Interview with Centrical’s Founder: How to Combine Artificial and Human Intelligence to Boost Employee Engagement and Real Time Feedback

Centrical is an employee-centric success platform that uses advanced gamification, personalized microlearning, and real-time employee performance management holistically. The Centrical product is currently being used by global companies including Coca Cola, Office Depot, Verizon, Sprint, and British Telecom. We spoke with Gal Rimon, who founded the company in 2013. Rimon has decades of experience and expertise in workforce leadership, including roles as a former a VP of Customer Relations and Operations at Deloitte and the former CEO of Gilon.

“The best thing to do is to invest in the retention of employees. To do that, you need to first clarify what success looks like at the beginning of each employees’ journey. Then provide updates about where they are in this journey to success.”

We would love to hear more about the inspiration behind Centrical. What would you say your key to success is? 

Our product is designed for employees and puts the employee at the center of business success by clarifying goals, personalized learning, training, coaching, and engagement gamification. Making sure employees have a clear understanding of what success looks like for them in their specific roles is key. This includes what their definition of success is and how to reach that success. Once someone is motivated and given resources, they have the tools to succeed more. This is like a power wheel for yourself as an employee and also for the entire organization, as people who are more successful develop faster, sell more, and they provide a greater level of service.

Generally, at most organizations I think that feedback is more divided to very remote periods of time, like every six months. That feedback isn’t given in real time and it’s not personalized. However, if you combine artificial intelligence together with human intelligence, like we do at Centrical, you can provide that real time feedback. By incorporating the manager or the peers, the resulting feedback is much more emotional, creative feedback. This is augmented human intelligence and I think this is the ‘holy grail’ of feedback. It’s basically telling someone, “hey I see you are struggling with this, let me help you and let me introduce you to this colleague and she will also help you.”

What advice do you have for a workforce leader who would like to help his or her company become more employee focused?
Think holistically. Instead of thinking about one aspect and trying to improve for example, onboarding or training, think about a bigger picture. For example, with customer experience (CX), you don’t think about it as a ‘chat on the phone’ or just the website. You think about CX as a whole. This is the same thing for the employee experience, which should be considered from a holistic and personalized angle. With today’s technology, including the technology at Centrical, you can create a different journey for each individual within your organization. Before that was very hard and time consuming, but now you can create that personalized experience accurately and effectively.

The bigger your organization is, the more you need that personalization. We work with companies with tens of thousands of users. If you will try to hit the average mark, you miss the attention of the high performers and they will adjust to the middle. Then, the low performers will leave. They will not achieve success.

I can give you an example of an onboarding process that we reduced by 30 percent. This is especially true with large telecommunications companies where people are coming from different backgrounds, different experiences, different abilities, and different learning styles. Maybe you are a fast leaner, but I am a slower, yet deep learner. If we adjust the tempo, the topics, the gaps in performance and so on to create a personalized experience, everyone will learn and practice the thing they need to learn. It will take less time and be more engaging because it will be more relevant to the individual person. That person will not be bored and will not have anxiety. There’s either ‘sharks of anxiety’ or boredom. You don’t need to have anxiety or boredom.

Artificial intelligence (AI) should help managers to become coaches, instead of just managers. Managers monitor performance but artificial intelligence simplifies and deepens this process by showing specific topics where specific employees need help. AI can address those employee needs and showcase how managers helped those employees. Instead of focusing so much on reports, managers are able to focus on things human beings can do better than any machine. They are able to emphasize and ask questions that are deep and that really help everyone work together. Then, as a result, you have this beauty of both machines and humans working together.

What is something you are especially proud of regarding the culture at Centrical?
I think many companies are talking about values and putting up posters with value #1, value #2… but we created a mechanism for kudos. Instead of saying thank you to people who close a deal or launched a new product, we created a kudos mechanism where you are not just thanking someone for what they did, you are thanking them for the specific value.

For example, if you saved a customer from a difficult situation, the customer-first value would be relevant. If we work together at night to launch on time, we are better together and we are achievers. But every main communication of kudos at Centrical is centered around a relevant value so people will iterate and work on being aware of the company values at place and how certain behaviors highlight and celebrate those values. In return, this creates a culture with a high emphasis on company values. It also helps to engage new hires to understand those values.

What do you think employee engagement will be like post-pandemic? Do you have specific tips for those who will operate a hybrid workforce?
First, I believe that we are entering an expedited attrition period. Many employees will leave the organization. There are more options. During the pandemic, we were corked hypothetically into a bottle of beer or champagne. The bottle was shaken for a full year. Now the bottle is a little where the cork is starting to open a little bit. Maybe you’d like to make a change. You can leave your company or your workplace.

Within the tech industry, there will be a lot more opportunities. This is a big threat to other organizations. They are losing experienced employees. Those organizations need to invest in onboarding and recruiting employees. The best thing to do is to invest in the retention of employees. To do that, you need to first clarify what success looks like at the beginning of each employees’ journey. Then provide updates about where they are in this journey to success. Provide employees with all the tools to succeed and engage, communicate, collaborate with them, and connect people with their managers.

During the pandemic, the theory was that performance wasn’t affected much. I believe that’s true, especially in the short term. But the engagement level dropped. People started to feel like they work as part of the gig economy because there was less focus on the organization and people worked less as a team.

In the future, it will be important to create clarity and then to create teams that will work together. For example, have 4-6 people in pods. At our company we create pods of one or two salespeople, and one solution expert. They work together and they have comradery. People aren’t just dependent on the manager who will keep them engaged, but they work as a team, and it’s not just the organic team of a “sales team” or a “devops” team; in many cases it’s a more integrated team.

“I invested around 1,000 hours learning different aspects about topics surrounding Centrical, including how to build a SaaS company and marketing. I was a CEO before, but not for a SaaS company. If you want to succeed at something, be prepared to put in a lot of time and learning.”

Is there an interesting story from your career that you could share, which you think others will benefit from?
I received one hundred ‘no’s’ from investors before I received the first yes. Never give up. If you believe in yourself; if you believe that you have something, never give up.

The 2nd thing is to be ready for this stage of my career, I invested around 1,000 hours learning different aspects about topics surrounding Centrical, including how to build a SaaS company and marketing. I was a CEO before, but not for a SaaS company. If you want to succeed at something, be prepared to put in a lot of time and learning.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
I think that the main thing, for both the long-term and the short-term goals, is how to deliver all the time, like a most valuable player. You make a decision, I would like to see the results. You open a new market, I would like to see the results there. You launch a new product, I would like to see the results there.

Together, look at where the ‘north star’ is. If you see the ‘north star’ you will always be in the right direction, even if you need to cross a mountain, climb a mountain, dig a hole, hit a rock, or if you need to turn right or left. The real danger is thinking about strategy with no delivery and no reaction to the changes and the reality. For example, with something like the COVID-19 pandemic, you might need to change direction. But if you are only focused on the short-term you will never meet your goals.

What was it like pivoting your growing organization during the beginning of the pandemic?
At the beginning of COVID, we launched a solution for working from home. There’s an old saying that “every challenge is an opportunity” and it’s true. You must look at every challenge and say okay, it created a problem. If I solve the problem, what are the opportunities it will bring to us and then maybe you can replicate it. For example, regarding working from home. We first considered what we would need? Maybe, better communication and interaction? Within a couple of weeks, we managed to move tens of thousands of employees to work from home. We managed to help telecommunications help thousands of stores to start selling from curbside instead of from the stores. We reacted very quickly to those changes and challenges.

Large organizations need to create familiarity and things that everyone will share together. It’s very hard to look at the corporation from an employee’s direct perspective. You need to sometimes break it down and look at smaller teams and to create shared goals between different teams.

We wanted to react very quickly to this new work from home environment. So we brought in someone from the product team, R&D, marketing, sales, developers, customer success – and an actual customer. We met and we started to realize what was missing. We created a better process for check-ins every day and content to be shared. We needed to launch this in 24 hours, not like before where it would take four weeks.

Once we finished brainstorming, we took three main components that were relevant. One of them was for structured communication. The other was for check-ins and content. In every team, there were people that looked for an example of marketing. How will we market in the future? And the future was in five days. But we still didn’t divide into separate departmental teams. Instead, everyone from each department worked together to create a better fit for our market. The end of the process was 10 times greater than anything I’ve seen before. Before you could have told me, “Hey, gal, this is the description of what we are doing,” and I would have said, “Yes, this will take 2-3 months.” But we did this in less than two weeks. It was because we worked together. Even though we worked days and nights, it was not like working harder. Instead, it was like working smarter. We kept doing that even after there was not as much pressure. Because of this, the product market fit cycle improved with our new features.


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