Established in 2019, Confirm is on a mission to “fix what’s broken” about performance reviews using Organizational Network Analysis, counting Canada Goose, Niantic, Premier Research among its clients.
In August 2023, the startup announced Series A funding of $6.2 million, taking total investment to $11.4m, led by Spero Ventures, as well as SHRMLabs, Elefund, Gaingels, Black Angel Group, and other previous investors.
Confirm was also the winner of last year’s UNLEASH Digital Startup award.
John Brazier: What is Confirm’s unique selling point? What makes your proposition special?
Josh Merrill: Our USP is the use of Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) in performance reviews. The four-point or five-point manager rating scale reviews, they were created about 100 years ago and brought into the workplace in the 1920s, when work was more solitary and repetitive.
Today, work looks nothing like that; work today is collaborative, it’s cross functional, it happens in networks. We have technology like Teams, Slack and Zoom; the way that we work has transformed, but the way that we measure that work is frozen in time.
ONA measures work in an organization the way that it’s really happening in networks; it’s able to identify the subject matter experts, the motivators, the people who are keeping the organization together, or enabling the people around them. That’s crucial to the way that we work today in cross-functional collaborative networks.
JB: How is Confirm trying to change the world?
JM: Our mission is to recognize everyone for the difference they make at work and one of the things we about manager-driven performance reviews through research is that about 60% of a manager rating is bias.
In other words, 60% of the rating is attributable to the idiosyncrasies of the person assigning the rating, performance is 20% of it and 20% is noise and other factors. So, manager ratings say much more about the managers than they do about the employees; they’re not a reliable way to measure performance or recognize people for the difference they make at work.
ONA is our method of choice to achieving that mission where we ask questions about who the outstanding, gold star contributors are or who needs additional support. We usually know who these people are at ground level, whether it’s the achievers or the toxic ones, but the challenge is how to collect all those points of views and organize them so decision-makers can use that information effectively.
JB: What is your message to HR leaders and decision-makers?
JM: When I get on a sales call, the one thing I usually want people to take away from it – whether they remember anything about Confirm or not – is that we’re very used to thinking that traditional manager ratings systems follow a normally distributed bell curve.
There are the ‘ones and the ‘fives’, and then most people, 90% of the workforce, are usually a ‘three’ or ‘four’. What I tell people on those calls – whether it’s HR or the CEO – is that talent isn’t normally distributed, it follows a power law. There are people making disproportionate impacts on the organization.
According to our data, about 15% of employees in any organization are going to create about 50% of the value or drive 50% of the results.
Meanwhile, about 5% of employees are going to create about 50% of the problems.
If you believe that talent follows this non-linear power law, that causes you to make some really different decisions about your talent; suddenly it’s not about trying to train everybody into being 2% more productive. It’s really about what are you doing with those 15% of employees who, if they walked out the door tomorrow, your business would crumble.
JB: What is the next strategic objective for Confirm?
JM: Helping the world understand the importance of ONA, although it’s been a long-standing project and it continues.
For the last 100 years we have been reliant on this antiquated system of managing manager ratings and they’re broken. We hear over and over again, that performance reviews are broken and every few years they try something different but end up with the same result.
Fundamentally, there is a huge disconnect between the way that work is being done in networks, and the way that it’s being measured, which today is completely hierarchical.
Our charge is to educate the world that there is a new methodology.
JB: What one trend will be top of mind for HR leaders in the next 12 months?
JM: Doing more with less. 2024 is going to continue to be a year of efficiency where people are looking at revenue per employee and their contributions, and starting to ask questions; am I getting all the value that I really could?
The conversations we have with CEOs around employee performance are very different from the ones that we have around employee performance with HR. I would say, from a performance review standpoint, that HR is often concerned with getting everyone to complete the reviews, but as long as they get a performance review score, they’re happy.
It’s a little bit of a dirty secret that HR kind of doesn’t care about performance, but when you talk to the CEO or CFO you get a very different story; they care about performance. It’s not just about getting the number to plug into Total Rewards at the end of the day; it’s what is the bottom line and what am I delivering to shareholders or investors?
In some ways, CEOs and CFOs would rather be approximately right when it comes to measuring performance, whereas HR is comfortable being precisely wrong.
UNLEASH Startup | Spotlight is a monthly Editorial interview series where we speak to and profile the best and brightest technology startups the HR world has to offer. Want to feature in the series? Get in touch with email@example.com to find out more.
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John Brazier is an experienced and award-winning B2B journalist and editor. Prior to joining UNLEASH, John both led and wrote for a number of global and domestic financial services publications, covering markets such as asset management, trading, insurance, fintech and personal finance.