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50 Best Companies to Watch 2021

Edward J. Beltran, CEO of Fierce Conversations, speaks to The Silicon Review: ‘With the advent of our virtual training on managing conversations about unconscious bias and microaggressions, we’re now ideally positioned to be right in the thick of the nation’s conversations on race and culture’

thesiliconreview-logo-fierce-conversations-21“As the population becomes vaccinated, we are looking to continue our in-person trainings, but with our virtual reality simulations, we can reach any company in any place in the world.”                      

Fierce Conversations, an award-winning leadership development and training company, helps solve real-world problems and topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion through engaging interactive 3D simulations customized for business needs and challenges.

The company was founded in 2001 and is based in Seattle, WA.

Interview Excerpt: Edward J. Beltran

Q. Your organization is a global leadership development and training company that changes the way people communicate with each other. How did you come across this unique idea, and how did you take this forward?

Based on the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, it became clear that “teaching communications” was not enough. People were not looking for theory. They were looking for the “how.” Fierce Conversations is the how. For example, instead of saying, “You need to give feedback,” we provide scripts to create a feedback conversation, and then step by step on how to successfully have that conversation. We do this for a variety of critical conversations that companies need to have, including confrontation, delegation, accountability, coaching, and how to conduct an efficient and effective team meeting. There are many soft skills and hard skills required to be successful. What we have found is that they all intersect with successful conversations. How many times have you walked away from a situation and thought to yourself that you should have said XYZ or why didn’t you say ABC or wished it had gone better? All of us, right? What gets talked about, how it gets talked about and who is invited to the conversation determines what will happen…and what won’t happen. Empowering people to successfully have the conversations in their life is what we at Fierce are passionate about and have been doing for Fortune 100 companies to emerging start-ups for over 20 years.

Q. Fierce Conversations has been recognized as one of the ‘50 Most Innovative Companies of the Year 2021’. How was the journey to build your mark in the industry?

The journey started with listening to our customers. We made a huge investment in creating a robust business intelligence and analytics function. This led us integrating a strong Net Promoter Score (NPS) system to gain feedback from our learners to analyze and garner insights. Our scores were remarkable at 70, which is really great for our industry. We would have been disillusioned if we stopped there and patted ourselves on the back. The science of NPS goes deeper than simply asking our customers if they would recommend you. The key was for us was to determine the questions that correlated to why our learners were giving us those scores. And from our analysis of this feedback, we had an “ah ha” moment. That was a game changer for us. We were able to discover the pain points of our customers, and that led to our team developing many of the innovations that we are scaling up today.

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Q. What kind of challenges do you generally observe with your clients, and how do you help them overcome those challenges with your innovative solutions?

Listening and analyzing feedback from our customers allowed us to identify and validate our clients’ challenges, which are barriers to adoption by our learners. Do our learners use what they learned in the workplace to drive better outcomes? What we found is that the learners loved our content and especially loved our facilitators. We wanted to overcome the challenge and how best to apply what they learned and use in the real-world post-training. The other major challenge was access. For example, our retail customers’ most critical touchpoint with their customers are with their retail associates. This population typically cannot be taken offline and need solutions that are quicker, impactful, and at a lower price point.

This led us to creating the three strategic pillars for Fierce that has driven all our innovation: Application, Sustainability, and Scale.

  • Application: How do we get closer to the scenarios that our learners are going to face every day versus generic theoretical exercises?
  • Sustainability: When our learners are out in the real world (i.e., three months down the line) how do we provide to them at their finger-tips, in the moment, the ability to determine what conversation to have, how to have it, and the confidence to have it?
  • Scale: How do we make these powerful tools available and palatable for different populations from C-Suite to frontline workers?

Q. What, according to you, is the advancement in this industry in terms of technology? What advanced technologies do you use in your system to offer the best services?

We have created 3D/VR simulations, which put the learner in real situations in a gaming environment where they can choose the direction of the conversation, experience the outcome, hit redo, and learn from an immersive environment in 15 minutes or less. We’ve had great success for many of our clients — large and small. We’ve helped retail employees learn how to manage conversations with customers who were on both ends of the spectrum on COVID-19; frontline nurses learning how to delegate and providing feedback to doctors; and, in helping team members better understand how to identify and address microaggressions.

Another innovation we created is Fierce Connect, which is an application that helps you build up your conversation and have it in real time. We are using AI to be able to predict what conversations our learners need to have and provide them with the resources to have successful conversations that will positively impact their professional and personal lives.

For Fierce, it’s providing conversation techniques that are at the core of everything.

Q. What is on your company’s roadmap in terms of technological and geographical expansion?

We have had an international footprint, but we’re now working with partners on models to leverage the tools and solutions we have built at scale. The roadmap circles back to our mission, which is to better the world one conversation at a time. Based on our mission, our opportunity is how we do this in an accessible way that reaches more individuals to help them have more meaningful conversations — all the time.

Q. Fierce Conversations has worked with companies of different sizes across several industries. Can you provide us with one or two most innovative case studies thesiliconreview-edward-j-beltran-ceo-fierce-conversations-21.jpgdescribing the challenges your clients were facing and how your solutions help them overcome those challenges?

One of the areas we have applied our 3D/VR technology and approach to is within DE&I. We firmly believe that unconscious bias comes to life in the day-to-day interactions in the workplace, standing in line at the grocery story, at your child’s athletic events — through the form of microaggressions. In the simulations we’ve created, the learner has can explore sensitive topics without the fear of offending someone. When a mistake is made, they can start over and get it right. For example, one of our more controversial scenarios focuses on a recruiter asking for a referral for a black employee. The referrer recommends and describes the applicant as “articulate.” For some this may be a no-brainer, but I can tell you that many don’t understand why this is offensive as they refer to everyone as articulate. In this situation, the referrer is comfortable calling a person of color “articulate” when they would never use the same term describing a white employee. The scenario allows you to learn how the words you use and how you use them can offend others. I am proud that these innovations are helping everyone to experience and shift their context, enhance learning, enrich relationships, and continue to have the conversations that are meaningful to their lives.

Q. Is there anything else you want us to highlight in the article that we might have missed?

To solve some of the most polarizing communication topics, we’ve partnered with leading industry experts. Through these engaging conversation scenarios, learners get straight to the heart of their biases by utilizing self-directed, interactive microlearning that quickly creates a new level of understanding to construct (or reconstruct) bridges of diversity, equity, and inclusion within organizations.

“Unconscious bias and microaggression training has been a huge area where our software is going to offer safe, comfortable, and transformative opportunities for team members at all levels of companies, nonprofits, and organizations to become more aware of our words and actions.”