209: Focus On Your Team’s Energy with JJ Ghatak

JJ Ghatak, CEO and Co-founder of OnLoop, a habit-forming, genAI powered goals and feedback platform for high functioning teams. JJ is based in Singapore. We explore the Collaborative Team Development Framework, its functionality, application, and potential approaches to maximize its effectiveness within the team.

Listen to the podcast here


Focus On Your Team’s Energy with JJ Ghatak

Good day, dear listeners. Steve Preda here with the Management Blueprint Podcast. And my guest today, right from Singapore, is JJ Ghatak, the CEO and Co-founder of OnLoop, a habit-forming, Gen AI-powered goals and feedback platform for high-functioning teams. Welcome to the show, JJ.

Thank you, Steve, Thank you for having me.

Well, you’re our first guest from Singapore and I visited Singapore 30 years ago. Ooh, actually 35 almost.

Oh, wow. That’s a long time. It’s changed a lot in 35 years.

I’m sure it has, but at the time it already was very futuristic and it was really great and the food was amazing. So I had some fond memories. I bought myself a mini Sony CD player, which was like smaller than the CD itself, which was not very practical, but looked very cool. So tell me a little bit about your story. I mean, you were an executive at Uber, you were involved in founding several startups, and now you’re running OnLoop. So quite a journey you had there.

No, thank you. And to be honest, I’ve never seen myself as a startup person per se and actually being a startup founder is probably one of the worst career choices someone can make. And so when someone says they want to be a startup founder, I try to convince them not to, and then if they convince me that they care enough about what they’re doing, and that I eventually give in and say, maybe it’s a good idea. But I think that as a person throughout my career, it’s always been exciting to stand for something and to care about a mission that’s greater than a paycheck. And I feel very lucky that my whole career, I’ve never felt like I’ve had a job where I’m working primarily for the salary I’m getting, and I know how big a privilege that is. And so I feel like the streak to be an entrepreneur, and I think being an entrepreneur means building a movement or sort of working towards something you believe in is something that I’ve had the privilege of work on my whole career.

Yeah, no, that’s a lot of fun. I was talking to one of my colleagues the other day and he said that he just read a study whether it was a Harvard Business, I can’t remember, but it was a credible source and he said that basically are three things required for happiness. It’s health, relationships and a purpose. It’s really resonant. So yes, if you got these three, then you can’t go very much wrong.

I agree.

Okay, so how did this OnLoop thing come along? You were working at Uber. Why would anyone leave Uber to be a startup founder?

Yeah. So, I joined Uber in June of 2016 and we IPO’d as a company in May and in November of 2019 was the first time I was in a position where I didn’t have to earn a paycheck to survive. And, you know, I come from a fairly middle-class Indian family, and so the notion of following your dreams or following your passion was not something that was ingrained in me. You were told to get a job and work hard. And so, you know, I had a small six-figure sort of buffer when Uber was about to IPO, and I was 33 at the time and single. I’m about to be a father in a few weeks and so I knew there was a small window opportunity where I could take risk and not feel guilty about it. And the only thing that I had complained about my whole life was clunky, ineffective HR processes that I was subject to when I was at Uber, when I was at Accenture. And so life as a manager felt very hard and not supported. And so soon after leaving Uber, I wrote a two-page document that I titled sort of talent tech, sort of write about all of the pieces that were broken in my experience with regards to the talent experience in the workplace. And I have to rethink them from the lens of a talented team member or a manager and not a functional organization. And you know, when I left Uber, it was also a good time to start a company. I got encouraged by a lot of people to move in that direction. And the fact that there’d be millions of dollars of venture capital ready to back any idea that an ex-Uber person was passionate about. And then one thing led to another and I ended up sort of going full-time founding OnLoop in April of 2020. And we then went full-time, operated the company in August of 2020.

Okay. Well, I’m very curious about how OnLoop is different from someone like ChatGPT and so on. But before we go there, I’d like to touch upon our favorite subject here on this podcast, which is business framework. And as you said, you’re passionate about people, about HR, you know, have been giving people the opportunity to really blossom in a company. And you developed the framework called Collaborative Team Development Framework. So, can you describe it and explain how it works?

The benefit we had when starting OnLoop was we approached it with a problem. That is that the way people measured performance or managed performance in large corporations as a once in six months form-filling exercise was just not effective, was incredibly time-consuming and also incredibly biased. And so we started thinking about how to reimagine performance in the modern workplace from scratch. And we started with feedback and what it would take to enable feedback to happen in organizations on a much more continual basis.

The first version of the app that we built made it very easy to make a capture. Share on X

So, a capture was a celebrate capture or an improve capture to jot down a quick reflection or an observation about something that happened in the workplace, and then to tag it with specific behaviors or competencies about yourself or whoever you observed it around. But we realized quite quickly that feedback for feedback’s sake wasn’t really valuable. And there were two core layers of performance that sat below feedback. One was defining goals and making it very clear what people were working towards. And as we spoke to more and more managers, so, you know, in the first year, year and a half of the business, we had a product advisory council of very senior leaders across Google and Uber and GitHub and Snapchat and BCG and a bunch of the world’s best companies. And we also spoke to hundreds of managers. and managers. We also spent time with Stanford Business School leaders and professors and realized that every goal setting framework, be it OKRs or KPIs, have been developed around helping businesses achieve their outcomes, but not to measure human performance. And actually, companies are good at setting OKRs at a company level, but they very rarely effectively cascade down to the individual level. And at the individual level, what people are doing are actually working on targets, projects, or skills. So in certain jobs, you can define a target or a metric you’re trying to hit, but in other cases, people are trying to execute on a bunch of projects, or they’re trying to work on certain skills. And so, targets, projects, and skills developed as sort of a goal framework that sat below feedback to help people define what they’re working on day to day. But even below that at a foundational level was each person’s inspiration or motivation or energy or wellbeing. And one of the things that I’m incredibly passionate about is that mental health or wellbeing or managing burnout really sits at the base of performance. It’s not this nice to have feel good piece is that if someone’s burnt out, nothing else matters. If someone’s iPhone battery is dead, it doesn’t matter how powerful that iPhone is, it’s not going to do anything. And at the very top, so above well-being, above goals, above feedback is people’s desire to continuously learn and grow and get better over time. And so, this developed as a five-layer hierarchical framework that we call collaborative team development to help every manager ensure that they're bringing the best out of every team member. Share on X

And if someone’s a lower performer, there’s usually an issue with things towards the base of that pyramid. For whatever reason, they may not be motivated or they can’t bring their best selves to work or they don’t have enough clarity around their priorities. But often when someone’s a low performer, people wanna give them improved feedback. They’re like, well, this person doesn’t do X, Y, Z well, but actually that’s gonna demotivate the person further versus helping them come back to the basics. And when someone’s a high performer, people focus on giving them celebrate feedback, but don’t give them constructive feedback. But actually what those people need is constructive feedback and stop at the top of the pyramid to get better over time. And so for every manager, they need to understand where every team member is right now and where they need help to move to the next level. And that’s also always continuous and evolving over time, just because someone’s performing well today doesn’t mean they’re going to perform well in a quarter. And we accidentally build this framework, frankly, while trying to rethink how to run performance for organizations. But now companies have come to us and said, listen, this is brilliant. And can you help each of our managers on how to think about each person in a hierarchical manner and help simplify being a good manager? Because I think we’ve complexified what being a manager is or what being a leader is. And because we’ve taken a very product approach to the problem, we’ve tried to make it as stupidly simple as possible so that we can convert every manager into a great manager.

Yeah. So this is fascinating. It really is true that you need to treat, handle people, different people with different approaches. And yes, sometimes the A-players, they can take the constructive feedback and they actually thrive on it. They ask for it. And then the ones that really need a lot of feedback, they get crushed and then you even lose that impact as well. So you develop some percentages around approaching this. So can you just get into this, that I think it was 20, 40, 50, 15 and 10, what this is about and how it’s useful?

We took a lot of inspiration from the fitness industry as we thought about how do we help people build the right habits around performance? And what the fitness industry has done very well in the last 10 years or so through products today like the aura ring and the whoop band is to numerically signal how people are doing around diet or exercise or sleep to be able to then diagnose what they can do better to get better. So we’ve done a similar thing around the pyramid and it’s called the clarity score.

The clarity score takes into consideration what's happening with each person's energy level, goals, celebrate feedback, improve feedback and skills to then ensure that every manager and every team member is running loops around those five layers. Share on X

And through our work, we’ve seen that goals, by and large, affect performance more than anything else. And people have very clearly set goals and clearly updated goals over time impacts 40% of their performance. But that is still sitting on a baseline of underlying energy, which we assign 20% to. And so that makes up 60%. And we call that base performance as the first two layers. And then the remaining 40% is split up into feedback of 30% and then skills of 10%. We actually let companies tell us if they want to prioritize one thing over the other. And so that’s our recommended breakdown of how we break clarity down across those five layers. But we’re also quite flexible if organizations have a different view on where they want to weight behaviors within the organization.

So JJ, so I don’t know. I think I missed it. So can you go through the five layers one by one, just to make sure?

Yeah. So the bottom layer is energy. So how full is your battery, right, which is 0 to 100% and then we assign a 20% weight to that.

So energy is how people show up? What kind of energy?

Correct. Like, like, like how energized do you feel?

Oh, so that’s a sub score.

Correct. And over time, we’re thinking about whether we want that to be 362, but it’s an assessment of how full someone’s battery is. The next layer is setting goals clearly and having the right mix of goals across targets, projects and skills, and then tracking progress against them the right way, which we assign a 40% weight to. And we call those first two layers base performance of that 60%. The next 15% is are you receiving enough reinforcement feedback, not only to be recognized for the work that you do, but also to identify what your superpowers are. And understanding your superpowers and doubling down on them is a huge driver of performance. So that’s the next 15%. The 15% on top of that is, are you receiving enough constructive feedback to understand your blind spots. And we use the word blind spots very deliberately versus the word weaknesses, because it’s really about you understanding your own impact on others and sort of then being able to mitigate for them. And then the last 10% is skills growth. So sort of consuming content or courses or taking action to get better in a particular area that is personalized to you based on either your skill goals or feedback that you might have received. And that’s the last 10%. That makes up 100%. It’s very interesting.

So energy and goal setting are the base performance. So the energy. So my question around all of this is that you said, is the person getting enough feedback? Are they getting enough constructive feedback? So is it on the individual to drive their own performance in these metrics, or is it on the environment, or is it a mix of the two?

That’s a great question. So the individual has a clarity score, as in IC, and sort of feedback, so celebrates and improves, are a combination of self-reflection, plus manager feedback, plus peer feedback. And if an individual feels that they don’t have enough feedback, they can also request a capture through the product, right? So, and we also help companies and individuals generate sort of automated reviews every quarter or every six months. And that is based on collecting eight, 10, 12 pieces of individual observations over a course of time. And so we suggest next actions to take depending on whether you’re a manager or an IC or a peer and actions you can take to help increase the clarity for yourself or for a team member. So the short answer to the question is it’s a combination. And it’s a combination of feedback for yourself, feedback from sort of people working closest to you, and feedback from your manager.

Yeah, I love it. It’s a really great context to look at performance, and especially the energy piece is very interesting to me. Obviously, when people have clarity and they’re accepted by the goals, they’re gonna be more energized. But energy is also going to be in some kind of life balance, so that they are not burnt out. It’s going to be a nutrition, exercise, time away, relationships, whatever. So that’s really interesting. And what is your experience? Do people, are people honest about their scores? Is there a tendency to not?

Great question. So, also the way we define the experience drives a lot of psychological safety or the lack of it in the product. So the energy check is actually only visible to a person’s manager. It’s not visible to anyone else, because if it is visible to the whole organization or visible to leadership, people are much less likely to report how you feel. But if it’s visible to a manager, especially, you know, we developed a product in a world where teams went hybrid. So managers were not actually seeing their team members on a very consistent basis. And so it was very important to know how people were feeling at a base level. Now, we don’t have the ability to sort of go and really know how someone is versus what they check in, but we’re seeing very high engagement on energy check-ins and it’s something that people are doing pretty consistently and it’s something we introduced actually later in our life cycle versus the beginning. And it’s really sort of increased the engagement that we see people with the product. And sort of thinking about your overall energy levels in the context of your overall performance is something I think that resonates with people.

So what do you do if someone reports their energy is not high enough? I don’t know what the degrees are, but it’s relatively low. What can you do with that person?

So, as a manager, what we’re trying to help the manager do is know where to investigate or where to intervene. Right? So, if someone’s energy level and it’s literally a battery check between red and green, right? And it’s like, and literally, it’s like how full is your battery. And so, someone checks a very low battery score and they do it a couple of times in a row, we make sure we notify the manager and then sort of nudge the manager to check in and ensure that they inquire and understand what’s happening with the person at an energy level. Over time, we can also use more AI to drive the inquiry and understanding of it. But the most important signal for a manager is, if someone’s energy is broken, don’t do anything else above. Focus on the person’s energy and drawing attention to the fact that if someone’s having a really hard time for whatever reason, nothing else matters more. And just that one piece of insight is incredibly helpful for managers to know where to focus on because typically managers are so overwhelmed and so under trained to really understand how to bring the most out of a team member and what the CTD hierarchical framework does is really help a manager pinpoint on where to intervene or where to double down on to help the director forward do their best work.

Yeah, I think it’s great. The energy level is indeed super important. If they are not energized, then something’s going on. They don’t have clarity, perhaps, then they don’t understand or they don’t feel like they are uncertain. And they are anxious about their performance, and that is a major inhibitor. So if you can remove that, that is very helpful. That’s awesome. So what happens when a company onboards that system, then how is it used?

Yeah. So the greatest compliment we’ve ever got, and it’s a company called PatientSync in the US, is that we are able to increase both the level of accountability in the organization in terms of people knowing exactly what they’re responsible for and driving that, as well as increase the level of development that each individual feels. And the issue that we’ve had around human performance in the workplace is that we’ve had this decoupling between getting the job done, driving business outcomes, doing the work, versus caring about the feelings and caring about people improving. And I think what we’ve been able to show is that the two are not decoupled. They’re sort of both sides of the same coin and really high performing organizations are able to drive both together. One of our customers in the US, we’re now actually in the process of figuring out a channel partnership with a parent company that owns a bunch of MSPs. And one of the best compliments that the CEO of the company got from his boss, he’s like, listen, you’ve been able to completely transform the level of accountability as an organization in the last year, and I want to be able to do that at a group level and clearly on the role in driving that. And we were able to do that without bureaucracy, without form filling, without people going through clunky systems. And so, you know, our dream is how do you bring accountability and transparency and development without adding bureaucracy, adding paperwork, adding chores to people’s lives, because people are busy enough. And which is why we’ve been so focused on designing an experience that is built for the manager and end users so that they find like OnLoop is a system that’s easy to use, that’s fast to use, that is not a chore, but provides 10x benefit to the way they go about their day to day.

Yeah, I love this idea that HR is not a separate function, but it’s weaved through the performance function. Because I think that’s what it gives HR a bad rap that they have a separate function often. They are seen as the stick in the hands of the CEO. And it’s really just, you know, playing, paying lip service to creating some kind of an environment, but really the HR person is pretty relevant to talk to, you want to talk to your own boss and so on. And now you’re actually bringing it into the performance and you’re linking it to the energy of the people and the goals and the feedback. I love it. I think that’s very powerful. So JJ, our time is coming to an end quickly, but I want to ask you, what is it that most excites you that you’re working on that most excites you right now?

Yeah, actually the thing that we’re working on right now, and we actually released an internal demo of this a couple of weeks ago and it blew everyone’s mind, is our ability to take unstructured goals, so goals that might be like launch a new market or figure out market expansion for Japan in 2024, and the ability to really break that down into tangible milestones, assigned dates, and sort of be able to set that up for success across a team or organization. Because often a lot of first-time managers really struggle to help team members break down problems to its constituent parts. They have a vague idea of what needs to happen, but they can’t break it down, and that takes a lot of time. And actually, generative AI is very powerful in helping us think through how to break down a complex problem into simpler problems and really further enhance the productivity of work. And so we’ve done a lot of work around how Gen AI can help people give and receive feedback. But we’re starting to think about how that happens for goals and we think it’s going to be an even bigger sort of time saving plus productively enhancing tool for managers.

Is this linked to this problem that you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation about how rolling out goals being one of the big challenges that your leadership level, it’s easy to identify the OKRs.  But if you roll it out to lower level, then it kind of, they get lost or it’s harder to assign parts of those to different people. Why do you think that is?

Yeah, so a couple of things. So one thing we’ve seen in companies is that the top level people have financial goals. So they have a revenue target or a profitably target or a growth target. And then they have strategic priorities. So then they might say, research a new product line or, you know, do R&D on a new business concept. And typically those financial metrics trickle down quite well because people can break targets down. But the strategic projects don’t trickle down the right way because people don’t understand or break them down. So one, GenAI can help sort of break them down further, but also defining a goal as a project and not as an OKR lets people sort of experiment and try out different things and see how that ladders up to the top level goal because you may not know at the beginning of a quarter or a year on exactly how to define the objective and key result at an individual level. All you know is that you’re running projects and experiments to ladder it and be then able to link it back to the top level goal in an easy manner. And so I think that because we’ve taken a very bottoms up approach to how we think about measuring people’s work and helping them increase per person productivity, we’ve designed our approach to the product both from a structure perspective, as well as how to use the latest in technology like GenAI to break them down in a way that’s different versus other people who have approached it because they’ve approached it either from a functional lens on what a function might need for documentation or dashboards or how to define something for a business versus help each person achieve the full potential.

That’s really interesting. And you probably do need computing power for that because there’s so many variables. So you’ve got the goals and then you have the individual and how do you bring together what helps them fulfill their potential and also get contribution to the goal. And that’s going to be difficult for a manager who runs a team to actually visualize that, okay, how am I going to divide this up so that everyone is happy and excited? And it’s very interesting. So one of the things that I’ve experienced with rolling out OKRs or ROCs, whatever you call them, for objectives, is that at a certain level where you have people who are delivery focused, their efficiency metric prevent them to effectively engage with OKR type stuff. So if they have to bill 85% of the time, it’s really hard to disengage with that and then think about something that is totally unstructured and then go back and it may not be efficient.

Not totally. And we see that too, is that when we give people a number, they will obsess about a number. And usually people have sort of financial or objective metrics, strategic projects, and then team health, right? And actually team health falls completely by the wayside because that is usually the least measurable. And that’s where, through the clarity score, we’re trying to give people more tangible ways to focus on the right things to drive team health. And then with strategic projects, how to think about breaking them down and cascading them. Because the   one, which is the financial metrics, people usually don’t have problem with, is usually the second and the third. And that’s where we’re really focused on how to make that feel equally tangible and equally sort of easy to cascade up and down through the org.

Okay. So then my question is to you, so if someone, let’s say if I wanted to have OnLoop implanted in my business, I have seven employees.

How many?


Seven, yeah.

What would be the right approach for me to do that? Is it accessible even for a small company like me? And secondly, if someone would like to learn more, where can they connect to you?

So what we typically tell people, actually we do this now with very small orgs, depending on how the org is structured. We have teams of five people who also use OnLoop as a framework and as a tool. Then we have orgs of hundreds of people who use it as a framework, as a tool at the moment. Typically what we see is that when an org is small, the framework and the approach matters more than the product and the tool. And understanding the methodology behind it is more important. So we actually also offer sort of one-on-one coaching or sort of leadership and management, sort of training work to figure that out. And then as orgs scale, being able to implement that through a product or a system becomes more important. Typically when an organization is more than 30 or 50 people. That’s where the complexity starts increasing. Our website’s onloop.com. If you like to speak to us, someone will get in touch with you pretty quickly. I’m quite active on LinkedIn. And so, Onloop or JJ Ghatak will find me. I read every message that comes to me. I may not respond to every message that comes to me, but I do read every one of them. And I love listening what people have to say about sort of the work that we do. And so, you know, if anybody has any reactions, good, bad, and ugly, I’d love to hear from you.

So you practice what you preach, you take the feedback, the constructive feedback, as well as the praises.


Love it. And I hope your battery is full as well, although it’s the end of the week, so maybe not. So thank you, JJ Ghatak, CEO and Co-founder of OnLoop, a habit-forming genAI powered goals and feedback platform. Thanks for coming on our show and sharing your framework, how you weave HR into performance management. And it’s super interesting and empowering. So thanks for that. And for those of you listening, stay tuned, because as you can see, we get very exciting entrepreneurs on the show. And it’s no point missing any episodes. Thanks, JJ.

Thank you, Steve. Thank you for having me.

Important Links:

This entry was posted in . Bookmark the permalink.