HRD Tech FoundersBehavioural science tools to transform your organisation: Alistair Shepherd, Co-Founder, Saberr

Behavioural science tools to transform your organisation: Alistair Shepherd, Co-Founder, Saberr

In this installment of our Tech Founders series, Alistair Shepherd, Co-Founder, Saberr, gives HRD Connect an insight into the power of behavioural science software as a leadership tool for HR managers.

What is the true potential of HR and how can technology help us to achieve it?

In this installment of our Tech Founders series, Alistair Shepherd, Co-Founder, Saberr, gives HRD Connect an insight into the power of behavioural science software as a leadership tool for HR managers.


What is Saberr?

Saberr is an award winning HR tech company which builds software to help managers transform organisations. We use behavioural science to give managers the tools they need to lead better.

The vision at Saberr is to create software that is so good at promoting collaboration and communication that teams cannot help but perform at the top of their game. It’s more than just unparalleled business performance. It is about giving people the skills needed for productive social dynamics. Skills that transcend the workplace into home and community life. To this end, Saberr has created CoachBot – a reliable way to improve the performance and productivity of teams, at scale and for less cost (by an order of magnitude) than traditional methods.

CoachBot encourages teams to have conversations that need to happen but often don’t. It solicits information from across the team, synthesises the outputs, learns the root causes of the issues and provides a structured agenda for the next team meeting or one-to-one conversation – effectively helping the team to take ownership of their own development. Currently there are two types of conversations that CoachBot drives, foundations and habits although in the future we’ll support additional types.

Foundation conversations happen once every four months or so and include things like helping the team define a meaningful purpose, agree and track shared goals or agree team behaviours. Habit conversations happen every week or so. These include ‘one-to-one’ conversations between an individual and their manager and regular reflective team meetings called retrospectives.

Over time CoachBot’s machine learning begins to predict the trajectory of teams in terms of performance, engagement and psychological safety but also in composition. Coupled with the conversational and activity type data we learn which interventions are required to shift the trajectory of an ailing team to be more favourable – thus improving their performance.

Why was it necessary to create Saberr?

Creating effective change in an organisation is a challenge for leadership. They can’t be everywhere at once. It can be a worry that their interventions won’t really land or people won’t have the discipline to follow up and long feedback loops make it harder to course correct sooner. Neglecting the people part of change is often the main cause of failure. As a consequence, organisational change initiatives rarely succeed and traditional performance management systems fail to improve performance.

Although CoachBot is most often driven by the manager of the team it is used by everyone – even the most junior team members. Meaning that quiet or suppressed voices are given a platform they never had before. All team level information in CoachBot is given back to the team meaning they control the data rather than being controlled by it as with most employee data gathering tools.

Last year, Saberr’s products were used by more than 40,000 employees in 49 different countries. For teams that use CoachBot for approximately 1.5 hours per month, after six months they find that on average:

● Team performance improves by 22%
● 31% clearer on their objectives
● 19% better at tracking progress towards goals
● 43% more likely to discuss how they can improve
● Employee engagement increases by 12%
● Psychological safety improves by 43%
● 23% increase in how well teams feel they know each other
● That’s an annual saving of more than £3,200 per person from lost productivity.

The link between many of these factors and the health of business and employees has been extensively documented elsewhere. What our clients are able to show with CoachBot is that they have implemented a scalable, affordable and reliable way to specifically improve these factors across the organisation.
The impact this has on business and economies if applied more broadly could be transformative – not just in terms of growth but also in terms of the health and wellness of employees.

Why is HR technology crucial to the success of a business?

Technology has a few key benefits over traditional HR practices. Firstly, it’s always on – meaning it can be accessed where and when it’s needed. This is a big plus to time starved HR departments who can’t be everywhere at once.

Secondly, software is scalable both in terms of cost and geography. CoachBot is an order of magnitude cheaper than human coaching and works with co-located or remote teams.

Thirdly, it can learn continuously and not just from the users in your company but from all the users of the platform. This means the speed of iteration and improvement is much faster than can be achieved through traditional iterative cycles.

How can an organisation most effectively implement new HR technology?

Start small – but not too small. Technology needs to be tested before it gets rolled out at scale. You want to understand the system and how it will land in your organisation so you can iron out the kinks and there are no issues for broader adoption. However, the pilot needs to be able to show meaningful results – and very often this means having enough data to prove it works. At Saberr we find the perfect balance is to test new technology with around 100 people. That should give you enough data to show results and to find all the issues but be small enough that it’s manageable for a pilot and causes minimal disruption to the wider business while the technology is being proven.

What do you think is the biggest challenge affecting organisations today?

Adapting to change. I’m bored to death of hearing the acronym VUCA but there’s no doubt that adapting to change is the biggest threat to most organisations today. It doesn’t matter whether that’s an internal change or an external one. Whether your team needs to learn how to adapt to a new manager or your company need to learn how to adapt to new market conditions, the thing that sets the winners apart is their ability to readily adapt to change. Under-investment in the people part of change is a common cause of failure. That’s where software like CoachBot can help.

Which emerging technologies do you think will transform HR in the future?

I do believe that conversational interfaces will substantially change the way the average employee interacts with their HR department. From task based stuff like booking holiday to advice based questions about how to navigate a difficult conversation with your boss the way computers are able to understand and interpret not just natural language but also human emotion will have a profound impact on the role of technology in our day to day.

The key thing from Saberr’s perspective is that this technology be used to aid human interaction rather than replace it. Many new technologies are designed to increase human to screen interaction, to hook users into engaging with a platform for long periods of time. Our vision is to do the opposite. Technology should be used to encourage and develop social skills, rather than automate away the need to exercise them.

We must not underestimate the beneficial impact of real social interaction and the detrimental effect that long term social coddling has on economies.
CoachBot’s unique approach of helping teams have meaningful, offline conversations focussed on actually improving the way they work together sets it apart from the rest of the HR tech market.

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