Entrepreneur Q&A: ‘Annual appraisals create an anxious environment’

Stuart Hearn is CEO of Clear Review, a performance management platform. He talks about changing employee appraisals and how archaic models drove him to build his business.

Employees have long had issues with traditional staff appraisals, but thankfully more and more companies are turning to regular reviews instead.

Employee performance management platform, Clear Review, is playing a major part in the transformation. The firm’s CEO, Stuart Hearn, observed staff appraisals over his time working in HR, noting what employees responded to.

He took all of this knowhow and put it into the company, helping employers to change the way that they review their staff’s progression.

Smallbusiness.co.uk chats with him about the story behind his business and his plans for the future.

What was the inspiration behind Clear Review? What’s its USP?

Clear Review was borne out of a number of experiences I’ve had with performance management over the last twenty years. I started out working in HR for a large company, which had a very formal approach to talent management, with feedback given only twice a year. I then moved to a media company that had no formal annual appraisals, but had a culture of candour and frequent feedback.

Interestingly I found we were able to achieve a good deal more in terms of talent development with the less formalised model. I realised the days of the clunky over-engineered annual appraisal were numbered.

The fundamental driver for  my move from the HR and performance consultancy space into the technology world was that I saw all of the existing tech was built to support the increasingly unpopular annual appraisal model. There was a gap in the market for a disruptive solution, and I could fill it by building something I was passionate about.

I created Clear Review with the vision that it would deliver an alternative to the bureaucratic appraisal, gathering information in a quick and simple way, with the ability to continually measure, all the while keeping everything simple and light touch.

Appraisals can be a great way of keeping track of your staff's progress

Clear Review’s USP is two-fold. Firstly, it’s the simplest performance platform available, and secondly, it’s built on a regular conversation model as opposed to the ineffective ‘tick box’ appraisal model.

What market research did you do while setting up the company?

As a performance management consultant prior to starting Clear Review, the main market research I conducted was through first-hand engagement with mid-market companies, and spending time talking through these problems. Over a period of years, I had hands-on experience finding out what the challenges and solutions were. This was the best kind of market research.

“White papers confirmed what my conversations with the mid-market companies were revealing”

While this was happening, there was some rumbling in the market from large, international brands that started to ditch annual appraisals. Because of this, the HR community started to release a number of white papers and research on this topic. These papers confirmed what my conversations with the mid-market companies were revealing.

What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of running the business?

Although it might sound like a cliché, for me the most rewarding part is getting to work with our team who are some of the smartest and passionate people I’ve met. Seeing them take my initial vision to the next level is an incredible feeling.

I also love that we are genuinely helping our customers build better workplace relationships and enabling cultures of honest communication. As ever with building a fast-scaling business, the challenge is to constantly assess and review where I can make the most impact without drowning. Every day there are a million things I could be doing, but which three or four things will deliver the most value – and how I can focus on achieving them and know it’s been a good day’s work.

How did you go about securing investment?

When we began securing investment, it was a case of leveraging existing networks, and making new ones. We met a number of different venture capital firms looking for the right fit. Mercia Technologies, the UK investment firm, was a great fit for us.

We also worked to find an experienced business leader that had grown and exited businesses to invest and advise on the Clear Review board.

What are your business goals over the next five years?

First and foremost we wan’t to keep working on our company mission which is: to provide a framework that empowers people managers and employees to bring their best selves to work.

Our primary business goals over the next few years are to build upon the great platform we already have in place and to double new business revenue year-on-year.

This will work in parallel with growing our customer base and employee headcount, working directly with customers to understand ongoing industry challenges. Ultimately, we aim to become the go-to for performance management and the category winner for performance management.

Avatar photo

Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

Related Topics