HR All Trumped Up

donald-trump-administrationRegardless of party affiliation or politics, the first 100 days of the any new presidential administration are expected to bring change. The Trump administration is no different in that regard. He has made promises to voters and has gone as far as presenting a contract with America. With the Republican party controlling both the house and the senate, the Trump Administration has a good chance of executing on some of its promises in its first 100 days’ plan.

For our audience of HR folks, what challenges will Trump’s first 100 days present?[i]

There are 4 key points in the position statement from Trump-Pence that will likely affect HR in the first hundred days of a Trump administration. [ii]  Here’s what that could look like for HCM:

  1. Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act. Precisely what Trump would hope to avoid by repealing ACA may become an unintended consequence. The national dialog regarding repealing and replacing the Affordable Healthcare Act will likely create more uncertainty about the future of employer sponsored healthcare in the workplace. Proposed changes to HSAs could radically increase the popularity of these programs. With the potential for accumulated HSA amounts available to pass between members of a family and onto the next generation, and HSA and a high deductible health plan may become the new normal.
  2. End The Offshoring Act. Companies that offshore production work, manufacturing, or even software development work should begin the planning process to reconsider if those decisions will be beneficial longer term under a Trump administration.
  3. End Illegal Immigration Act. Besides building a wall that Mexico will pay for, the Trump Administration plan to end illegal immigration will likely push E-Verify to the forefront as an employer mandate.[iii] HR departments should embrace this technology now. It works well enough, and it is always in your best interest to hire legally authorized individuals, so there’s not downside to getting started with E-Verify immediately.
  4. Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act. The Trump Administration will likely roll out new payroll tax brackets early in 2017. I would also expect that HR departments will have to enroll employees in a new class of IRS approved payroll deductions for dependent care and elder care with matching contributions from the Federal government.

Ready or not, the first 100 days will bring HCM to the forefront as we respond to both new and anticipated legislative changes and executive orders.

[i] Trump, Donald. (11 Nov. 2016). Donald Trump 1st 100 Days.

http://www.npr.org/2016/11/09/501451368/here-is-what-donald-trump-wants-to-do-in-his-first-100-days

[ii] DonaldTrump.com. (2016). Healthcare Reform to Make America Great Again. Accessed 11 Nov. 2016 from https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/healthcare-reform

[iii] Moody, Kathryn. (9 Nov. 216) What President Trump with mean for HR. HRDive.com. Accessed from http://www.hrdive.com/news/what-president-trump-will-mean-for-hr/430062/

VC investment alters the HR technology landscape

hr_investment_bargraphBillions of dollars invested in HR technology companies have created a handful of new and reborn one-size-fits-all HCM vendors who made a big splash on the HR scene throughout 2015 and 2016. Not to be outdone, niche HR specialist vendors have upped the ante with some very compelling niche products targeting recruiting, performance, learning, compliance, and social collaboration. Choice is always a good thing for HR departments. How does all this investment in HR technology companies change the way HR executives think about using technology within their operations? 

To best-of-breed or not to best-of-breed? That is now the question.

There is no question that current thinking leads HR executives toward single-vendor-fits-all approach for HCM over using multiple best-of-breed niche software providers. The best-of-breed approach may gain favor as convenient and reliable data exchange service to core HR platforms mature. I’m seeing this trend occur with SMB accounting and sales automation providers now supporting data exchange to financial institutions, POS, fulfillment services, lead sources, and even benchmarking data. I expect the HR space to follow suite making a best-of-breed solution approach more viable for HR executives to consider in the future.

A new category is born—The Social Workplace.

Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all well-positioned to Socialize the workplace. Social tools at work have the potential to reinvent tracking time, electing benefits, performance management, training, and coaching. This goes much deeper that LinkedIn or Glassdoor—think Facebook, SharePoint, and GoToMeeting combined. In fact, Facebook is already in the game with Workplace by Facebook (https://workplace.fb.com/) launched in late 2016. Gaining access to the employee’s wallet will be the holy grail for Social Workplace vendors, and HR is positioned as the epicenter to be the gatekeeper and policy maker for this new category. I’m concerned that many HR executives are too overwhelmed with day-to-day workload to properly address this opportunity. So, jumping into bed with Facebook may be convenient but not in their companies’ best interests. There are so many issues to consider: security, privacy, data ownership, productivity, etc. It’s HR’s ball to carry right now, and I’m hopeful that HR executives prioritize their time so they can lead the charge to carefully, thoughtfully, and safely deploy Social Collaboration in their workplaces.

Regulations grow exponentially; strategic outsourcing is HRs only hope to keep up.

With all good intentions government continues to burden companies with new reporting and regulation. With the expansion of E-Verify, EEOC, health and welfare laws, efforts to curb tax refund fraud and change tax brackets, the coming compliance burden continues to grow. We’ve learned from the ACA that new employment laws can be anything but a routine and predictable compliance job during their initial rollout. Already understaffed HR departments should strategically outsource these duties to specialists because when you bake in the true cost of doing the work yourself, outsourcing is truly more affordable and reduces compliance failure risks at the same time.

On premise software bites the dust.

Technology investments have favored Cloud vendors exclusively since investors like the advantages of the Cloud business model with shorter development cycle times, a single code base across the customer base, a streamlined support experience, and out-of-the-box integrations with third-party vendors. These things are all made possible by the Cloud software business model. The Cloud business model also does away with version upgrades costs and aligns customer and vendor interests around a stable and compelling product version which reduces the demand for support. That benefits both parties. Vendors are rewarded with lower costs and clients are rewarded with a better product and lower total cost of ownership. As most software vendors exclusively align their products to cloud deployment, on premise software becomes a relic of the past.

The billions of investment dollars in the HR technology space over the past five years has created new choice for HR departments. HR executives should look to outsource the increased burden of compliance to leave them bandwidth to focus on strategic technology investments such as Social Workplace tools and Human Capital Management software. Arguments will still be made for a single vendor solution, but a best-of-breed approach may gain more favor soon. Either way, HR needs to exercise caution with adequate due diligence in the vendor selection process. Don’t pick a vendor solely on technology demonstrations. A vendor that is too focused on feature-packing and super growth and not enough on customer service can be a nightmare to deal with. Nothing can make up for bad partner choices and failed implementations. The cost, aggravation, disruption, loss of time, and negative hit to your reputation as an HR leader is unrecoverable.

HCM – Transition to Strategic and Predictive, Highly Engaged and Highly Productive

HCM Implementation Hierarchy

Phase 1 – Wage and hour, payroll and tax compliance requirements

Like food and shelter are to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Phase 1 HCM needs are fundamental to successful existence for any organization. An HCM implementation ensures these needs are fully met first.

Even mid-sized companies can struggle with Phase 1 needs and can find themselves in a fight for their lives. This can be due to growth spurts, mergers or acquisitions. Growth in employee counts, geographical footprint or revenue, all subject the company to governmental regulations including the Affordable Health Care Act, multi-jurisdictional taxation, and wage and hour law requirements, which strain an over-committed and growth-oriented management team. Spreadsheets, small-business payroll outsourcing and paper approvals are overwhelmed by sheer volume, inefficient procedures and duplicate processing. Information is lost, entered into systems multiple times, or otherwise inaccessible, inaccurate and/or ignored by managers.

I’ve seen first-hand how disruptive Wage and Hour or Department of Labor audits can be without the underlying recordkeeping to properly support the company; a costly event in precious time, legal fees, and fines. I have also witnessed dishonest employees and managers falsifying timesheets and payroll records literally robbing a company of payroll funds for years. Those management teams were preoccupied with growing the business and just didn’t have the proper HR systems in place to protect their company adequately.

Make no mistake that organizations with Phase 1 needs can be exciting companies with an impressive growth story, compelling products and services, and a management team engaged in fueling the rocket with talent and capital. And often those same managers are savvy enough to recognize that to continue their impressive growth story hinges on fixing these foundational HR issues.

Phase 1 of the HCM implementation is all about reduction in the number and complexity of manual paper-based payroll transactions to ensure accuracy of management reporting and compliance with governmental regulations. This means deploying HCM features like:

  • A system to facilitate daily collection of time and labor (biometrics as needed) with manager oversight and approval directly fed to payroll.
  • Enterprise level payroll processing with the controls needed to ensure proper federal, state, and local taxation and labor allocation broken out by the needs of the company, whether that be by location, department, project, job, and/or task. That information is ultimately reportable and fed to the general ledger so the organization has a true picture of its spending in the various areas of its business.
  • HR recordkeeping practices are transitioned from small-business payroll, spreadsheets, and paper to an electronic system so this information is touched once and compliant with governmental regulations and can be managed efficiently.

Phase 2 – Improve transactional efficiency and productivity

Phase 2 is largely about workflow automation and can account for a good portion of the return on investment projected for the entire HCM project. Paper processes and duplicate work are transitioned to a vastly more efficient framework of system workflows and notifications. The organization benefits greatly by using Employee and Manager Self Service as data entry and approvals can be handled one-time and at their point of origin. Employee adoption of self-service is key to this phase and will likely require cultural reinforcement from top management.

The Phase 2 implementation delivers the benefits of HCM features like:

  • Employee Self Service allows employees to help themselves via a mobile device or web browser to view or modify information about themselves, including time-off requests, timesheets, compensation, and benefits. This feature reduces the demand for HR and managers to service enquiries from employees.
  • Manager Self Service empowers supervisors to manage information for their direct reports via a mobile device or web browser and to approve requests for time-off, payroll, benefit, or schedule changes online and in real-time.
  • System workflows and notifications streamline approval processes that are uniquely programmed to adhere to company policy, inform all relevant decision makers and collect electronic approvals.

Phase 3 – Talent Management

Phase 3 is about Talent Management features such as Recruiting, Onboarding, Benefit Enrollment, Performance Management, Salary Administration, and Career Development. Each of these capabilities addresses a specific area of the Human Resource function with a mobile and web-based capability to engage employees and supervisors in administering this work conveniently and efficiently. Careful attention must be paid to the foundational system workflow policies to ensure that the companies underlying HR policies are respected at all times.

  • Recruitment features include branded candidate mobile and web portals for job seekers, assessment and review tools for hiring managers, and system workflows to guide candidates through the process of completing job applications, screening questionnaires, interviews, and ultimately the offer process.
  • Onboarding walks a newly hired employee through the hire process, collecting relevant information and signatures for hiring paperwork.
  • eDocuments eliminate the paper documents and replace them with a mobile and web-based presentation and repository system that records signatures and document versioning.
  • Performance management provides for talent assessments, performance reviews, and succession planning with employee, supervisors, directors, and peers all engaged in the feedback loop.
  • Salary Administration distributes salary increases and bonus assignments across the entire organization respecting department, division or location budget requirements and engages the decision-makers with a multi-step approval process. Once all sign-offs are made, the system records employee and payroll changes seamlessly.
  • Automate Benefit Administration using online enrollment, carrier eligibility feeds and billing reconciliation tools. Employees enroll in benefits online and changes in those enrollments are conveniently fed to carriers electronically.

Phase 4 – Social HCM and Predictive Analytics

Phase 4 is for the most committed, sophisticated, and engaged management teams. These organizations consider human capital vital and invest accordingly striving to achieve a highly-productive workforce that is highly-engaged, and this can be an elusive goal. It’s not as simple as implementing system features. An employee engagement philosophy of teamwork, collaboration, rewards, and recognition is vital along with a management commitment to transparency to the drivers of the business. And the benefits can be tremendous with productivity gains and improved employee retention. It’s a simple fact that recognition, now distributed and administered by the system, can play a big part in employee retention and productivity. As Tom Peters co-wrote in Excellence, “…the simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” The Social HCM acts as both a conduit for teamwork and collaboration, and it speeds the feedback loop between project stakeholders and contributors to help keep projects and people on track.

Phase 4 is focused on the following initiatives:

  • Predictive Analytics provide a real-time, deep, and intuitive understanding of your organization and transparency to reveal the drivers of the business.
  • Social Collaboration features foster an engaged workforce enabling employees to easily build relationships, cross-collaborate, learn, share knowledge, and ultimately improve productivity.
  • Recognitions and rewards capabilities provide a framework for consistent, fair and public recognition to those deserving such accolades. Automation of badging and awards with points tracking removes the chore of reconciling points for redemption of gifts or other company rewards.

This phased methodology makes transitioning to a strategic, predictive, highly-productive, and highly-engaged workforce an orderly and controllable process. Of course, getting to the top of the pyramid requires real commitments to transparency and a philosophy that engages and rewards employees.

For organizations that aspire to be strategic, predictive, highly-productive, and highly-engaged, a modern HCM is just too compelling of a technology for those businesses to ignore.

References

McLeod, Saul. (2007/2014). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Peters, Thomas J., Waterman, Robert H., and Austin, Nancy. (1992). Excellence: In Search of Excellence and A Passion for Excellence. (pp. 94). Quality Paperback Book Club. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=scy5AAAAIAAJ&dq

When you dance with the gorilla, it is the gorilla who decides when you stop

A disagreement between ADP®, one of largest payroll processing companies, and Zenefits™ a self-described startup that recently raised $500 million at a $4.5 billion valuation has now been escalated to the court room. This disagreement centers on the method that Zenefits™ used to gain access to ADP®’s payroll system without specific authority granted by ADP® to do so.

ADP® says: “On June 4, we disabled Zenefits access to ADP’s RUN small business solution due to unusual and alarming demand for data from Zenefits far out of proportion to the number of clients who have allowed them access to our system.”[1]

Zenefits™ has made a very public display of itself on social media outlets accusing ADP® of acting in bad faith and succumbing to fear, uncertainty, and doubt. In this squabble with ADP®, Zenefits™ has garnered some high profile endorsements including a couple of A-list celebrities.

So, you might ask how Zenefits™ got itself in this sticky situation.

1)      Their promise of delivering disruptive technology is somewhat misleading. The definition of disruptive technology is one that displaces older technology.[2] But Zenefits™ doesn’t own a payroll platform as a part of its hub-and-spoke business model[3]; its strategy is to leave customers with their existing payroll company such as ADP®.[4] But payroll is arguably the core hub technology covered by its service designed to administer HR, payroll, and employee benefit plans. Can Zenefits truly claim to be a disruptive technology without control of the core technology underlying its service? Is piggybacking on top of third-party payroll providers without control of the core technology too risky to be viable as a long term strategy?

2)      Zenefits™ is wanting to eat ADP®’s lunch and dinner by keeping the higher margin brokerage commissions and leaving ADP® with the lower margin payroll revenue. There is way more revenue per employee and margin in selling health insurance than in payroll.It’s no secret that payroll companies are looking to brokerage services as an area for future opportunity. ADP®’s (and Paychex®’s for that matter) benefits brokerage constitutes almost all of its current growth. Consider the fact that a 4% brokerage commission for a typical employer sponsored health insurance premium of $8k and $24K a year represents $320 to $960 in annual revenue per employee while fee revenue for payroll is just $90 per employee per year. And selling insurance has only a handful of customer service administration events per year while payroll has weekly (or even daily) customer service events per year to manage.

3)      When you dance with the gorilla, it is the gorilla who decides when you stop. Zenefits™ needs ADP® to play nice since ADP®’s payroll is the core technology to its hub and spoke service model. And ADP® knows it and is prepared to play hardball. The ADP® website states: “We have never integrated with Zenefits™ in any sense and have never authorized their method of extracting data from our RUN payroll system. They gained access to our systems by convincing clients to give them administrative access to our platform. Despite having many legitimate ways to integrate with ADP properly, Zenefits™ chose an unsecure and indirect approach.”[5] ADP®’s statement is likely vetted by their legal team and therefore sound and given ADP®’s size as the entrenched incumbent that does not bode well for Zenefits™ getting their way anytime soon.

Our industry—the HR, Payroll and Benefit Administration space—is extremely competitive and technology-driven with complex compliance requirements. It takes a lot of hard work, intelligence, deep understanding of the law and customer service to make it in this business. And it takes lots of effort to convert clients from one Payroll company to another. I know why Zenefitswould want to leave the hard-part—the Payroll part to someone else, but I also know that there are no shortcuts in life. To become a disruptive technology leader in our space, I believe that you need to own all of your core technology so you control your users’ experience without the risk of someone or something pulling the rug out from under you and your customers.

So, this move by ADP® is not surprising at all. ADP® is simply a business that is protective of its customers’ assets and its future growth opportunity within its client base.

[1] ADP.com. The facts about ADP & Zenefits: Response to the claims made by Zenefits. http://www.adp.com/zenefits/downloads/The-Facts-About-ADP-and-Zenefits.pdf

[2] Zenefits has stated that it is a disruptive technology company. Zenefits | Disrupt NY 2013 Startup Battlefield. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KporpXG0XK8

[3] Inc.com. “Instead of charging for software, the idea was to do a hub-and-spoke model. http://www.inc.com/magazine/201503/liz-welch/hr-technology-with-benefits.html

[4] In an article written in the March Employee Benefit Advisor, Parker Conrad, CEO of Zenefits, openly stated Zenefits does not want to get into the payroll game. He says: “The reason is that payroll is really complex and there are really high switching costs. We’d much rather just be connected to everyone in that space and be friends with everyone in that space.”

[5] ADP.com. The facts about ADP & Zenefits: Response to the claims made by Zenefits. http://www.adp.com/zenefits/downloads/The-Facts-About-ADP-and-Zenefits.pdf

Trademarks in this blog post are the properties of their respective owners.

Before you hire that old pro

It’s really not about ageism. It is simply that a great attitude and passion to succeed trump years of experience and perfect qualifications every time.

Most recently with a sluggish economy, I’ve seen more expert candidates apply for jobs in the past year than ever before. And you’d think that would be a good thing, right? A perfect match between a job seeker’s past work history and the job requirements seems like a perfect hire. But I’ve witnessed seemingly perfect job candidates become under-performing employees. I’ve seen this enough times that a seasoned candidate is now a red flag. My best hires have almost exclusively been individuals who viewed their new job as a growth opportunity and worked very hard to be successful. And my more memorable worst hires have been those who seemed heavily qualified but yet fell short of expectations after being hired.

So why do these seemingly seasoned hires fail to thrive?

#1 reason – hiring managers are so focused on the technical match between the candidate’s past experience and the job requirements that they shortcut or deemphasize the rest of the recruitment evaluation process. It is huge rookie mistake, and I’ve made it myself. We become so enthralled by the possibilities of hiring the hit-the-ground-running, take-me-to-the-promise-land job prospect that we overlook the candidate’s shortcomings in terms of organizational cultural match, willingness to learn, and overall attitude.

#2 reason – our expectations are too high for the seasoned veteran’s performance. The seasoned veteran is short-changed on job training and knowledge transfer. The idea is that they really don’t need it, right? They already know what they are doing. Just look at their résumé. That is just wrong because different companies have different ways of doing things, and you can’t assume that a seasoned pro will be able to translate 100% of his/her skills from one company to another.

#3 reason – we undermine peer support. We position our seasoned new hires in a way that threatens peers and coworkers. They then gather no support and are left to die on the vine. Seasoned hires are often viewed as a threat to job security within a department or organization, so it is imperative that you ensure that each new hire is embraced and socialized adequately.

#4 reason – our seasoned new hire can carry some unwanted baggage and can be difficult to manage. I characterize these overconfident hires as overzealous in their contributions and opinions, unwilling to learn, and often lacking motivation or drive. I’ve seen and heard it all from this group. From “been there done that, so I’m not going to try it again”, “it’s worked my way just fine for 25 years” (whether the new hire is 25 or has 25 years of experience), or my favorite is the “I do not need to be told by some 20-something how I should be doing my job”. Organizations only thrive when teamwork, knowledge transfer, and learning are part of the work environment.
So how can I avoid this? I can’t just disqualify a seasoned pro. That wouldn’t be fair or even legal.

Here’s what I’ve decided.

Balance the technical match of skills to job requirements more evenly with assessments of your job candidates regarding organizational cultural match, ability to learn and adapt to change, leadership qualities, etc.
Carefully evaluate every candidate’s individual motivational factors. The best hire will often have something to prove. He or she is motivated to do a good job and be noticed. Access what will drive each of your candidates to perform, and this should help you more wisely choose who to hire.

Don’t always hire the smartest guy in the room, especially if that person is convinced he or she is the smartest. A better candidate is the one that demonstrates the ability and willingness to learn. These skills will serve your organization better longer term than any accumulated knowledge that a candidate may seemingly have.
The next time you are considering hiring a seasoned candidate, I recommend sticking to a balanced evaluation process that does not over-emphasize the technical needs of the job and being mindful of the need to support your seasoned new hire with the same training and internal support as your other employees.

Consumerize or Die

Expectations of how simple and easy-to-use enterprise software should be are rapidly changing. iPhone and Android devices are so easy-to-use and common that they are raising the bar on how easy-to-use enterprise software applications need to be. And this in my opinion is a good thing.

It’s high time for enterprise software vendors to simplify their applications in the same way that the iPhone and Android have been simplified for consumer use. A mad rush to one-up the competition and add features or functionality has left us with bloated corporate applications. ERP, HR, training, CRM, and payroll applications seem to be more of a patchwork of screens and reports than a flowing portal to corporate information. Software vendors who wish to thrive in the future should take note and make some major investments in changing their software and their thinking in the following areas.

Simplified User Experience

Most corporate end users have been exposed to well-designed consumer software. Is it too much to expect corporate applications to have self-evident user interfaces that are fast, convenient, and functional? Or applications that are built for lay people and not only techies? Kludgy interfaces need to give way to intuitive and easier-to-use ones where information flows from a single point of data entry to secure storage and then to all places that are authorized to consume the information. In other words, I should enter a person, place, or quantity in one and only one place, and the software should handle the complexity of storage and access behind the scenes.

Data flow and real-time access

Offline and batch integrations just won’t cut it anymore. Onboarding an employee in payroll shouldn’t require a batch to run for the employee to be hired in benefits or time and attendance. Instantaneous access to real time information is the only acceptable norm for enterprise systems. Web services have existed for many years to provide for secure information exchanges so there’s just no excuse for offline batch information transfers. Corporate data flow from the information owner to the information consumer can happen immediately. Anything less is just not hip enough to be considered current.

Mobile-First Strategy

Data access should be 24/7 and from any type of device with a minimum of hassles. Often the most convenient option for a user is access via mobile devices. Application users may opt to use the full-site option where mobile functionality doesn’t exist or if it is more convenient to use the full site. To satisfy users’ expectations, enterprise software vendors need adopt a mobile-first strategy and accommodate the convenience of mobile access by careful planning and skilled development of their applications to leverage the strengths of mobile devices. Leading vendors will focus efforts toward mobile use wherever it is practical and will provide full-site options for functionality that doesn’t lend itself to smaller screen formats.

Unfortunately for enterprise software vendors, much work has to be done. It’s just not a matter of cut-and-paste or an application of “lipstick on a pig” to make my suggestions a reality. This effort will require much user interface rework and tradeoffs will have to be made between features and simplicity. In the end, vendors that make these investments will be rewarded with less demand for support and, even more importantly, happier end users.

So, enterprise software vendors: get onboard with simplified software, real time access, and a mobile-first strategy or become obsolete because soon your customers will expect nothing less from you.

Are you ready for a storm of cloud-based software?

Knowing the right questions to ask when buying anything is essential. Sourcing cloud-based software is no exception. Cloud software can be tricky to evaluate because it’s bundled as a service to eliminate complexity. As a result, vendors are conditioned to provide little or no transparency to buyers. We are all too familiar with what happens when we make assumptions, right?

When you evaluate cloud software, break down each part of the service bundle and consider it individually. Here are tips to help you avoid a storm-cloud-based software solution.

Be sure to understand how the infrastructure is managed.

Cloud-based software is most often a shared infrastructure similar to the way we share public highways and bridges. This is called a multi-tenant configuration. The challenge is that heavy traffic and congestion at certain times can be a fact of life. Just as public transportation is not always suitable or convenient for transporting wide and heavy loads or private secure cargo, cloud-based solutions may not be suitable or convenient for supporting every unique business requirement. Larger and more sophisticated organizations can still make use of cloud solutions because the most sophisticated cloud vendors optionally support dedicated virtual machines for database, application, or even web servers. These configurations can eliminate many of the typical limitations of a shared infrastructure. If you need this today or in the future, choose a vendor that has the flexibility to customize the infrastructure to meet your needs.

On the infrastructure side of the cloud service, you should consider the following points before buying:

  • Will the vendor support a private connection with guaranteed bandwidth to eliminate traffic and congestion from other clientele?
  • What additional layers of security protection are optionally available?
  • How is the service updated for new functionality and compliance?
  • What are the intervals for applying maintenance releases and updates?
  • What are the service-level guarantees for uptime that are provided by the vendor?
  • What are the security policies for protecting your information from malware or other threats?
  • What level of reliability and redundancy is built into the service infrastructure?
  • Can the service be optionally configured to support dedicated hardware, virtual instances, or even in hybrid environment for companies with unique business needs?

Gauge how the system is going to perform in real life situations.

This one could really zap you if you’re not careful. Thoroughly evaluate performance, or you could be dead in the water and loosing revenue. Think in terms of your peak usage times or peak season and then make sure your cloud vendor understands your needs and can keep up with the influx of system activity that your company and others may need the cloud infrastructure to support. Get performance guarantees in writing.

Evaluate the functionality to be sure that it will serve your business needs.

Most of us instinctively think in terms of the web front-end functionality for this new cloud software we’re getting. But it’s not enough to just evaluate this piece alone with cloud solutions. Cloud vendors bundle the front-end that you see with the back-end functionality that you can’t see or touch. You need to know what is going on behind the scenes so you can ferret out what might be missing. Ask questions like:

  • What devices, OS’s, and browsers does the vendor support?
  • What level of customization can be supported to adjust the product to more closely match your requirements?
  • Can you manage the customization or is this only handled by the vendor? How are customizations supported?
  • How are integrations with third-parties handled?
  • What about single sign-on or items like active directory integration?
  • How do you access your data or even download your data for safekeeping?
  • What functionality is not real-time and subject to scheduling?
  • How are alerts managed?
  • What are your options for reporting and analytics?

Understand the true cost of using the cloud service.

Take the time to truly understand the pricing model and your true costs. Don’t solely rely on the sales proposal and estimate provided by the vendor. Find out:

  • How is the pricing incrementally adjusted for growth or shrinkage in the use of the service? Is it adjusted based on transactions or number of covered users or not at all?
  • How is data storage and bandwidth consumption managed? Are limits imposed or do charges kick in at certain thresholds?
  • What pricing guarantees can be provided to ensure that your price continues to be fair down the road?
  • Does the vendor offer a scaled down use of the service after cancellation? What are the charges for this usage?

Check out the bricks and mortar behind the cloud service.

What services are available conveniently and affordably from the vendor? Don’t assume. For example, PeopleGuru’s payroll cloud service bundles services for ACH origination, garnishment processing, check printing, new hire reporting, and federal-state-local tax filing with a dedicated account management team but many of our competitors don’t. Clients that are used to these traditional payroll outsourcing conveniences that switch to a cloud service without a bricks and mortar support operation have the unique challenges of staffing up to support these functions in-house. So, be sure to understand what services your cloud vendor is offering:

  • How is the vendor’s support operation structured?
  • What level of support is provided during your implementation process?
  • Does the vendor have a structured process for guiding your through the implementation?
  • What tools does the vendor provide to facilitate data conversion into their product?
  • How is training delivered?
  • Are self-help tools available?
  • Is technical support immediately available when you need it, or do you have to wait 48 or even 72 hours for a response to an email?
  • Will you have a dedicated account management team and an escalation point of contact, or will you have to wait in a call queue to get the next available representative at a call center?
  • Did you check two or three client references?

By considering the infrastructure management, real life performance, functionality, true cost, and bricks and mortar, you’ll avoid storm-clouds and will be able to identify the best cloud-based solution for your organization’s unique needs.

Super size me Service, please!

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, “Super” is defined as being “of high grade” or the quality of “exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree.” Merriam Webster’s online dictionary also defines “Serve” as “to be a servant.” So, really “Super Service” can be said more powerfully as: extreme servants delivering excessive service.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could super-size service like you can super-size your lunch and transform your company culture to one of extreme servants delivering excessive service? This is certainly a dream come true for many growing companies. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy to get to Super Service standards. It is possible however, over time to position your company to Super Service by adopting the following, mostly simple (one not so much), recommendations.

Know the needs and service history of all of your customers.

Starting with the sale, continuing through setup, onboarding, and then ongoing with continuing service, it is essential to document your customers’ service needs and open issues to be able to super serve your customers on a consistent basis. At Mangrove, we use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to store relevant customer information such as sales orders, setup documents, etc., and then document customer encounters to create a customer profile with the institutional knowledge that is essential to serving our clientele with Super Service. When we engage a client, our service person can quickly review the CRM and determine the background information for important customer handling clues, such as: Has the recently called for a similar issue? Is someone else already working this issue? What out-of-the box service commitments do we have with this customer? This CRM allows us to perform as a united team and to collaborate toward developing and sharing a full understanding of our customers’ service needs and service history.

Communicate service expectations clearly and concisely.

In many cases service failures occur when the customer expects one thing, but your firm is doing something different. To be a Super Service organization, you’ll need to consistently manage your customers’ service expectations by documenting your service commitments and then sharing those documented commitments with teammates so you’ll effectively collaborate toward exceeding service expectations as a united team. With every customer exchange, a Super Service organization takes their obligation to communicate an understanding of what the immediate key service objectives are, develop and then communicate a plan to meet those objectives, and then arrive at an agreement of how success will be measured for achieving the previously defined objectives. This protocol of establishing an up-front agreement takes the guesswork out of service and ensures success, as long as you follow through with timely performance of your agreed-to service plan.

Measure your performance and how customers perceive your performance often.

Internal and external measures of your company’s performance are essential to maintaining Super Service levels and to making appropriate changes to improve service levels that aren’t making Super Service grades. At my company, Mangrove Software, we use a variety of tools to measure our performance including monthly department-level score cards, which objectively report our performance against our defined internal service levels and external customer surveys that help us gauge how our customers feel we are doing.

It’s not enough to just fix problems. Do something for the customer’s trouble.

The timely fixing of a customer’s complaint is essential to good service, but it’s just not enough to qualify for Super Service. To be a Super Servant, you must mend the relationship and rebuild trust that has been damaged by the service failure. Often the customer accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for services failures, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.

Follow up.

A few days after the dust settles, follow up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of being valuable to your firm. The intention is to convey these few things in this email and phone call:

  • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided, if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
  • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
  • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.

Learn from your failures.

View every service failure as an opportunity to learn how to provide your clientele better service. Many customer service issues are symptoms of issues elsewhere in the organization and can and should be avoided with some planning and better, more concise communication. Empower your frontline service people to document service failures and then hold your leadership team accountable to identify the root cause of the service failures and create the needed policy, product, documentation, and/or service changes required mitigate these issues and keep them from happening again.

Put your money where your mouth is.

This is by far the most difficult recommendation to implement, but it is the one that can have the greatest immediate impact toward culturing Super Service. Give your customers control over a portion of your fees that will be earned by you based on your service performance, and then directly align your service team’s compensation with customers’ payment of these at-risk fees. This concept of having some percentage of your fees at risk where your firm earns its keep based meeting periodic measures of service-levels and/or quality expectations forces your service team into some important Super Service behaviors. For this program to work, your service team must define service expectations with the customer upfront and then manage to them with periodic and meaningful performance reviews with the client. This alignment between your customers’ expectations, service needs, and service, along with customer-controlled incentives to serve, is a very powerful tool toward being Super Service organization.

Taming the monsters inside us

An awful lot is written about security from an Information Technology perspective, so we are pre-programmed to think that security means firewalls, encryption protocols, password policies, tokens and the like. Unfortunately, organizations are most at risk of theft and fraud from those that have intimate knowledge of their inner workings. We often don’t hear about these events because they are perceived to be embarrassment to the victimized entity.

Over my career, I’ve seen a number of situations where organizations have unwittingly put themselves at great risk for internal or even customer fraud. I’ve also been privy to some clever (but misguided) attempts that have failed miserably.

And I’d like to share a few of these past situations that have left an indelible impression on me.

I’ll start with the Canadian felon who duplicated a legitimate client refund check and then proceeded to issue hundreds of duplicate checks off this account. Then there was the controller that embezzled cash by processing refunds to inactive client accounts and redirected the refund deposits to his mother in-law’s bank account. Another incident involved an accounts receivable clerk that literally cashed hundreds of customer checks into a duplicate company account that she fraudulently opened in her name only. I was once exposed to a situation where a payroll manager cleverly voided federal tax deposits and then transferred those exact funding amounts to her own bank account. I should also mention the former Human Resources manager that used his still-valid payroll login credentials to change employee net pay bank account numbers to fund anonymous electronic payroll debit cards. Not so long ago, an IT worker retaliated against his soon-to-be former employer by posting all employee salaries on multiple bulletin boards at work. And finally, the data processing technician who gleaned bank account numbers from a payroll export file and then made payments to credit cards online using those stolen account numbers.

The common denominator in all of these situations is an insider. Well thought-out internal security protocols and procedures are our best defense against this type of fraud.
Here are my recommendations to be protected against being defrauded by the monster inside us.

Be ever vigilant with your cash and cash accounts. Reconcile bank accounts frequently and separate the reconciliation responsibility from those who processes payments or create client accounts. Use online banking access to match checks, electronic payments, and deposits to your accounting system daily. Require two signatures and/or electronic authorization for all checks or transfers greater than a threshold amount. Place blocks on your accounts so only authorized third-parties can debit funds from you. Use positive pay banking features, and flag unknown transactions and investigate them immediately. Good internal controls and procedures are the best deterrent to internal fraud. These basic steps will not only reduce your exposure to fraud but they’ll help you identify it really quickly when it happens so you can mitigate your damages substantially.

Separate Duties. I’ll say it again for effect. Separation of duties is essential. For example, never-ever-ever have the person who receives the money and credits the client accounts also produce your client billing. Client setup and termination should never be handled by the person that collects and posts your money. The person who reconciles the bank accounts should be different that the one that makes journal entries into the accounting system. You get the idea here: Separate duties so one accounting function provides a built-in audit to the other accounting function.
Expire access to systems and facilities prior to terminating employees. Termination can trigger retaliation and drama. Don’t put your company at risk for embarrassing post-termination drama. Get your ducks in a row prior to letting all employees go by terminating their access to all systems, collecting all their company assets, and ensuring that their access to facilities is limited.

Treat your payroll vendor like it is giving away your money. Just because you’ve outsourced your payroll doesn’t mean that you are safe from fraud. Make sure you separate the duty of changing account numbers from the person that reviews account number changes. It is a good practice to audit direct deposit account changes prior to processing each payroll. Also verify all third-party deposits. Review all manually entered checks, adjustment checks, and voided payments. Ensure that appropriate security is setup so sensitive information like salaries, social security numbers, and account numbers are available on a need-to-know basis. Limit those who can create output data or exported reports with sensitive data. Interface and export files should be encrypted at the source before they are downloaded or transmitted. A good payroll vendor will provide features such as warnings and detail reports to make these audits and verification steps fast and painless. If your payroll company doesn’t support these important features, then get a new payroll company.

The above recommendations are not intended to be exhaustive. The examples should make you think and assess your fraud risks and create a plan to mitigate them. Disciplined audit and security protocols are a great deterrent to fraud, and that deterrent may just be enough to tame those monsters inside your organization.

Hiring – Separating the posers from the performers

The Urban Dictionary defines a poser as a person who habitually pretends to be something he or she is not. The Free Dictionary defines a performer as one that is able to carry through to completion.

Chances are that if you have hired enough people you have made your fair share of hiring mistakes. I’ve had my own personal frustration with a candidate (or two) where after in-depth interviews and reference checks the candidate still didn’t pan out as expected. The candidate turned out to be a poser. And the current job market has both overqualified and under-qualified candidates stretching the truth and posing to compete for the few available job opportunities.

There’s no question that bad hiring is an expensive mistake. The U.S. Department of Labor pegs the cost of a bad hire as up to one-half of annual salary. And that doesn’t count the potential impact to customers, coworkers, missed deadlines, and morale.

So what is a hiring manager to do? How can we identify the posers from the performers? To start with, you can use the following hints to separate the poser from the performer during your initial screening of candidates.

Posers versus Performers

Posers Performers
Answer with rhetoric and hyperbole in an attempt to redirect the emphasis from their lack of experience or knowledge regarding the subject at hand. Cite real world examples of similar job experience and knowledge regarding the subject at hand.
Are heavily coached on interviewing skills and immediately ready with slick, rehearsed answers to expected questions. Make deliberate and thoughtful responses that exhibit passionate answers with in-depth analysis and problem-solving skills.
May have resumes that are heavily decorated with associations, certifications, and memberships. Tend to be more selective with their time and resources and only hold certifications and memberships that directly relate to job performance.
Self-label to guru status, go-to person, or top-performer without providing the insight into how they reached their current level of success. Tend to be more modest but exhibit a strong interest in their field of expertise and the trials and tribulations of becoming successful.

Interviewing should only be considered one tool in the hiring process. A rigorous evaluation with a well-defined process and assessment criteria is your best defense to identify the poser from the performer. At minimum, I recommend the following:

  • Encourage candidates to qualify themselves with job listings that advertise rigorous selection and testing requirements.
  • Document the job requirements in terms of skills, experience, interests, special qualities, and educational job requirements. Evaluate each candidate in terms of his or her match to these requirements, and use the same process and assessment criteria for each candidate.
  • Don’t rely entirely on interviews. Candidates generally want a job offer so they’re apt to tell you what they think you want to hear.
  • Assess cultural fit not personality or likeability; diversity is always a positive influence in the workplace.
  • Narrow down to a small pool of candidates and then enlist the help of an external testing service to validate your assessments and final choices before extending offers.
  • Finally, make all employment offers contingent on reference checks and completion of a 90-day probationary period.

I believe that a disciplined hiring approach that favors performers over posers will greatly increase your chances of selecting candidates that become happy and successful long-term employees.