Driving Employee Engagement With David Niu, CEO of TINYpulse

Updated: Apr 5

David Niu is a serial entrepreneur whose company, TINYpulse, is dedicated to helping employers create happy, high performing teams with user friendly tools that are grounded in data. I've used his company's product and find it super intuitive to navigate and much more effective and actionable than the arduous annual employee engagement surveys still pervasive in the workplace.


Additionally, in response to covid-19, they just rolled out a rolled out a free "WFH (Work From Home) Essentials" to help leaders engage, motivate, and inspire their people which you can find HERE.


Enjoy this week's In My Network interview!


How and when did we first meet?

I think we met two to three years ago when you were consulting and then working with Tangelo. 

I can't wait to pick your brain on employee engagement and culture but, first, tell me about your book Careercation.  What's it about?

I had started two consecutive start-ups and was getting burnt out. At the same time, I got married, had a daughter and decided that I needed a career plus a vacation to recharge. So it chronicles how we lived out of suitcases for about half a year while traveling around-the-world to recharge and get inspired to start my current company. 

Super cool. Now let' get back to employee engagement. Your company is called TINYpulse.  What do you do? 

We help hundreds of organizations, like Microsoft, Holland America, and the Australian Government get a pulse on how happy, frustrated, and burnt out their people are before retention sinks and issues fester.  Tell us about your philosophy of keeping HR "tiny".

To me "TINY" means lightweight, easy, and approachable. I believe HR software gets a bad rap, decidedly so, because it's the opposite of TINY. So by capitalizing TINY in our brand, it reminds us all that we have to continue to push and polish our offering to make it as lightweight, easy, and approachable as possible.  Your suite of tools is all in the spirit of creating happier and more engaged employees. What are the top things that drive employee engagement?

The top drivers of employee engagement include the perception of management transparency, recognition, and growth opportunities. Of course, it does vary from organization to organization, but the aforementioned categories always show up high on a client-by-client basis in driving employee engagement.  What mistakes do leaders/organizations sometimes make as it relates to culture and employee  engagement?

There's two primary areas. First, leaders conduct a survey and get eye-popping results, but they don't take any action against the results. After awhile, the employees enthusiasm to providing feedback wanes because they know it falls on deaf eyes. Second, if an organization does take action, they don't share back that they did take action.


For example, if one employee provides feedback on training in the San Francisco office, and the leadership is comprised of humble servant-leaders that launch a new training initiative based on that feedback. They think they're done; however, the employee doesn't know it was someone's feedback that ignited the change. Without that feedback loop, employees revert to little to no action is being taken based on feedback.


So leadership has to share and evangelize how and why they made the change in the first place to create a positive feedback loop experience. At TINYpulse, we call these "Wins" and even have a "Wins Board" to help highlight positive change that originated from employee feedback. 


One of the coolest features of your product is "Cheers for Peers". What is that and what's the design intent behind it?

Recognition is a huge part of motivation and discretionary effort. We believe that it's not just a top down approach. Everyone should be empowered to recognize any colleague for anything, even a warm cup of coffee on a cold day. We also make it easy for employees to access Cheers for Peers from multiple devices so they can easily provide recognition in the moment to reinforce a culture of recognition. 


What advice would you give a leader wanting to put a concerted effort toward employee engagement?

First, it starts at the top. If the culture smells good, you get a pat on the back. But if it stinks, you have to face the music. On the other hand, a leader disproportionately impacts the culture and can lead the charge to rejuvenate or reinforce their culture.


Second, culture is organic like a garden. It doesn't matter if you tend to the garden or not...sh*t will still grow. So one must be constantly intentional. Our research shows that if a culture has lost its way, it can be course corrected with 6-18 months of dedicated effort from the top down.


Third, a great place to focus is on acquiring talent. Be 100% transparent about what type of folks will thrive at your organization and what values they need to embrace. At TINYpulse, we like to put our values right in our job postings so candidates can see if they align with our values. And if there's no fit, that's OK, you both save a potential poor fit. It's much easier to focus on the front end than after a person is hired. 


Thanks David for sharing some things organizations can do to drive employee engagement and create a positive culture.


It's now time for your rapid fire round!

  • Bucket list: Take family to Iguazu Falls

  • Next up on your travel horizon: According to TripIt, it's Sun Valley

  • Your happy place: On the slopes

  • Big goal for 2020: Consistently get better sleep

  • Favorite happy hour place in Seattle: Ozzies since right by our office

You can learn more about TINYpulse by clicking on over to their website.  


David is also a frequent contributor to publications like Entrepreneur and the Harvard Business Review.

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