HR TECHNOLOGY Q&A WITH DAVID MENDLEWICZ, CEO OF BUTTERFLY

David Mendlewicz, CEO of Butterfly, and co-founders Simon Rakosi and Marcus Perezi-Tormos are building a next-generation employee intelligence and learning platform designed to empower managers at all levels to improve their soft skills and build stronger, more transparent cultures. The company, which has worked with Fortune 500 brands like GE, Citi, Jet.com, and Ticketmaster, recently announced its seed funding round of $2.5MM.

You’re somewhat of an outsider to the world of human resources, coming from a tech background. What is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about HR?

One thing many people overlook is the extent to which HR contributes to the bottom line. Studies show that happier employees are more productive and more engaged in their work, so it’s a mistake to diminish the very significant role of talent teams in this equation. Without HR actively working to build a strong culture to attract and retain the best talent, ROI suffers. Forward-thinking HR teams are embracing their important role and shifting their priorities to center on people development instead of people management. Technologies are enabling these teams to automate the “desk work” function of their roles, freeing up valuable time to invest in people. This is a trend we’re very excited about at Butterfly!

What are some of the keys to building happier, more engaged workplaces?

Studies show that the majority of U.S. employees are not engaged at work. While there are varying reasons for this, across the board we see that managers play a critical role in how engaged people are in the workplace. A happier, more engaged workplace starts with the individuals who are on the ground leading teams at every level. At Butterfly, we believe that leadership is important across the entire organization—not only in the corner office. At the end of the day, people don’t leave their employer, they leave their manager. Conversely, great managers are the key to strong, productive teams.

A second key to building an engaged workplace is to institutionalize transparency. This means putting systems and processes in place that allow managers and talent teams to consistently gather (and act on!) feedback from their team. Every employee should know that their opinions and ideas matter, and are heard, and also know that their feedback can translate into positive change where it makes sense for the business.

Your platform, Butterfly, focuses on developing stronger leaders. What are some of the qualities of a good manager and how can organizations reinforce these traits?

The number one quality is being a good listener, which is ironic because when we think of great leaders we often conjure up images of powerful speeches and brilliant ovations. But it really does start with listening: understanding your employees’ unique needs and points of view.

Managers that develop their listening skills foster more meaningful relationships with their teams and benefit from insights that allow them to improve their management style over time. In fact, this insight is the bedrock on which our product was built: more inputs and feedback = better managers.

A second important quality is self-awareness, which is something all managers must constantly work on. Strong leaders are reflective in their actions and open to feedback. Related to this quality, great managers are flexible and know when to change their leadership style based on how it is resonating within the team.

How can organizations use employee intelligence data to drive business impact?

In the context of our tool, employee data is used to surface trends over time and empower managers and talent teams to take action during critical moments. Here’s an example: One of our clients from a fast-growing ad agency detected, via employee feedback, that the team’s perception of work/life balance was steadily falling over several weeks. He used this data to call an all-hands meeting for his team, addressing the reasons why the work was piling on and providing a gameplan for alleviating the challenges moving forward. At an agency, correcting issues with employee morale is a critical issue since attrition at such organizations can be high.

Employee intelligence data can also be used to inform machine learning systems that provide personalized education and training to employees. Every employee can relate to sitting in a training and thinking, “This doesn’t feel relevant to me” or “This is way over my head.” Using employee data and AI, this data can be used to build custom lesson plans. At Butterfly, for example, the data is used to inform our AI leadership coach, Alex, who delivers content that’s tailormade to the needs of individual managers.

What are some of your predictions about the role of AI in people development?

I’m extremely passionate and optimistic about the presence of AI in HR. There’s a hot debate going on around whether automation will be a net-positive or a net-negative on the workforce, and while given the rapid pace of innovation it can be tough to make such sweeping predictions, I really do believe that machine learning will be a boon for talent teams and organizations on the whole. We’re already seeing it to the extent at which talent teams can focus on people development and culture instead of paperwork, as I mentioned above.

In the future I predict a scenario in which employee data is used to create AI systems that match people with their best-fit roles and assemble high-functioning teams based on what is known about individual players. This data will be translatable from role-to-role and organization-to-organization, and will ultimately lead to happier, more engaged workers.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s HR Technology Conference?

I’m here with my co-founder Simon and our head of BD, Matt. We’ve heard a lot about the conference and are thrilled to be participating as an exhibitor for the first time! (Come see us in the Expo Hall at booth #4151!). I’m most looking forward to meeting new faces and discussing trends in employee engagement and leadership. In particular, I’m curious to hear how others are navigating the talent landscape and how they plan on employing technology to meet their goals in the future.

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