Community//

Adam Tanner of Waggl: “Respond to feedback”

Respond to feedback. Beyond asking questions, there needs to be a framework of recognition, learning and betterment around employee feedback. Leaders need to develop a method of taking action based on what they hear from employees, and for communicating those actions back to everyone. If people don’t see action, they might not be aware of […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Respond to feedback. Beyond asking questions, there needs to be a framework of recognition, learning and betterment around employee feedback. Leaders need to develop a method of taking action based on what they hear from employees, and for communicating those actions back to everyone. If people don’t see action, they might not be aware of it, and they may assume their opinions don’t really matter.


As a part of my series about leaders who integrate mindfulness and spiritual practices into their work culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Tanner.

Adam Tanner believes that people inside organizations have critical knowledge that, when harnessed, is the ultimate competitive advantage. A SaaS pioneer with over a decade of experience building HR technology products, Adam currently serves as Co-founder and Head of Product for Waggl, an Employee Voice platform that helps organizations measure and improve engagement through simple data visualizations and meaningful crowdsourced dialogue between managers, leaders and teams. Prior to Waggl, Adam served as Director of Product Management and Manager, Quality Assurance for Fort Hill Company. Previously he held research and administrative positions at University of Delaware and Americorps VISTA. Despite positive recent trends in employee engagement, most employees still struggle to deeply engage at work, with <15% reporting that they can influence decisions that are important to their work, and <10% reporting that they can take risks that might lead to new products or solutions. The relationship between engagement and experience is shifting, however, and industry experts believe that “employee experience-centric organizations” will dominate the future of work. Adam Tanner believes in building a culture in which Employee Voice collectively guides what path to take, when and how to pivot, and what resources to enlist along the way.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career as a Mentor Administrator with the Americorps program. This was where I first encountered corporate employee engagement programs, in which companies were giving employees an opportunity to use time and resources partnering with non-profit programs focusing on social impact. I then went on to graduate school at University of Delaware, which is where I met the team from Fort Hill Company, and after I graduated, I ended up joining the company. At Fort Hill, we identified the opportunity to apply a new solution to an age-old problem by providing a more efficient and effective way for organizational leaders to collect feedback from their employees. That led to the formation of Waggl, which has now become the most powerful Employee Voice platform for hospital systems and other types of organizations.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

What’s been really gratifying is helping to raise the voices of frontline healthcare workers through the COVID-19 crisis, through our valued partnerships with leading hospital systems such as University of Utah Health, UCHealth, VA North Texas, and others. Our healthcare customers have used Waggl to ask their people important questions about topics ranging from how they could help with their safety and well-being, to how they could simplify their work and boost their effectiveness. The responsiveness and agility we’ve witnessed has been unprecedented and has undoubtedly fueled the resilience we’re seeing across so many organizations. We’ve never worked harder because we’ve never more clearly seen the importance of our mission to empower the Voice of the Employee.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are currently engaged in some very exciting work about COVID-19 Vaccine adoption. Waggl has developed a dynamic resource called “The Voice of Healthcare Workers” to enable frontline healthcare workers to share real-time suggestions and insights with their peers about the rollout of the vaccine. The goal is to give our heroes in healthcare a collective voice and ensure that their organizations and the people who work for them have the most current data and insights to navigate these next few months.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I think it comes down to the fact that people don’t feel they have a voice within their organizations. At a basic level, human beings want to feel that they are making a difference through their work. But many people feel that they aren’t being heard in the workplace, and that lack of influence can lead to a sense that what they are doing day after day doesn’t make any difference. Eventually, it leads people to struggle with their sense of well-being.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

An unhappy workforce makes a huge impact on organizational productivity and profitability. According to Gallup, more than 80% of employees are not engaged at work, and actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity.

Unhappiness is having an even greater impact on individual employee health and well-being. The biggest driver of health problems is stress, and one of the biggest drivers of workplace stress is bad bosses. The reality is that we’re now working more than ever. The average person spends more than 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, which can drastically diminish the amount of time they’re able to spend with family and loved ones. One study by Deloitte found that 40% of Americans believe it’s impossible to have a successful job and a balanced family life. But increased work time does not always translate into greater productivity or happiness. Asking people to be plugged in and responsive all the time can lead to burnout and work-related stress.

In his book Dying for a Paycheck, professor and author Jeremy Pfeffer described the costs of extreme workloads. For example, workplace stress has been linked to premature death, various illnesses and hospitalization.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Build a framework around the 7 Dimensions of Wellness in the workplace — physical, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental, occupational and intellectual. In order to combat burnout, especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis, we predict that more organizations will start focusing on this to a higher degree, and start forming well-being committees to help employees.

Cultivate psychological safety. Organizational leaders have a responsibility to create an environment where people feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their opinions. When an employee is safe to speak up without the threatening consequences of embarrassment or punishment, more ideas are shared and employee confidence boosts because members now have a voice.

Include everyone in the dialogue. In order to have a thriving culture, leaders need to foster a shared sense of purpose by including employees in the dialogue regularly — not just surveying them about engagement once a year. Major decisions need to involve everyone at the organization, including (but not limited to) executive management. Creating a continual authentic dialogue between leadership and employees helps drive alignment and accountability throughout the organization.

Respond to feedback. Beyond asking questions, there needs to be a framework of recognition, learning and betterment around employee feedback. Leaders need to develop a method of taking action based on what they hear from employees, and for communicating those actions back to everyone. If people don’t see action, they might not be aware of it, and they may assume their opinions don’t really matter.

Foster accountability through the organization. In order to achieve business goals, everyone has to pull their weight. Accountability can no longer be defined as a 1:1 relationship. Teammates need to hold one another accountable; the team needs to hold the leader accountable; the leader needs to hold the team accountable. Once there’s shared accountability, trust can be established, which is the basis for all high-performance cultures and organizations. At Waggl, we use our own tool to drive accountability and ownership, by conducting employee pulses on everything we do. And we communicate in a transparent way across the board, on everything from sharing financials to building a stronger remote culture.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

In the US, there is a common perspective that work should always come first, even to the point of creating widespread health issues for employees. In his book Dying for a Paycheck, professor and author Jeremy Pfeffer described the costs of extreme workloads. For example, workplace stress has been linked to premature death, various illnesses and hospitalization.

The only way to correct this is for leaders to show the way. For example, at Waggl, we’ve implemented an “unlimited vacation” policy. Initially, it was a bit confusing for some people, because they weren’t sure exactly how much vacation they could actually take. But we learned that if leaders set the example, people feel safe enough to step away when they need to.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I try to be an empowering leader who trusts people to do their jobs, rather than micro-managing the process for them. I hope that my people see me as a peer. I believe that the best way to gain respect as a leader is to be willing to step in and do the “dirty work.” Leaders have to be able to do the jobs of the people they lead. That goes a long way in practically every industry, from technology to healthcare to hospitality and more.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My co-founders of Waggl, Michael Papay and Drew Batshaw, have both pushed me and helped me to grow, from the time we met at Fort Hill Company. Michael had a burning desire to create something new, and from him I’ve learned so much about building and growing a startup. Drew brought a whole new level of understanding about what it takes to run a successful SaaS company. I couldn’t have imagined creating something like Waggl without their partnership.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to help organizations leverage the power of Employee Voice. I’m very proud of the goodness we’ve brought to the people who work for and with Waggl.

In order to help support organizations during this transition, Waggl launched an initiative called “Putting People First During the COVID-19 Crisis.” As we’ve move through this global pandemic together with our customers, we’ve become more aware every day of the need for organizations to hear the voices of all employees — not just the people in the Boardroom and the Executive Suite. From what we’ve seen and experienced, putting people first is the number one principle that can help guide an organization through the ups and downs of turbulent times. Inviting all employees to share their ideas, and taking the time to genuinely and empathically understand their perspectives, results in a more deeply committed team and produces better outcomes for all types of organizations.

Waggl received a Bronze Golden Bridge Award in the category of “Best Technology To Combat and Reduce the Impact of COVID-19,” and a 2020 Stevie® Award for Great Employers in the category of “Most Innovative Use of HR Technology During the Pandemic” for its “Putting People First” initiative.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Fear Means Go.” To me, this quote means that you can utilize anxiety to accomplish something bigger. When you experience fear, your body is telling you something. In some cases, there may be something physically dangerous to avoid. But in others, it might be an opportunity to move past some psychological barrier to pursue something greater. If you can get past the fear, you can accomplish more.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

I believe that every employee should have the ability to share their voice and create change. I recently participated in a roundtable discussion on the topic of how corporations can work with their employees to drive social impact in the workplace. Someone on the panel used the phrase “Shrink the Change,” which I love. Everything we are trying to undertake right now requires a massive amount of change — but if we can shrink it into distinct steps or components, we’ll be able to accomplish more. There are billions of workers in the world. What could be achieved if every employee volunteered 2 hours/week? Corporations and individual employees can accomplish a lot of good when they make it a priority.

Our mission is to give frontline employees a voice because that will in turn increase levels of global happiness and productivity.

Thank you so much for sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Lay down a vision”, With Michael Papay of Waggl

by Jason Hartman
Community//

“Respect the needs of it’s people.” With Charlie Katz & Michael Papay

by Charlie Katz
Community//

How to Create a Great Work Culture: “Create a more “human” workplace” with Michael Papay and Chaya Weiner

by Yitzi Weiner at Authority Magazine
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.