Casey Wahl is the CEO of Attuned, a company that he started while living in Tokyo, Japan, and has been there ever since. He is extremely passionate about the employee experience and making sure that employers understand very clearly the intrinsic motivators  of their employees.

Attuned helps to solve one of the hardest and most complex problems that companies face with engagement: an individual’s driving motivators.

In this episode we dive deep into what Casey calls “Employee Engagement 2.0” and that is intrinsic motivation. Attuned, Attuned in Inc., “The Quiet Comeback” (book I wrote on startups in Japan; Japanese version reached Amazon #1): Twitter: @CaseyDai2Asa9sa


Josh Drean: Welcome back to Forging the Employee Experience. I’m Josh Drean joined here with my co-host Alexander Noren.

Alexander Noren: Hey everybody.

Josh Drean: And we have a wonderful guess today, this is Casey Wahl. Casey, how are you feeling today?

Casey Wahl: I’m pretty good waking up here in Tokyo.

Josh Drean: That’s right. You’re based in Tokyo, Japan. It’s about 6 o’clock our time here in Boston and a very different time for you, a different day even.

Casey Wahl: It is one day ahead just taken passed 8 in the morning here.

Josh Drean: That’s great. I imagine you’re, I’ve never been to Japan but I’m assuming your in a grass hut and enjoying tea.

Alexander Noren: Nice robe, silk.

Casey Wahl: I do have a Valora jacket on.

Josh Drean: We will jump into that a little bit more but Casey is the CEO of Attuned. It is a wonderful app that we will talking about. Before we jump in, let’s just talk about Employee Engagement at itself. You started the company in that sphere so obviously, you’ve thought a lot about this and many companies have their own definition of what employee engagement is. Feel free to gives us what is employee engagement in your own word.

Casey Wahl: We actually started from a different direction and I think we ended up in employee engagement. What we started from is that we wanted to understand people’s intrinsic motivations. I come from a background in recruitment where I interviewed thousands of thousands of people for years. I have hired hundreds of recruiters which is basically a consultant sales job and when hiring people into the role even introducing candidates to clients, I would never understand people’s intrinsic motivations. You know of course, you can ask them what are you motivated by, if they are enlightened may be they know, if I’m trying to hire then, they probably gaining the questions to a certain degree or if they’re just young they just don’t know. Actually we’re using a different vocabulary so we really dug deep. We want to understand and come up with a solution to understand people’s intrinsic motivations. We spent a couple of years working with psychologists, based on the purity of the research, we came up with this such product called Attuned which is where we can understand every individuals intrinsic motivation and if you just know everybody’s intrinsic motivation that’s really the core to keep them engaged. For us, were looking at engagement is not an external factor, its not how nice the coffee is or what is the room temperature or some of those things. Those things will keep you a little bit of happiness but its not what going to keep you driving in your kind of work, reaching different obstacles, or kind of cold Monday mornings to get up into the office. It’s going to be those internal drivers and those met by your organization or by your boss because they understand and bring the best out of you that what we are approaching it from. Helping people to be fully engaged and excited for work because they understand their intrinsic motivators and their organizations understands.

Josh Drean: Right. You mentioned intrinsic motivation is kind of like employee engagement 2.0 which means that 1.0 obviously needed some work.

Alexander Noren: Didn’t kind of cut the budget there.

Josh Drean: I’m assuming that the problem for you is that were looking at some of the external factors, were looking at more of the extrinsic motivation to get people more engaged, is that correct?

Casey Wahl: A little bit of problem here, I think we are kind of the edge where engagement is in terms of the development. We got personal data were looking at intrinsic motivation. it’s all based on science and data stuffs like that. A lot of the tools and solutions out there are looking at it with external factors or they’re just looking at very aggregate level data. Your pulling ten thousand people or thousand people asking them the same questions. Of course the same questions don’t resonate with everyone. What drives each person. There’s a little bit of education we have to do whenever your a front runner and putting something out a little bit more innovative than usual, it takes a while. Like we have one customers that were in like, you know, a very large hospital establishment where in kind of late stage discussions to do a roll out and the feedback, we keep getting is we really want something more innovative from the old engagement tool that we’ve been using for the last 10 years. Frankly, you guys are a little innovative for us. it’s kind of a problem but I think people who has Engagement 1.0 have seen results has enough people wondering what engagement 2.0 is. If it’s going to bring what they’re looking for.

Josh Drean: So talk to us about it. Were all about finding the future Employee engagement, what do you deem is 2.0?

Casey Wahl: Its understanding everybody individually and what is intrinsically driving them. If I ask you Josh, I don’t think you’ve taken the tool but what do you think your intrinsic motivations are?

Josh Drean: I think I have a pretty good picture of what I care about like autonomy. I really care about my space and freedom. Thats a big one for me.

Alexander Noren: Freedom, yeah. That’s good. That’s a good start.

Casey Wahl: How about you Alexander? Anything different?

Alexander Noren: Holy smokes. I mean, how can I beat freedom? For me, an intrinsic motivator would have to be family. I would do anything for my family, I would be very motivated and I don’t know if that extrinsic but I feel it deeply, is that intrinsic? It feels intrinsic.

Casey Wahl: It feels intrinsic. We put it in different words. I see where you’re going, I got it. Possibly, social relationships will be very important for you in driving. So we broke it down to 11 different intrinsic motivators and there’s a 177,000 different combinations. If you’re a manager or if your dealing with different kinds of people this is why people are so complicated. When we are starting for intrinsic motivation is your values so what your talking about Alexander is that you value your family there. Understanding people’s values there’s a strong research link to intrinsic motivation. For me competition and autonomy are quite hard. Like security is low, feedback is pretty low. So it’s kind of a typical entrepreneurial profile you guys had autonomy, freedom is high for you guys. Your doing entrepreneurial stuff as well but there’s members of our team that like 5 need to have intrinsic motivation and this is where the stuff gets really really complicated and if you don’t have some help to understand that your going to spend a year, 18 months trying to figure out people on your team, “Okay, what are the buttons to push to get them excited, to get them put in that extra effort.” you’re probably going to get wrong. Now we can make something that was invisible visible all of the sudden.

Alexander Noren: That sounds in theory, I’m going to be honest, that sounds incredible. It makes a ton of sense, if you could understand what drives people and that’s a question we’ve been asking for centuries. How do you get people to do stuff? How do you bring it down to a practical light like you know you have identified based of the results of the application that the product of the employees in your stewardship have these intrinsic motivators, okay then what? How do you coach managers? What’s the next step there?

Casey Wahl: We do have an automated coaching tools that we are putting in there so to remind managers that these are the drivers for each individual on your team. For example, you Alexander, there would be, we mentioned social relationships and family so if we’re crafting different incentives program, “Okay, you’ve hit your hours, you’ve hit your targets for the last 6 months, you did pass it all.” Rather than maybe some financial reward or a promotion something like that say, “Hey, here’s a trip for the whole family to go do something” Crafting incentives, maybe how I’m going to engage with you and be a little bit different. Let’s go out for a better and hey let’s get our families together on the weekends anything like that to know each other better. These are the drivers to you or for somebody else who has lower social relationships it’s not what they want to do you know. May free time, I just want to come in, work hard, working on work I don’t want to talk too much about stuff outside of work type of thing like this. You Are able to personalized different approaches whether its one on one, incentive creation or if somebody were the tools are tracking and people’s engagement in a pulse way. Basically, real time, you can go in and make intervention as needed at the point that its needed.

Josh Drean: I have been able to play around with the tool a little bit and one that strikes me that is amazing above the other employee engagement platforms is that it’s not just collecting survey data, and then give you a nice report and an engagement score. To me I guess the first time I saw it almost felt like a personality test. It’s what you’re talking about discovering those intrinsic motivators you said there were 11, is that correct?

Casey Wahl: Yes, correct.

Josh Drean: So you go in there and you essentially wait each one of these intrinsic motivators. Maybe for autonomy, I probably put a 9 were as communication with my manager would be like a 1. You go through and you put all of these out there and now all of a sudden, you most like have a profile on these employees. So if there was an issue on engagement in the Sales Department You can do in their and see that half of the sales people they want to work on their own but they have a micromanage manager who is trying to control everything that they’re doing. Their less engaged because they don’t like that. Now you can come in and coach a little bit and say, “Well, according to what we have in Attuned most of these people need their freedom so we need to make an adjustment. For manager, we need to create a little more program to make that autonomy.” I think that’s just so unique and so awesome.

Casey Wahl: Absolutely, I love that point. That’s actually what I really get excited about within a team. Self understanding is interesting when they see their own report, “Oh, this is really cool.” but when you map out a team and you put them into a dashboard and pulled out a graph and here’s everybody lays on a scale of 11 different motivators. This what they need to have and what don’t need to have. You started to see the gaps of their motivations and again, what we are looking at is the values. It’s a tight link between the values and motivation. So the values decides which goals you choose to set and what you choose to prioritize and go after. So you are seeing the gaps between people values so some people might have low autonomy, some people might have high autonomy within the same team, some people might have low security, some people might have high security within the team. So if you got a team of 5 people and you’re trying to say, “How do we come up with new processes?” People with those large gaps are going to come  with a different kind of view. People with high security will be strict processed, they’re going to be the one who changed the process every week, people with high autonomy just want to get on with, people with low one will really define processes per se. If you’re trying to create the team’s working style or how to go about this you know where the conflicts going to come even before the team got into a conference room and start debating on things and probably get emotional because a lot of these things there is no correct answers just what do you value and what not to value. Seeing those things, have a manager that has a different set of values and his team, there’s going to be issues there. The old saying, “People joining companies but they need managers and thats so true.” Now we can see it in data for organizations to change manager or make some team member change or try to coach them through, “Hey, this team member needs high social relationships and you need to spend time doing this even if it’s not something valuable for you or otherwise this person will not be intrinsically engaged over time their going to be disengaged at some point probably coached by somebody else or looked to go somewhere.

Josh Drean: Right. It also feels like it can be used as an onboarding tool where if you have a team highly autonomous and you are looking at someone who probably goes through the 11 drivers and finds out that they just don’t fit with the team you might find another place for them or not hire them at all because now you have a pretty good feel for what this team need. You kind of worked it out.

Casey Wahl: Exactly. Here in Japan, it’s kind of similar to that. I have an interesting news case that we never imagine. A Lot of large Japanese companies, they dominate the whole market here and globally they haven’t kept up with innovation as much as they need to. they feel this very strong drive to more innovation, they have a startup mentally. all of these things have been talked all of these years and they started to create innovation team to come up with new products , come up with businesses that they can launch globally and they’ve been failing quite a lot creating these teams. What we found as we survey them when working with these companies, we have people with high security and low innovation but they were driven by status to be in this really high team. This team that is publicly lobbied across the company but the externals the team were failing because they have the wrong motivations as well. they were just wrong people being put in to the teams so you can use it as team construction then are being onboarded wrongly as well. It’s really interesting on how you can do this and go back to the original. The question is, yes we certainly lack engagement but it goes deeper on team construction, incentive construction as well.

Alexander Noren: One of my big question as I look at any of the solutions that are currently available in this space. The software Attuned is really trying to identify something that think is pretty hard to nail down, right? When your talking about what are the things with so many different possible combinations of what can motivate people. How do feel that you did get the data confidentiality? Do you feel like employees can fudge the numbers? I don’t know what kind of process, how can you guard against that or it’s something that your managers need to get aware of that the data might actually be bias or something like that?

Casey Wahl: Typically, it’s very unusual that we see bias in it.

Alexander Noren: Really? That’s interesting.

Casey Wahl: the questions are base on a likert scale. you have to choose between two the different values. Exactly. And they are not similar ones in the strength of your answer goes into that so we’ve got to down from 50 to 5 questions to finish but we started with a 400 question. How to you get somebody to talk a 2 and half hour ugly test and got hundreds of people to do that. Those are startup struggles you know maybe that’s going to be motts in keeping competitors out because that sucked. We have large data and theres algorithm in the backside because we’ve all statistically analyze correspondence so if you start to respond to one way to something and then one way to something else it’s going to recognize that where we’re going to put a red or yellow light.

Alexander Noren: Oh, I see. Your answer on the right side all the way down. this person is clearly not.

Casey Wahl: Your high on autonomy at a couple of times, very low a couple of times and it starts not to make senses.

Alexander Noren: What’s interesting to me too, my natural inclination would have been to saying something along in the lines of, “Yeah, this makes sense that it works across some what a homogenous culture but the fact you’re using and if I understand correctly more or less the same software across to very different cultures seems to speak volumes of the science, were talking about human nature. Were not talking about Americans, were not talking about Japanese, were talking about people are motivated by these drivers and your success to both countries to me sounds like your validating that, is that fair to say?

Casey Wahl: It’s getting past what you see on the externally side or culture origin. People can be motivated on the same thing, we’ve got customers in Dubai, we’ve got customers in Hungary, we have people in South Africa, using people in Brazil and everybody’s happy and everybody’s say this is relevant for their organizations so it’s kind of a beautiful thing to help us get passed how we typically kind of judge or think about things. But the one thing I would say is at least for Japan, we’ve localize the statistical validation because in Japan people tend not to given strong answer were they say, “I strongly agree on this” or “I strongly disagree” it will be quite light. In  the original version, “Hey, all these Japanese are not motivated”

Alexander Noren: Right, right.

Casey Wahl: statistically not motivated responses to a Japanese data set that corresponds.

Alexander Noren: That’s just changing the tool and the philosophy searches. that’s absolutely incredible. We oftentimes talk to people, they are a little skeptical about the return in investment. These sorts of endeavours right? Forget about the cost of  the software itself but what the implementation, you talk about the training. In order for a software solution to be successful, you got to get the solution. That’s the first step and then you got to implement it and train then adapt to use its recommendation. It’s a long process, why bother? What would you say to somebody that says, “You know, I’d rather buy a pool table.”

Casey Wahl: I’ll tell him ahead to go but that pool table.

Alexander Noren: And watch the needle not move, right?

Casey Wahl: Exactly. As you said, it’s a big thing. one of the things that we do struggle with is people are used to personality test and I think people have a binary response to it, their kind of cruel for about 5 minutes or no I just don’t trust them. This is not a personality test were looking at something very different so getting away from that is quite hard. Then all of the other stuff about it could roll out, how do you get people to use it, if it works I believe in it. This data is really cool but how do I action it? How do I move? that’s the harder part of doing it. Only core thing is how big is their problem. If an organization has people going out the down and they can’t stop the bleed or people are unmotivated or the lower level employees are walking out on a much bigger organization because they are upset on different things. they have a very very strong incentive to understand what’s motivating people, to engage them on a one-on-one type of level and try to stop that bleed of turnovers. Those organizations, it’s a very easy discussion.

Alexander Noren: Do you have any examples you can share? I want to make sure that we respect the privacy of your clients. Is there any specific success stories that you can share with your experience from successful implementation and follow up with your software.

Casey Wahl: On the larger level, we onl launched last year so we got larger companies. There’s a couple of name brand ones but you know, I’m pretty hesitant to put out names on.

Alexander Noren: Of course.

Casey Wahl: I say there’s a few companies in the news with you two and government regulations in the US. Weather looking companies that type of thing were they get kind of trouble. They have to focus back on the core. The inner part of why are we doing this. What is the mission, why are people coming here to work? People are taking Attuned out and they’re using API and putting it on their own on one-on-one formats. Understand everytime we speak with somebody on the team, we are speaking on words  and in the ways it will resonate with them for example. they’ve been very very happy. We got smaller clients that we worked with were the attrition ratio was just halved for example. there’s a recruiting firm that we’ve worked with were their mishire ratio was about 30% which means one out of every 3 people that they hire left within 6 months which is just a tremendous waste of energy. I think it normal for recruiting and they’ve got that down to just 7%.

Alexander Noren: Holy smokes, that’s incredible.

Casey Wahl: that was relatively quickly happened since they’ve implement Attuned. Because you understand the intrinsic motivators and drivers that doesn’t match up with your team. Are they going to match up with the manager? and they’re just selecting the on boarding team so much better than they were.

Josh Drean: Its one part actually using the tool and how it needs to be, one part is understanding their intrinsic motivators. There is also a nice slice of this that is coming from a perspective of “I actually care about my employees enough to ask them” What motivates them and also to act on that data. It’s not just here’s a software, we have to get the numbers and all of the sudden retention just happens and off they go.

Casey Wahl: Absolutely. I really like the way you phrase that. People always asked me, at least here in Japan that we are pretty successful kind of growing and like by people, what’s different about your organization? We care, it sounds so soft and it’s not that kind of beautiful mission statement but we actually care and that’s the heart of Attuned. organizations that care about their employees, that care about their teams, it’s pretty easy for them like, “I’ve never really seen this, its really useful.” I want to understand the people around me and we want to be more successful together. those organizations hit it very quickly, I never expected it but we have a church that have using it more almost since the beginning and they love it.

Alexander Noren: that’s really cool. I never have expected that.

Casey Wahl: Right, I never expected that.

Alexander Noren: But you think about it, why not, right?

Casey Wahl: It’s absolutely fantastic. Where we are with engagement, I think with engagement 1.0 like everybody used now it become table stakes across many companies, okay we need to understand what’s going on with the organization, we have to understand the pulse and we are taken that a little further and I can see into people’s hearts and drivers. Obviously, we want to use it to enlighten ways and see what customers enlighten ways. Were small now once we get big that is something that’s going to scare me. that people don’t misuse it. I don’t know if this was the question your going to ask, you can use it in your relationships because your looking at people’s values, right? And I’ve used it with my wife and actually everybody on the team is using it with their significant others that type of thing. This shows you where you’re going to have conflict. you have slightly different values mostly likely if everything is perfectly aligned that’s fantastic.

Alexander Noren: That does touch on a question that i’ve been thinking about. A lot of times, do you think we have managers mid-level trying really hard to do a good job and they’re trying to find better ways, maybe it’s not often by leadership above. Is you software something or is there a recommendation that you could give to that manager trying to effect change that their in middle of the road stationed but isn’t quite seeing the buy off that they are looking for.  How could they help create a better experience, better environment for the reports under them?

Casey Wahl: Thats a good question, I think if they have $200 and discretion budget. they can just used Attuned for training and have the understanding of intrinsic change. That way they looked to roll it out to see the organization if they can say, “We’ve done this for 6 months and my attrition has gone down and my engagement has gone up, my productivity has gone up, my revenue has gone up and sales because I have aligned incentives much better than I had ever did back. Then get it by across the organization is probably the best to way to do it.

Josh Drean: There are companies out there that do care and they care so much that they want to bring a product like yours to their organization. There’s also a lot of programs that are out there are also old school and they don’t believe in employee engagement per se and they might never purchase it all and your planning to be, what is the future of employee engagement look like?

Casey Wahl: My dream is to make a world where you can find the job that is right for you, you are on boarded to that job and you stay 3-5 years and complete the mission that you’ve done. There’s no friction of it, you’ve got enough information that you can find geographically skilled company all that. Now, this with were showing value and make sure the value sets are matching and then when your working with the team you are joined because of the vision and the excitement that organization has and you fit with it. And that they understand your motivations all of the pain of joining an organization and that didn’t go well, like the manager and the team just don’t understand each other and have a conflict. All that psychological pain, emotional pain, all of that learnings that we don’t do that again. We want to make it so it doesn’t happen that’s eventually I want to go into.

Josh Drean: A lot to go.

Alexander Noren: I want that work experience.

Casey Wahl: Let’s sacrifice that. A lot of innovations to get there, showing intrinsic motivations is one of those. People are just so complex there are so many factors that go into.

Alexander Noren: Part of it is being a source of positive change, right? I mean at the end of the day we really have to do our part in making sure that the working space, that the marketplace, the place where these types of software and solutions are the norm. From a big picture standpoint, we want everybody to have some sort of solution that works for them that helps their employees be happy so that by the end of the day most people have that satisfaction and really feel good about were they contribute meaningfully in society. WE have our part to play, we are so grateful for you taking some time about the scheduling from Boston to Japan a little tricky and I appreciate you working with us. We are so grateful to chat with you a little bit as we close here just want to ask if you could leave out a pearl of wisdom with our listeners, what would be the one thing be to leave them with?

Casey Wahl: that’s such a tough one.

Alexander Noren: You have an hour, go.

Casey Wahl: I’m still learning, I make so many mistakes but I love what you just say at the end there, what we really need to do is to make a community of like minded people that care that want to make our non private lives better and i just hope we can continue to find like the listeners here , you keep growing your community, we keep working together, keep sharing this and it becomes defecto that’s what I would love to do. it take people to change and like minded to work together and I’m glad we have some align values here. I’ve really enjoyed this.

Josh Drean: Very cool. Thank you so much for joining is on the show today, Casey. If you guys want to learn more about Attuned, you can go to That’s Casey, how can we keep in touch with you?

Casey Wahl: I’m on Twitter, you can just look @caseywahl. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn or you just can put and communicate there as well.

Josh Drean: Wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. It’s been a wonderful conversation.

Casey Wahl: It was a lot of fun, thanks a lot guys.

Alexander Noren: Thanks, Casey. Bye.

Casey Wahl: Bye.