HR Tech Founder Series: How Zugata is Addressing the Heart of the Performance Management Revolution


This interview is part of a series of conversations with HR Tech Founders who are solving key people-centered issues within today’s organizations. This interview is with Srinivas Krishnamurti, Founder of Zugata.

The revolution has come to performance management — and feedback is central to that dynamic.

To be quite plain, it is performance management with the goal of actually improving performance — not simply measuring performance. While many platforms will help you collect feedback, Zugata takes it further with a twist. By utilizing algorithms to build a personalized social graph, the platform helps individual contributors gather feedback from those who have a clear view of an their performance.

The twist? No one else has access. It’s designed for the individual. Organizations that utilize Zugata are committed to this philosophy.

Ultimately, the platform helps employees collect feedback, interpret it — and put them on their paths to development through personalized resources based on that feedback data. Creating a culture of growth & development, leads to higher engagement and retention.

Feedback is the natural place to begin.

What is the backstory behind Zugata? What led you and your team to develop the platform?

The idea for Zugata came about through our own frustrating experiences using HR software at previous companies. Honestly, I would only log in to our HR system once a year around annual reviews, but other than that —  never.

“Broadly speaking, most of the HR software is built and optimized for HR teams and not for individuals like you or me.”

The focus wasn’t on helping me be a better employee or a better manager. We wanted to address the needs of employees (vs. HR) and set out to build a platform that helps employees develop and reach their potential. Additionally, we wanted to help companies collect and use data to help them make better decisions about their people and organization.

We noticed that organizations have a wealth of data about their customers, competitors, market trends and even their data centers, to optimize their operations. However, it’s surprising how little data they have on what’s so often referred to as their most valuable asset, their people.

What key features does Zugata bring that have been previously missing in other platforms focused on feedback/performance management?

Firstly, our overall philosophy about performance management is different. Our belief is that performance management must drive an improvement in performance, rather than just measure it. Everything we do percolates from that core mission.

While we do believe that companies need to measure performance to make compensation decisions, we separate this out from all other activities that focus upon performance development. We believe that development is continuous — and not a once or twice a year discussion.

Continuous feedback is critical to guide employees in terms of areas of strength and growth.

“Our AI algorithms automatically identify who you work with — and solicit feedback from the right people on your behalf. We’ve developed a best-practices based approach to offer feedback that is specific, actionable and objective.”

Each employee has his or her own performance dashboard, providing clear visibility into strengths and areas to improve. Another differentiator is that we don’t stop with feedback; we then deliver personalized development resources to each employee based on this data. We’re constantly building out these resources and have partnerships with, Skillshare and The Muse to offer classes and coaches.

Second, Zugata is designed for the modern world of work. For example, as Bersin often discusses, today’s organizations are moving away from the hierarchical organizational charts and moving toward a network of teams. Your manager isn’t always the person you work most closely with. However, most systems depend on the manager to provide developmental feedback to an employee.

Instead, Zugata integrates with the platforms people use to get work done, like your Gmail, Calendar, Exchange, Outlook 365, Slack, Jira, and so on.  We are able to build a personal social graph for each employee based on the metadata in these systems. This means that feedback requests are automatically triggered based on who people are actually working with. We also have an agile goals module and have recently designed team-based goals to support this new organizational model as well.

Third, Zugata also offers intelligent insights concerning organizational performance. In order to create a culture of high-performance, you not only need to help employees improve — you also need to optimize the environment in which they work.

Earlier this year, we launched Zugata Insights, which enables HR leaders to understand their organization in unprecedented ways. We run text-based feedback through a machine learning algorithm, then categorize attributes and phrases being used to describe people within an organization. We can filter these attributes by gender. Companies can start to measure and manage unconscious bias by seeing if men and women are being described differently across the organization. We can also help companies see the top attributes of their top performers, helping them to clearly understand the attributes they reward at their organization and assess how well they line up to their published cultural values

What are the most vital benefits?

Our customers use Zugata to create a culture in which employees have constant and fair opportunities for development. Today’s employees are self-advocates; if you’re not providing them with ongoing skills development and growth opportunities, they will leave. Research shows that by providing better career opportunities for employees, organizations can decrease turnover by 33 percent, saving an organization with 10,000 employees $7.5 million dollars per year. In addition, using Zugata is a step toward creating an inclusive culture. We help companies ensure that all employees are receiving quality feedback and receiving personalized development resources, that evaluations are designed for objectivity, and that and they have the data to measure and manage unconscious bias.

Zugata allows HR leaders to be strategic partners to the business. Historically, HR Tech reporting looks more like activity metrics. Knowing how many managers have submitted evaluations or how many goals are entered into a system does not help HR make strategic decisions.

“We provide data that allows HR leaders to actually understand the organization so that they can use data to make and measure their impact.”

For example, a clear understanding of skills and skills gaps — can inform hiring and training decisions. A list of the attributes you reward can help you evolve your culture. Or, finally, a way to measure unconscious bias can help you get ahead of unconscious bias before the promotion cycle.

What is your long-term vision for the platform? What comes next?

Zugata will continue to invest in adding value through the use of data. For employees, we will help with not only getting better in their current role but also with achieving their career goals and aspirations. For people leaders, we are very much in the first innings of what we could achieve with our Zugata Insights initiative where we leverage NLP, machine learning to help leaders better measure the biases that hold their organizations back. Look for us to invest a lot there in the future.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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