How TrueCar transformed its annual employee engagement with Balloon

In November 2021, Cristina Rivard, Senior Director of People at TrueCar, was faced with a challenge: the company-wide engagement survey they had deployed earlier in the year had left them with more questions than answers. 

While the survey saw high engagement, the results were not able to explore the depth and nuance of the many microcultures present across the organization.

Rivard was looking for a way to delve deeper into the original survey’s findings. When she heard about Balloon, she was curious about implementing it with her team as a way to surface candid feedback and identify trends both across the company and within functions. Furthermore, she and her team believed that a third-party platform that was anonymous and structured around collaborative solutions would make TrueCar employees more likely to engage and trust in the anonymity of their responses. 

“As a business partner, I was a little bit at a loss. I was very grateful that Balloon popped up. It actually allows me to aggregate real human feedback as data.” 

Lauren Ventrudo, Senior People Business Partner

Rivard and Tiffany Hamilton, Senior DEI Program Manager, decided the best way to reach their goals was through a Managed Flight structured around 14 hour-long focus groups segmented by function and tenure. They brought in Lauren Ventrudo, Senior People Business Partner, to coordinate the focus groups and to act as the Balloon Team liaison. Together, the TrueCar and Balloon teams built a plan to facilitate the focus groups with five-question flights — three standard questions and two customized questions. 

The three-standard questions asked:

  • What is the most impactful action the leadership team could take to make you recommend TrueCar/team a great place to work?
  • What single change would make you optimistic about TrueCar’s future?
  • How can your perspective be better included in decision-making at TrueCar?

The custom questions were sourced from Balloon’s expert-crafted templates, including flights authored by co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, and Chief People Officer of Vice Media Group, Daisy Auger-Domínguez. These questions allowed for the TrueCar team to uncover function-specific insights and created space for an even more robust analysis.

“Getting the right question is so important and having the templates as a baseline to start with was really, really helpful”

Tiffany Hamilton, Senior DEI Program Manager

Over the course of three weeks, one-third of the company participated in focus groups on Balloon. The additional support of the Managed Flight ensured that the Balloon Team led the sessions to familiarize groups with the platform and walk them through the flight process, establishing a safe environment and responding to user questions in real-time.

“That collaboration was super easy. The lift for me was relatively very small. I was expecting to do a bunch of other things and [The Balloon Team] was like, no no we got it.”

Lauren Ventrudo, Senior People Business Partner

Cumulatively, the Managed Flight resulted in 491 balloons (responses) and 2,347 pumps (votes). By creating a safe and inclusive space for feedback and ideation, TrueCar achieved 99% participation, engaging more voices and unlocking more insights than would have been possible in a standard focus group. 

Hamilton attributed this engagement to the environment that the Balloon platform provides, reflecting that “Balloon really brought that psychological safety where people felt they could be honest. It was a different process that allowed us to dig a layer deeper into feedback and have even better points of clarification.” 

Rivard added that the strong participation was a surprise, given that employees have been skeptical of anonymous platforms in the past, sharing: “The strong participation was really kudos to the partnership between the Balloon Team and Lauren for all the legwork and investment in it upfront to make it comfortable and safe for people.”

Following completion of the flights, the TrueCar team immediately received a surfaced and prioritized list of top responses for each of the fourteen focus groups. The Balloon Team then further analyzed the data to identify major themes and recommendations across focus groups and specific to each function. The Managed Flight culminated with a presentation of the findings and delivery of a comprehensive report.:

Two major insights stood out across the Managed Flight and helped to shape TrueCar’s action plan to leadership:

  1. Team members want to see changes in leadership’s communication approach: The initial survey results revealed a desire for changes in leadership communication and approach, but stopped short of identifying how team members would like to see practices changed. The Managed Flight allowed the executive leadership team to peel back the layers on this and unlock clear, tactical ways that leadership could adjust to engage better with the rest of the company.

    One outcome was bi-weekly “Coffees with Mike,” the TrueCar CEO, to create direct access to the CEO and demonstrate that executive presence with employees is a priority. In a distributed environment where people don’t bump into each other, the TrueCar team recognized that leadership must be more deliberate in the ways they approach communication and connection.

  2. Team members want to feel more included in the decision-making process: The Managed Flight revealed that TrueCar employees want to hear how decisions were impacted directly by their feedback, to be included in solving challenges, and to understand the greater context around decisions.

    To address this feedback, the People Team implemented immediate changes, including a company-wide readout of flight results linked to the action items they’re instituting to connect the dots for employees. Moving forward, they will also carry out company-wide progress updates on OKRs and Must Wins, including wins and challenges, to keep employees informed. Additionally, the TrueCar team started to source feedback after each All-Hands meeting to see how they’re doing and hear how changes and announcements landed with employees. 

“It was much easier than any other focus group write up because we had that report with the prioritized results. I could use my time tailoring things and delving a bit further instead of writing everything everyone said down and then putting them in some kind of order.” 

Lauren Ventrudo, Senior People Business Partner

Using a Balloon Managed Flight allowed the TrueCar People Team to delve deeper into critical areas and challenge assumptions around perceived problems in the organization. The research-backed flow, anonymity and facilitation helped “eliminate some of that loudest-voice-in-the-room bias so everybody could share ideas.” 

Not only that: the insights surfaced in these focus groups empowered the People team with what Lauren called “human data that was objective and externalized in a completely anonymous voice,” which made communicating hard-to-hear feedback to executives easier and less emotional. She noted that candid, direct feedback in this format allowed it to really be seen as data without the emotional lens, and because of that, executives were able to more quickly take action.

“Balloon really brought that psychological safety where people felt they could be honest and it was a different process that allowed us to dig a layer deeper into feedback and have even better points of clarification”




About Balloon: 

Balloon is a research-backed platform that unlocks ideas and feedback from a team by eliminating groupthink from collaboration and amplifying unheard voices in the workplace. Balloon provides an environment of psychological safety and results in prioritized insights that reflect the entire group, leading to stronger decisions and uncovered opportunities. Our platform is redefining the way teams collaborate and making them more productive, innovative, informed, and inclusive.


About TrueCar: 

TrueCar is a leading automotive digital marketplace that seeks to make car buying and selling easy, transparent and efficient. From discovery to delivery, consumers can use TrueCar to explore new and used vehicles from an expansive, cross-brand selection of inventory from our vast network of Certified Dealers.