Nicole Alvino, CSO of Firstup: Building Next-Generation Employee Experiences & Ethical Tech for Good

The need for much more direct and streamlined communication between the C-Suite and employees has become much more apparent during the pandemic. Can automation help enterprises? We chatted with Nicole Alvino of Firstup to find out.

Nicole Alvino is Founder and Chief Strategy officer at Firstup, (formerly SocialChorus), a unique workforce communications platform that mirrors the technologies and best practices of modern marketing strategies to connect senior leaders with their employees. It lets CEOs connect with the entire workforce no matter where they are and how they work, taking a human-centric approach whose end goals serve both leaders and employees.

In our chat with Nicole, we found out that she became determined early on in her career to found a company that would make a real impact on corporate ethics. She realised that vision when she founded SocialChorus (now Firstup) in 2008. With a mindset that a company’s ethical practices start from the top down, she identified a widespread gap in enterprise communication: the opportunity for CEOs to have direct and authentic communication with their employees throughout business functions and at every level.

In an age where the employee is taking centre-stage, Nicole’s vision is proving to be a success for both companies and employees.

Nicole Alvino
Founder & Chief Strategy officer,
Firstup (formerly SocialChorus)

Nicole Alvino is Chief Strategy Officer and Founder at Firstup, the platform to make the digital employee experience work for every employee. She guides the company’s strategic growth and leads the corporate development, partnerships and people functions. She is a passionate entrepreneur and enterprise SaaS leader making millions of global employees more supported and productive and enterprise customers – including 40 of the Fortune 100 – more agile with workforce intelligence.

The Vision & the Technology

You might be wondering where communication issues between leaders and employees arise, since both are constantly connected and available for the majority of the day. In talking to Nicole, we soon learned why that’s based on a false premise.

“Today’s humans suffer from information overload in their daily connected lives in general,” Nicole says. “And it’s no different for desk workers, who often drown in an ocean of instructions, updates, resources, being cc’d in emails… the list goes on. These factors mean that despite being available in theory, the most important messages can very easily get lost.

“70-80% of the global workforce don’t work from a desk at all,” Nicole continues. “Think about all the world’s employees in retail, hospitality, delivery services and manufacturing, to name some obvious examples. Reaching these individuals through email or other conventional messaging channels on an instant basis simply isn’t feasible.”

Nicole reflects that for many CEOs, the reality of these factors truly hit home when it became clear just how fundamentally the Covid-19 pandemic would up-end so many facets of how we work. The importance of being able to reach every employee grew exponentially as companies embarked on remote operations running in different countries, through different modes of communication, and in tandem with employees’ home and work lives melting into one. Reading the room to evaluate performance and productivity is easier when there are people in the room, and we were intrigued to hear how Nicole’s platform overcomes these challenges to keep the employee connection alive. 

Better Experience for the Workforce, Better Performance Reports for the C-Suite

The company’s north star, Nicole says, is to reach every single worker and give them the information they need to feel connected to the company and get their job done. It’s far from merely ensuring that CEOs and senior managers can monitor the people who work for them. It’s about letting people understand their role in the company and why it’s important, engaging the workforce and encouraging sustained employee morale on a personalised and one-to-one basis.

Workers aren’t only reachable to different extents because of practical reasons like where and how they work. They’re individuals, all with different ways of engaging with colleagues and technologies. To cater to that and make sure that every single worker is presented with the right information at the right time and in a way that works for them, Firstup emulates the success of marketing automation to provide personalised experiences that make sure the right message is delivered, and that the desired action follows suit.

The platform keeps track of whether employees have received messages, and automatically sends them reminders if they have not. It analyses employees’ interactions with the platform to identify which messaging works, where, and when. It tries new avenues and uses analytics to continuously improve how it serves managers, employees, and the wellbeing and productivity of the entire organisation.

Automation is at the core of how Firstup helps companies reach their employees. It lets its users set up an objective they want fulfilled, such as a message acknowledged or an action completed, and the Machine Learning engine gets to work to figure out how best to make sure that the objectives are met.

Is this the future of employee communication in the wild new hybrid world?

If the historical growth trajectory of Firstup and more recent big upswing are anything to go by, then we’re betting it is! The platform is currently active s in 180 countries with over 460 customers, and helps companies interact with 15 million workers. Read more about Firstup here.

Good for Employees = Good for the Company

It was fascinating to hear from Nicole how this ethically driven, and employee-focused software is morale-boosting and human, but also a massive driver of organisational efficiencies. Nicole explained how all the data collected about messages received and actions taken can be made excellent use of to highlight both positives and areas for improvement in the business. Which aspects of work hold back productivity, and which behaviours are essential for keeping safety standards high? No matter the company’s objectives, every metric can be monitored, encouraged or improved through this knowledge.

Data is king in this era of business, and being able to draw correlations between performance, productivity, retention and efficiency is the currency business leaders now depend on to continue making the right decisions for their business.

“Our vision is for CEOs to be able to look at our dashboard and make decisions based on the data they’re seeing”, Nicole says. That could mean that a CEO can easily access information on why a team isn’t currently aligned with the company’s objectives. And it means they’re empowered to identify and action the issues without hesitation.

It’s essential for every company today not just to have data, but to employ the right mechanisms for shaping it, reading it, and making use of it to advance their business objectives.

Our vision is for CEOs to be able to look at our dashboard and make decisions based on the data they’re seeing. […] There are some really powerful ways of using data in support of employees.

Nicole Alvino Founder & Chief Strategy officer, Firstup

Championing Equal Opportunities Through Technology

Companies everywhere are stuck in the promotion spiral that sees the same types of people fill the top jobs. We know, of course, that this excludes vast slices of the workforce from consideration, costing the company and its employees dearly in lost potential. We also know that it’s not always easy to access that seemingly hidden talent.

As with so many things, Nicole tells us how the answers can be found in data and analytics. The Firstup technology can identify strong performers that could otherwise remain invisible to the untrained eye. And it’s not just about fulfilling Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives for the sake of it. There’s a comprehensive library of research that demonstrates how companies with a strong commitment to DEI outperform their peers, including for example this 2020 report from McKinsey.

Nicole’s take on achieving these goals is democratic in a way that “manual” attention to DEI couldn’t match. Data and analytics look at the cold hard facts of achievement and performance and identifies strong candidates that could otherwise fall between the cracks.

The take-home here is that fair treatment and a great employee experience don’t only work on the individual level but are also a force for the good of the company as a whole. 

Technology-Powered Employee Experience

The technology also looks at the bigger employee picture. Not just on performance, but overall well- being, too. The role of data can seem overbearing, but in a world where employee experience (EX) is fast becoming a benchmark for businesses, data is essential for monitoring where the company is falling short of providing what its employees need.

“There are some really powerful ways of using data in support of employees,” Nicole says. She recognises that employees are overwhelmed both at work and at home, and that companies must step up to provide much-needed digital wellness for its workers. What better way to direct your energy than to provide a platform for digital wellness, personalised EX and a true intention behind the channels of communication with each individual employee?

Leadership in the Era of the Employee

There are many lessons to be learned not just from the technology, but from the leadership mindset that underpins what the technology does. As global businesses slowly recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, many are re-shaping not just business strategies, but people strategies.

Identifying where there are skills shortages and training your workforce, finding out where employees need support and giving it – all this can be addressed with an ethically focussed attention to your employees.

We look forward to learning how the future of EX will unravel with the likes of Nicole at the helm of the transformation.

Learn More About Firstup

Firstup is redefining the digital employee experience to put people first and lift companies up. They make communication solutions that build authentic engagement and create two-way conversation between employees and companies. Their powerful orchestration engine connects every worker, everywhere, on any device with personalized information that helps them do their best work. To find out more, visit the Firstup website.