David Bator of TemboStatus on why to grow not scale and building a fulfilling career through saying yes, staying curious and gritty and being entrepreneurial
David Bator is the Head of TemboStatus, an award-winning all-in-one employee engagement platform that automatically turns employee feedback into actionable to-do-lists for HR & People Managers. David is a celebrated technology leader whose unconventional background spans the arts, film and entrepreneurship.
Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
My entire career in business and technology has actually been a bit of a surprise. I had artistic ambitions coming out of university and was adamant about becoming a writer and a filmmaker. There was definitely no grand design that got me where I am today. I’m an enormously curious person and that curiosity has led me along the way. Because I have no formal business training, I’ve always approached business with a common sense approach because that’s all I really had. In retrospect though, I’ve always been a maker and when I think about my entrepreneurial pursuits, it actually makes a lot of sense because entrepreneurs are makers. Being able to understand a category, identify gaps and fill them has always come somewhat naturally to me but, as my board would say, “starting is always the easy part”. What’s more important is that you actually finish what you start.
From your perspective, how has the employee engagement software market evolved over the past few years? What are today’s clients looking for?
There is a lot of traffic in our category and employee engagement is such a misused term. Our definition of engagement is that first, it’s an employee’s commitment to doing the job that they are paid to do and second, it’s an organization’s obligation to establish and maintain the conditions so that’s possible. Executives talk about how engagement is a top priority but the lion’s share of engagement projects are never acted on. The reality is that engagement is not about warm and fuzzies, it’s about performance. When more than half of an organization’s operating budget is spent annually on paying people and 80% of what makes the company valuable lays intangibly within the people they already have, engagement clearly becomes a matter of dollars and cents. The other side of it is that 80% of engagement initiatives fail because nothing happens and we find that using software to just measure your employee’s engagement misses the point. You want to engage your employees, not study them. We believe in action and our software is about helping organizations take action on their engagement data.
So where do these engagement efforts fail?
A lot of the time, people approach engagement initiatives with no real intention to do anything with the data in the first place. From our perspective, this is because organizations simply don’t understand what to do with the data and what is driving the results. Part of our value is that we help organizations figure out where to focus their efforts. Another issue we commonly see is that when the engagement data is cascaded down to the manager level, those managers see no relevance in the data to what the reality of their team is. Again, it becomes a question of what do I do and where do I focus?
How can organizations better use engagement tools to drive better business outcomes?
Any business that spends money on engagement software needs to have a strong bias towards action. The organizations who really get it and exact real business value out of engagement software are those who take the time to commit to an ongoing conversation with their people about their culture. Engagement is not an event that happens once a year. The smartest companies out there are building bridges between collecting inputs and measuring impact. Our smartest customers are connecting the data that they collect through our surveys to the KPIs that drive their businesses. For some its turnover, for others its absenteeism or revenue attainment. It all comes down to making that connection.
What were some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way? How have they enabled your success?
An important lesson I learned from my first role was that while every business as an appetite for growth, not every business can scale and become a category king. A mentor of mine really helped me understand the importance of being realistic when it comes to growth, having a clear understanding of the metrics that drive the business and being laser focused on managing those. A mistake that I’ve actually recently made was believing that I can build our business from behind my desk. The reality is that the businesses who win legions of fans, achieve lasting product/ market fit and retain their customers do so through being an active member in their customer community.
How do you scale?
There is a big difference between growing and scaling. In our industry, there is a lot of pressure around scaling too quickly and getting drunk on all of the SaaS metrics that we read about in the press. So much of the talk is about who is raising big sums of money and there are fewer conversations about who is building successful and profitable businesses. When you go out and raise a lot of money, that’s just the beginning of a journey. At that point, you are at the foot of the mountain and need to climb to the summit. It’s very easy to spend someone else’s money and there is a lot of work that needs to be done in order to start actually scaling a business model at that point. We would love to see more balanced coverage of who is running the great and profitable businesses out there who are solving real problems for customers.
What does leadership look like to you and how does the next generation need to start thinking differently about leadership?
What I’ve come to see is that leaders and good ideas can come from any area of the organization, and it’s ultimately up to the organization to create the conditions which enable that to happen. The traits that I value in leaders are those who are not only goal setters but more importantly, those who are goal achievers. Leaders are also people who are data driven, great communicators, accountable and consistent. They bring curiosity and invite diversity of skills, experience and backgrounds to help get the best results for the organization.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?
To answer that question, I’ll focus on one thing that I’ve always done, two things that I think are essential and three things that I’ve come to learn.
One thing that I’ve always done is say “yes”. For anything that I’ve been asked to do, I always try to be as useful and engaged as possible. Rarely have I viewed requests for time or talents through the lens of my title or how much I am getting paid. I think it’s so important to say yes.
Two things that I think are essential are curiosity and grit. These are qualities that are essential to excel in industries like technology which are highly competitive, fast paced and increasingly specialized.
The last thing I’ve learned is about being Entrepreneurial. At its core, this is about designing, launching and running a business. What this means on the individual level is being adept at identifying problems, trying to solve them and measuring the impact of your actions in the job you have and on the trajectory of your career. You need to tick each of the boxes. It’s not just enough to see the problem: you need to have a role in solving the problem and critically measuring the work that you have done on your own or with other people to solve those problems.