Chris French and the Power of Gratitude

Through market-leading social recognition and continuous performance management, Chris French and Workhuman are making more productive workplaces

Chris French wants you to experience the power of gratitude. He also wants to, as he says, “bring the human back into work.” Critical to this goal, he believes, is acknowledging human needs, such as environments where we are empowered, feel valued, and are free to create. As executive vice president of customer strategy for Workhuman, French partners with CHROs and other company leaders to invest in building more human workplaces and fulfilling those needs.

He works to overcome a basic business problem. “HR tools are built to manage resources, not humans,” he explains. That is, tools are designed to try to get the most out of people, not to support people in giving their best. “The tools just look at meeting basic needs, like getting people a salary and maybe healthcare.”

Chris French Workhuman
Chris French, WorkhumanPhoto: Courtesy of Workhuman

However, he feels, as we move toward automation, it is critical to find methods to go further in the human layer for HR software, a category French calls “human applications.” “We need the human aspects most from people. Passion. Creativity. Agility,” French says. To give that, people need more nurturing, connected workplaces.

Through Workhuman’s cloud-based software, colleagues can recognize and acknowledge each other for great achievements and also key milestones at work and in life. “We use the full spectrum of feedback,” French says, “to create more trusting relationships where people can bring their best selves.” The goal is also to overcome an ingrained fear of feedback that many people have. Through solutions that allow people to celebrate and build stronger teams and connections, French and his team overcome the many forces aimed at tearing people apart. “Work can be a place to bring people back together,” he says.

Founded at the end of the millennium, Workhuman has grown at an impressive speed, now seeing more than 4 million people in 160 countries on Workhuman Cloud. The platform’s efficacy across the globe does not surprise French. Regardless of language and culture, he says, we are all human. “What we are doing appeals to basic human needs: social connection and knowing that what you do matters.”

This success—including such giants as LinkedIn, Cisco, Intuit, and The Hershey Company adapting the platform—also comes from French’s team making a serious investment in the internal process for each customer. The intent is to create a seamless experience from the first time that a customer hears about Workhuman to ongoing, measured success. “We hold to the ideal that the customer and their outcomes come first,” he explains.

Also key to the process is Workhuman’s role as a superuser. The company’s five hundred employees—headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, and Framingham, Massachusetts, and working around the globe—are ground zero for testing. Staff also have an ongoing, tight connection with their product. The success of the company, as it racks up rewards for being a top workplace, is an example of what its products can do.

Through the Workhuman Analytics & Research Institute, Chris and his team have access to evidence-based, up-to-date research that enables the enhancement of tools, methodologies, and process. While they scrape data and chart numbers, the overall goal is to enhance the human experience. For example, after analyzing communications between employees, Workhuman can identify trends and then have team members prepared for coaching employees around unbeneficial habits. “Workhuman is a full alignment of people, process, and technology,” French says.

“What we are doing appeals to basic human needs: social connection and knowing what you do matters.”

French’s unbounded enthusiasm for his work comes from a deep belief in not only the mission but also the method at Workhuman. He flies all over the world to talk to senior HR personnel as well as lead internal projects and innovation sessions around the benefits of creating a more human workplace. Building on a lifelong passion for using tech to solve business problems, French truly found his niche when he discovered social recognition platforms. The intent is to tie people together, and his method is positivity.

“If we can do this with the biggest companies and make this more human workspace, then we can do it with small places. Traditionally, large companies have led major shifts in what work looks like,” he says, referencing policies like paid family medical leave. This, for French, is the next generation: to treat people well, to have enabling tools so that people can work together, to support work through positivity, to secure privacy, and to ensure equity for all.

Since French joined the company in 2012, he’s been making these enhanced workplaces through systematic engagement. “This is the longest I’ve stayed in a job,” he says. “I am driven because of the opportunity ahead to reshape the future of work.” He is excited to continue his work, to find new partners that believe in creating a more supportive, and thus productive, work environment.