#HRTechChat with James Brogan CEO and Co-Founder of PepTalk

What does it feel like to be part of a high performing team? It’s an intangible feeling that many strive for but few succeed in achieving. Creating and nurturing a successful team is hard work, yet the rewards are immense. When you put together the right group of people and offer them the tools they need to thrive, they can reach levels of productivity far beyond what any individual could achieve on their own.

Joining me on this video podcast of #HRTechChat is James Brogan, CEO and co-founder at PepTalk.  In this episode we’ll explore both mental and physical components behind creating, maintaining, and optimizing a high performance team environment so you can provide your employees with one of the most rewarding experiences available in business today: belonging.

“We believe team experience, which really is for us about habits and behavior, is about doing things intentionally, every week, every month, to bring about a better sense of emotional proximity,” shares James.  The idea of the team experience takes the employee experience to the next level by focusing on cultural-building processes.

“[Leaders] don’t need another lecture on psychological safety,” said James, “They just need something to do every month to bring that to the table. So we’re very much trying to make this simple, accessible and easy for people to get involved.”  It is working, customers of PepTalk are transforming the culture, building trust and reducing anxiety, and improving retention.

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Jennifer Dole 00:00
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to HR Tech Chat at 360 insights. I am Jennifer dole, and super excited to be here today to dive into a conversation about team experience with James Brogan, CEO and co founder of pep talk. Welcome, James, please share a little bit about you.

James Brogan 00:23
Thanks, Jennifer. Yeah, James Brogan, CEO and co-founder of pep talk, delighted to be here delighted to get a chance to talk about pep talk our company and the what we believe is a really exciting area of team experience. And I’m delighted to share our insights observations, and hopefully for your community. They’ll get some nice takeaways on on areas to reflect on in their own businesses.

Jennifer Dole 00:51
Great. Well, thank you for being here. Really appreciate it. I know you’re busy. Let’s dive into team experience. I haven’t really heard anyone talking about team experience. What is it?

James Brogan 01:05
Yeah, listen, I have to give you a bit of background first. Jennifer, I come from and our co-founders come from a high performance background. So I would have spent a lot of time in my 20s being exposed to high performing teams in Ireland and would have played a sport there. That’s the most popular sport in Ireland equivalent to anything you might have in the US in terms of its popularity. But the big things we took out at our time was I think, firstly, the importance, the water, those characteristics are fundamentals that make up great teams. And for me, you know, the big thing about a great team, it doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be it has to be intentionally focused on. And I think what we believed from our experience there was that organizations increasingly in this new world of work now are having to be much more intentional about what they do that intentionality. And the need now to look at our teams and our organizations differently. That was probably the first big lesson we took from our time playing sport. And really, that’s now in the DNA of pep talk. The second is definitely around for me. This was we took away this idea of you know, and it’s a little bit of a cliche, but a team is only as good of all of its parts, though it’s no good. And I think for a long time, and a lot of technology systems out there focus a lot now on individuals, you know, individual organization, or individual performance, individual recognition, where, again, the idea being that we need to create more of a team centric approach and the idea of team experience. And that idea of a team Epic is really what I think differentiates from our experience in sport, great teams from good teams. And it also allows organizations to consider, maybe we are we need to measure different things. Maybe we need to look differently at our organization’s capabilities. And maybe we need to focus on that team. So really, yeah, I mean, the DNA and the story of pep talk is about founders, that incredible exposure, not only to great teams, but also great leaders within those teams. And I think that’s probably the final area that I think we took from our own direct experiences of working and being part of sport, it was that leadership can be something that can be really built, and there’s skills that we all can learn to be better leaders. And I think I think there was an incredible stat I think I read a couple of weeks ago, that right now, you know, two thirds of people’s connection to culture in an organization is totally built around their manager. And the second piece and in terms of my feeling of, of belonging and togetherness and happiness at work, my manager is way more important than my doctor way more important than my therapist, it he she is the most important part of dosh. How does it feel? How does it feel to be part of this organization? So to summarize, they were probably tree of the tree, the really key principles that we took when we decided to take pep talk and build a technology product that we felt would change how people and organizations look at and their organization. And obviously, what we really feel now to summarize it, the culture of the organization has shifted, provide the team is really now where it all happens. It’s where we get our work done. It’s where we feel either part of the organization or we don’t, we’re not really all in the office at the same time now. So I think for organizations to sort of come out of COVID and continue to do the same things continue to measure the same way. But both people are different. We’re quite different. Leave it at that, you know, from personal perspective, the employer employee sort of contracts, you know, those beliefs and behaviors that both sides have, I think they’ve changed as well. So for a ton of reasons, Jennifer, as I’ve outlined in terms of one, why we think teams are really important, but really why we believe team experience, which really is for us about habits and behavior, you know, it’s about doing things intentionally, every week, every month, to bring about a better sense of emotional proximity. So as soon as you feel closer, I don’t think we have a problem with connection in the context of productivity tools, and all the different things that can allow us to connect and communicate. But that’s not that’s not proximity, that doesn’t bring you that sense of feeling close to someone. So I think that’s probably that missing link when it comes to when it comes to organizational behavior. Right now, the team experience is a really new concept. It’s something that we over the last two years have been building, and we’re really excited about coming to the US are really excited about working with organizations that I think are still struggling to kind of figure out how to approach this this new world paradigm we have. So yeah, in summation, really excited, really excited about team experience of what it can do.

Jennifer Dole 06:17
There’s so much to unpack in what you just shared. So let me see if I can start with a basic question. So you’ve really kind of moved beyond this idea of employee experience that everyone’s talking about, and saying that there’s more to the employee experience than just that

James Brogan 06:39
employee. Yeah, I think that yeah, like to break it down, Jennifer yet, we need to, we need to think of the employee. But we need to think about the environments by which that employee is interacting with the organization. And we are very, very strong on in believing that the environment that is most important to that employee is their team. And we need to think differently, therefore, about how that experience shows up on a weekly. And so it’s really just a more focused approach to the employee experience, acknowledging the different elements within that. But the context, the environment, we believe has shifted whereby employee experience is really centered on your team now. And we need we need to think and be really intentional about the supports are the enablers that help that team to become more than just a bunch of silos, individuals that are maybe in a team, you know, by virtue of it being called a team. But to my point earlier about our experiences have been in teams. And you know, I think one of the, everyone can remember being part of a great team. And when you ask the question, they almost you can see their eyes light up there, there’s they smile, and they begin to it’s a feeling, it’s ultimately a feeling and everyone has that feeling. And it might be from a personal team, you’re involved in sport business. And that really is I think, that’s what that’s that step two minute, you know, that’s the reaction that I think organizations ultimately want to create, because that’s what’s going to, that’s going to keep people in the company, that’s what’s going to get them to maybe work a little bit harder, and enjoy it or work a little bit more. So yeah, I think the team experience idea is around building that environment, where we can create that sense of psychological safety, where people can feel engaged, they have purpose, their leader, a manager cares about them. And he’s asking really good questions. And he’s getting feedback. So there’s a lot of, I think there’s a lot of behavioral kind of science that we lean into as well. And Jennifer, to me to ensure that, yeah, this this area is so important. So we really need to, you know, really lean into making it a reality now for lots of organizations around the globe.

Jennifer Dole 08:58
Yeah, I certainly appreciate how you’re bringing psychology into this. And you’ve mentioned the word emotional proximity. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

James Brogan 09:10
Yeah, I mean, again, just for I suppose to break it down really, really simply for me. And based on our research in this space, it’s about feeling seen. It’s about this idea of feeling that there is more than so if you think about it, there has been this preoccupation has been getting people back in the office so they can be seen so we can see them. But really, even if they’re in the office, and they’re over across the hall there. That’s not creating any sense of emotional connection, but that person, so for us, emotional proximity is about it’s about creating the environment where we are able to have better conversation to have human conversations about how are you feeling about working in our organization. Now what can we be doing more what can we be doing better on That’s really where pep talks whole idea is the idea that we start every month by doing what is simply a check in. So we’ll check in with the team to see how are we getting on that immediately, Jennifer opens up what we believe is an environment where people can actually begin to feel a little more vulnerable and start maybe kind of engaging in something that is more than just, well, here’s my work to do for the week. And you know, if you need me, I’m here. But otherwise, we’re never going to have a conversation. So I think promotional proximity is about vulnerability, and it’s about innate True, true, true conversations and habits, creating a positive environment, where people feel that sense of trust and psychological safety to be able to say, Listen, I’m a bit concerned, you know, I don’t feel we’re connected. You know, I don’t feel teamwork is an issue. You know, we might talk later on about some of the great examples we have in pep talk of the type of challenges we’re working on, whether it is the whole area of mental health, whether it is the area of kind of burnout and energy, or whether it’s a big issue like retention, and we’re just struggling to keep our people. And so that’s really interesting examples of where team experience can really impact the organization. But the fundamentals and that emotional proximity piece are their core principle of I think, how organizations need to build their businesses now as we go forward.

Jennifer Dole 11:19
Yeah. And what I love about what you’re saying is, it’s really just building the space for that, right, saying this is important to how we work is having these conversations and having this insight taking action on it, and kind of measuring the progress as a team.

James Brogan 11:43
Yeah, totally. And it’s not, it’s not going to, as I say, at the top, again, to some of those learnings from our own founder background, it’s not going to happen by accident. So we need to be really intentional. So to your point, if you sit with a candidate, and you’re talking about the culture and the experience of this organization, what does that mean, you know, we need to move beyond, we can no longer talk about the well, you know, we can’t walk the halls, we can’t, you know, we need to be able to really talk about what that feels tangibly. So that pep talk journey, where monthly will go in? And we’ll just say, you’re going to be asked, How are you getting on? What’s this feeling like in a team, but better? Again, how do we make it better, and I think that’s really unique to pep talk, it’s about, it’s about insight, but really, for me engagement, it’s not really a measure, it’s an action, it’s about, it’s about dynamically doing things every week, every month to support that positive motion that an organization can create, you know, it’s almost trying to, but look, that feeling that we spoke about earlier and create this rhythm. And I think, you know, organizations are very good at creating operational processes, you know, but we need to create cultural processes, we need to create things that are just happening. rituals that happen every week, the check in every bolt, the team talk, which I’ll which I’ll touch on is this really unique, constantly designed, where we’re using, we’re helping organizations with the data, but then we’re giving leaders in particular, the opportunity to be able to create that environment, Jennifer, to do a team talk, it might be on burnout, it might be on something around diversity, inclusion, it might be on Team connection, but it’s just maybe a time that’s a bit of a crutch. It’s something that, you know, it’s not easy for a lot of managers and leaders as they touched on there. I think there are a cohort that have gone through a ton of challenges over the last number of years, still feel they’re probably a little bit under service when it comes to technology enablers that can support them, though we make no, you know, we’re very focused on that cohort, because we believe they’re, as I say, key to culture, they’re underserved. And I think they need what I described as just enablers, just something that brings them to the water to make this, this this idea of creating psychological safety, move it out of the classroom or the concept and move it into this is just a question maybe How was your week i What is your month going? What can we do better? And I think breaking it down into really simple, simple term, simple questions. For a lot of our leaders and managers out there is really what they need. Now, they don’t need another lecture on psychological safety. They just need something to do every month to bring that to the table. So we’re very much trying to make this simple, accessible and easy for people to get involved. Jennifer. Yeah. Yeah.

Jennifer Dole 14:31
And I love that you’re kind of giving them the so what right so here’s the data. So what do you think about this, and being able to make it accessible, is going to help them have these conversations because not everybody has studied this like you have not everybody’s been on a fabulous team like you have, but you’re able to kind of share that feelings. through your platform?

James Brogan 15:02
Yeah, no. And I think that’s it, it’s, it’s, it’s about trying to scale this. So is that we made lots of organizations, and there’s probably 10%, that are probably this is really easy, and that it comes quite natural and turned on. But for lots of organizations, under managers and their leaders, it doesn’t come naturally. And I think, you know, to touch on maybe one of our customers for a second, the big European construction company saddles to talk of, you know, how do we create a culture of safety? You know, how do we create, you know, traditionally this, that industry has been probably a little reactive, as opposed to proactive. So, if people have challenges, you know, we, we have some supports there, but we’re not going to be at the other end, we’re not going to try and create a, an environment, you know, to touch on earlier points where, where maybe a conversation can be hard, whether it’s around mental health, or breaking down some of that stigma. Or maybe we never reached the point where we have to go into that reactive, more clinical area. And I think for, for progressive organizations in that sector, which probably is a little more male orientated than female, there is challenges there, as we know, so the task we were set to read was build out and what we did, you know, what we found is, you know, we’ve moved the dial in terms of when it comes to their sentiment, a lot less anxious, you know, when we looked at their scores when we first came in, and we looked at trends to now a lot less anxious. So that suggests that, you know, there’s a, there’s a, you know, there’s an emerging sense of trust there where we’re a little less anxious about working in the organization. But to your point about the scale, we’ve ran over 300 team talks in that in that organization. So if you, you know, if you think about that, from a positive cultural piece, that’s for me is, you know, that’s culture transformation. That’s, that’s something that now is becoming a habit and a behavior in the organization. And I think having that scalability and what we do making it easy for managers to have a conversation, we’ve no doubt and we’re very proud that we you know, that the impact we’ve made there in terms of building trust, reducing the anxiety in the organization, and ultimately, that there, they don’t need to rely on EAP, they don’t need to rely on some of those other clinical resources, because the culture is now there, where we’re stopping or kind of having a better conversation further off, sort of chain if you got me. So we’re very proud of that one in particular, and I think that industry is one where a culture of safety can transform and those types of businesses. And I think that’s the general, I think a lot of organizations are looking at this as much more about a proactive, preventative approach to building that culture, Jennifer, so very, very proud of that one, in particular, in terms of the challenges, so we’re certain verticals have mental health, but it’s not about we have an annual health issue, let’s just go and get some mental health programmatic support, it’s looking more strategically at the culture in the organization, because that’s more sustainable. Ultimately, that’s kind of what’s gonna make the change stick, you know,

Jennifer Dole 18:05
yeah, it’s interactions in these everyday moments that you’re targeting.

James Brogan 18:11
Exactly. Yeah, that’s because and that’s what that’s how you create that those set that sense of belonging, and that sense of connection. So it’s, it’s when it’s sort of, we’re most proud when this comes out, you know, the technology is ultimately an enabler. But it ultimately is when it begins to positively impact the business and the conversations that have been hard, be it virtually be it on the side speed in the office, that’s when that’s when it comes to life for us. And I think that that’s is really where the opportunity, I think, for organizations now is Jennifer to just say, look differently at their organization measure differently in terms of what we’re measuring, and then act differently in terms of the type of interventions that we’re designing.

Jennifer Dole 18:53
Yeah. So I have to bring up the headlines of all these layoffs right now that are happening. And I think about the survivors of these layoffs and these restrictions, and how having access to this platform would make such a difference in kind of rebuilding the culture of the organization rebuilding the teams and the confidence. Do you see that?

James Brogan 19:26
Oh, yeah, missing I think. I don’t think you can underestimate the enormous change that is now occurring in a lot of those organizations. And I think with any sort of change, Jennifer comes a huge amount of times anxiety for the employee base that are that are been left. So when you think of it in terms of what we spoke about earlier, that the ability for an organization to you know, but to be able to understand, how are we feeling about these changes, because it isn’t just going to be a week, it’ll be a number of months, or maybe even a year of transition from where we were to where we’ve been. And that idea of pep talk, being able to go in and get those generate those insights, get a sense of where we’re at as a team, because you’ll probably have some teams that are okay, and you’re going to have some teams. So they’re again, coming to my point about one size fits all here isn’t going to really work, you need to be much more granular and focused, but been able to source understand some of those challenges, and then you know, begin to start dealing with them. I think that’s a very important part of the change process that is sometimes missed, or we’re just so focused on, okay, we have less people, people are going to have to do less things. But what’s this? What’s that? What’s that feeling like for me, because ultimately, if I’m not really engaged or energized about these changes, it isn’t going to succeed. So I think, organizations in some ways, the easy part is the operational and the and the, and the, you know, the plan to operationalize how we’re going to change, but the human beings that are left in the room, what are we doing for them, and I think that’s the idea of, of where pep talk could play a really big role in elevating the importance of thinking about how people are feeling about what this has meaning for them, and then also intervening and acting on that in a very immediate fashion. So I think that’s where, you know, ultimately, they’re going to have to reenergize and reimagine some of the experience of those employees. And How amazing would it be to go in and talk about team experience, for example, as a way of looking differently as how we’re going to interact now going forward? So I think from some of that challenging environment, a solution, like pep talk can definitely provide a Yeah, a renewed momentum into an organization. But I think that sort of my motion, Jennifer, I think can really help with what is a challenging environment. But acknowledging the importance of the human being in the room is really why you’re gonna get that reengagement, I believe.

Jennifer Dole 22:13
Yeah. And the aha moment for me through that is, you know, if you’re doing an employee survey, you’re not doing it as regularly as change is happening. Yeah. Pep Talk, you’re in there building those habits, building that routine, having the that be the constant, as people come on to the team or exit the team?

James Brogan 22:37
Yeah, yeah. It’s exactly that. And I think that’s the biggest challenge with the, this is not like, the surveys have a role to play. But the challenge is, how do we dynamically use this data to intervene in an in a way of speed and within urgency, where the, the, the issue or the challenge has been kind of disappeared, you know, so I do think the idea of being really focused on what data we want to get from the employees. And that’s where the team experience, you know, in terms of the winner, we’ve looked very closely at what we believe are those areas that impact team performance and team dynamics, and that’s what we’re zoning in on. So that means we can’t ask, you know, we want this to be you know, the check in that piece of the journey, take less than 10 seconds. So you’re getting in and you’re, you’re getting that, you know, it’s almost feels like that, and you know, your, your timeout, your timeout of basketball, you know, that little kind of timeout, 10 seconds, and then we’re back on the course. And we’re going again, and we’ll take another timeout, and it’s just that motion. So it’s a survey, I think is that is a slightly different type of them intervention. And the challenge is action. But I think this what we believe this pep talk is just running, it’s always running in the background, it’s what you’re, it’s what your habits and behaviors are built on. And the more we work with organizations, Jennifer, the better we get to understand them, the better we get to understand they’re there, you know, maybe they’re not, you know, it’s like the natural ebb and flow of a human being, you know, organizations are ultimately a group of individual people that are there, and they all have their own rhythms. So the idea that organizations aren’t in any way analyzing the rhythm of their people, it feels like, you know, that’s a real missing data point, not only for the performance of the business, because that’s ultimately we want organizations are looking to perform to be out maybe as you say, with less than they’ve had before the having a you know, a sports team would never go on the field without understanding that now. And I think that that that idea of seeing your team, as something that we can build a rhythm around how we’re feeling and how we’re getting on a monthly basis. That’s for personally, I’m really excited about what that could do. You know, we use it ourselves and pep talk and we see the impact ourselves. So I think for bigger organizations, there’s a ton of really exciting opportunity there.

Jennifer Dole 25:00
Yeah, I do too. I, I, I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface. Yeah, we could talk for hours. You just can’t cover it all in a short period of time. But you’ve really kind of demonstrated enthusiasm and expertise in this area of team experience. And I look forward to following your progress and your customers progress and really using these behaviors and routines as a way to help companies grow. And

James Brogan 25:37
so yeah, really, yeah, we’re really excited because I think, ultimately, every organization right now is struggling with connecting their culture, they might have a challenge with retention, they may have a challenge with engagement. And we need to do something different to sort of address those concerns. And I think that’s where team experience as a, as a concept, I think our ability to help leaders is a very important component to that. And then the measures and the actions that we can drive off the back of it, Jennifer, so Yeah, we’re excited to be in the US, we’re already you know, he’s having such wonderful conversations with the with the, with the companies that we’re already chatting to. I think there’s a ton of them excitement about the space. And it’s not that different. And I think that’s what we need that we need to take differently. And I think that’s what Pep Talk is ultimately bringing is a different perspective on challenges that organizations have been dealing with now for a number of years, and maybe not getting the results that they might hope for. And you know, we some amazing stats around our big telecommunications company that has that has seen retention dropped by almost 10% off the back of a year long engagement and pep talk. So, you know, for organizations out there that are struggling with you know, are worried about, you know, losing their best people, which is really a focus, I’m sure now keeping our best people and engaging them. We’d love to, obviously have a conversation. But again, want to thank you on the team for today, I’m getting a chance to like you say we could talk for a number of episodes that they get to really dig into things but enjoy the conversation.

Jennifer Dole 27:08
Yeah, that was just a beautiful wrap up of all that we’ve talked about today. So thank you very much for being here and look forward to future conversations.

James Brogan 27:19
Thanks, Jennifer. Take care. Bye

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