Platypus

Nicolas Blier-Silvestri

Nico is the founder and CEO of Platypus. He also helped scale some of Denmark's most successful tech start-ups - Trustpilot, Falcon.io, Unity Technologies, Revolut and Peakon.

Platypus is a platform with the goal of bringing a more data-driven approach to establishing “cultural fit” in the recruitment process. Platypus' aim is to make company culture easy to understand, measurable and actionable, so that you can make smarter decisions. Their approach is to take employees on a journey to reflect on 12 work-related values to assess alignment with the organization rather than looking at personality tests and one-time engagement surveys.

We had the pleasure to chat with Nico about his view on corporate culture, as well as how you can foster and measure innovation culture.



Before we jump into it, it would be great if you could briefly present yourself and Platypus.

Platypus will be 3 years old in February 2022. We built the recruitment tool to get data about cultural alignment and concluded quickly that organizations actually don’t have data on culture.
In our view, corporate values are autocratic but culture is democratic. Therefore, rather than starting with personality tests and one-time engagement surveys, we start by asking employees to reflect (anonymously) on 12 values. The results provide input for a cultural map for the organization and the outcome can definitely be different in different departments.

Especially now that everything's online, how do you create and measure company culture? When we present our data to organisations like Pleo, Vivino and Contractbook and, their reaction is: "Oh, wow! We didn't know that!". That is what excites me and it is where Platypus creates an impact.



From our experience, culture is the sum of actions. It’s what people are doing that together constitutes a corporate culture. It’s not very tangible and it is hard to change. But one of the handles is to start initiating behaviours by celebrating the behaviours you are aiming for. So for example, in an innovative culture, you would like some of your employees to act like entrepreneurs or leaders to look at ideas like a venture fund. What is your approach to defining culture?

We give you data about what drives your culture and what is important to your people and then you can slice and dice it and personalize the approach, if you want. But even at our size of company we already have three very distinctive subcultures between the product, tech and revenue team. And that is relevant, because like in marketing it is all about personalization. So getting data on what to talk about with whom makes you a better and more efficient manager. But in that context, it is essential to ask relevant questions. If you ask me to evaluate public transportation in Copenhagen, I will tell you it’s awesome. Why? Because I’m from Paris and on top of that I never really use public transportation because I rather bike. So this doesn’t really tell you anything.



If we take Platypus as an example, how would or could you measure innovation culture? And how do you follow up, who is responsible for governance etc.

At Platypus, for example, I would say we have an innovative culture due to the nature of what we do. We are for example tracking results coming out of our product and tech sprints and differentiate between continuous, incremental improvements and new, innovative, creative ideas. Is it an iteration or an improvement?

But if you are thinking of large organizations who often want to work agile and innovative, we often stop and reflect. Can you be agile and innovative when you have 15,000 people? And should you be? Does it make sense for your business? If everyone wants to be innovative, you will end up with chaos. You need a leader, you need builders, you need coordinators. When you are cooking for example, someone needs to be in charge, some people need to chop the vegetables, others need to stir the sauce - everyone can be part of the recipe but somebody needs to orchestrate the effort.



What is your experience with mergers and acquisitions? The classic challenge is that mixing two cultures becomes like mixing oil and water.

When you’re buying a company, it would be great to have the cultural maps of both companies and evaluate what’s going to happen when they are combined. At Platypus, that’s what we can do with our algorithms and data. When we talk about recruitment or mergers and acquisitions, there is no sense in asking if the people are aligned with the whole organisation, as you can’t align with a company of several hundred or thousands of employees. Instead, we analyse the data and identify their alignment with a specific team. What really matters is the cultural experience they have with the team they are working with.



So if we take a closer look at those teams, you might identify people who already have an innovative mindset, are forward thinking, creative and open to testing, making mistakes and trying again; they are collaborative and progress-loving. But what do you recommend and what is your experience regarding changing behavior and encouraging new practices?

Here you are looking at the individual and probably more at personality tests. Some people just won’t thrive in a certain set up. So you need to find out: Is agile, creativity, innovation etc. the right thing for you? You can also take the board room as an example. Top management in principle shouldn’t be agile. They are responsible for risk assessment, triage, and planning ahead. But the task force should be agile and that should be embraced by the management team. Good innovation leadership gives room to have open discussions and you need people you want to have a voice and discuss. The challenge for management often then lies in the decision making. There I follow the philosophy that “We don’t need to agree but align!”.



That was a perfect transition to my second last question for you. Do you have any “favourite” worst idea or prototype you have generated?

Oh, I’ve had many bad ideas but I think the fact that I have been kicked out of the UX/UI design meeting because apparently I have (really) bad ideas, says it all. But that’s where innovation and innovative leadership comes in. You can’t be good at everything.



And last but not least, we usually round off with a book/film/YouTube recommendation. Anything you can think of that has inspired you recently?

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. Not 100% related to the topic though. Otherwise, there is a company I admire and follow on all possible channels. That is Lego. For me, Lego is the archetype of innovation.

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