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Newest people-management tools up the ante

Software just might be the way to manage people in the future, thanks to the rise of social media and cloud computing.

Rypple, a so-called social performance-management platform created by the Toronto software developer of the same name, lets users set and manage goals, provide real-time coaching and feedback, and instantly praise accomplishments. Among its clients is Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook.

Employees using Rypple can set up feedback loops that allow others to give suggestions on improving job performance. Likewise, they can commend a fellow worker by posting a recognition badge for everyone to see. When it's time to conduct a review with an employee, all of the information a manager needs is there on the screen.

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The aim of Rypple co-founder and co-CEO Daniel Debow is to stop distracting people with bureaucracy. Traditional annual performance reviews fail to give the constant feedback that helps employees get better at their jobs, he says.

Mr. Debow joined us earlier to talk about his company and the HR software trend.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: Hi everyone. We'll start in just a moment. If you have a question for Daniel, please leave it now.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: Hi Daniel -- are you there?


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Comment From ddebow: Hey there Dave - I'm right here.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: Great. To start with, why don't you tell us about your company. Did you set out to create HR software, or did you fall into it?


Comment From ddebow: We set out to help people get better feedback at work... and to improve on a pretty old, painful process... performance reviews.


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Dave M., Globe and Mail: They can indeed be painful. Your system is peer-oriented. Can you tell us how that works?


Comment From ddebow: We had previously been part of founding another human capital software company, Workbrain, so we were generally familiar with the space. And, having built Workbrain to 500+ employees - we knew how painful traditional reviews were... and how much people want useful, fast, safe feedback.


ddebow: Sure. Rypple works by amplifying three key productive behaviors: goal setting & coaching, recognition, and feedback.


ddebow: We adopted a familiar and fun metaphor - social networks - because we realized that people are essentially engaged in a human activity when they seek out feedback, give props to others on their team, or when the want to get aligned around common goals at work.


ddebow: Because it is simple, familiar, and even fun - people are much more likely to use it vs. forms based, traditional HR software.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: So employees can give other employees pats on the back, and everyone can see them?


ddebow: That's one part of it, yes - public recognition. This is powerful in the Rypple context because it is not forgotten and it is public. So - other people learn what great work is by seeing others being recognized for it. It nudges social norms. And, equally important - when recognition is given on Rypple, it becomes part of a person's social profile, their reputation, that others can see. Finally, all the recognition is aggregated to make performance summaries easy. But, as I said, recognition is only one part of Rypple. We also have a model for Social Goals - based on our work with some of the fastest growing companies in the world. Goals in Rypple are open, flexible - and get used through the year to get work done. As a result, it gives everyone more transparency into what's being done. And - makes summaries a snap.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: How did you land Facebook as a client?


ddebow: We first "met" Facebook when their employees started using our service, voluntarily. It spread virally. Then we met them when we hosted workshops in Silicon Valley for progressive HR leaders who wanted to "fix feedback". They felt that existing tools and processes would not be appropriate for real-time, social workforce that they had. Over time, we got to know them and what we were trying to do - and we got to know them. Eventually, they asked us to work with them to re-invent how they did performance reviews... and we used our platform for it. The result was a product called "Loops" - which allows for real time feedback of all sorts.


ddebow: They run a ton of their people processes on Rypple now. Which is very cool. And we continue to collaborate with them on future product development.


ddebow: Facebook isn't the only "social" leader that helps us learn - and uses Rypple.


Comment From Dcma_t: Good Question Dave: Daniel, your client list is impressive! In my opinion that is :)


ddebow: We've also deployed the services at LinkedIn, LivingSocial, Gilt Group, Spotify, Eventbrite, Mozilla, and more...


Comment From Mark: How are employees accepting this kind of software in the workplace? Could you recommend strategies to help employees who have trouble adapting?


ddebow: Thanks! Dcma_t - we're really humbled to work with such amazing companies. At the end of the day, we know it helps us to build a legitimately "social" product. Based on our success (in part) lots of vendors are jumping on the bandwagon and touting their "social" products. We know we've worked with the folks who created the space... :)


ddebow: Mark - we find that people are quite accepting of Rypple. It's simple, easy and designed for them, not HR.


ddebow: As for strategies - sure.... when we rollout the services, we provide online seminars, coaching and advice to employees and managers on how to get them most out of it.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: How are HR experts dealing with the introduction of these products? Do any of them say you're taking out the "human" element?


ddebow: The biggest things we find are important are communicating to people WHY Rypple is being rolled out.


ddebow: HR experts are getting quite excited. Social is a big topic. Some are early adopters, and others are waiting... but all are interested.


ddebow: Yes, people sometimes have a misconception that what we are trying to do is replace face-to-face communication. Nothing could be further from the truth.


ddebow: Like all great social software we encourage people to talk in real life. That's why coaching is core to the behaviors.


ddebow: What we tend to see is that when we introduce the service people use it, yes - sure. But they also simply start to talk to each other more... Which is great from our perspective - and from HR and management.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: You've talked about the importance of adopting social tools in business software. What kinds of opportunities are out there? Where might your company be heading next?


ddebow: Dave - great question. Part of our recent acquisition by was the chance to become part of the coming revolution - the move to the Social Enterprise.


ddebow: There are opportunities to harness the power of social in all facets of business - both inside and out. So, sales, marketing, manufacturing even... and inside -in budgeting, HR, planning... general collaboration.


ddebow: As for Rypple specifically, we are excited to help companies go faster with a new model for management...


ddebow: One that is less command&control, and more agile, networked and meritocratic. In essence - the ethos of the Web is coming inside companies - and can be harnessed for competitive advantage.


Comment From Nancy_D: Your product can be seen as a successor to PeopleSoft, from Oracle in the States. Oracle obviously left an opportunity for another company to step in...


ddebow: Nancy_D - yes indeed. That said, I think PeopleSoft was (and is) still a very transactional HR model - getting the forms filled, benefits, payroll, etc. And that's *really* important stuff. But I think that there is not a heck of a lot of innovation there now. We're focused on the future - how can we harness social to help people work better together?


ddebow: By the way - my new boss - and the leader of our team from used to run all application development at Oracle, including PeopleSoft. He's joined us because he realized this is where innovation in the market is.


Comment From Rebecca: Daniel, you mention one powerful part of the Rypple is the public recognition aspect. Can't this work both ways? How do you prevent people publicly blaming and shaming their co-workers using the platform? Is it easy for the company to intervene if this happens?


ddebow: Rebecca: It's a common (and reasonable) concern. But it just doesn't happen. People are very aware that this part of Rypple is open and public. And that their names are attached to what they say. So for the same reason it is exceedingly rare for people to publicly blame and shame people in company meetings... they don't do it online. We've never had a complaint. That said - the way to deal with it is pretty normal. You got talk to people. And, yes, if a comment is particularly egregious and administrator can delete the comment. But... the power of social software is that you don't need the "company" to intervene. Many eyes are watching, so if someone violates social norms... then peers quickly say something. Usually much faster than a formal process of complaint.


ddebow: But it brings up another important point: Rypple (or any software) is not magic. It can't take a poisonous and negative culture and make it awesome. No way. Any vendor who says this is not being honest. What we do is *amplify* - we take the seeds of good culture (recognition, feedback, coaching, alignment, etc.) and make it easier, faster to engage in it.


Comment From EMansbridge: I see your software is cloud-based. Do employees have any reservations about their potentially sensitive information being in the cloud?


ddebow: Emansbridge - not that we've heard. The cloud has gone mainstream. is entirely cloud based - and has over 100,000 companies using it. People do their banking online, socialize, and interact with government online. All on the cloud. Of course, we take data security - and user/customer trust - very very seriously. It's our highest value. So, we are very transparent about what we do to secure information and the status of our data. Check this out:


Comment From TD: I remember being an employee of a company using a performance management software package, that HR had adopted. It forced everyone to go around to team members and get feedback once a year, then a few months later, receive feedback, then still months later, set goals with your manager. It was widely hated within the company. How does your software differ from this approach?


ddebow: TD - First, I think your question answers it. "months later". Rypple doesn't work like that. It's real time. People ask and get answers quickly. They can set up their own goals, at any time, and invite others to achieve them. Second, we're rarely "forced" in by HR. Usually we are introduced by managers or employees themselves who want a service to help with goals, coaching, feedback, etc. that *works the way they do*. People tell us that they feel very very different about Rypple. But don't trust me. Go on twitter and type in the words "love" and "Rypple" - you'll see people commenting on how they feel almost every day. I've never seen anyone comment on hating it!


Comment From Gillian: Social business seems to be one of those amorphous ideas that people have a tough time wrapping their brains around... until they see it in action. Do you have any tips for communicating the benefits of it when you can't do a demo? I guess I'm asking what your best elevator pitch is. :)


ddebow: Gillian - ha! I guess my best elevator pitch is this: A video of real employees talking about how they feel about it, and why it's better for managers.


ddebow: I get your point, social software is like sex a bit... lots of people talk about, but you can't really know until you try it :)


ddebow: Gillian - in all seriousness - there are lots of case studies and examples on our site and on the site for how real businesses are going faster, innovating more, delivering value to customers, etc. using social software.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: I was reading about IBM applying business intelligence software to HR tools. This would allow them to mine internal e-mail for information -- such as who is contributing more to a company and who isn't. Frankly, this scares the heck out of me.


Comment From Gillian: Thanks very much - will check out both links! :)


ddebow: Dave M. yeah, sounds vaguely big brotherish! Good news: we don't do that! Also, I suspect that might not quite be the full story... what companies are starting to do is to mine the *connections* between people by looking at email pathways to determine who are the people everyone needs to get help from, and who is helpful. I've never heard about mining the actual content.


Comment From Dcma_T: Who are your competitors in Canada? In the USA?


ddebow: Dcma_T - I don't think there is anyone doing quite what we are doing.. but we often replace failed attempts from vendors like successfactors, taleo, halogen, etc. Traditional HR vendors.


Comment From shanti100: When a company rolls out the product, how do they get employees to adopt it?


ddebow: shanti100 - we find that employees are usually quite eager to adopt it. It's natural, feels familiar, and is much more clear "what is in it for them". We find that users usually spread the product themseves. That said we often have a few web seminars and some easy guides to help companies communicate their goals for Rypple.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: One of your comments in today's Report on Business story ( particularly resonated for me -- about how good companies start with the idea that employees are good, not bad. Would you talk about that?


ddebow: Sure... we think that great software has to have a point of view. And our point of view is that most people want to do a great job, want to learn, want to feel they are contributing to a meaningful thing, and that they are seen as valuable by their peers. This seems pretty self-evident.


ddebow: If you take this view, you end up building a different kind of software - you build stuff like Rypple.


ddebow: Unfortunately, we think most HR software is not built with that mindset. It's designed for compliance. To make sure there is a record of performance, in case we have to fire someone. To administer standard programs. Etc.


ddebow: It's no surprise then, that people don't love using it and are skeptical of the traditional processes. Don't get us wrong - we are not just for happy talk, hugs and not worrying about results. Quite the contrary. But the great companies figure out how to do this by inspiring people around the ideas we described. And that's why great companies chaff under traditional HR software / processes. It doesn't feel right. Thus, Rypple is a much more natural fit for them... because our opinion in building it reflects the values of these great companies.


Dave M., Globe and Mail: Well, we are nearly at the end of the hour. Daniel, I want to thank you for giving us your time today.


ddebow: Dave - a pleasure. Thanks for having me - and thanks for the great questions everyone. Cheers!


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