| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed


Overthrowing the performance review: Toronto's Rypple makes waves in the HR department

The workplace performance review, the mechanism most companies use to give employees feedback on their efforts, has been getting a taste of its own medicine lately. And it's not mere constructive criticism. In his new book, the bluntly titled Get Rid of the Performance Review!, University of California at Los Angeles professor Sam Culbert calls performance reviews "destructive" and "dishonest." Their annual or semi-annual onset manifests anxiety in employees, who fear their failures will be better remembered than their achievements, and impatience in managers who sort through months of emails, spreadsheets and memos to come up with some kind of picture, no matter how rough it is, of their staff members.

"Employees need evaluations they can believe, not the fraudulent ones they receive," writes Culbert. "They need evaluations that are dictated by need, not a date on the calendar. They need evaluations that make them strive to improve, not pretend they are perfect."

Into the middle of this call-to-arms steps Rypple, a Toronto-based employee feedback tool that's meant to be less cumbersome, more effective -- and perhaps even more fun -- than traditional methods.

When Rypple co-CEOs David Stein and Daniel Debow were searching for a new venture back in 2007, it wasn't their intention to overthrow the corporate performance review. They just wanted to start a business that would put everything they knew about workforce management into practice in fresh new ways. The two had worked together for seven years at Canadian tech company WorkBrain, which produced software that helped large companies manage and deploy their workforce. By the time U.S.-based Infor bought WorkBrain for $227 million in 2007, the company had 600 employees and Stein and Debow had learned a lot about the frustrations managers felt trying to keeping up to speed on what their employees were doing. They were also looking for business models that were subscription-driven, so the revenue flow would be constant, rather than driven by one-time purchases and occasional upgrades. Most importantly, they wanted to produce a workplace management tool that people would like to use. Generation Y employees, in particular, have different expectations of their workplace than their Gen X and boomer colleagues. They expect dialogue, not top-down decisions.

"Traditionally, management tools are forced onto people," says Stein. "We wanted something that fit into the way people were working."

Taking its cue from social media websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, Rypple allows everyone at a company to post short messages that appear instantly on the web-based system. The messages can be private, like email, or public, like wall posts that a whole department or company can see. The latter category is primarily dedicated to achievements and kudos, providing a place where the sales team rookie can announce she's closed a deal and where her colleagues can congratulate her. An anonymous messaging system lets coworkers offer constructive criticism or respond to calls for suggestions or feedback on an idea. In lieu of a performance review, the information can be aggregated to create a clearer picture of what an employee has been up to, where they need to be congratulated and where they need coaching. Because the feedback is instantaneous and continuous, nobody has to wait for an intimidating managerial pronouncement on their efforts.

"By getting the feedback right away, I can start tomorrow changing the way I work," says Stein. "You look at Facebook and ask why does it work? People were already sharing photos and joining groups. Facebook just made it easier to do those things."

Miovision Technologies Inc., a five-year-old Kitchener-Waterloo company that sells traffic-tracking technology to municipalities, adopted Rypple about three months ago. With their unique work culture, they wanted to avoid traditional performance reviews.

"We're very much a startup culture. It's casual, informal. You can walk into the CEO's office anytime and say 'What's up?'" says Rebecca Doerr, human resources manager at Miovision. "To have a checklist of boxes to tick wouldn't fit how we function."

Doerr was initially nervous that the novelty of Rypple would quickly wear off. But Miovision's 40 employees use it on a daily basis, showcasing big wins, as well as small wins which would otherwise be overlooked. Employees regularly share ideas and respond to calls for feedback.

"I think it's really increased motivation and team-building," says Doerr. "Before, one-on-one meetings happened only haphazardly. Now it's a more regular occurrence."

Stein and Debow attracted about $5 million of venture capital to launch Rypple, attracting interest from the likes of Peter Thiel, founder of online commerce legend PayPal, and Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management. After showing a prototype to the CEO of one advertising company to get feedback, Stein says the exec immediately offered to invest. Not bad, considering Canada's risk-adverse reputation when it comes to venture capital. The company now has 17 employees in its Toronto headquarters and San Francisco satellite office. The 2.0 version of Rypple just launched this spring and over the next 12 months, Stein hopes to sign up 30 to 35 percent of CEOs and human resource managers who visit the website shopping for solutions.

"We've been really lucky to attract the attention of some of the thought leaders in the space," says Jay Goldman, Rypple's head of marketing and community. "The advantage to being in Toronto is that there is a lot of talent in this town and fewer start-ups [than in hubs like San Francisco] so there is less competition to attract that talent."

Describing themselves as a "feedback company," it's no surprise that Rypple's team is constantly looking for ways to improve their own game. It was through meetings with corporate leaders that Stein and Debow came up with the idea and it's through ongoing meetings that they've refined the system to give customers what they want. In his own role, Stein regularly asks his team for anonymous feedback on what he can do to be a better manager. He shares the suggestions with the team and announces one that he'll act on.

"Just last week I received feedback that I should be even more focused on our key priorities," says Stein. "So at a group brainstorming, we decided that in the next 30 days we're going to have just two priorities, not three or four. When you're focused like that, it makes it much easier to do your job."

Paul Gallant is a Toronto-based freelance writer who lives in the emerging Brockton Triangle neighbourhood.
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts

Related Content