HRTech Interview with Samer Saab, Founder and CEO at Explorance

Believing 'purpose' is the key, Samer created a place in the HR industry where the ends never justify the means. Dive into his insightful interview.


Can you please share a few words about yourself and your journey as Founder and CEO at Explorance?
I have always been a person that is fascinated by value creation. One thing that I had struggled with throughout the larger part of “my life as an employee” is how we were mostly expected to do things that did not match our core beliefs and values, in the name of career advancement, or the business.
This realization shaped me, and after spending over a decade in the technology industry, I developed my own perspective on culture and leadership, along with a clearer sense of purpose. So, when I founded Explorance, in 2003, I chose to build a caring company that is organic, people-centric, and guided by leadership principles that look beyond short-term achievements and toward a sustainable future.
Today, I have three main loves: my little family, soccer, and Explorance which is the culmination for my passion for innovation and entrepreneurship.

What attracted you to move into the HR technology and talent management space?
The lifeblood of any organization is its people. In my opinion, the best employees are both empowered and engaged. They find meaning in what they do, how they do it, and most importantly why they do it.
The greatest organizations are those that truly listen and understand the key drivers of their employees’ motivation and success. And today’s scarce talent economy only intensifies the need for employers to differentiate and support people in their journey of growth, impact, and purpose.
I remember being a very difficult employee, especially when I was asked to do things that I did not fully understand, or that I simply did not associate with they “why”. But when I had managers that mastered the art of influence (rather than authority), I was at my best. I worked the hardest. I felt the impact of my contribution first hand. I felt valued and appreciated. But most importantly, because I had felt so useful, and instrumental, I was at my happiest. Though scarce, these were the best times of my life. These were the times when it did not matter how many hours I was putting in at work. It did not matter how long my commute was. It did not matter what I was sacrificing for it. Because I felt that whatever I was giving up was simply an investment in my future.
I was extreme in my levels of commitment and performance. I was an all or nothing person. And this always depended on how “useful” and “valuable” I felt. This is what shaped my deep aspiration to create a place, Explorance, that brings together my passion for technology, and my deep understanding and care for people.
Explorance was built to support those organizations that believe that listening to their people is a first class citizen. It was built for those organizations seek decision-grade insights, at scale, about their employees’ effectiveness and overall experience. It was built for those organizations that rely on fact-based data, leveraging the employee voice, to continuously improve their learning and development programs, their inclusion and engagement strategies, and how their employees interact with every aspect of their journey, from hire to retire.
I predict that the thriving companies of tomorrow are the ones that find the perfect balance in distance vs. presence, experience vs. effectiveness, and diversity of thought vs. consistency in purpose. Furthermore, they will succeed to instill (or re-instill) the notion of reciprocity in their relationship with their employees. This can be supported via a solid investment in their employees through education and development, and the implementation of robust listening strategies where everyone sees their rich and diverse ideas translated into organization-wide change or innovation.

Brief our audience about Explorance.
Founded in 2003, Explorance supports more than 20 million people in their individual journeys of purpose, growth, and impact. As the leading provider of People Insight Solutions, Explorance empowers organizations with actionable decision-making by measuring students’ and employees’ needs, expectations, skills, knowledge, and competencies. Explorance facilitates continuous improvement and accelerates the insight-to-action cycle leading to personal growth and organizational agility. Headquartered in Montreal with business units in Chicago, Chennai, Melbourne, Amman, and London, Explorance works with 25% of the Fortune 100 and 25% of the top Higher Education institutions, including 8 of the world’s top 10 business schools. The company has clients in more than 50 countries.

How does the organization encourage students and employees across their journey of learning, development, and productivity in life?
Our mission, at Explorance, is to support people in making the most of their journey of growth, impact, and purpose in life. Today, we are able to positively impact the lives of about 20 million people. I hope that we will soon do so for 1 billion.
We also believe that industry and education have a shared responsibility, and a duty to closely collaborate, in the raising of the future change-makers of this world. The earlier we can assist someone to shape their skills, knowledge and competency base, the faster they will hit the ground running as they join the workforce. This is why we chose to partner with higher education institutions.
I am a believer that a good part of the Great Resignation was triggered by those people that realized they were going in the wrong direction in their careers. The pandemic gave everyone the opportunity to take a step back and rethink their personal life and career journey.
This is why “purpose” is key.
Think for example of someone that studies for 10 years to become a doctor. Then 10 years into their career, they realize that this path was not fulfilling their sense of purpose. What a tragedy this would be. This is why this partnership between industry and education matters. There is a lot of data available on both sides of the fence to better inform everyone to do better. Organizations must commit to seeing the person, that lifelong learner, in their student or employee. Because while we could be a student at one point in time, and an employee at another, we remain the same human that aspires to make the most of our time on earth.

How does your company ensure that its learning solutions are scalable and adaptable to the evolving needs of organizations in different industries?
As a global provider of feedback solutions, we rely on listening to keep our offering relevant, and often slightly ahead of the curve. I often get reminded that Explorance is 20 years old, yet we are a technology providers that constantly brings to its customers, and challenges its market, with more possibilities that they can imagine. But to live and thrive for that long, we also have relied on the wisdom never being complacent, but also to never fall for cool trends and be gimmicky.
The key for organizational success today is “agility”. That requires organizations to empower all their teams and managers with the insights and information they need to make the right decisions at scale.
We help organizations figure out how to assess employees in new ways and land on a convergence of employee experience and talent effectiveness. I call this practice people insights. It includes a combination of feedback and data collection, analysis, and a thoughtful insight-to-action powered strategy.
Via integration, automation, and full mapping and understanding of an organization’s structure, our solutions allow organizations to deploy meaningful insights, and action recommendations, at scale.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in HR technology and learning management, and incorporate them into your product roadmap?
Once of our key strength at Explorance, is our high touch approach to customer relationship management. We are always on the lookout for a better understanding of the macro-market trends, technology evolution, and customer needs by leveraging a multi-channel approach:

  • Our expert consultants are on the forefront of the HR, and L&D space
  • Our Customer Success Managers work closely with each of our customers to ensure that we are helping them drive most value from the technology, and services, that we provide them
  • Our product managers are on the front lines of marketing and pre and post sales 

Furthermore, we have a vibrant and highly engaged HR and Talent community of practice amongst our customer base, which represent today about 1,000 organizations globally, including more than 25% of the Fortune 100 companies. These are companies that are on the leading edge of HR thought leadership, and their fast evolving needs and high expectations are key drivers of insight into our product and offering roadmap.
We listen to our customers and we follow macro-trends. The pandemic and its ongoing ripple effects change the way that many work and reset expectations between employees and employers. We learn what our customers’ biggest pain points are and evolve our technology to provide tools and solutions accordingly.
For example, it has always been important that organizations focus on learning and development (L&D) to ensure their employees are performing to the best of their abilities and that the organization is putting its best foot forward. The focus on L&D was further exacerbated by the “Great Resignation,” which created a skills gap in the workforce requiring the need to reskill and upskill current employees, putting a greater emphasis on the talent management industry as a whole. We evolved our technology to provide additional functionality around measuring L&D programs and effectiveness over time.
Organizations need to focus on enticing current employees to stay by enhancing and expanding L&D programs with quality training that effectively increases employee skills and capabilities. By creating a work environment where employees are equipped with the highest skills and feel connected with a sense of purpose, employers can increase the resilience of their organizations with a motivated workforce driving positive business results. Investing in current talent, and focusing on upskilling and reskilling, shows employees that a business cares about long-term growth for its people and the bottom line.

Can you share any success stories or case studies of organizations implementing your solutions and seeing significant improvements in their learning and development outcomes?
We have worked with many leading organizations that have suffered, but also benefited, from The Great Resignation. I sometimes liken it more to a Great Reshuffling instead. Over the last two years, we ran many employee assessment programs for our customers. By comparing recent results against pre-pandemic data, we uncovered a trend that the average company seems to have lost at least 4 years of leadership-bench capability. This is a major skill gap that leads to decreased business performance over time. I am not surprised, because I believe that most organizations have, in desperation, obsessed about employee happiness, and talent counts to address staffing challenges. Instead, they should have instilled robust reskilling and upskilling strategies for existing employees, while upping their recruitment game to ensure that overall organizational capability is enhanced with each newcomer.
We work with organizations to help them identify priorities of reskilling and upskilling needs, along with strategies to measure the effectiveness of training and on-the-job implementation. In one instance, we helped the marketing department of a large, global pharmaceutical business identify patterns of employee turnover that was costing them the equivalent of years of work output. We helped this business map out what skills were missing when legacy employees left and what work wasn’t getting done as new employees trained and transitioned into fresh roles. A renewed focus through insights-to-action helped this business regain years of output through better talent training and management.
Another example is when a new Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) was seeking diversity, inclusion and belonging insights. At first they approached us to help them implement an employee survey. We challenged them about this: why invest resources, send employee one more survey, and wait 3 months to get insights from data that is already available to them? With Explorance BlueML, we were able to help them get meaningful insights from ten of thousands of existing employee comments captured via Glassdoor, Indeed, previous onboarding, engagement, exit surveys, and more. This helped empower the CDO and fast validate their role. More so, the CDO was able to share relevant and actionable insights with all their line managers on the fly, further supporting organizational accountability and agility.
And within Explorance, we practice what we preach. Fundamentally, since the inception of Explorance, I have aspired to build a company where the ends never justify the means; a place where employees, customers, suppliers, and community all come together with a shared sense of purpose to make something happen. We emphasize employee engagement and empowerment by instilling, early on, a strong culture of trust and reciprocity. We are a community of passionate adults that are willing, and able, to improve continuously. Together, we have eliminated the need for administrative management overhead, and HR rules, policies, and guidelines, instead, building a community of mutual trust and respect.

In your opinion, how has the integration of technological advancements like AI and ML changed the face of the HR industry?
For decades, HR teams operated through manual processes and gut instinct. Meanwhile, other organizational departments such as sales, marketing, research and development leveraged more and more technology for daily work. Now, HR and talent management are gaining a stronger voice in the boardroom through the power of data insights.
Organizations are collecting millions of data points on their employee populations daily, but they aren’t organizing and analyzing them to help uncover guidance on how to bring out the best in their people. Machine learning automates work that used to take hours, days and weeks. It enables HR leaders to make sense of large datasets and collections of feedback and gain insights on taking immediate action. It also standardizes how feedback is measured and interpreted, reducing human bias that comes with more manual processes.
Our industry leading machine learning tool, BlueML, is trained on employee qualitative responses, and delivers actionable insights from large datasets of comments and feedback in minutes. Eliminating the need for time-consuming manual review and data organization processes, businesses and academic institutions gain a clearer look at employee and student needs and expectations, while also informing proactive measures to support a more satisfied, engaged, and well-trained workforce or student body.
Furthermore, the proprietary Explorance machine learning algorithms support the elimination of human bias in reviewing large data sets. Data sets that contain limited data are much more likely to discriminate when they make decisions. Supporting this concept, BlueML applies a consistent interpretation for every piece of employee and student feedback, ensuring standard and equal categorization even when analyzing thousands of feedback comments.

What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs and leaders aspiring to venture into this industry?
I am a strong believer that organizations need to commit themselves to innovation, and sustainable growth:

  • Innovation is not just about the HR solutions that we bring to the market, but also innovation in the way we do business, in the way we do our own HR, and in the way that we look at the world. We live in the knowledge economy, and our key assets are our people. If what we sell to the world matches closely what we do internally, and who we all are, then chances are that the venture will succeed.  
  • As for sustainable growth, organizations must develop a growth mindset, and give aggressive targets across all areas of the business. I have found that there is a correlation between the inputs and outputs of an organization. Appreciating and making the most out of those around you will help cultivate the same attitude amongst those people. Your biggest assets are your employees. Those who will thrive and stay for the long-term are the ones who understand and exhibit a common interest in their organization. Employers who optimize an organization’s sense of purpose, inclusion and capability will come out on top.

One important idea to keep in mind is the necessity of ongoing growth and development. Reskilling, upskilling, practice and learning can take many shapes and forms. It may support keeping tech skills sharp or helping team members grow into management roles. But at the heart of all learning is the need to ensure that it is useful for the business, useful for personal growth and being implemented into daily operations. Employers have a role to play in supporting learning, unlearning, and creating an agile environment for those times you must do more with less or react to situations out of your control.
Furthermore, to help employees find their purpose in making a living, employers need to strengthen their sense of differentiated culture. They need to dive into their organization and find a common sense of purpose and fit that will inspire their employees. If employers offer fair compensation, and build upon that with passion, growth, and outcomes, the rest follows naturally.

Finally, what are your future plans for your company, and how do you see it evolving in the years to come to stay ahead of the competition?
I am excited about Explorance. We are currently celebrating 20 years of operations and recently announced general availability of our machine learning solution, BlueML.
We will continue to invest in machine learning development and building tools and features our customers want and need, as we empower HR and talent management leaders, helping them elevate their roles within their own organizations through the power of data and insights.
More broadly, I’ll continue to assess what Explorance looks like as a business. We live now in a highly competitive global community of employers that often compete for the same talent, and business. I predict that over the next 10–15 years, we will continue to witness the evolution of global connectivity in the workplace allowing organizations to tap into the global talent pool. We will also continue to witness the democratization and empowerment of teams, via trust, diversity, and inclusion. Agile teams will be engines for survival, innovation, and swift transformation, that companies need to navigate and adapt to constant winds of change.
Since businesses feed from, and back into, community and society, I believe that they should learn to live in harmony with both. Those organizations that have a stronger commitment to giving back, giving forward, and social responsibility will be most appealing for the up-and-coming generations of employees, and customers. Ironically, when a company balances equally giving and taking, it is set to achieve a higher level of aspirational purpose, and inherently becomes more appealing to its employees and customers alike. Furthermore, it would naturally contribute to a more sustainable and fair future, indirectly boosting its business performance.
In addition to my work with Explorance I am involved in various Montreal-based organizations and my alma mater, McGill University. I sit on the Board of Directors for the Association québécoise des technologies (AQT) and the International Advisory Board for the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, and am a committee member for Regional Economic Development at Investissement Québec.
I am passionate about entrepreneurship and lifelong learning and provide grants and endowments for outstanding students entering the MBA program at McGill University and serve as a mentor for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Through these activities I learn from a wide range of other professionals, academics and thinkers, across ages and generations. These insights help Explorance stay more competitive and inspire me for a bright future ahead.

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Samer Saab Founder and CEO of Explorance

Samer Saab is the Founder and CEO of Explorance, a global recognized leader in People Insights leveraged by organizations to collect and analyze workforce feedback and evaluations. Beyond machine learning and big data tech, Samer is passionate about helping organizations focus on where people's experiences converge with talent effectiveness, to achieve business agility, and support the professional journey of purpose, growth, and impact of their employees and students. Explorance works with 25% of the Fortune 100 companies and the world’s top Higher Education institutions.


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