Rebel Podcast: Life and Work on Your Terms

Revolutionizing Workplace Communication with Nicole Alvino, CEO of FirstUp

September 06, 2023 Kyle Roed, The HR Guy Season 4 Episode 168
Rebel Podcast: Life and Work on Your Terms
Revolutionizing Workplace Communication with Nicole Alvino, CEO of FirstUp
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Show Notes Transcript

Introduction:
In this episode, we are joined by Nicole Alvino, the co-founder and CEO of FirstUp, an intelligent communication platform for the workplace. Nicole shares her journey from her early career at Enron to founding FirstUp and her passion for improving employee experience and leadership communication. Discover how FirstUp is transforming the way organizations connect with their workforce, particularly deskless workers, and the role of AI in enhancing communication effectiveness.

Join us as we sit down with Nicole Alvino, a pioneering entrepreneur and the co-founder and CEO of FirstUp, a cutting-edge communication platform that's transforming the workplace. Nicole provides captivating insight into her professional trajectory - from her tenure at Enron to the birth of FirstUp. She paints a vivid picture of how the platform harnesses technology to navigate the complexities of communication. The mission? Delivering messages that stick - the right tone, right time, and right person.

Dive into the world of Artificial Intelligence as we explore its profound impact on Human Resources and the workplace. Nicole reveals how FirstUp leverages AI to amplify engagement, highlighting the story of Philips 66 whose engagement levels tripled due to the platform. Not only that, but we also discuss the opportunities AI opens up for HR professionals, enabling them to boost their skills, craft personalized experiences, and maintain a human touch in their interactions.

Our conversation takes a deeper turn as we discuss how intelligent delivery can create tailored employee journeys. Nicole sheds light on how it empowers companies to proactively tackle employee engagement, foresee potential risks, and spot overlooked talents. She emphasizes the need to listen to the latent voices in organizations that can help prevent potential crises. As we wrap up, find out how you can connect with FirstUp and learn more about this revolutionary platform, ensuring no stone is left unturned. This is an episode you don't want to miss - Let's revolutionize workplace communication together!



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Kyle Roed:

This is the rebel HR Podcast, the podcast about all things innovation in the people space. I'm Kyle ROED. Let's start the show. Welcome back HR rebels. We're extremely excited for the show. This week, we have a awesome guest, Nicole Alvino, who is the co founder and CEO of first up. First up is an intelligent communication platform for the workplace started. And she started it off at an interesting spot in her career at Enron, so she's come a long way, from Enron to today. So Nicole, thank you so much for joining us, and excited to talk a little bit about First up and intelligent communication.

Nicole Alvino:

Thanks for having me, Kyle.

Kyle Roed:

Well, thank you, again, so much for joining us. I want to start off by getting a little bit calibrated around the work that you do at first up, so So tell me a little bit about the organization?

Nicole Alvino:

Yeah, so first, we founded the company really to solve a problem around connecting the workforce. Our mission is to improve the employee experience for every single worker in all the moments that matter big and small. And so that, that every single worker is a big part of our ethos, we really started focusing on the deskless worker, by the way, 75% of the global workforce is not staring at a screen sitting at their desk like we are. And so thought and thought was a real opportunity in the workplace. And then you mentioned Enron, I started my career at Enron. Some of my was went to jail, obviously didn't know it at the time. But suffice it to say I experienced firsthand what a not to create employee experience is, and especially from a leadership standpoint, a lack of trust and transparency. And so that, for me, was very much something that I was committed to change and change for the better in the work that I did.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely. And I can only imagine that that had a profound impact on the way that you view the work that you do. And And my assumption is that probably gave you a little bit of a passion for making sure that those mistakes weren't repeated. Am I on the right track there?

Nicole Alvino:

Exactly. So I you know, I committed to there kind of two things, one, my own personal path. So since that experience, I was only committed to being an entrepreneur and creating companies where I could control the culture and the ethics of an Enron situation wouldn't happen again. And then, because I was in a formative time in my career, and just saw how important that leader to employee communication and connection is and could be, that became a real passion of mine. And so fast forward to now when I have the CEO of Amazon and Boeing and Hilton and Hyatt and GSK, using our platform to connect authentically with all of their workforce that just brings me immense pride.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely. So I think it's an absolutely fascinating ride realm that we're jumping into right now as it relates to communication. I think that that AI has an opportunity to disrupt this. But, but what's exciting for me is, is right now, it's a lot of, there's a lot of kind of noise. But But what you're doing with first step is you're you're you're using this for practical application. And that's really where I think I think we need to be thinking about that, as HR usually gets the burden of how do we communicate internally with our employees? In my situation, about half of the employees that I serve, are deskless. And you know, and that's, that's just that's like an Achilles heel. And it seems that it has always been a really big challenge to make that connection between the message that you're trying to send and, and every that like the black hole where it just goes wrong, or people don't hear it, or they don't hear what you wanted them to hear. So, So walk me through a little bit around what what first up does to help spread this communication appropriately, using some of these technological resources.

Nicole Alvino:

Yeah, so that's exactly very, very simply and like you said, if you think about the role of HR and In all the different assets and everything that we're managing from that pre hire to retire, if you really think about it, it's all about communicating to the right person with the right message at the right time in a way that they can receive it, and then do something with it. Right? And so how do we want them to feel, think or act. And this could be in an onboarding situation, it could be in a leave situation, or recognition situation. Any sort of, you know, benefits or safety training, if you just start to think about every single thing that usually HR is tasked with doing. And all of the challenges that come from it back to it's really a communication problem. And so what we've done is said, Well, wait a minute, there should be a way that we can have whether you've got one person in charge of all of these of HR or hundreds or 1000s, there's one main place where we can create some of those initiatives, some of the content and make sure that they are delivered intelligently. So we've been using the term intelligent before the hype cycle of, of generative AI and chat GPT. But the idea was intelligence, it's really, at its basic kind of definition. It's really that communication is two way, and we have to talk and listen. And so if we're talking at our people, we have to do it in a way that they understand it, whether that means in their language, in a tone that works with them, especially if you think about different cultures, different people around the world need things to understand in different ways. Think about the method in which we deliver something, is it written communication? Is it the video? How are they consuming? Is it in? Was it on a mobile device? Is it in a screen and an application they're already using? Are they going someplace else an intranet? Are they reading it in email, or they are looking at it on a screen. So we really set back and so you have to have a way as an organization to be able to manage all of this communication that needs to happen to all of your employees in all of those moments, and really be able to deliver intelligently, which again, is the right information to the right person in the right place at the right time, with the right tone to have the desired impact or outcome. With technology, we get an ability to track and record, right, what's working for certain groups of people, what's not how can we go in and adjust and really understand and make sure that everything we're throwing at our people, we know it has purpose and meaning, but making sure that that purpose and meaning is really landing for them. And in so doing, we can really be able to help not only give our people at much, much better delightful employee experience across all of these moments in their journey, but also start to learn of how we can really help to improve their performance and improve retention. So we're really getting benefits for every individual employee and the the employer.

Kyle Roed:

So I'm curious. So, you know, there's there's a lot of kind of articles around around tools that that, that you can use for, you know, for communication. So, you know, chat GPT is obviously kind of in the zeitgeist right now, but it's just it's a tool that exists and there's a you know, there's a generative AI associated with it. What, what, what kind of tools have you found actually work as it relates to understanding the employee sentiment and whether a communication has has really reverberated appropriately for the intended audience?

Nicole Alvino:

Yeah, I think the first one is, what did they do with it? Did anyone even react? Did they did you send something that they have to open it? Did they click? Did they view did they watch? Did they comment? Did they like Did they bookmark? Did they share? We call it these things passive engagement. And I look at it as you of course, you can ask people certain questions. Do you are you happy with your boss? Are you happy with your job? You know, all of the different things we we asked an employee engagement survey. Those are great A and just, you know, very, very much associated with you what my last conversation was if I'm having a bad day, a good day all sorts of bias. And so if you can actually your your, your, your behavior actually says more about what you're actually thinking and doing, then how you might answer in a survey, for example, and I love using the example of if you tell me, Nicole, I am really turning over a new leaf, I'm an exercise every day, and I'm an eat really healthy, and this is just what I'm committed to. But if I actually, you know, look and see what you're doing, and you're not exercising your eat going to Shake Shack every day. Right? That behavior pattern actually tells me more about what you're doing, than you answering in a survey of I am really on a health kick and I'm just very committed to to a healthy lifestyle.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, but Shake Shack tastes good. Not, not not. We're not sponsored by Shake Shack, by the way. But I think that's a it's a great analogy. It and I do think you know, it's so true that, you know, so often especially in like these these annual surveys and and a lot of the data points that we are taking action on. It's it's like a snapshot in time, it's not necessarily a proactive understanding of how was this communication received or interpreted? It's how do you feel based upon what happened to you in the last, you know, however many hours or days, right, and it's a snapshot, but it's not necessarily the full picture. So I know, you mentioned that, you know, measuring what people do and measuring the actions they take, it can be really valuable. Where does AI come into play? As we think about this kind of this newer technology or new way of thinking about communication and interpretation?

Nicole Alvino:

Yeah, I think in a couple different ways. I think the first way is, well, the first part of you talks about kind of the content creation, can you help me, you know, people, I'm sure everyone listening has played around with chat GPT, whether it's to write a job description, update, those amazing employee handbooks even start to write an exciting benefits update, right, those to me are just, you know, that almost don't make the cut for what we how we should be thinking about generative AI, I think what becomes what becomes interesting there is that's almost like a co pilot, and it's a co pilot for how can I do my work more efficiently if we're thinking about the HR practitioner, and the way that we connect the dots is, we're helping you do your work more efficiently, because we can help you learn about the tone, how do you if you do have a global workforce, you mentioned you've got a global manufacturing workforce, with factories in different countries, obviously, if you're trying to send out a message, you need to take into account not only language, not only, you know how they will receive this type of communication, even maybe time of day, but also things like context and tone. And that's where we're really starting to see the benefits of AI. So we've already built in and of the, we call it intelligent delivery. So it will learn about behavior patterns, where and at what time and the type of style of the communication, video words, etc. And we can begin to learn about how how somebody can can become engaged. And when people use this, it's toggle, we do it, we call it an engagement boost, if people are using the toggle, we're seeing up to three times the engagement. So proving that understanding and again, thinking about how that our people are receiving what we're sending, not just what we're pushing out, taking that into account, and having the first iteration of our AI do that. I know Phillips 66 as a customer who has used it and they've seen that kind of 3x improvement in engagement which is you know, obviously great.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, absolutely. If anything, it it it takes away a little bit of the concern about you know, the the light hitting send and just feeling like you're sending something out into space and you hope that it hopefully that lands correctly, right especially something It could be a sensitive message. Or it does matter if you use the right vernacular or the right tone and, and you know, somebody in a certain region or culture might perceive something drastically different than somebody else. And so often what I've seen is, and I'm guilty of this at times as it's almost like you can, you can, you can just not say anything, because you're afraid that you'll say it wrong, and somebody will misinterpret it. So it actually, it's like a self fulfilling prophecy where you don't communicate because you're afraid that if you try to communicate, it won't come out correctly. And yet, it's like this, this like, why we love do right, where you just don't communicate at all, which is the worst. So so as you think about that, as as a, you know, kind of a newer technology that's out there. And and you know, we've we've had a number of discussions and dialogue around AI and generative AI and what that means and how that could be helpful. How do you see the this impacting the future of what an HR professionals job looks like some of these technological advancements that I think are going to continue to accelerate?

Nicole Alvino:

Yeah, I mean, I think it's a big opportunity for upskilling. And really being able to help our HR practitioners really understand our people. People are not templates, right? We have to think that and I think that the old construct, and even all the things, how we're organized, the initiatives we run, it's really about us pushing our things on to the people. And sometimes there are different technologies we use, often siloed technologies. And so you know, when we really think about the opportunity to put the people in the middle of it all and have it be hyper personalized to them, right, think about the power of HR when we're actually delivering personalized experiences that are different for every single person, right? And there's no way to do that without this type of generative AI. Right. So it's in there where we still need the humans, we still need the HR practitioners to orchestrate some of the overarching communications, understand and synthesize and, and help to to enable the AI and what it can do. But I think there's just a huge opportunity to continue to learn and for folks to use this as a huge opportunity, not as a threat.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, absolutely. And I couldn't agree more with that approach. You know, I think there's a, there's a natural self preservation concern that comes up, you know, when when there's like a tool that could could make somebody quote redundant, but the reality is that in human resources, especially, you know, you still have to understand and interpret humans, you know, you're not dealing with robots. This is not like a, this is not a robotic construct. But if we figure out how to leverage these tools appropriately, that could be a huge game changer. And what I just heard, it's really interesting, it reminds me of some of the conversations and challenges that I've had, early in my career, a lot of my value was the one on one conversation with employees and helping employees have exactly what you just described, a, like a cultivated employee experience. And like one on one individualized help and support, which I think will continue to be extremely important. But the reality is, as we continue to scale and grow, and our jobs continue to get bigger and bigger and bigger, and we can't necessarily do that for every single employee in the organization. And what so often what has happened is, it's, it's the, it's the rule that I call the, the, the, the five 590 rule, where HR spends most of their time with 5% of the population, which are the problem, people are the troublemakers another 5% of the population, which is your like, your all stars, and your, your, your people that need need that attention because they're they're ascending. And then the other 90% of people, you, you almost never interact, because they're just kind of there, because they don't necessarily need or ask for your support. But if you could impact that other 90% That could be a huge game changer and help enable a lot of success. So

Nicole Alvino:

yeah, I think that's a perfect construct to say, You know what, let's solve for the 90 and let's solve for and how to make those 90 As in any of those 90 be and that not everyone's going to top 5%, but at least push people to their potential. And I think that that's where the power comes in. I mean, if you just think about to how many of the conversations that you have with folks are fundamentally the same, right? And you have one, manager training, for example, right? new manager coaching, how many of those have you had for different functions? Right? So imagine, and there are several conversations, it's not just one, right? But imagine if we split those out into several, several different moments, put these people on their personalized journey, where they could then learn or someone puts them on, we think you're right for management, and they are able to have this curated experience totally for them. Right? That that becomes so much better for the employee, you end up getting more people who have the right skills to be a manager. And then you can do that the humans then are doing the facilitation, they're coming up with either the better questions, making sure that there's the understanding and the feedback loop. And the things that we do still need that human element. But if you can just think about what we unlock, as we think of those hyper personalized journeys, it's pretty incredible.

Kyle Roed:

I love that I'm laughing because it's like, oh, yeah, I can I can, there's like five conversations that I've probably had hundreds of times in my career. And it's basically the exact same conversation just with a different participant, right. And the outcomes are always different, because the situations are always different, but the actual, like, the method and the tool and the approach, it's, it's all static, it's the same thing. So if there was a way to essentially systemize, this, and and use that tool in a way that allows those conversations to be much more effective, and more impactful and save me another 100 conversations, so that, that just makes sense.

Nicole Alvino:

And then we'll have data too, is this person, is it? Is it sitting? Are they using the training? What are the what's happening with those, there are people, right, if if you think about, again, all of these things, it's communication, and it's effective communication delivery, if we think about that, in, you know, how marketers think about campaigns, and you're running different campaigns that are all ongoing, multiple times, we've got data data feedback loop that we're continually learning from and iterating on, and getting better, you know, we not only get our people where we need to be, but we can also have really interesting data on if we have folks at risk and people who, you know, maybe are not telling us in an engagement survey, but we see a drop off of that passive engagement with with some of these communications, then that that's a real opportunity, again, for the first a human intervention, when we when we see that insight, and then in a future world and an automatic trigger of let's put you back on this journey, you know, we've noticed such and such a drop off of engagement, you know, have we thought about doing this, or I've noticed that you're searching for leadership training and searching for other types of training, you know, let's talk about other opportunities for you. So a lot of really interesting things, again, to think about those guiding our people in a really delightful way to elevate that their employee experience and then also helping the company with with data. That's usually, you know, not traditionally thought of as as things were collecting an HR.

Kyle Roed:

Yeah, I think, you know, that's, it's really powerful. And, and, you know, what, what's interesting for me is it's it's a very proactive approach to engagement. And so often what we're looking at when we're looking at these these indicators is well, you know, the dislocation have more complaints, you know, are they calling the hotline more in this department? You know, is there was there a safety incident? Hopefully not, but, you know, have we seen safety incidents spike at this manufacturing location? You know, it was the employee opinion survey that we did three months ago. You know, how was that location in that survey, but they're also incredibly reactive. And that with the pace of change that we see in our organizations and in the world to They'll a lot of times we're acting up fairly incomplete datasets. And so I think it's, it's a really powerful approach to think about, okay, how do we actually look at engagement levers and, and more proactive monitoring of some of these things, so So walk me through

Nicole Alvino:

clean on that just then analogy that I use is all those things you mentioned, that's the rearview mirror, looking at already happened, trying to correct usually too late, or trying to use the windshield. So you're seeing the things that are coming up, you're gonna see the same that you're gonna run over in your car before you look back, or you realize you have a flat tire. So I think it's super, super powerful. And I think that's, you know, that's key to what we're doing and some of the disruption that we're saying, Look, we're gonna give you these early indicators or warnings or opportunities, before they arise, you actually will tell you if there might be a safety incident that at a certain plant, because we've seen some changes in how folks are either engaging in the safety training or not. Other indicators, we're seeing these folks over in EMEA might be at risk of hitting their sales quota, because of what we've seen in some engagement patterns, or, you know, there's a group of people over here who maybe should be looked at for a leadership path that might have been overlooked for some sort of, you know, dei reason. And so I think when we think about opportunities to get ahead of those, you know, it's an all birth a positive thing or a negative thing, but you have to get it ahead of when someone tells you it's a problem, because at that point, often it's too late.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely, I think, I think that's a wonderful way to think about it. You know, it's funny, I'm sitting, I'm thinking about this in the context of AI. And, you know, what, what's, what's funny? Is, these, this intelligence exists in your organization already, there are people within your company that, you know, I think many HR professionals have figured out, okay, there's, there's like one Bellwether out there, that I know, if I go and talk to this employee, and they're worried about something, it's probably going to happen, right? Because they've seen it, they've learned it, they've learned the hard way, sometimes that, oh, this is, this is, this is an engagement issue, this, this is not a good hire, right? Or, or this decision is gonna blow up in your face in six months, just you wait, you know, and a lot of times, we don't like to listen to those voices. But the reality is, a lot of times, they really are like, they are the windshield. And but we don't necessarily always have that, that data is, is not always valid, right? It's always extremely subjective. A lot of times we don't have the that deep connectivity within, within our organizations and departments, this is a way to, to leverage technology to do what many HR professionals have been doing for years, you know, just the old fashioned way.

Unknown:

Exactly. Instead of that one person or two writes an actual data imagine.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely. And as I say that I'm like, I'm literally seeing like, faces and names in my head, like, oh, yeah,

Unknown:

you're gonna go up, you're gonna go check in Yeah, whatever,

Kyle Roed:

whatever. Greg looks grumpy. I'm gonna go talk to you because something's going on. It. I love this approach. It's funny, it reminds me of a, we had an engagement initiative at a, at an organization I used to work at and what, what they were, the idea was, we're gonna have people circle smiley faces to tell to tell us how morale is today. As I look at this, I'm like, are we in kindergarten like is that there's got to be a better way to figure out how to define, quote, morale, versus having people draw smiley faces or circle, you know, frowny faces on because what would happen is somebody would circle a frowny face, and then there will be a problem. Right? So it's like, nobody had any incentive to actually say how they were feeling. Because they would be labeled as having a problem. So So I love there's a better way to do this. I love this.

Nicole Alvino:

Technology, forget.

Kyle Roed:

There you go. I appreciate it. So, you know, I think that that, you know, what's so powerful from this conversation is the fact that, you know, there there is a practical application for some of these tools and some of these headlines. And, and I'm just excited to see, to see this organization come into come into existence to help us kind of sort through some of these problems that have been problems for forever, but use technology to help us out with I'm so really appreciate that, Nicole. I'm going to shift gears and we're gonna go into the rebel HR flash round. Are you ready?

Nicole Alvino:

I'm ready. All right, here

Kyle Roed:

we go. Where does HR need to rebel?

Nicole Alvino:

Stop treating your people like templates. So there are different people who need things in different ways you have an opportunity to give them hyper personalized and contextualized experiences and journeys.

Kyle Roed:

I love that. And I think you know, the other. The other thing I would say there is, you know, this is also critical from a dei perspective, from a culture building perspective. You know, this is there's a reason that, that there's there's so many engagement issues right now. And I think a lot of it has to do with, with what you just described, so powerful, powerful thing to rebel against. Question number two, who should we be listening to?

Nicole Alvino:

This is someone who I find very provocative, and I learned something every time I listen or read is Scott Galloway. So if you're a reader, he's got an email called no mercy, no malice, and he has a podcast with Kara Swisher are called pivot. And both of those are any any topic of the day AI is one it's not specific, necessarily to HR. But I think it's a it's a great just context around macro economy, geopolitical items, business people. And I think that, in general, as people leaders, the more that we have the context of everything that's happening, and the more that we are that right hand to the CEO and continue to elevate ourselves, that whole function continues to be elevated to.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely. And yeah, Scott Galloway, there's some really interesting material there. And I would agree, it will expand your horizons. It's you know, it's a little bit controversial, but but also makes us so

Nicole Alvino:

you don't have to lay it off to agree you don't have to give that that I love about it. And he put in I think on purpose, pushes people or at least pushes boundaries of what you how you may have thought about something or perceived something. And there's always data, which I really appreciate. And maybe it's data that's presented in a way you haven't seen before. So

Kyle Roed:

absolutely. Yeah. Love it. All right, last question. So we've talked a lot about First up and the tool. How can people connect with you learn more and understand a little bit more about this? This app? Right? Well, first,

Nicole Alvino:

it's a platform, Kyle, not a tool. And for Nicole at first step.io, I'm on LinkedIn, Nicole Alvino. That is the best way to reach me. And first step is on all of the social channels of your choice as well.

Kyle Roed:

Absolutely, we will have the link to to all of the content in the show notes. So you can click right in open up your podcast player and check it out. I I was totally geeking out on it here. As I was preparing for this podcast. There's just some really, really interesting and powerful applications included there. So Nicole, thank you so much for spending your valuable time with us and have a great rest of your day.

Nicole Alvino:

Thanks for having me, Kyle. Really appreciate it.

Kyle Roed:

All right. That does it for the rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at rebel HR podcast, Twitter, at rebel HR guy, or see our website at rebel human resources.com. The views and opinions expressed by rebel HR podcast are those the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast. Maybe