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HRExecutive Conversations with Lorna Borenstein



On Friday, April 5, 2019, Grokker’s Founder and CEO, Lorna Borenstein, was featured on John Sumser’s HRExaminer Radio Hour program, Executive Conversations. Read on for highlights or listen here for details.

On Founding Grokker...

John: How did you end up founding Grokker?

Lorna: I was personally struggling with how to fit wellbeing into my life. I didn’t have time to go to the gym or the yoga studio — it felt like everyone had these unrealistic expectations of what I needed to do and nobody was helping me.

I want to help people who have no time, like me, and who are busier than ever. The reason I chose to do it in this way is because I could see the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and connected TV, and that video was going to be consumed more than ever and that people were loving it. So I had to figure out how to make Grokker on-demand, very video-centric, and very accessible in a way that was not going to feel like a chore, but feel like something fun and easy.

On Wellbeing and Video Content…

John: What do you mean by wellbeing? What is that?

Lorna: Such a good question because it's going to mean something a little different to me than it is to you. Thinking about overall wellbeing, what are the different dimensions of your physical and emotional life that lead to you feeling well? There is emotional wellbeing, physical well being, social connectedness. People today more than ever — not just employees — are demanding three things of life: a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and a sense of balance. And if you can have those three elusive things all at once, then you have total wellbeing.

John: The idea is that somehow watching a video can do that?

Lorna: It's not like one isolated video is going to magically change your life. We're busier now more than ever, we don't have time, and fitness has moved out of the gym. So instead, what if we could put in your pocket the power of a wonderful expert, an on-demand personal trainer who can help you with a 15-minute stretch video that you can do when you have time, or a meditation practice you can do while you're waiting in car pool? Videos provide the little incremental, small steps that help you find the time for wellbeing. When you stick them all together and you're able to fit them into your lifestyle, it actually makes you feel materially different. Small steps at a time.

On Taking Small Steps...

John: Small steps at a time. I take it that means that you have a bigger picture of where we're going? How do you help someone plot out a trajectory?

Lorna: The first thing that you need to do is don't think that everybody is the same. That's the fatal flaw. You really have to understand who you're dealing with. If I'm talking to someone who does not work out at all, is pre-diabetic, is suffering from lack of proper sleep hygiene and is a 35 yr-old mother of two, well, I need to understand what she's suffering with right now and then give her a very personalized plan that is going to meet how much time she has, when she can do it, and what she has access to.

Then, provide a compelling, entertaining, easy experience. I'm not going to give that woman some type of mega-celebrity personal trainer to follow — it'll turn her off. She’ll prefer someone who’s approachable and not intimidating. Take the thinking out of it for her, structure it for her, schedule it for her. Send her reminders, provide her encouragement, and then the videos will progress. They start off easy, very simple, like the basics of habit formation. You need small wins at the beginning and repeat them at the right intervals to reinforce what eventually becomes a habit.

Starting out as a consumer company first, we've had so many years of trial and error with consumers to understand what works and what doesn't, so we've honed the skills more like Netflix than an enterprise software company.

On Enterprise Success with Grokker...

John: So, you're able to develop personalized wellness development plans and curriculum for people inside of an enterprise setting. How often does it work? Does everyone who touches it do well?

Lorna: (Laughs) I wish it was magic — that everyone who used it was immediately made well! Roughly — if you want to talk real numbers — a large employer in the first year can expect about 50% of employees to become engaged with Grokker and somewhere in the 35% range to be engaged on a quarterly basis. One layer deeper, think about how people are not all the same: the person sitting here on April 5 isn't the same as they'll be on Sept 5. They're shifting, experiencing different stressors, with different movements happening in their personal and work lives. So you really need to think about the journey with the employee...and have different things to catch them with all the time...not the same stuff every month.

We recently, for example, launched a sugar reset which was well-timed in the first quarter when we're all thinking about nutrition — that's' a good time to try to catch someone with that. It would not be a good time in the holiday season to hit someone with a sugar reset! I want all of the egg nog I can get my hands on! But that might be a good time of year to try to help people with some coping mechanisms for getting through the holidays.

So when we talk about success, it's not just "we've got great stuff," it's “what's happening with you right now?” We'll check in with you, give you the opportunity to take a wellness quiz throughout the year that measures four vectors of wellbeing. Oh my gosh, we see right now you're struggling with sleep — we'll give you some sleep hygiene videos and sleep stories and some easy ways to lessen your issues around that. I think it ebbs and flows but you always have to be releasing new content all of the time. You have exciting new opportunities and you have to make it easy for people to participate.

On Wellbeing Support from Colleagues and Experts...

John: Ninety days ago I quit eating gluten and dairy, and as a result, I feel better — and I thought it was normal to hurt when I was done with a meal. And so, when I think about wellness, there must be a ton of (other) things that are inhibitors of my wellness. How do you address that?

Lorna: That's such a beautiful question. I think part of what you’re explaining is that you need other people to bring ideas to you that you're not necessarily going to identify as a problem on your own. Influencers in your life, whether they're at work or at home, are the connectors who will come and suggest something to you that you wouldn't otherwise (realize) is needed.

To a certain extent, the employer has an interesting role they can play in helping to bring together colleagues and opportunities to help. What we're seeing in a lot of our work is ambassadors — these people you work with who are the ones who first tried to take out gluten and dairy and they'll say, “This is amazing!” Or they’re the ones who do the Whole 30 every January and encourage everyone to do it with them. You need to enable connections and the ability for people to talk openly about these things.

Do you have an environment where it's OK to talk about these things? It's ok to be real? Do your employees have permission to think and talk about this? If your executives all eat lunch at their desks and never move and don't care if you're there at 6 pm, it's hard to create that culture. My first corporate job was at HP and on my first day at work, my boss came to my cube at lunchtime and said, "Hey are you coming to the gym?" I'm like, “What?” (laughs!) I didn't even think to bring gym clothes! That's giving me permission.

Do you have an environment that gives employees permission to create a sense of community —  and then specifically for how you share the opportunities to make yourself feel better?

Grokker has a twelve month calendar, and every month is a different theme. We provide webinar materials, rich HTML emails, and new videos get released — and we work with ambassadors at companies to create something exciting and new around ideas that you might not have heard of before. And make it approachable! It's so much easier when you don't feel like you're making a life commitment; you're just trying something small to see how you feel. A week, two weeks, and it can lead to something else. I think you need to feel permission, you need exciting and entertaining ways of exploring, and hopefully you have a community that's going to support you and have the ideas.

On What Makes Grokker Different...

John: What makes Grokker different from other wellness apps?

Lorna: We did start out as a direct-to-consumer company, so we've been perfecting the art of engaging consumers ala Netflix or Amazon, not approaching it like an enterprise HR software company. And the second thing is, let's face it: employees are struggling with obesity, high blood pressure, pain, depression, lack of sleep, and all of the things preventing them from bringing 100% to work. And while the first generation of wellness programs pushed for the measurement of BMI or blood pressure and threw a bunch of paid incentives at you just to take that test. That stat is what benefits professionals clung to like a coat of armor to protect them against not having an ROI they could prove — but we're very different.

The approach we take is that users are individuals and we know that a statistic isn't going to make them well. Our perspective is that lifestyle risks are what matter because if you're struggling with depression, it's going to affect you at home and at work, so let's focus on addressing that. We also believe that because everyone is different, you need to be engaged and supported in ways that fit you.

So as a result we believe that to help people, you have to incorporate very modern consumer technologies like video, 24/7 on-demand access, personalization, assessments, creating small incremental steps with encouragement and community in order to help you. We're not arrogant — we don't assume that we know what you need. There is no one-size-fits-all, so first we assess, then we personalize a program that provides the small steps that can hopefully make it easier for you to create the change in your life that you want.

And I think the last thing that's different about us is we have such a wide range of wellbeing programs because of our history and that means that you could learn about reducing sugar in your cooking one day, and how to get a better night sleep the next. So there are more opportunities to get you engaged and keep you engaged — it’s not boring like a “We're all walking to Rome again” step challenge.

On Transparency and Privacy...

John: How you handle privacy in a tool that's provided by an employer — and how do you stop it from feeling intrusive in areas I don't really want people to know about?

Lorna: This is critical to success. You have to make sure that the minute the employee comes into your environment, whether it's Grokker or anything else, the employee has to understand that their information is private. Because we support global employers, we are completely GDPR compliant. Moreover, be open with them about what is and isn't shared with the employer. We have actually been very fortunate because, again, coming from the consumer realm, it's very clear from the minute you come on to Grokker there are ways to keep your stuff to yourself and there are things, if you want to share, you can — but there's no requirement for you to share anything.

But also, what's really interesting, John, and it is somewhat generational, people want to be more real at work and at home. We actually find that employees really want to connect over whether they're suffering from anxiety or depression or struggling with weight. People want to reach out to one another, especially colleagues in a work environment, for that feeling of "I'm not so alone."

Often we see executives lead by example — and they'll join a mindfulness program and say, “I really need this in my life right now. I'm stressed!” And what's wonderful is it gives employees permission to talk about it. No one can force you to tell everyone anything — I want to keep this private and I'll keep it private, but if I want to talk about it, I can participate and talk about it. But just the action of watching videos isn't visible to other people in the Grokkospehere, so you're not at risk unless you choose to share that information.

John: What makes you so different that people are going to believe their interactions with you are private?

Lorna: I believe the reason is the experience in Grokker, in particular, is very personal. There's none of this Facebook-like showing off to other people. It's more like everyone's here because we're trying to find a little bit of happiness — really, ultimately, health and happiness. And I think our experts who moderate our community — we have over 130 global experts that are active in the Grokker community — really help with self-policing. They set the tone, which is not at all cheeky or clever in a way that might be off-putting. It's very inclusive and un-intimidating.

So with the experts setting the tone and the way that we onboard you — and you can see what is and isn't public — it's very clear in our terms and conditions that we will never share or sell your data...I think that we've been able to assuage or prevent those fears from arising and we've never breached it. We haven't created any mistrust in the community.

On the Right-Fit Enterprise Customers...

John: How can you tell if someone is a good customer for you vs. an account you want to walk away from as soon as you can walk away from it?

Lorna: (Laughs) I've got the scars to show you how I learned this lesson! Number one, if a client does not talk about their employees in a way that demonstrates that they genuinely care about them — like if this is no more than a box-checking exercise — they are not a good client for us. Chances are there's not a great culture and it's not going to be a successful relationship.

The second thing is if what they're looking for is an extremely clinical approach to taking care of their people. That's not us. We are really about prevention and lifestyle, so if you want something super clinical — you specifically want to get the smokers in your population to quit smoking within 3 months to lower your insurance costs — that's not us and you're not a good client for us.

And then the other thing is if you take a punitive approach towards your teams. There are some companies that apply disincentives, and we don't believe that that works and so we're not a good match for you if you apply punishments or disincentives. Probably not going to be a good fit.

And I think, conversely, what makes you a good for us, is if you have global offices or remote offices — a diverse and dispersed employee population — that's a good audience for Grokker because we level that playing fiend and make it available everywhere.

John: What do you want to be sure a listener takes away?

Lorna: There is hope! There has never been a better time to be a benefits professional. There's increased focus on the importance of benefits...your benefits budgets are growing, and employees are making career choices based on the quality and range of benefits you provide. I think there's so much hope and you should be working with people who can make you feel like a hero.

The second thing is this doesn't have to be expensive or difficult, right? We get our clients up and running in 30 days or less and it's really inexpensive, don't have to spend millions of dollars. So understand that as an employer, you have all of these new options. It's an exciting time to shift thinking from "I am going to focus on getting a measurement" to "How can I create an economy of wellbeing and a movement towards culture of wellbeing at my company?” I think you've got the tools now that were never there before to help you with it and that ties in your favor with employee sentiment.

Listen here for the full interview!



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