscription based, but then it’s a train the trainer element because there needs to be a facilitator and we call them hosts. It’s like a game. It’s game show hosts.
You need to have a host in it so it feels like that third-party space to keep that safety that you want, that comfortability, because that person who’s hosting is not going to be your manager and it’s not going to be someone on your direct team. It gives you that … Like someone who’s going to play like … I don’t even want to say referee because there’s no referee needed, but someone who’s going to make sure that you’re following those rules, right?
But what’s really great is when it’s set up on the backend for whoever that host is, or the administrator of the account is, and set up the game, everyone just receives a link via their email, because it’s just an invite through whatever email system you use. You pull it up on your phone or on whatever device you want to use, your tablet, your desktop, laptop. Then you just click it and go and play.
It gives you instructions. Put in your name, join the game. Your host is going to pick who’s going to answer the question first. There’s a rules tab to see what the rules are. Like you’re playing Monopoly or something and you come real quick and you know the rules and you just get to play. It’s very intuitive. People are like, “Oh my gosh.”
It’s an LMS in a way that’s not a, “Okay. I’m going to go and do a standard lecture training or video training, PowerPoint training or something.” Like, “No, I just came in to the play the game. I didn’t even realize I was getting trained.”
Yeah. It’s a Trojan horse of sorts. It’s almost the antithesis of diversity training, which historically has been a beating for most people involved.
Yeah. It said, “Do this or don’t this.” It makes you scared to even have the conversation-
… that are going to help you learn.
Right. Right. It’s an inhibitor to actually what it’s trying to do.
Which, again, you’re getting back to the vanity metrics. A lot of that was just check the box compliance stuff that, “Well, we went through diversity training, so if Chad or Brad did something wrong, well, we went through diversity training. It’s their fault, not our fault.”
Yeah. We told them what terminology to use. It’s like, yeah, you can tell someone till they’re blue in the face. They’re not practicing it every day. How are they going to normalize that into their natural life?
No. No. They don’t know how to contextualize it. They don’t know how … I mean, again, it’s flat and again, the way that we’ve done this in the past. We won’t go backwards because it’s just a better way of, again, delivering an experience that gets people to a place emotionally, intellectually, and unpacks that vulnerability and gets everyone to learn. Everyone gets to learn about themselves and the others while they’re playing this. I love that.
Favorite customer story or … Without any names, of course, or just something that you’ve seen customers really innovate around.
As you said, favorite customer story I have one that’s very interesting because so many people have said they’re disconnected in this new world of being remote and we have a team building game on there. It’s not to be so work-based, but to actually build relationships with your teammates, right? There was a question that a person got that said, “What does true fulfillment and happiness and love look like to you?” Who’s having conversations like that at work?
Unless they’re one on one, right?
This is with their entire team, with their manager sitting there. What does true … And then that question. When this person got the question, they were like, “Ooh, that’s deep. Where do I go with this?” They just started responding and they started talking about their relationship. A key element of KeepWOL is the need more info vote, which allows people to gain those contextual details.
It gives them that permission to ask the questions that they normally wouldn’t be able to ask because it’s taboo or rude or that’s not … But KeepWOL, a part of the game. That’s what you do. People were asking all kinds of follow-up questions, asking for advice. It was amazing. I’m sitting in awe.
At the end, the manager said, “You know what? I don’t have a follow-up question because you answered all these questions amazingly. I just want to say, I did not realize you were so wise. You have so much wisdom that we have not heard in any of our team meetings and things.”
The employee said like, “Yeah. I typically tend to be more quiet. I sit back more.” The manager goes, “Now I know this and I’m going to make space to hear from you.”
Yeah. Now I’m going to be not letting you sit back.
Right. I’m going to make space to hear from you because-
… a lot of people who are introverted or something, they’re not going to be all up and wanting to talk over people and things. But if you ask them a question, they have things to say.
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
They have so much to contribute. It’s also like, “Well, now as a manager, you have to figure out, how do I lead this specific person compared to …” Because your style cannot be blanketed across everyone and think that they’re going to be successful.
No. Coming out of the World War II, that command and control, cookie-cutter approach, it outlasted its welcome 30 years ago.
Treating people individually, but meeting them where they are, all the things that you’ve mentioned. Lauren, you’re doing wonderful work. Thank you for carving out time for us, the audience and the Use Case Podcast. I just absolutely love what you’re doing, so thank you.
Thank you. Thank you for having me. This was fun.
Hopefully I provided some value.
Oh, a hundred percent. Most of this is just letting people know what’s out there and how to interact with it. You’re just doing great work. Thanks, and thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case Podcast. Until next time.
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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.