Quickfire Q&A with Mike Erlin: CEO and CoFounder of AbilityMap

Guest Profile

Mike Erlin
Co-Founder and CEO

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What is AbilityMap?

AbilityMap is what’s called Next-generation human assessment technology. What that really means is we’re defining what humans need in a unique company environment. We look at a job, a function, a team and identify the degree to which a person – or group of people—  have or don’t have what is needed.

When you do those things, you are then in a position to determine where your peoples’ strengths should best be placed and whether they can do it easily or if they need some extra support. With AbilityMap, you know how to place people that thrive in their work.

What regions is AbilityMap operating in and how many staff do you have?

We’re predominantly Australian based and the majority of our clients operate on the Eastern Seaboard. We also have clients with divisions operating in the US, UK, New Zealand and the Philippines.

Our ongoing strategy is to get disciples in our own backyard who love the value that AbilityMap brings. Part of our growth journey is ensuring we really understand our customers and the value we bring to them.  We’re getting pretty good at that and once our customers broadly tell us we’ve got it right, we’ll be cranking up the value for scale and invest to introduce AbilityMap into other global markets – starting in San Francisco.   

Right now we’ve got a full-time team of eight. They work flexibly and all around the country – and it’s a big, diverse country. We also have great people whom I consider a direct part of the team, but who work more on a point-of-need or part-time consultancy basis. This ‘AbilityMap tribe’ give us responsive, high impact quickly when our clients or the market opportunity needs it. 

How long has AbilityMap been around for?

How long has it been in the market or how long has it been rolling around in my head? It’s been around in my head since late 2004. The first iteration was called Talent House. Then in 2005 LinkedIn came out and I said to myself, “They beat us to the punch” and at the time, I didn’t have the guts to immigrate to a new country and start a tech company in a new environment – which at that time, didn’t get tech the way it does now.  But they didn’t end up doing what should have been done, in my humble opinion, to really take advantage of the early jump they had.

Kevin Chandler [Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer at AbilityMap] and I came together in 2014. We both identified that all the great technologies and solutions that were helping us make a living – Kev in recruitment and me in HR technology, were missing something important in the scope of getting people in the right flow of work.

We found that about a third of the time, a manager would say they wouldn’t rehire someone currently on their team. We thought to ourselves, “Well, that wouldn’t be good enough in a services business or software company.  So, it’s just not good enough for a company’s workforce.” We hypothesised that accurately understanding the objective fit of an individual to the success requirements of a unique environment was missing, and the impact was even larger when considered at scale. 

Kevin had identified that from his recruitment experience while I had identified it relative to learning and performance management. And we both agreed on career mobility.

We came together at the end of 2014 to start designing stuff on Kev’s dining room table – his house was closer to Sydney than mine. Then in 2017 we built a prototype – “the ugly baby” is what we used to lovingly call it. 

We tested it out on some of Kevin’s clients and they all really dug it, so I left my job as a Managing Director at Cornerstone to go full-time on AbilityMap. The technology has come a long way and developed into a very powerful tool.

What do your clients value most about your solutions?

The way I look at it is that we have three solutions. We have a Build solution for somebody’s building a new team or function or expanding their team – it requires them to bring in new blood. That blood can either be from outside or internally. But that solution is about defining what a successful ‘new’ looks like, and then comparing people to see how well they suit the role – not only in terms of their work experience, education or track record, but inherently to what’s been identified as the essential transferrable human capabilities for success. That’s the internal/external talent-acquisition side of AbilityMap.

Another solution is Optimize, which focuses on an existing team. Remember that stat where I mentioned most managers wouldn’t rehire about a third of their current team? That means about a third of any team is actually below standard – managers would rather just flip them, which may be okay for some, definitely not for all.  So, how do you know who, what and how much to apply in support/development of the capable ones?

AbilityMap comes in to identify where the friction blocks are so they can be hit head on and raise the productivity of those folks with a few tweaks needed, resulting in reduced performance variability across the team. How? By understanding the drivers of success within that team and how your existing group of people compares to it. You can see where they have strengths and where they have friction.  Regarding the (smaller now) group that just isn’t in the right role, before inviting them to progress their future with another company, why not see if their strengths play well in other roles in the organisation?  That’s good business.

Finally, Transform is the solution where we are seeing the most traction. The biggest example right now is that people are in career transitions. They’re looking to move from what they’ve been doing to what they could do. So we show them the array of capabilities where they can apply their strengths successfully, and enjoy doing it. Half the time they have never even thought about those possibilities. They didn’t even know they could do something else. It’s all about career mobility, but at a personal level. It’s about moving people within your organisation; it’s about realigning the internal capability to the requirements of the business by knowing what’s actually needed, but finding people who naturally – inherently— dig doing it. 

Particularly in the tech industry right now, employees hold most of the power. And they are happy to earn less money if it means working for a company with the right culture? How is AbilityMap helping people figure out their best self as well as support organisations to become a cultural differentiator?

It’s a by-product of core solutions. I don’t know of another system out there – and I’ve been in this space for 25 years – that lines up to the personal passions and natural capabilities of a person with the needs of a unique business’ role, function or environment, particularly at scale and cost-effectively.  That’ll change eventually as what we’re doing gains more traction.  But for now, I’m pretty proud to be part of a technology leading the way, and grateful, and will run with that.  

One of the biggest challenges facing organisations today is the skills shortage. How is AbilityMap helping organisations and candidates find the right fit?

When I look at the skills shortage, I think to myself: “The most important thing for any business right now is that they absolutely realise the liquid gold they have in their existing team – first and foremost.” Then they need to engage them as a partner, in both the firm’s and the specific individual’s success (at scale).  AbilityMap changes the conversation by ‘mapping’ the actual criteria for success in a role, function or team with the strengths of a person – in the role, in the business and considering a change or, outside the business looking to spend their valuable time elsewhere.  It’s about changing the conversation and mindset from one of ‘you will’ to ‘we need and you have’ – a very personalised, considered and grounding way to partner.  Because it’s human-centric, It covers more of the contemporary research findings than we can keep up with:  genuine care about people, – their psychological safety, their wellness, and framed around being more confident in the person being ‘successful’ in the environment on offer….and those available in the future. Then they can start crafting the right jobs to support them.

It’s really important to recognise that our employees have more options than ever before. It’s the candidates who are now driving the bus.  While that too will change, today – if you really want to engage, retain and progress them successfully, you’ve got to earn the right to have the conversation with evidence that you genuinely care about them as humans, in the context of your business and unique environments within it. That means taking the time to understand what’s needed in your business so that you can show them opportunities they’d never even considered possible.

In doing that, you will find that you can move the players on the field, which is great. But then when it comes to hiring people externally, you can bring with you an employee value proposition (EVP) that few firms have – you value their personal success, based on where they are at now and in the future. Observed-data solutions continue to miss this – that was epiphany in  2004.  Find out what their purpose and their passion is, and see how it lines up with the purpose needs of the company.

That’s the mindset that I believe companies need to win today. They need to shift from a top-down mindset to one of partnership. AbilityMap gives companies the opportunity to walk that talk.

Mike Erlin is the Co-Founder and CEO of AbilityMap, a Next-generation technology changing the face of human resources.

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