Human Capital With Jeff Hunt

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the podcast today, we have Jeff Hunt. Jeff, welcome.

Thanks for having me on the show, Thomas.

It’s my pleasure. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Sure, I am CEO of a company by the name of GoalSpan and we are in the performance management space. We’re located in the San Francisco bay area and in beautiful California and we help organisations to align their workforce around a common vision and be able to really clarify what’s most important and which helps them provide visibility and achieve greater things together. So that’s a little bit about my business. My personal background founded this company back in 2008 which is an eternity for a software company.

And prior to that had my own consultancy and I’ve also run both public and private companies. so I have sort of a broad and diverse experience, not primarily focused in the HR space which is kind of how our product is typically labelled, but that gives me some unique sort of understanding of business inner workings and allows me to speak the language of the CEO, if you will. Yeah, definitely. So why did you create GoalSpan? What and what was the problem that you were solving? Well, I have been consulting for mostly small to medium-sized companies for about five years, doing strategic planning, executive coaching, helping them with some organisational development work, culture creation and found myself commonly frustrated around the lack of execution and the lack of visibility and accountability that would come from the executive teams who all agreed on a common vision and objectives for the organisation.

But when you sort of play that movie forward, there ended up being ambiguity for them individually, and so their ability to achieve those plans ended up being mitigated. And so I was frustrated and I was looking for various software to help me with my consultancy and help my clients achieve the objectives they really sought out to accomplish. And there wasn’t really much out there. So I started this company and continue to do some consulting on the side and we’ve really evolved the business into pretty comprehensive and customisable performance management tool for companies from 10 to basically 1500 2000 employees in that space. so yeah, that was the, that was the primary impetus, you know, I was also wanting to create a strategic planning tool which we have yet to do because it’s sort of turned out that actually creating a performance management tool for the individual, ended up sort of cascading into organisational performance management, so that’s sort of what we do today.

So correct me if I’m misinterpreted, but it’s about communicating properly from top to bottom about the goals that a company has. Is that okay, somebody? Yes, from the product standpoint, there’s three core modules and if it’s helpful, I can explain a little bit about how those work and how they sort of align sure workforce. Yeah. So most organisations begin the performance year or quarter with goal setting. We always suggest that before they do any work around performance management. As I mentioned earlier, they do really Good job identifying their own vision. Where are they going in the next 3-5 years in a pragmatic sense, what is their market space going to look like? What sort of value are they delivering? and then they really talk in depth about the core values are the behaviours that they expect and want to promote internally.

And next they really speak openly and clearly about role definition for each person and the specific goals that align to achieving that longer term vision and they create those goals individually for departments, teams, divisions and they share them with each other and they align their workforce around what they’ve really defined as most important. So that’s on the goal side and then they establish a cadence internally where they can actually provide really rich and constructive feedback on both what is being accomplished and how it’s being accomplished. So when you think about those core values, that’s really the how you know, if we decide that integrity or work ethic is extremely important to us, we and we have somebody that’s accomplishing their objectives but they’re not honouring those behaviours then that’s a problem for us or if we recruit people without those core values, that’s that ends up being problematic.

So the feedback really, as you mentioned, helps to identify what is being accomplished and the and the how and then the assessment piece. So that’s done in a number of different ways. You can do that quarterly. You can take a look at only goal achievement, you can add various competencies if you want to take a look at the position individually and what’s most important, you can add core values. But the primary objective of assessing performance is really to have employees and managers sit down with very rich, forward focused conversations that help develop the employee and check in once again not only on what is accomplished but how it’s accomplished with a bent on the personal connection and engagement with that specific employee. So just to summarise these three core components, you have goals setting goals at the corporate level, at you know, individual team department level, you have an ongoing expectation of feedback and multiple forms written verbal formal, informal.

And then lastly, you have some sort of assessment where we are actually sitting down to have strategic conversations and discuss how things are going on a regular basis. So thank you for that breakdown. I think even if you know use that in terms of you trying to achieve something within a company, if you use that structure, I think that’s a value to a lot of a lot of companies. The reason why I initially contacted you was because of the podcast, which is the human capital podcast have you added some of those principles that you talk about on the podcast into the software or is that sort of like a nice side thing to have alongside it? Well, in terms of the principles that my guests discuss on the podcast, some of those are inherently sort of built in to, but we haven’t we haven’t taken the feedback and modified our development roadmap if that’s what you mean.

So you know, we have a pretty good development product development roadmap that continues to enhance the product in a way that really solves some core problems in addition to what, you know, the problems that were already solving for organisations going forward. So, but I would have to say, Thomas, that the guests on my show often talk about the softer aspects of business, which are just as important as the technology that you deploy. So for instance, what I mean by that is that you can implement the best performance management tool internally, but it’s never going to take the place of the critical face-to-face conversations that need to happen in order to enhance culture, improve engagement, improve employee experience. Have you know, development conversations, things like that, but my guess is that you’re focused on that side of things is because in theory you could create something which almost removes the personal relationships out of the company, which your I was suppose emphasising is incredibly important.

Yes, without question, and I think it’s important to note that when you really look at the differentiator of an organisation, those aspects are usually cultural. So in other words, if we’re spending time investing in people and having those conversations, we’re going to create a culture with higher levels of engagement, higher levels of productivity and one that’s very attractive and one that’s also very difficult to copy. So if I’m a competitor, I can look at your pricing matrix and your product strategy and I can look at your go to market strategy and your verticals and I can probably copy a lot of those things, but I can’t copy your actual culture. you know, the internal inner workings that lead to low turnover and a high attraction by the most talented people in your space and things along those lines. To great point. I haven’t actually heard culture spoken about in that light before in the sense that you just can’t replicate.

That is something that you can’t just copy and paste, you know? Yeah, I wanted to ask you about how the tool was created and intended versus how it’s used because I’ve heard I don’t have a great deal of education in this, but I’ve heard that like the intentions of some software companies don’t match how the consumers use it. So what sort of feedback have you gotten in relation to what your goal is for other companies? Well, when we started the business, we had our own concepts on what the product should be based on our own experience running organisations and consulting with organisations. But what’s interesting is over the years we’ve really modified the approach in terms of product development to make it to really listen to the customer about what was most important to them and you know, let them let them use the product and then really solicit feedback in a genuine way and take that feedback and determine how applicable is that to all of our customers?

Is this a unique situation where it’s only, you know, sort of a one off. Are we hearing this from a lot of different customers and we’ve used that to inform our product development. And we’ve also done actually a fair amount of, of customer specific product development projects where sometimes they’ll actually fund development. Now we will never do that unless there’s broad applicability for the features that they want across our entire client segment. But it’s a great way to develop the product because you end up with something that’s really what your customers want and that continues to solve problems in in sort of new ways. Are you happy with what you created? Yes, absolutely. I think we are a leader in our space.

There’s no question in my mind about that. We are customers are very sticky. So they stay with us for a long time. And the paradox in software development is you’re always resource constraints. So like, you know, if I had a team of 1000 developers, there would still be things that I would want to do. And so you are forced to identify and prioritise really well. And I love that in business because businesses that do that well are, you know, typically outperform those that don’t and so we love that prioritisation. And the other paradox with software development is that it’s it becomes more and more difficult not to grow hair if you will with the software so that the path of least resistance is too continue to add bells and whistles and features.

And then what happens is complexity goes up and the training requirements go up. And so we’ve taken great pains to really avoid growing hair with our product we’ve kept. In fact, it’s very interesting because if you look at our development, especially over the past three years, there are certain modules where we’ve stripped things away, but we’ve done that in a way where we add functionality and that’s incredibly difficult to do. But it’s fun. It’s this combination of art and science coming to reality where you’re actually really changing an organisation and an individual’s ability to achieve greater things together. So it’s a lot of fun. Well I would like to dig in a little bit to your HR expertise, but at the same time, I do always interested to know, do you have an exit strategy? we have a non-public disclosed exit strategy, but it’s not for some time.

So for those customers that are listening, you don’t have to worry about, you don’t have to worry about that for now. But that’s kind of all that I can sort of disclose at this point about our exit strategy. I suppose a better way of putting it if there is a better answer is about your goals for the company. He had goals, yes, absolutely. If we wouldn’t, you know, if we weren’t drinking our own Kool Aid, we’d be in trouble. But yeah, we have specific goals in terms of product development, revenue, growth, and you know, verticals, integrated marketplaces, we’ve actually entered a number of new integrated marketplaces with other providers over the past year. And Covid, the pandemic has really been a catalyst for some great change for us internally and we’ve achieved really big results in the last year, but we found that the best providers in our space typically focus exclusively on performance management.

Like we do, they don’t try to do everything in a mediocre fashion. You know, they do, they do less things extremely well. And then in our case we are goal, one of our primary goals is to climb into the river where customers are already living. So what I mean by that is if you look at some of our integrations are, they include products like bamboo, HR and gusto and ADP, which is really The £500 Gorilla since they have 800,000 customers. But we’ve essentially entered those marketplaces and then we’ve made it incredibly easy for uh, customers to stay within those ecosystems and use our tools so they can use single sign on. There’s document and file sharing that goes back and forth. And um, so without digressing are going down a rabbit hole. That’s one of our, that’s been one of our primary goals that we will continue to, to work on.

And how does your current situation look relative to what you’re expecting when you first started the company? Oh, it never goes as you expect. Yeah, at least in my opinion, you know, I’ve had the opportunity to acquire companies and merge them and that’s sort of the ultimate example of it. Not going exactly as you expect as those mergers rarely work out or acquisitions work out exactly as they’re intended. But that’s not to say that, um, it’s negative. So there’s, it’s just different and that’s kind of the lesson of life as you when, when you go do a home improvement project. It usually costs about twice as much and takes two or three times longer than you expect. And it’s similar in, in software development, but it’s not necessarily a negative thing. It’s just which is great because it’s more about the journey than it is the destination? You know, if I’m too focused on the destination, then I miss all of the beautiful things that I get to experience along the way.

Both hardships, which most people would say, how can you actually call a hardship? Beautiful. and the positive aspects and the achievements, but I do believe that those hardships are where the greatest learning and the greatest teaching kind of comes from. So no, it hasn’t been, it has not been as expected. It looks nothing like you, you expected, but it’s the journey that’s important is what I got from there. Yes. So, we touched previously on, you know, our previous conversation about what we might talk about and I think because I didn’t have a good system to write these things down on right, which is what I’m blaming right now, I need a good system to write some goals down. And it was creating culture if I’m not mistaken. So what are some of the main things you would share about creating a culture in the way that we talked about previously that can’t be easily replicated? Well, I would say that and creating culture is a very complicated sort of in-depth topic and I would be remiss to say that creating culture usually goes back to the beginnings of the business and its founding, Can I just add something for humour so that so that we can give some context here?

The question is, can you summarise your decades of experience in the next few minutes for us? Let’s see, that’s a little bit of a difficult answer to that question. But let’s see, summarise my decades of experience in the next few minutes. It was just a joke that I interrupted your answer. You go ahead with what you were saying before, right? Well, I would say that in terms of culture creation organisations are founded out of passion and usually they’re the founders have a cool idea where they’re going to solve a problem, but it goes much beyond that. So, and as they build their organisations over time, culture doesn’t happen by accident. It happens intentionally when conversation at a time. I would say the failing in many organisations is to not actually name that and talk about it.

What does our culture look like? And, for instance, core values, you know, the core values in my business are curiosity, integrity, resourcefulness, and care. We spent a lot of time thinking about those and came to the realisation that number one, those were really in our founding those are what a lot of the value is in the company itself. And there’s a pretty detailed definition behind each one. And so going back to your original question about culture creation, I think it really requires a lot of intentionality. And I’m happy to share what the meaning is of some of our core values, but I think any organisation can when they do take the time it provides clarity for employees. Like if I don’t know what our core values are and what’s most important, then there’s ambiguity and I’m sort of trying to sense based on other people’s behaviour, what’s important to us rather than being explicit and actually truly defining it.

So I don’t know if that answers your question, but I think so the one thing that I think it would sort of make it more concrete, let’s say you were taking over a company tomorrow and you have to create the kind of culture that you have today. What would you do in your existing company on it? Sure. The very first thing I would do is spend as much time as possible with as many different people as I could. So I would interview people and I want to ask them what’s working really well in this organisation and what’s not what are the, what are the things that are not safe to talk about and how is your relationship with your manager? And do you really understand what your role is and where we’re going as an organisation and why it’s important. So I would want to do that individually. I’d want to do that with teams. I would actually want to survey the organisation to get a sense broadly how things operate both in an explicit, in a non-explicit way.

And then I would go about accentuating and building up those positive attributes that really make things go well and create that culture. And I would want to confront those negative aspects and really find out how they came about. And then I think ultimately people, when they hear these types of things, they usually have a big sigh of relief. It’s like, wow, we can actually talk about this stuff and when you get right down to it, the undergirding of all of it is trust. So if we trust each other and if I go have these conversations with people and then they see there’s actually change occurring, then that’s a trust building exercise. If I have conversations, I survey people and then I go, you know, I’ve made a lot of noise and then I go away into the ether and I don’t come back. Then what I’ve just eroded trust. And so people are going to get silo’d and they’re, they’re not going to be engaged, they’re going to have lower productivity.

So those are the things that I would do. So when that does happen again and someone is actually authentic about it, people don’t participate because they’ve already done it and nothing’s happened. Yeah. In our hypothetical, I was going to say when you get blank stares from the profound questions that you were asking, what would you do next? Well, one of this best negotiating strategies is silence and actually listening. And so the first thing I would do is I would listen longer and I would actually confront the blank stares and I would say you know, I’d really like to know what’s going on and usually when you wait with people long enough, if they get any semblance that you do care about them both personally and professionally and that there is trust, generally people will open up and they’ll share what’s going on. So that’s what I would do. Interesting. A very good point.

I like it a lot and it’s about kind of getting past that surface level answer. So you you’ve got tons of HR experience and I just wanted to dig into that a bit. But what would you say is some of the biggest misconceptions about H. L. I would say the primary one is that HR is an island and it’s a problem, it’s a it’s actually a large problem that has been exacerbated over the years and many organisations where and what I mean by that is HR is the place that you know, deploys policy and they are the ones that actually deploys that deploys the performance management tools and they’re very process oriented. They’re very tactical and the biggest problem is that they’re not more integrated into the C suite, they’re not, they don’t have a better more strategic voice at the table and they truly are the can be the the primary culture creators in the organisation and they are so holistic HR is in their approach in the business because if you really think about it, what falls on HR it’s like almost everything you because it’s people operations, you have recruiting and onboarding and applicant tracking and you have learning and development with people.

How are we actually developing our works workforce? Are we aligning them? How are we managing their performance and how are we making decisions around talent And you know it’s oftentimes looked at as this resource that we call when something goes wrong rather than a resource that has trained managers and leaders to be able to solve their problems on their own and to further create that positive culture we were talking about earlier. What are some of the best traits or best examples of HR. That you’ve come across in your experience? I would say leaders that have a very strategic view HR. Leaders that have a very strategic view on the organisation. That’s what those leaders will outperform ones that don’t.

And that would be probably the primary one. I would also say that having financial education is critical for everybody in the C suite including HR. And sometimes people like to kick that can over to the finance or CFO or you know the finance department, accounting and finance when the reality is that’s the lifeblood That’s the oxygen of the business and C suite executives. Not in all organisations but in many organisations need a much better understanding around the financial aspect. So that’s something else that can really add value to. HR. Well, you’ve got kind of experience of both presumably. So am I right in saying that you were HR before you started your company and then when you started your company you kind of are able to use both those skills. No, actually, my experience prior to founding this company had nothing to do with HR which is kind of ironic.

But Yeah, I ran a family business that was in our family for 75 years. We sold that to a Fortune 150 company. I got to run that under public ownership for several years. Then I had left and started my consultancy really focused on strategic management consulting, not on HR. So I come into this space from a non HR perspective which is really in many ways beneficial because I’m not coming in with a tainted lens, if you will only looking at it from one perspective, looking at things more holistically at least I try to. It was interesting that you say that you soldier well the family business. What was that like? It was it was a difficult decision for the family and I guess we had created a business that was highly respected.

Our average 10 year employee tenure was 22 years. That’s the average tenure of our employees. What you just don’t see anymore? You know that’s this was a while ago, but that’s normally the top length, isn’t it? Yeah, exactly, exactly. So it was a good and challenging time at the same time. We’re very well resourced after we sold the business that we got to do some cool things. And yeah, it was a change, a significant change for the employees and of course, for the family. Do you mind me asking what business you’re in? Automotive wholesale distribution? So we were a pretty large distributor for both ford and General Motors in the western U. S. We had four distribution centres and distributed all sorts of products to the automotive space, whether it was dealerships, repair shops, body shops.

Yeah so going into software. Big change then. Yes, big change. They’ve been running even running those that that company formerly Thomas. I found I sort of called back on that experience because I would get so frustrated when it would come time for performance reviews. You know, we would have, we have this annual process where people are filling out forms and there grading and raiding each other and it was very backward, focused on history rather than forward focused on development and performance. So I really brought a lot of those experiences into the development of our software. Well that was actually gonna be my next question. Could have benefited from your software. But coming back to what we said about culture, what kind of culture did you have? Very family oriented culture? But one that I would say wasn’t dependent on the family.

So for instance, you know, by the time when the business was sold, I was the only family member in the business of running the business. But the culture, the family, culture and the care for each other extended throughout the organisation. People took care of each other and there was this ethos of people will do whatever it takes to get the job done no matter what. So if we’re going through challenging times, are exciting times or having difficulty scaling or, you know, people would do whatever it takes two to make it happen. And so that’s a very valuable thing to have for an organisation. You can copy and paste it. Not at all. Yeah. Right. Yeah, definitely. I mean, there’s a whole load of a back story that I’d love to talk to you about. There. Is there something which you feel would be valuable to the audience that we haven’t spoken about today that you’d like to share.

Yes, I think there’s a couple things that come to mind if you are an employee or an individual contributor that’s listening to this podcast, I would say be willing to lean into constructive conversations with your manager and asked questions if there is a lack of clarity around what’s most important and how things are going. If you’re not getting enough feedback. If you’re a manager, I would say schedule intentional strategic conversations with your employees. If you’re not doing that now and when you speak to them about how things are going, do it with a tremendous amount of curiosity and when things aren’t going well involve the employee in the solution and make sure that your employees understand what your goals are, what the company’s goals are and collaborate together around their own goals.

Make sure that they know that you are taking an interest in their goal achievement because they will be more engaged and they will be more productive. There’s no question that when managers expressed interest in employee performance, they are more engaged and more productive. And then I would say to C suite executives and to CEOs and those that are on the leadership team. If you haven’t communicated and revisited both the cultural aspects and the directional aspects of your organisation, take time to do that. So really write down on paper, what are your core values and make sure that they are communicated to the point internally where people, there’s no question at all about what’s most important to the organisation and then and where it’s going and what its purposes. And I think if you can do all of those things well and be able to lean into some of these challenging conversations that are often avoided, then you’re going to not only achieve bigger things, but you’re going to enjoy the journey much more along the way versus avoiding things and, and not really realising your full potential.

Well, I think there were a couple of real nuggets in this particular episode. I really liked the categories that you laid out which GoalSpan is sort of Hilton if you like. And I also really liked the questions that you would ask of someone who let’s say you just took over a business. I think those alone, I think are worth listening to the episode. So I appreciate the value that you’ve been given today. And would you like to tell the audience where the best place to find you is?

Yes. And first of all, Thomas hats off to you for an excellent podcast. I think you have some fantastic guests on your show and you talk about a diversity of topics which are really valuable. So I appreciate what you’re doing there. My company is GoalSpan. Its goal like to achieve a goal and span like a bridge so they can find my business at and my podcast, which I started last mid year 2020, is called Human Capital.

And if you go to the GoalSpan website, there’s a link to our podcast there. And we really try to uncover the deeply human aspects of work. We have some great leaders that come on our episode, you know, our various episodes. And so I would welcome any feedback about our podcast as well. So it’s Human Capital and thanks for having me on the show. It’s been great.

Thank you again. And I will speak to you soon, Jeff.

Thanks, Thomas.