HRExaminer Radio – Executive Conversations: Episode #356: Henry Albrecht, CEO at Limeade

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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations
Guest: Henry Albrecht, CEO at Limeade
Episode: 356
Air Date: March 6, 2020



Guest Bio

Henry Albrecht founded Limeade in 2006 and has led the company from an idea in his basement to a high-growth, industry-leading SaaS employee engagement company that serves some of the smartest companies in the world.

Before Limeade, Henry served as VP of Product Management at Bocada, an enterprise software company and a product, marketing and business leader at Intuit, where he launched a number of successful new business initiatives.

Henry earned his MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management with an emphasis in technology and marketing and his B.A. in economics and literature from Claremont McKenna College.

Outside of work, Henry enjoys playing basketball and spending time with his family.



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Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

John Sumser: [00:00:00] Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. Today we’re going to be talking with Henry Albrecht, who’s the CEO of Limeade. Henry, take a moment to introduce yourself would you?

Henry Albrecht: [00:00:25] Hey there everyone. My name is Henry Albrecht and I’m the CEO of Limeade. Limeade is an employee experience technology company focused on things like wellbeing and employee engagement and inclusion and great communications with your employees based in Bellevue, Washington.

John Sumser: [00:00:41] So Bellevue, Washington does that mean you used to work for Microsoft?

Henry Albrecht: [00:00:44] Oh, I did not. Although we definitely love Microsoft, we’re big fans and we have certainly hired a fair amount of people from Microsoft, so it’s a great, it’s a great place to be a tech company up here in the Northwest, snuggled in between Amazon, Microsoft, and about 10 others.

[00:01:02] John Sumser: [00:01:02] What a great thing. So how is it that you’re running an employee experience company that you rooted in a wellness idea? I can’t imagine that in your earliest days, what you thought is that’s what I really want to do. And you’ve been building to this moment ever since. So how’d you get here?

Henry Albrecht: [00:01:20] Yeah, well, I like to think of myself as a curious person.
[00:01:23] I think basically when I started the company, I sensed something wrong with work. Although I am a capitalist, I think maybe I’m a bit of a jaded capitalist because in some of my early jobs, I saw maybe some of the less humane elements of doing business. A short story is I was working at a company where I was working very long hours with high levels of stress and maybe a little values disconnect with how the business was being run.

[00:01:49] I was getting a rash and arguing with my family too much and frankly didn’t recognize the person I saw in the mirror. And so I quit and said, I wonder if there’s a way to invent something that measures all of the statistically valid predictors of loving your job and loving your life, or I guess you would call that employee engagement and wellbeing.

[00:02:10] It was probably not the smartest idea, certainly not in the start of a recession, to look at these topics like resilience and optimism and mindfulness and exercise and stress and depression and, you know, loving your job and having purpose when people are just trying to cut costs. But, it was really fun, frankly.

[00:02:28] And , there is a need for a more human approach to work. And although we’ve certainly found our way through some pivots and changes over time to find our product market fit, I would say we’re still working on the same problem. I mean, I guess what I went through is burnout and we have now tools and dashboards to help.

[00:02:46] Big companies with 100,000 employees predict burnout on a global scale. So we’re working on the same problems, probably just with a little more sophistication and a little less crazy naivete.

John Sumser: [00:02:59] So as the CEO of a company like this, what do you do every day?

Henry Albrecht: [00:03:03] Oh gosh, I wish I had an interesting life.

I’d probably wake up and have some cereal with berries and talk to my family and read the paper and go to work. I usually wake up at 5:30 or 6 and lay in bed thinking about some sort of work topic. You know, how a feature could be designed to be more social. How, a sales motion can be tightened or something like that.

So I am unfortunately one of those people who brings their work home with them and likes to think about work. But I guess that’s engagement. I still go to all my kid’s sports games when I’m in town and, and try to be a passable family person as well.

John Sumser: [00:03:41] It’s interesting, there’s this kind of archetypical notion out there that work and life are somehow unrelated components that have to be balanced by separating them in a large way.

And that doesn’t really seem reasonable or interesting to me. And I imagine that that’s part of what you look at, right? Because, if the guy who’s in charge, who’s running the wellness and experience company is waking up thinking about work, then he must have a different idea about what a good balance is. That right?

Henry Albrecht: [00:04:13] Yeah. I mean, I think you hit it on the head. I would say I rarely meet people who say, I love my job and I hate my life, or I love my life, but I spend 50 hours a week on something I just can’t stand to do. They don’t go hand in hand very well. What we found early on in our science research is that.

There’s a concept of having meaning in your work and there’s the having meaning in your life thing. And if you can have both of those. In other words, if you have some sort of overlap between what you really find purposeful and meaningful in your day job that you can bring out to your life or vice versa.

[00:04:51] It’s just a more, I don’t know, the word is synergy. It’s just a better way to live. And I find when I talk to my kids about work, I don’t end up talking to them about, Hey, what’s the path to the highest financial success? I think maybe people of my generation grew up with the, you know, doctors and lawyers and CEOs make the most money so that’s a path worth pursuing. I try to have conversations more about, you know, what do you love to do? What do you want to explore to learn what you love to do? But between now and age 30 what, what risks do you wanna take so you can find a purpose and you have a job that you love during the day that you, you’re happy to talk about at a cocktail party or at a barbecue with your friends.

[00:05:34] John Sumser: Yeah so Limeade, Limeade from a sort of a positioning perspective, I understood it to be a wellness company and you’ve moved to extend that definition too, to experience. Tell me about the, road of the pivots to get here.

Henry Albrecht: [00:05:52] Yeah. Well, when we first started, my co founder, Laura Hamill, and I set out to measure anything that was a statistically valid predictor of wellbeing. And this is when, you know, traditional wellness was kind of punitive or Pavlovian and would say, Hey, do these four or five things and we’ll pay you four or 500 bucks. And it never actually built any sort of habits or ongoing behavior change or kind of meaningful action. It just got people to jump through hoops. So in looking at all this stuff, this statistical predictors of wellbeing, what we found is that a lot of the same predictors were predictors of employee engagement. You know, meaning purpose, growing, learning, having social meaningful relationships and social connections at work, or a sense of team.

[00:06:43] So when we started with our wellbeing assessment, which was the first of its kind in 2006 and 2007 we had embedded in it a world class employee engagement survey as well. And that’s what Laura Hamill used to do at Microsoft actually. So. I think that DNA has suited us. And then later through our Limeade Institute, we are doing research on other related topics like diversity and inclusion and so, and that helped us kind of add a module or a solution related to inclusion and how to communicate with people even how to recognize people for a job well done.

[00:07:23] All our science based ways to show care. And so instead of thinking of it as, Oh, we only sell to the wellness and benefits silo, that is the anchor and core of our business. Rather we try to take a more science based approach saying, you know, what does care look like and how does it show up to people and what does it mean to people?

[00:07:44] So we don’t necessarily feel constrained by the silos of how corporate America or the corporate world is set up. Even though sometimes we certainly live in those silos, we don’t want to feel constrained by them. So it’s not really about me. It’s about a bigger concept of care. Do you show care for people through work?

[00:08:07] John Sumser: [00:08:07] So, I haven’t really thought about this at all, but you’re sort of saying, you’re sharing a couple of things. One thing that you seem to be saying is that wellness is a very individual question.


[00:08:21] And the second thing that you seem to be saying is that a significant element, although we’ll talk a little bit about whether it’s the,

[00:08:31] only element, the employee experience is an expression of caring from the company. And yes, that’s the area that you, that you really work in right? ,

[00:08:44] Henry Albrecht: [00:08:44] Yeah, I think that’s correct. Go on. I’ll let you finish. Sorry.

[00:08:49] John Sumser: [00:08:49] Yeah. Well, I was just going to launch into one of the top three or four things that the software does, but why don’t we just wander away from the script and see where this goes?

[00:08:59] Henry Albrecht: [00:08:59] Yeah. I mean, I can give some examples, but what you said is so right on. So in the early days, we would think about, basically helping people. Do self care, care for yourself, get a good night’s sleep. You know, we had things like walking challenges, who can get the most steps and let’s connect it to devices and let’s make it social and let’s have commentary.

[00:09:21]How do you distress? Let’s have a meditation or a mindfulness or resilience video that trains people to monitor their breath and their emotions and mood. So I would call that. Software based tools to help individuals care for themselves. And it is very personal. You know, you might be a smoker who’s overweight with back pain and heart health issues.

[00:09:44] But you’re ready to work on debriefing and then maybe you’ll be ready to work on walking, et cetera. So you never know what someone’s willing to do are ready to do. And it might be nothing cause they have some childhood issues to deal with. So you’re, you’re absolutely right. It’s a hundred percent individual.

[00:10:00] But I think the most interesting insight we’ve had in the last decade is that no matter how great and fun and social and even viral your software is, if you treat it as an individual, impersonal thing, only. You’ll always be have suboptimal results. And we started looking in through the lens that we have of organizational psychology and how great cultures are built in healthcare.

[00:10:25] They would call it like that, a social determinant of health and maybe an employee engagement. They would call it a great culture. So what we decided, or what we found in our research is that it’s actually even more important. How you build a culture around someone at work than it is, how great the software tools for individual improvement are.

[00:10:48] And we developed this research around the science of care. We call it organizational support for wellbeing. So it’s only when you combine the company caring for the person that enables the person to care more for themselves, that you get what I would call a holistic approach to improving wellbeing.

[00:11:07] The good news is the same general footprint applies to people loving their jobs. So loving yourself, loving your life, loving your jobs. The same footprint of, you know, asking people questions, gathering data, making targeted recommendations, using maybe Netflix style recommendations. Maybe the thing you thought they might want to do is something different and you can learn from them as well.

[00:11:30] So, I don’t know if that answered your question, but I guess a feature that we would deliver that would show the more organizational side of care. Would be things like a targeted educational video for a manager on how to talk to their team about these types of topics or how to enable a leader to show actual human care in a way that’s real.

[00:11:55] That’s not just about earnings per share or maybe how a social network or an employee resource group. You can facilitate and kind of nudge them forward in supporting each other. So we’re just trying to use software to show both personal and organizational care.

[00:12:15] John Sumser: [00:12:15] So I think, correct me where I’m wrong here. I think that if a wellness is an individual question, it seems like the expression of care from an organization, is also kind of an individual thing. How do you think about the difference in what care means between organizations?

[00:12:42] Henry Albrecht: [00:12:42] Well, I’m going to both agree and disagree. So that’s when we had to cut the most part. So I will disagree. There are a lot of universal elements. One universal element is just what I would call the perception of care. Like I feel that the other person cares for me. , So there are universal elements of it, but it obviously shows up very different in a, you know, a truck manufacturer than in a hospital than in a high tech company, or, you know, a global airline. And so we serve all of those types of companies. You know, it just is going to show up differently. One, you might want to tie your program more closely into things that already have momentum there. Like in an airline, it might be a safety focus or a customer service focus.

[00:13:25] In a high tech company, it might be a flexibility and innovation focus. Hey, I want your best idea. So if you have that idea while you’re on a hike or on your bus ride into work, you know, bring it into work and how can I help you do that? Can I give you more flexibility? Can I, you know, can I create an environment where you’re willing to plant that seed of innovation because there’s trust in the workforce?

[00:13:50] So you’re right that it does vary by workforce, but there are also universal elements to it.

[00:13:57] John Sumser: [00:13:57] So the question is really, how do you tell the difference between what works in one company versus what works in another company? And do you have a framework for thinking about that?

[00:14:09] Henry Albrecht: [00:14:09] Well, one way, probably the simplest way is to ask, you know, having quick pulse surveys of things where right now we’re doing our inclusion in our engagement surveys.

[00:14:21] You know, ask people, Hey, do you feel like you can be recognized and known for your whole self at work at this company and why and why not? Or do you really love your job and would you give your extra innovative idea to this company for your paycheck? Or do you not feel that there’s a square deal that would make you want to do that?

[00:14:42] Do you have wellbeing? Are you sleeping well? Are you so stressed out that you can’t, don’t have even a minute free to innovate? So those are all what I would call wellbeing engagement, inclusion surveys, that if you’ve built enough trust, you’ll get a really high response rate. And you’ll know and what you’ll find out if you know, most of our companies find out that we serve is that they’ll have green areas and yellow areas and red areas within their company.

[00:15:08] And at least then they can take action, both because we inform the leaders and the managers, but also because these systems should have automated action plans. If you have a whole department that’s at risk of burnout, there are both things you can do organizationally, like providing resources and support to mitigate burnout or maybe additional resources so that it’s better staffed, but there are also things you can do individually to identify it, to recognize it, and maybe to set boundaries around your mental health and physical health.

[00:15:44] But it sounded good to me.

[00:15:47] John Sumser: [00:15:47] Oh, no, no. That was great. That was great. We talked a couple of weeks ago about the fact that you’re focused on inclusion, but not diversity. Help me with that. , I take it that, , that has something to do with this central theme of care, but why don’t you help me understand that.

[00:16:06] Henry Albrecht: [00:16:06] Yeah, I’m not sure that’s exactly how I would say it. I would say that inclusion is cultural. It’s about what actions you’re taking as a culture to help people be their best. Diversity is about, you know, different voices and personalities and backgrounds and ethnicities and other things.

[00:16:27] You know, having a voice that’s heard. To me, it’s not about either or inclusion or diversity. It’s, it’s really that if you invest only in diversity, it’s like investing, you know, in these huge potential. Think of it as like seeds of potential great Redwood oaks but you’re not investing in the soil for them to grow or the water, for them to grow. What happens is, you waste a lot of time and money and you create a crappy experience for those people. So to me, if you start with inclusion and what you can do culturally to create a fertile soil, to allow ideas to be watered and allow people to bring their whole selves to work, then when you add in diversity and you can do these things, you know, in a series a month, you don’t have to wait years.

[00:17:15] But then the diversity actually, has the right soil to grow in. And to me it’s, it’s about both. It’s, diversity is kind of necessary but not sufficient, without a culture of inclusion. And what we’ve also found is that companies that are great at wellbeing, it’s easier for them to be great at inclusion or employee engagement because they’ve already established the channels of communication, the norms that it’s okay to talk about these issues that some people find, a little too soft for corporate world.

[00:17:48]there’s a ton of cross pollination across these topics and the science reinforces that too. There’s a ton of correlation between inclusion, engagement, and wellbeing.

[00:18:00] John Sumser: [00:18:00] Oh, talk about that a little bit. How do you measure inclusion and how does it correlate with wellness? That’s a very interesting notion.

[00:18:09] Henry Albrecht: [00:18:09] Well, I think the first thing is you ask people if you don’t inclusions is very, it’s just like wellbeing. It’s a very subjective thing. On the outside, you could be an Olympic athlete and just have, 7% body fat and be able to run, you know, a mile in four minutes and not be well. You could be super stressed out, you could have an eating disorder, there could be all kinds of things wrong with you.

[00:18:35]And inclusion is similar on the surface. You could look like you have a high paying job and you’re thriving in your career, but, maybe there’s a glass ceiling at your workplace, or maybe you perceive that, the leaders are just paying lip service to this topic. You can really only get that through qualitative feedback.

[00:18:52] And so obviously having surveys and dashboards that give leaderships and boards indicators of that are important. So to me, you have to ask no, and you have to, you know, you have to have enough trust that you can ask and you think you’ll get the truth, which requires anonymity or privacy commitments as well.

[00:19:12] John Sumser: [00:19:12] All right. That’s interesting. So I’m looking a lot at ethics, particularly in AI and predictive sciences right now. What are the ethical issues in your work?

[00:19:24] Henry Albrecht: [00:19:24] Yeah, I think you hit on one privacy, the use of big data if it goes to a personal level, has massive ethical implications that, you know, at Limeade we commit not just to the actual privacy for people, but to the perceived privacy as well.

[00:19:41]We don’t let managers, drill down into individuals and certainly in anything related to health or wellbeing. We follow things like HIPAA and Cobra, GINA and GDPR, EEOC, any acronym you can think of, we have to, and want to live by. To me it’s about not singling people out.

[00:20:00]You have to take that more organizational view. I want to know what departments in my company have the least sense of inclusion or the highest sense of wellbeing. So to me, privacy is absolutely a huge ethical issue. And the second one I would say is, I guess you could call it like, do you want to work with jerks?

[00:20:24] You know Limeade has a no jerks policy. We have a kind of a value of empathy. And if you want, I can share why we do that, but if you don’t want, that’s okay too.

[00:20:38] John Sumser: [00:20:38] Well, so let’s get to that, but what I want to ask you is, you raise the interesting notion that some parts of the employee experience are private. And I think, that’s probably a surprise. . In fact, this is the first time that I’ve ever heard the notion that some parts of employee experience are private. And so how do you manage that? Because much of what matters in employee experiences is very public.

[00:21:10]Because it’s about me and my job in the company right? And so that, is not a private thing at all. And, yet there’s this space that you’re accurately identifying where, some aspects of what you can measure about me are mine and not yours. And some of my views on how the world operates and how I feel about that are mine to disclose at the time of my choosing rather than yours to extract from me in the time of your choosing. Right. And so,

[00:21:43] Henry Albrecht: [00:21:43] Yeah, I agree with that.

[00:21:45] John Sumser: [00:21:45] The balance between Internal and external stuff. How do you figure that out? Because it’s gotta vary by culture.

[00:21:53] Henry Albrecht: [00:21:53] Well, , it varies my culture, yes. And we’re a global business. We have offices in Canada and Germany in the U S and we serve people in a hundred different companies. So. You know, being global isn’t just about data centers and legal compliance, it’s about cultural norms. And I think there’s a debate going on in the world. It’s being legislated about who does control information, who controls my data.

[00:22:18] And Limeaid has always been a science based organization. We try to, refer to the best science-based practices. And frankly, I don’t know if there are as many of, on this topic as there could be. And that’s an area of research for our Limeade Institute is, you know, what are the global perceptions of what can be private and not.

[00:22:38] So we’re excited to be part of that legislation, that debate, but we are also going to err on the side of trust. You know, specifically employees trusting their employers, and trusting their employees. So that means probably a little bit more privacy. And when you are opting in, let’s say to social commentary in the software application, it’s very obvious and explicit.

[00:23:04] You’re opting in because it’s a social feed and you’ve been alerted that there is certain things you can participate in on. So. I think it’s an exciting debate. I would say something like your health aid or how many, how well you’re sleeping according to your Fitbit device. Those are things that you know, you wouldn’t want your manager to know.

[00:23:25] On the flip side, we want managers to be able to ask employers, employees, how are you? And we want employees to be able to speak plainly and say, you know what? I’m not great. I could be better. So it is an interesting debate.

[00:23:40] John Sumser: [00:23:40] Yeah, well, and so I’m going to argue with you that there’s a generic standard of any kind, because, you know, as you’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking about astronauts and Seal teams and in that work environment personal data about physical wellness can’t afford to be private. It’s highly monitored, it’s highly shared, cause what you want is a team performing at the absolute maximum of its optimal physical functionality, right? And that’s a requirement of the job. Right? And I imagine there’s a spectrum from that extreme to it doesn’t matter whether I am completely unwell, because the job happens in the space where that’s an irrelevant.

[00:24:30] And so you’ve got the spectrum and across that spectrum it’s going to be job and culture specific. What, where the boundary is between personal and public in the data and that would be a fascinating thing to see how you wrestled with, what do you think?

[00:24:47] Henry Albrecht: [00:24:47] Yeah, I mean, well, first of all, I have a friend who’s a former Navy seal. I don’t think that being a Navy seal is a good proxy for success in the modern business world in most cases. It’s not the most,

[00:25:01] John Sumser: [00:25:01] Yeah, we’re not talking about generic success. We’re talking about the experience of an employee in a company. And so it varies, right? There isn’t a generic version of just, that’s part of your messages is that success is an individual thing, wellness is an individual thing. And so this where’s the standard and am I comfortable with the standard question? That’s an interesting one.

[00:25:29] Henry Albrecht: [00:25:29] I find that it’s actually, you can provide through software, a highly individual recommendation, an action plan, a set of things that someone could do, just like Netflix can provide, a set of action movies they think you will like and you might like them and you might not, but you can do that through software without the employer ever knowing what’s being recommended to John or Henry or Molly or anybody else. So to me, the power of software is, you can have a mass personalization without ever ratting anybody out for their issues. You know, maybe someone drinks too much and they actually want to work on it and they don’t want to get fired for it. And so I think you you can do that. That is possible that the modern wellbeing approaches can do that in. So that’s the individual argument. I would say from a more general population wise, there is value in optimism versus cynicism. And I think if we go into all of these discussions saying, we can never talk about anything related to stress or wellbeing or, trust with our managers at work, with the people we work with. We’re sub-optimizing for ourselves and for our work. You know, we’re human beings.

[00:26:48] We need human relationships. We just have to be able to trust our organizations. And I think that’s where companies could use a little work. Honestly, I don’t think generation Z and millennial and even the next generations beyond them coming up are, are really going to put up with the same, kind of didactic work environments that maybe I put up with when I was in my twenties.

[00:27:13]John Sumser: [00:27:13] Interesting stuff! We could go around and around about a couple of these things. But we’re at the end of our time together, so thanks for taking the time to do this. You want to encapsulate Limeade one more time so people understand the core thing that we’re talking about here. Limeade is a company that, X.

[00:27:33] Henry Albrecht: [00:27:33] That every employee will know, you care about them when you use it. We do employee wellbeing, engagement, inclusion with great communication, and I think it’s important, John, just to wrap up with, okay, so this care thing, that’s great, but like I’m a CEO of a big business. I’m paid on earnings per share on market share on growth. What we’ve found though is that when, when employees actually perceive care, they’re nine times more likely to stay at their company for three or more years.

[00:28:03] They’re four times less likely to suffer from stress and burnout. There are hard number ROI associated with something that maybe people my age and older and grew up thinking were wimpy and soft. Frankly, they’re not. They’re human needs. And I think it’s our job to meet those needs. So I appreciate you, spending the time with me today. It’s awesome.

[00:28:25] John Sumser: [00:28:25] Thanks. So reintroduce yourself and tell people how to get hold of you.

[00:28:29] Henry Albrecht: [00:28:29] Yeah. Again, I’m Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade. You can reach me at Henry at Limeade dot com. You can check out our website and we have tons of resources and downloadable, science-backed articles about these topics.

[00:28:43] John Sumser: [00:28:43] So, thanks for taking the time to do this Henry.

[00:28:45] It’s been a treat of a conversation and there are a lot of Sparky issues here that we ought to talk about again.

[00:28:51] Henry Albrecht: [00:28:51] All right. I hope to talk to you again too John.

[00:28:53] John Sumser: [00:28:53] Thanks Henry.

[00:28:55] You’ve been listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations and we’ve been talking with Henry Albrecht, he is the CEO of Limeade.

[00:29:02] Thanks very much for tuning in and we’ll see you back here next week.