Back when he was the CEO of a fast growing 250-person firm, a peanut butter cup moment might well have led to Scott Burns’ next startup venture being more about candy than collaboration. Instead, it prompted the creation of Structural, where he’s cofounder and chief executive officer, and where he’s discovered a sweet spot of an entirely different kind. He says with a hint of pride: “Enterprises use Structural to empower employees to discover the opportunities, experts, and collaborators they need to thrive in this dynamic work environment.”
When stopping by a colleague’s office, Scott customarily helped himself to her candy dish as they spoke of work and goals for professional growth. During one of those conversations, it occurred to Scott that she would be a good fit for a management position that was soon to open up within the company. To this day, that same colleague says that without Scott’s fondness for those peanut butter treats that caused him to pause at her open office door, she would never have made that career-boosting move.
It was a pivotal moment for Scott as well, who says he can track the idea for Structural back to that day when he took the time for a chat and a chocolate break. “I realized that serendipity is the wrong way to access talent and make critical connections,” he says. “Organizations tend to silo people, so employees struggle to find each other and new work opportunities. They have conventionally relied on chance meetings, golf games, coffee breaks, and even the candy dish to make connections when they should be doing that in a more modern, systematic way.”
Structural connects people with opportunities
Structural is a discovery platform for the workplace. The solution replaces those chance hallway meetings with leading-edge technology, revolutionizing the way colleagues make connections and discover the opportunities that can be key to cross-functional innovation and to developing rewarding careers. It helps people become more effective, productive, and satisfied in their current roles, and it also helps them move onward and upward through their organizations through small learning and project opportunities as well as entirely new roles. Structural customer Katie Leifeld is Senior Talent and Organizational Development Manager at Andersen Corporation. She notes that when connection and opportunity is embedded into work, employees seek to thrive where they are rather than looking for outside opportunities. Katie says, “We commit to being a special place to work here at Andersen, helping employees get to where they want to be in their career with us. Structural provides the technology to do that.”
The Structural platform connects with an organization’s existing software to aggregate the latest data on people, skills, roles, and projects from around the company. It automatically creates rich profiles for every employee, solving a longstanding challenge in enterprises that struggle to get employees to make updates to internal directories and profiles. Employees are then empowered to share more information about themselves, such as their expertise, interests, goals, and, for some organizations, even pets and favorite TV shows. Structural uses this data to help people find each other, and opportunities, at the right time. Employees have direct access to see a complete view of the organization’s people and its culture. Managers build a better picture of the skills and competencies that may have otherwise remained hidden.
Beyond that is a less obvious advantage that helps people thrive and build a sense of inclusion and connectedness, which is particularly important as work moves to a remote or hybrid environment. “Structural expands the network of peripheral connections that you can make where you work, helping support the more connected and inclusive workplace that all enterprises want,” says Scott, adding that the magic ingredient is helping organizations create a stronger internal network that takes employee engagement and retention to another level.
The Microsoft Teams advantage
It’s a compelling solution, and booming sales seemed inevitable. But Scott was met with hesitancy from customers who had onboarded a good number of new services and solutions lately, each claiming to offer its own specific and individual contribution to a modern, transformed workplace. Those prospects recognized Structural’s unique value but were unwilling to rush into adopting yet another solution. “As it turned out, that reluctance to add new software was our biggest barrier to bringing on new clients,” says Scott. “That was, until we chose to integrate with Teams.”
As Scott explains, “Our discussions with enterprises showed that for our intended clients, Teams was the ideal platform for their people to get to know each other and collaborate. Those enterprise-class prospects were either already running Teams or planned to migrate to it. COVID-19 accelerated that, moving them from planning a Teams deployment to widespread deployment almost overnight.”
Working with Teams was a turning point for Structural. Scott saw barriers to adoption fall away, and customers reported huge momentum in employee adoption, especially because they had already made Teams their communications and collaboration hub and the window into their daily work. “Thanks to our Microsoft Teams integration our business has more than doubled over the last year,” Scott says. “Teams was a gateway for us to be relevant every day and offer new functionality without requiring enterprises to launch new software or disruptive changes to the user experience.” Jeff Stoebner, CEO at AVI Systems and Structural customer, agrees. “Teams is where we get our work done. Structural gets the right people connected and strengthens everyone’s ability to reach across the organization. The combination saves us time and allows us to innovate and react quickly to the market.”
One great example of how Structural works with Teams is how it organizes and consolidates employee profile information gathered from diverse locations across the organization including Microsoft Graph, CRM systems, HR platforms, and external networks like LinkedIn, making it available directly within the Teams environment. That profile information is then exposed through the Teams search interface, enabling access within Structural without ever leaving the Teams experience. This one feature, says Scott, is particularly powerful as it provides all the benefits of immediately available, detailed profile information from across many systems right inside of Microsoft Teams and overcomes one of the biggest obstacles in creating that information: having to rely on employees to update their own profiles.
In addition to data-rich employee profiles, Structural embeds a powerful marketplace of opportunities into Microsoft Teams, taking advantage of it as the preferred gateway for employees to discover available opportunities to contribute, learn, and advance within their organization. This capability promotes opportunities directly to employees for everything from small projects, gigs, and learning opportunities to entirely new roles. Once again, as Scott points out, it’s an example of Teams helping him meet those employees where they are already choosing to spend their working day to surface the power of Structural.
Working with Microsoft
Scott is no newcomer to creating and growing a startup. He recognizes that depending on a much larger, established organization—let alone meshing your features and enhancements within its proprietary ecosystem—can be an intimidating proposition without a clearly defined place to begin. He says his thought process has included questions such as: “Where can we be complementary? Where do we fit in? How is this going to work? Are they going to help promote us, or are they going to try to push us aside?”
Working with Microsoft has gone well for Structural. Scott and his team have received dedicated support from Microsoft staff who understand how to help innovative startups succeed. “Any apprehension around working with Microsoft disappeared the moment we started having conversations with folks and realizing how open and collaborative they were,” Scott says. “The Microsoft for Startups group is a true partner in our success and the success of our shared customers. We were introduced to Teams experts, and every conversation brought new energy and insight to our plans, ‘You should try this, or you should try that. Can I help you with this, or can I help you with that?’ The entire experience has been overwhelmingly positive.”
In the end, Scott says, working with Microsoft isn’t as daunting as some might fear. “Microsoft gave us a bunch of product and marketing resources and really just wanted to help make us successful and make our Teams integration great.”
Structural has also been exploring other opportunities to take advantage of the ubiquitous Microsoft 365 ecosystem. The company is using Microsoft Graph for data integration and is planning to build on Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services features for deeper and more comprehensive workplace intelligence. Structural is also making its entire workplace discovery platform available as a transactable Teams service on Microsoft AppSource. Scott says that the enterprise is where real growth potential lies for startups like his, and Microsoft 365 is where enterprise customers live and work. So, it makes sense to work with Teams, which is rapidly becoming the communications and collaboration hub around which those organizations are building their modern, hybrid work environments. “Integration with Microsoft Teams represents an incredible entry point into established enterprises,” Scott says. “Microsoft Teams is everywhere, so any startup that wants to work with enterprise customers would be negligent to not make working with Teams a priority.”
Tags: Microsoft Teams