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A Better Way to Manage Teams | Adam Berke from WorkPatterns

Managing people is a complicated affair. People aren’t software—they don’t live in the cloud, you can’t check their code or query their database. But understanding the people in your company, their needs, and what you can do to bring out their best on a daily basis, is crucial to running a successful business.

Adam Berke experienced this problem personally at his last company, where he went from being one of three employees to one of seven hundred.

Now he’s the co-founder and CEO of WorkPatterns, a company that offers a simplified people management app to help managers organize, motivate, and engage their teams.

More information: https://www.workpatterns.com/


Adam Berke is a repeat entrepreneur, angel investor, and the CEO/co-founder of WorkPatterns, the people management software company. WorkPatterns cultivates the habits of great leaders to help organizations around the world achieve their mission through guided 1:1s, feedback, recognition, and goal setting.

The WorkPatterns app is used by hundreds of high performing organizations including Estée Lauder, Panasonic, Carfax, Automattic, Clorox, and many others.

Prior to founding WorkPatterns, Adam was part of the founding team of NextRoll (formerly AdRoll) and helped grow the company from 3 to 700 employees around the world. The company was voted one of the best places to work in the San Francisco Bay Area five times.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Adam Berke 0:00
around like bringing to management like the idea of the apocryphal Eve jobs sweater, right? The idea was that like he wore the same sweater or turtleneck or whatever it was all the time, because he didn’t want the mental overhead of picking out his wardrobe. I think the you know, the future of tech for managers, could be something similar, where it’s like, I don’t want to have to keep a running mental list of did I do this thing that I said I would do for this person?

Alexander Ferguson 0:32
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our apply tech series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video @ at teraleap.io. Today, I’m excited to be joined by my guest, Adam Berke, who is based in California. He’s the co founder and CEO at Workpatterns. Welcome, Adam good to have you on.

Adam Berke 0:50
Hi, yeah, thanks so much.

Alexander Ferguson 0:51
Now workpatterns, if I understand correctly, is a people management platform that really is focused on helping improve team communication and accountability. And take me back, like, when did you actually start to care about how we manage people wanted to build a platform? It wasn’t, it wasn’t with this ventures? And they are I have, it’s probably from your previous experience, like, what would you say? What was the challenge? You saw? Like, I need to solve this?

Adam Berke 1:17
Yeah, well, I mean, the challenge was very much a problem I was struggling with myself, and probably still haven’t fully solved to this day. So it’s always useful to be your own best customer in a way. But yeah, my previous company was in the marketing technology space. So pretty, pretty far afield. It was a company called ad roll. Now it’s called next roll. You know, they’re from three people up to 700 employees, and, yeah, and in global and so you know, saw and experience a lot of different challenges, both for myself personally, and for the organization, as we went through those different phases, and had to scale and had to evolve. And yeah, I personally had, you know, struggles as I evolved from being sort of a, you know, Swiss Army Knife product, the minded, co founder, entrepreneur type, who is more of an individual contributor, obviously, with, you know, the three or a handful of people, you don’t have a lot of manager. I’ve been a manager before, but then, you know, becoming a manager again, and then managing at scale, and then becoming an executive where you’re managing other manager. You know, each of those leaps has its own set of challenges. And frankly, you know, by the end of that 10 year journey, you know, you’re almost spending all of your time on, how can we operate more effectively, you know, it’s a bit trite, but like, how can I unblock the people in my team, you know, how can I help them do their jobs better? It truly is the nature of the job as a as a good executive, and my little like, you know, product insights, or no hunger, that helpful nor welcome. As a waiter at later stages, you know, it’s not like the early, oh, how about we do this? We do that, like, yeah, and so, you know, it becomes all about how do you operate this machine of a company. And we, you know, did that through policies, and, you know, people and cobbled together systems, but there was nothing that just guided the day to day, thought process and work of a manager and their direct report, their stuff for like formal performance reviews, or like, quarterly goal setting, but all of that kind of fell flat in the organization, to be honest, like, people on the front lines, attendee view those tools as a sideshow. And, you know, I think that was because the customer for those tools is an HR people team. And so as someone who builds software and you know, is building a software product, you’re going to make product decisions based on who is paying your invoices. And if your invoices are being paid by HR, you’re going to respond to their feature request first. And that just, you know, ultimately felt problematic in terms of how we’re going to really solve this problem of, you know, the product that I would have wanted to help guide my relationships day to day and week to week with my managers and something that I could give to sort of my direct reports, and something that I could give to my managers that would help them implement a consistent system with their direct reports that needed to be built for them as the primary user and customer. And so that’s, that’s, that’s kind of how we came to workpatterns. That’s kind of how we came to this business model, which is a bit different than other stuff in our space. And, yeah, what we’re focused on today,

Alexander Ferguson 4:55
so your your history and your story with with Admiral being in there. He said 10 years I think he said, Yeah, 1212 years, 12 years, 10 years, it’s been two as a as an advisor. So not going from from three people to 700. And I can only mention a number of successful entrepreneurs, that transition is not easy. How do you learn to lead people? I mean, that’s the success of any organization is leading people. And for those that want to learn more about the journey, stick around for part two, where we’re gonna dig in more of Adam spatters journey, but HR tech, there’s a lot out there. There’s a lot of technology for for HR professionals, but you’re trying to do it from a different approach actually create a human resource platform, but not for the HR people. But

Adam Berke 5:39
I don’t Frankly, I don’t think of ourselves as HR tech, you know, because yeah, we don’t sell to HR, you know, maybe maybe one way to, you know, one little way to think about it is like, you know, in HR products that managers actually want to use, you know, that’s the maybe a, maybe a tagline for the website. But yeah, I mean, I think a lot of HR tech is built to, like I said, check boxes for HR team. And not designed with the the frontline user in mind. And so we just kind of flip that model on its head. So we almost think of it more, a lot of borrowing a lot more from like, the productivity software space.

Alexander Ferguson 6:21
With a people management orientation, infancy now your name itself workpatterns, obviously has a concept behind it the purpose for a breakdown?

Adam Berke 6:32
Yeah, well, I mean, it is the, you know, the the most important thing as a manager is to have a intentional system, a set of patterns, as you as it were, that you guide and operate by it sort of the pulse of your operations. And we start at the what we view as like the atomic unit of the operations of a company, which we see as the one on one between a manager and the direct report, it all kind of like that is the that is like the most granular relationship within an organization. And is often the starting point for other larger initiatives that might end up being, you know, strategic priorities, larger cross functional projects, etc. But almost everything starts as a conversation between a manager and a director board. And so that’s, that’s where we focus. That’s our starting point. And basically, you know, just put it in like the simplest terms, like we replace that like running Google Doc, or like Word doc that everyone has with their manager with a purpose built tool that guides the one on one, the weekly one on one meeting. That’s the starting point of workpatterns. So you know, because we’re purpose built for that use case, we can add a lot of stuff that makes that experience much better we have templates, we have recommended topic that you should be discussing on a regular cadence. This is this was always the mental overhead of a manager. Have I given this person feedback recently? Have we had a career discussion in X amount of time? How about that thing that we talked about last week that I said I would do for them? Did that get like buried in a Google Doc that I don’t check in between meetings? Or did we actually capture an action item that has an owner and a due date and a notification to remind me to actually do it, and then a way that we come back to the meetings and see what God’s done and what didn’t get done. And so you know, all of those things are built into the product, as well as integrating with other tools that people use. You know, the number one thing people that we that we hear, I don’t know about the number one thing, but a big problem that people have is just proliferation of tools, and like what’s going on in all of them. And so bringing that information into the one on one meeting automatically is a key focus of ours. So is there something going on in JIRA that you should want to talk about? Is there something going on in Salesforce and account that you want to talk about so bringing that having an easy way to help managers and the direct reports, prepare for that one on one, have all the salient information in one place. And then if important stuff comes out of the one on one for it to find its way into the appropriate system as well with you know, a simple button click so yeah, if there is a hope this should go into JIRA as a task. Great. But you probably don’t want to put like an informal discussion topic into JIRA, that’s not what it’s for. So we’re kind of we beat ourselves like, higher up top of the stack of those types of ideas, a place to get things out of your head during the week, as they come up and handle them either asynchronously, or during the one on one meeting.

Alexander Ferguson 9:39
So most likely a manager before using a service like yours, they’re using a Google Doc just a running google doc or Word doc of let’s just throw our ideas in here. That’s most likely what they’re using before a solution 90% of the time, yeah. And or nothing or paper, or nothing, or if their hands are like, well, what are we talking about last week? What should I Talking about?

Adam Berke 10:01
Yeah, or do you have anything? Do I have anything? Oh, I’m not gonna get from running from one meeting to another Have I done it? And who am I talking to you next leg? Like, yeah, we like the odd try to automate a lot of that preparation work as well.

Alexander Ferguson 10:12
Automation is a wonderful thing. And the purpose for technology, right is to make our lives simpler. Your approach with this is, I think, bottoms up. So you’re actually like, any manager could just sign up for their immediate team with two people, three, one person, three people and start using this.

Adam Berke 10:30
That’s right. Yeah, free to free to try. And yeah, from a business model perspective, we thought the more bottoms up approach that aligns us with our customers. Like I said, You know, I think the problem with a lot of these tools in the past is that they’re designed for a different customer. They’re designed for HR, and that’s why they end up falling flat in the organization off and viewed as a sideshow. So we wanted to design for the end user, and to deliver enough value that a manager actually wants to buy it, usually what ends up happening is like, you know, it cascades up and director will pay for it, or, you know, that kind of thing went with the company, if we’re adding enough value for that, but it’s a free trial. Similar to you know, flax model, you know, you can try it for free, use it for a smaller group, then as you add features, use it more robustly. That’s our business model.

Alexander Ferguson 11:13
Got it. Taking a step back for a second, I’m trying to like getting my in my head. As a manager, I have a manager as well. But in today’s environment is most commonly everyone’s hybrid or remote. And so yeah, using technology now, just a normal course there. But there are people that probably are not used to this, they’re not used to having to work remote. Yes. And we’re going to come back to sometimes in person sometimes remote. I’m curious to know perspective as as your your, your, your customers, as managers, what you’ve seen the conversations of how do you properly scale good remote work? What are the best practices look like? Do you have any perspectives that you’ve seen? And, and are building in your own platform to? To make sure good work happens in your with your

Adam Berke 12:03
reports? Yeah, well, you know, we started the company in 2018. So you know, prior, you know, some of these remote hybrid work, hybrid work wasn’t even wasn’t even a word at that point. But you know, remote was certainly starting, it was it was sort of like one of those things that like, just makes a lot of sense. But how do we feel about people being anywhere? And if we can’t see them? How will that work without the watercooler conversations and, and all that but you know, we still aren’t, you know, people still are concerned about today, and we’re figuring out on the fly, you know, I would say, you know, just just from that point of view, you know, we were building the product and solving the problem, regardless of the work arrangement, and frankly, the systems that people had in place, when we were all working in the same place weren’t good, then either, you know, people didn’t, you know, people have the Google Doc then and relied over relied on serendipitous encounters in the hallway, or, oh, if something comes to mind, I’ll just dm them or George, or worse, maybe worse, depending on people’s preferences dropped by their desk. And like, that’s just a very disruptive style of management. And so, you know, in broad strokes, you know, again, it goes back to this notion of patterns. And that’s, you know, name of the company, but like intentional pattern, and a cadence by which you operate, so people aren’t people, people need focus time, that’s one of the great upsides of remote, there aren’t as many distractions, people know, you know, people aren’t getting inundated with or, you know, now that the distractions have moved at least. But our goal is to minimize those and move people to a more asynchronous way of operating. And to do that, and to unlock the benefits of remote and hybrid, you do need to be more intentional with your system. And by that, I mean, simple stuff, like, what is the cadence? How are decisions made? And what is the cadence for airing certain issues? Do I just screen about it on slack? Or do I capture it somewhere and know that it will be addressed in the context of a conversation, you know, for us, you know, we’re very oriented around one on one but also other recurring group meetings. So having these like cadences and system are really helpful, you know, we, we view it as like the the restraints can unlock creativity and productivity in many ways. You know, it’s like, I heard some, someone else kind of made the analogy around like jazz music, like to improvise and whatnot, you still need to know kind of like, what key you’re playing in and like all that kind of stuff. So you can push up against those boundaries. And you know, that’s where interesting stuff can happen. But you kind of need to have systems and restraints to operate within that can then unlock flexibility in around that system. So you know, people people like predictability people Like to, you know, people tend to know what, you know, what is expected of them and when, and then they can operate within those, those, those those, those lines. So you know that we view that as, like, a good principle to live by whether no matter how you, you, you’re going to end up operating. So yeah, when we can talk about, like other specific things that we’re seeing, but like, frankly, it’s, it’s a laboratory right now, like, there there is, nobody knows how this is all gonna pan out. And it’s gonna be really different for different sized companies, different industries different, you know, there’s just so many variables at play here. So anybody who purports to be like an expert at hybrid work, like no one is an expert at hybrid work yet, like we barely started doing it. So like, I won’t pretend to be that, you know, I think going into it with the with the overarching notion of like, isn’t going to work, we need to be more intentional than we used to be, we need to be a little bit more structured than we used to be need to document things. And we need to have like a system that people understand that’s going to be a common thread across all of this to be successful with it.

Alexander Ferguson 16:08
As one who’s managed people are actually leading company with 700 people. Can you even think of any times where you failed a lesson learned that for another manager, they could just get some insight from any stories are powerful, anything come to mind?

Adam Berke 16:26
I mean, constantly? Again, I don’t think I don’t think I’ve cracked this at all. And, you know, so I’m sort of always putting it up against the lens of like, Am I really solving my own problem right now? Like, am I actually is this actually helping me be a better manager? You know, I think, you know, I’ll give a little hint on, you know, on a couple of the things that, that, you know, I’ve failed on, and that we’re still that I don’t think we’ve like hit the mark on yet as a product, like one of the most high value, but most, but high difficulty, things to do as a manager is getting feedback, right? Like, that’s an uncomfortable, it can be uncomfortable. I mean, some people are uncomfortable uncomfortable with it. But in general, you know, if you have empathy, and you know, giving the Rec and constructive feedback to someone can be nerve racking, it can be easy to kick the can down the road, and then stuff ends up blowing up down the line. And so you know, I’ve been I’ve fallen victim to this all sorts of times where it’s like, oh, I’ll just let that slide, I’ll talk about it later. It’s not that big a deal. As a manager, though, that’s really that’s really problematic, because it’s not just you that’s affecting. It’s all of that those person’s teammates. It’s other people in the organization. And so those issues are rippling. And so yeah, you’ve really gotta take it on yourself to be giving regular feedback. And that’s, you know, frankly, one of the problems that we’re trying to solve as a company where we’re trying to move away from these bureaucratic and sporadic performance reviews, that happened once a quarter or whatever the case may be, or, you know, maybe even twice a year, where, you know, you can only remember what happened in the last week. And if you’re giving them feedback on something they did two months ago, like what uses it then? And so yeah, I mean, like, I am trying to as a manager, and I’m trying to guide in our product is lighter weight, how do we take friction out of giving lightweight, but consistent feedback. And, yeah, not to tease it too much. But there’s definitely been some breakthroughs in natural language processing and AI, copy generation that we think can be helpful in giving suggestions for how to phrase certain pieces of feedback to managers, because it’s easier to edit something and add your own context and tone and it is to start from a blank screen and a flashing cursor. So that’s kind of around the time that we that what that

Alexander Ferguson 19:20
forthcoming so it’s sort of

Adam Berke 19:22
forthcoming, this is the type of this is the type of stuff that we’re trying to work on. Because, again, going back to the you know, stuff I’ve struggled with, it is that and if I could, you know, help me out let me let me give you a couple of words that are coming to mind about this person, and then give me something to you know, that that other great managers have put together that reflect those words.

Alexander Ferguson 19:42
Let me That would be so powerful, it because it was funny as pops in my head and when I earlier on when I started business, my and I start hiring people. My wife got me this book of like 100 500 things you can say in awkward or difficult situations with your teammates or something. And it was like, you know, prompt and Potential answer. And it was a great reasons but I always forgot what the book was. And I couldn’t make it up. But I was like, dang, I wish I had that. And honestly, that’d be powerful is like, Alright, I gotta give him some feedback. What are some? Oh, okay, this would be an interesting solution. Yeah, that’s one way to say it. Right in, in your deck, usually context.

Adam Berke 20:18
Wow, exactly. So there’s, um, there’s a VC firm called emergence capital, which is talked about this notion of coaching network. And that we’re that we’re very interested in, and we think we fit into this thesis, if you will, where there are ways that like, AI can work alongside humans to make humans more human, if that makes sense. And so, you know, if we view ourselves in that thesis around like, okay, given what we know about what’s going on in this relationship, how can we guide the manager to do the right things to provide high value to the direct report and vice versa?

Alexander Ferguson 20:57
I think that’s a beautiful use case for technology is, is I literally just finished another interview. Somebody was Loris, they do real time coaching for customer support agents. Yeah, exactly. They’re getting idea, suggestions. But now for manager to have that support, like, what should I say in this situation based off of what they they’re experiencing? That could really take a newer manager, someone maybe not manage people before, and they don’t have a lot of formal training, this could be a great resource for them to get better.

Adam Berke 21:28
That’s such a common story. Yeah, it’s such a common story to like, that’s what happens in organizations. And I think this is, there’s a whole different branch, we could go down around, like, you know, organizational design or whatnot, which I’m, you know, I’m no expert, necessarily, but, you know, I’ve seen a few things. And, you know, one common pattern, again, is often that, you know, high performing individual contributors get promoted into management, and the thing that they were great at, it goes out the window. Yeah. And so and, and, and, you know, it’s obvious when you say it, but like, you know, it just happens all the time. And it’s not always acknowledged, and those people are kind of moved into management and just like, oh, help this group of people do the thing that you’re so great at? Well, how you do that is, is an art and a skill. And that needs to be honed and isn’t necessarily the same as doing the thing itself. Very true. And engineering management, very true. And sales management where like an engineering manager is different than being like a world class developer themselves. Sometimes those things overlap. Sometimes they don’t. I mean, same thing in in sales, you know, the top salespeople are not always the best, like machine builders, when it comes to building a sales organization.

Alexander Ferguson 22:43
pontificating here for a moment of just the future of technology used, used for managers or being able to equip and and and help managers do their job better. What comes to your mind of where, where are we headed at what is possible, like if you could wave a magic wand and have that technology in existence? And maybe it’s on your roadmap? I don’t know. But curious, what comes to your mind?

Adam Berke 23:10
Um, yeah, I mean, again, I think it comes back to this guiding principle of more intention being more intentional, and having structure, but that structure, the more the technology can take the thinking out of it. For the I have this bad an outline, you tell me if it’s bad, I think it’s ridiculous. But it sort of conveys the point around like bringing to management, like the idea of the apocryphal Steve Jobs sweater, right? The idea was that, like, he wore the same sweater, or turtleneck or whatever it was, all the time, because he didn’t want the mental overhead of picking out his wardrobe. I think the you know, the future of tech for managers, could be something similar, where it’s like, I don’t want to have to keep a running mental list of did I do this thing that I said I would do for this person? Let alone Am I doing the thing proactively, for each person at the right cadence for where we are in their, you know, lifecycle of me as their manager? You know, am I doing the right thing early on with them? Am I doing the right thing after our relationship matures? You know, taking into account all the research and the and the and whatever we know about organizational psychology, leadership, all of these best practices and be giving them to the manager and guiding them more proactively. So that Yeah, they don’t have to be using all these mental cycles to think Am I doing this? Am I doing that? Have I done this Have I done that? Getting the appropriate, like nudges at the right time to do those things and ideally, taking friction out of high value activities. You know, making those habits you know, easy and you know, all the atomic principles. Atomic habits stuff around building new habits and things of that nature. So making big and great management habits, more intuitive, more obvious and more more easy.

Alexander Ferguson 25:10
Steve Jobs, sweater analogy, I can take it, I can take it to the air, we don’t, we don’t have to think as hard we can put our energy more towards the vision of the team of where we’re headed, not just one of those regular cadence items that we need to do that makes keep things humming and Frick, less friction, we can rely on a

Adam Berke 25:32
finite pool of energy on any given day. And yeah, if you’re, you know, spinning it up on, you know, one thing, you know, you’re not spending it on another and manager, manager, by the way, you know, like managers often maintain a lot of like, quote, unquote, individual contributor work that they’re responsible for, that might be presented putting together a presentation for a leadership meeting or something like that. It’s really to get to that work. Meanwhile, you know, they’re they’re needing to do all these other things for their team. And so the more you can kind of like, make that predictable, take the friction out of it, like let them put their energy to that presentation to that IC work to actually having the conversation with their direct report versus some of this other logistical and administrative overhead. And the kind of cadences Don’t, don’t worry about that that’ll just kind of happen. Or you’ll always be reminded, I think, I think we can really help people out by doing that.

Alexander Ferguson 26:29
Well, for those that want to get some tech to help you not have to worry or think as much about those repeatable items go, you can head over to workpatterns.com and you can look so you can try it for free, and be able to explore and for those that want to hear more, though, about Adams journey as a founder, this second third company, stick around for part two, we’re gonna dive much deeper into that. So thanks again for your time out appreciate it being hearing the story of work patterns. And we’ll see you guys on the next episode of UpTech Report. Have you seen a company using AI and machine learning or other technology to transform the way we live, work and do business? Go to UpTech report.com and let us know

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