After spending a decade consulting employees who felt dissatisfied, burnt out or underappreciated, SeenCulture founder Nikki Tugano is looking to change the state of workplace culture by building a software solution that uses AI to improve morale.
Aiming to raise $800,000 later this year for product development, Tugano, who teaches positive psychology at the University of Melbourne, spoke with Business News Australia about what inspired her to start the company.
“A lot of my own personal experience motivated wanting to create SeenCulture. It was very much reinforced in my experience working as an HR professional - I worked in a number of different roles for a few different organisations both across Australia and the UK,” Tugano explained.
“There was a lot of untapped talent that was going to waste within organisations. That typically ended up being a motivating factor for people wanting to move, to start to look for other job opportunities because they didn't feel like they were seen, that they were valued, and were appreciated and acknowledged for their strengths and for their potential.
“I was seeing more and more that a lot of problems that businesses were experiencing was in effectively managing their talent and stabilising and optimising the existing workplace. What they tended to do was just have a band-aid fix and replace who was leaving but without any depth of consideration into where the source of it is coming from and solving the symptom, which is people leaving.”
Based in Melbourne, SeenCulture is a Service-as-a-Software (SaaS) platform that combines data science with behaviour science to analyse an employee’s personality and strengths, as well as areas they can improve on when it comes to workplace performance.
The company initially pulls information from a client’s existing HR database, but also gathers its own insights via 360 feedback surveys to identify the different ‘employee archetypes’ that exist within an organisation.
Tugano likens the report generated from these findings to a more personalised version of the personality tests people take, like Myers-Briggs. To process the qualitative data, the platform uses personality AI and machine learning.
According to the founder, the survey measures five different attributes: mindset intelligence, social intelligence, team intelligence, organisational intelligence/business intelligence and domain intelligence.
“Every employee gets their own individual talent report that shows where co-workers see your talents or strengths, areas where you have an opportunity to improve and how you compare to your cohort across each of the different dimensions,” explained Tugano, who won the People’s Choice Award at AirTree's pitch night two months ago.
“We'll also do an analysis on blind spots - where there's a difference in perception of what the individual believes of themselves versus what their aggregate collective believes of them.
“We highlight the gap in self-perception to the external perception across each of those different dimensions so that people can start to really better understand themselves and how they might want to close the gap. All of that data and information gets amalgamated and analysed with our technology, then it gets synthesized for the purposes of strategic workforce planning.”
SeenCulture currently serves more than 1,300 users on its platform and primarily works with professional services firms based in Australia and New Zealand.
“Our target is the professional services industry and also technology companies that are primarily made up of knowledge workers that have a geographically dispersed workforce. They're the ones that really struggle with having equity of recognition at all layers in all business functions. That’s where we can really add value to making sure that everyone feels seen.
“Rather than billing my time like a traditional consultant or being paid a salary, this is the most effective and scalable way to really make a difference that penetrates beyond the organisations or the people that I touch. It goes further than that.
“My whole personal objective has always been about bridging the gap between what science knows and what business does. SeenCulture is effectively the outcome of that objective for me.”
When asked if the platform ever determines an employee might not suit an organisation, Tugano explained there is no expectation for workers to fit a particular mould.
“From our point of view, we care most about diversity, equity and inclusion. There's a cultural fit and there's also contribution, right? Not everyone is going to fit the exact mould that everyone shares within the organisation, but that's not necessarily viewed as a bad thing,” she said.
“When someone has a different perspective or has a different value set that actually empowers more innovation. We care more about diversity of thought than we care about diversity of demographic because we care more about the why behind diversity rather than the outcomes for it.
“That's where we're really trying to demonstrate how having those different perspectives really contributes to performance and success overall.”
Australia’s ‘great burnout’
While the ‘great resignation’ saw large numbers of US workers leave their jobs in 2021, a different trend has been taking place in Australia known as the ‘great burnout’.
A study conducted by The Future of Work Lab at the University of Melbourne found that prime-aged workers – those between 25 and 55 – were found to have the greatest levels of burnout, with 50 per cent of respondents stating they feel exhausted at work.
The 2023 State of the Future of Work report, which surveyed 1,400 employed Australians, also found that 40 per cent of young and middle-aged workers were less motivated about their work than pre-pandemic.
The research also showed that 33 per cent found it difficult to concentrate at work due to responsibilities outside of their job, while 40 per cent reported fewer opportunities for career progression.
It also found that 75 per cent of prime-aged workers reported a lack of flexible work options in their workplace would motivate them to leave or look for another role, while 60 per cent of workers aged 55 and older felt the same way.
The study showed that 33 per cent of the prime-aged workforce considered quitting their jobs and 20 per cent of older workers had also contemplated it.
To help employers avoid this fate, recommendations outlined in the report include workplaces prioritising mental health and offering greater support to address issues like burnout and mental distress and increasing flexibility by offering working from home arrangements.
The report also called on the government to increase limits on rebated or subsidised annual mental health appointments.
“Work is now a source of identity, it's a source of structure. If we don't consider those other factors, then employees are going to feel dissatisfied. The three things that employees look for to satisfy themselves at work is a sense of autonomy, flexibility and agency,” Tugano said.
“[Another] is connection - whether that's connection to their team, to their manager to the purpose and values of the organisation.
“And lastly, growth. Do they see that they're able to play to their strengths? Are they able to leverage the skill set that they know they have? Do they see a great trajectory in front of them that enables them to develop both personally and professionally? If you nail those things, then that is the crux of what makes us satisfied in the work that we do.”
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