Monday 24 July 2017

'Steve Jobs did a great job ... but the era of the grumpy boss is over'

Eric Mosley, co-founder and chief executive of HR technology firm Globoforce, says that millennials have forced underlying issues around being appreciated in their workplaces. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Eric Mosley, co-founder and chief executive of HR technology firm Globoforce, says that millennials have forced underlying issues around being appreciated in their workplaces. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Eric Mosley believes that the end of the grumpy boss is nigh. The Tallaght-born co-founder of one of Ireland's fastest-growing technology companies says that millennials won't be barked or sniped at. This is creating a dilemma for traditionally-minded bosses, some of whom are turning to his Globoforce software for solutions.

"The old command and control disciplinarian at work is dead," says Mosley, sitting in his colourful new Irish headquarters in Dublin's Park West.

"The narky, grumpy boss just isn't effective anymore. Peer-driven processes are what's driving successful companies now. Managers are becoming more like mentors or coaches."

Mosley appears to be onto something. The company he co-founded now has revenues that have ballooned to over €300m, profits that are rising and an IPO in its sights in years to come.

With its software used by over three million employees worldwide, the firm's expansion has led to a new custom-fit building in Park West with 210 people in place and another 100 to be recruited. The company also has 200 people in its Boston office, where Mosley now bases himself.

At the heart of the company's products is an assertion that bosses need to treat staff differently.

"The influence of millennials in big corporations is that they have forced some of the underlying issues," says Mosley. "To say that millennials have a different need for positive human reinforcement than older generations such as baby boomers is not true. The boomer has the same need, he or she just may not be as vocal about it and may muddle on. But the millennial will come right out with it. If they're not making friends or being appreciated, they'll leave."

What Mosley preaches through Globoforce products is peer-recognition systems. Instead of annual performance reviews from a manager, peer review rewards on an ongoing basis is what is proposed.

"In the old days if you ran recognition programs, they were trinkets and trash and given out by managers to employees," he says. "The top 10pc might have got a token every year, but the whole process could end up being embarrassing, or gamed. It certainly doesn't lift the mood of the people.

"Instead, we look at giving power to all the people in the organisation to give and receive awards. You might give a percentage of your payroll to employees and tell them to be on the lookout for great performance or great behaviour. When they see it, they can nominate a colleague for an award. It can be a nominal amount of €100. You can end up with 80pc of people getting an award of some sort during the year. At that point you're satisfying the curve of your staff's human needs and lifting the whole organisation."

But what about the genius boss who works staff hard but creates world-changing products and services? Where would Steve Jobs fit in this new world of peer rewards and more sensitive work environments?

"There are obviously exceptions," says Mosley. "People like Steve Jobs are literally one in a million. They can create companies and entire industries. But they're very rare. And besides, all the research shows that they can only get a company so far. Once it gets to a certain size, it needs more collective management. So Apple and Steve Jobs would never have been as successful without a Tim Cook in the background. But again, this is an incredibly small number of companies. The majority achieve things based on teamwork and the collective intelligence and creativity of the staff they hire."

Globoforce's solutions are not, Mosley says, to be confused with a strategy that starts and finishes with a foosball table in the canteen. This is a stereotype that US tech companies, in particular, have been associated with.

"Silicon Valley companies can sometimes mistake having an Xbox or a beanbag chair for a next generation HR practice," he says. "But it has nothing to do with that. It's about how people feel and about whether their core needs are being met. A lava lamp looks nice but it doesn't help to create a bond between employees."

Despite this distinction, it is tech companies that are generally reckoned to be ahead when it comes to modern human resources strategies and benefits.

Mosley says that his main client base is made up of legacy Fortune 500 firms seeking to replicate the success of such tech firms in motivating staff.

"Globoforce's customer base tends to be old, big companies of scale," he says. "They're looking around and seeing that the top 10 companies in the world have been turned around and that it's now Google and Facebook that rule. So these Fortune 500 companies are studying what has allowed these companies to become so much bigger and valuable and effective.

"They're examining the successful work practices and trying to replicate that speed. They want to harness the creativity of all their employees and try to recreate those cultures."

As for Globoforce itself, Mosley says he is still interested in an IPO but is happy to wait while it continues its rapid growth.

"We did look at an IPO a few years ago, but the market collapsed around that time. If the market conditions are not right then no matter who you are it's not going to work. Since then, we've doubled as a company, both in headcount, revenues and all the financial metrics.

"So we're extremely happy with how the company's going and we're accelerating our growth rates at the moment. While we're in this incredible curve, we're willing to let it play out a bit and see how it goes over the next year or two before we make any IPO decision. But we're certainly open to it."

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