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TecHRseries Interview with Troy Thibodeau, Chief Marketing Officer, Ascentis

The concept of what a good work culture should entail is changing in this new normal; the idea of what the typical workplace will function like in the new normal or in the near-future is still evolving as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt business-as-usual norms globally. With new HR technologies contributing solutions to help solve the top most concern on employer’s and employee’s minds today – employee health and safety, the typical HR Tech stack adoption pattern in B2B is going to look very different from what it is today. Troy Thibodeau, Chief Marketing Officer, Ascentis shares a few points in this interview.

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Tell us a little about yourself Troy…we’d love to hear about some of your biggest career highlights (and learnings) so far!

 

I’ve been working in software as a service (SaaS) for more than 20 years, since it first became a thing in the late ‘90s. I’ve worked in three major industry categories over that time. I started in corporate travel and expense reporting, working on product strategy and creating value for user and administrators. From there I moved to the tax-reporting industry, helping corporations report non-employee income. And now of course I’m in the human resources software industry at Ascentis.

My biggest learning from my career in SaaS is that service really is just as critical as the software. Some software companies can get by with handing over their product and leaving the customer to deal with it, good or bad. In SaaS, we’re essentially earning our sale anew every day, and the service we provide has to be strong enough to re-earn a client’s business each day.

As I look back over my career, I’ve learned that it really is true what they say – people are the most valuable ingredient to success. Across all of the industries I’ve worked in, creating a great culture and employee experience is critical to every aspect of the business. It’s exciting to now work in a field where we get to actively impact that idea every day.

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We’d love to hear a little about how Ascentis’ technology is helping its users and more so what innovations are planned for the near-term?

Right now, the only certainty in the human resources arena is uncertainty, but we’re working hard to provide services and solutions that will help our clients navigate the pandemic by keeping their employees both safe and productive.

Our biggest innovation and best example on that front so far is CarePoint, our touch-free time clock. This is a first-to-market technology that helps employers track time and attendance more safely, without requiring employees to touch one of the most shared pieces of equipment in a facility – the time clock. Since time clocks are normally placed at the entry points of most organizations, it also helps prevent people who could compromise all the new safety policies and procedures from entering the workplace.

Our time clock runs touch-free temperature scans, provides voice-activated clock-ins, and has configurable prompts to ask symptom related questions. We had components of this product, like voice command, in development before the pandemic. We weren’t planning on it being quite as relevant as it is to our current situation, but we’re glad we can be part of the solution.

It isn’t a new thing for us, but something that we expect is going to play a larger role in the immediate future is a-la-carte solutions. Our strategy is, “Start anywhere and add as you need.” Some vendors pitch that you need to be using everything in their stack, but we believe you can get real value from any of our individual solutions, or by using multiple pieces of our stack together.

We recognize that buyers need to have flexibility and choice in this environment. Most HR professionals have limitations they need to account for based on the other HR technology they use and the ability to get additional budget to make improvements. Maybe their biggest immediate need is a new HRIS system, but they can’t risk changing their payroll system.

Given the endless features and innovations in HR Tech today, when it comes to the way companies shortlist and adopt their HR tech stack, there is now definitely a sea of choice; what top tips would you share with teams when it comes to deciding how to optimize their stack?

Flexibility is hugely important. As industries adapt to the pandemic and try to plan for what comes next, it’s the people who are built to be flexible who will do best in the intermediate term. Companies and vendors who have built the most agility into their product are the ones that are going to succeed. You need to be able to shift and adjust your policies and strategies. The companies that can innovate and adapt and make changes to their products are going to be the ones that excel in uncertain times.

Take our experience with CarePoint – we had just started development before the pandemic hit and we needed to adapt in a hurry. We went from nothing to having a product installed in 90 days because we built flexibility into our technology. I can’t say I know what’s next, but the point is to proactively do what you can to be prepared for the unknown during this time.

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What are the biggest employee risks (like lack of a personal touch in HR) for companies to watch out for and retention policies that companies should now be focusing more as workplace trends evolve and as tools and technology replace typical HR functions.

Generally during a recession we see some predictable shifts in the employer-employee relationship – for example job security becomes more important than job advancement, people look for more long-term opportunities, and employers can focus more on retaining their best talent and less on attracting new talent. Of course, we haven’t seen a recession quite like this in our lifetimes, where the downturn is driven by the external force of the pandemic rather than internal financial forces.

There has been a big focus on contingent workers in recent years. A lot of HR tech companies think about their systems in terms of effectiveness for full-time employees. And not always thinking about it in terms of contingent workers, although this is important for any company that’s employing contingent labor to have a system that can accommodate them. At the same time, we’re seeing some regulatory shifts away from the gig economy and contingent work as states look to collect more employment taxes. So it’s unclear right now what role contingent workers will play in the workforce in the immediate future, which brings us back to the importance of flexibility.

What are the top 5 things you would tell B2B / Tech companies as they prepare for the next normal?

Data and analytics are as important now as they’ve ever been. Being able to understand how your business is performing, and to pinpoint the areas where its excelling and lagging, is crucial to making vital improvements. Companies with weak or flawed analytics systems end up following trends without an understanding of their particular business needs.

Going back to flexibility, that also applies to compliance and regulatory issues. In an incredibly dynamic regulatory environment, as state and federal regulators try to address this pandemic, you have to have systems that can take an agile approach to shifting compliance concerns.

Developing plans for quick rehiring is also important – as companies may have furloughed a bunch of employees and now it is time to bring them back as quickly and efficiently as possible. While there are some industries where this has been a need before, it’s not a recurring technology need for most HR departments.

There will continue to be a shift more toward remote work, as some businesses won’t be bringing full workforces back into a physical office even after the pandemic has passed. That’s going to matter a lot in terms of how HR can help manage remote work.

At the same time, we work with many industries where a lot of the work just can’t be done remotely – manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and construction. In those cases, your technology and your vendor strategies need to address two things:

One is a very stratified, diverse workforce, with a number of folks who are working at physical places while also being able to manage people working remotely. And two, making sure that your technologies are adequately addressing workplace safety while minimizing disruption.

Wherever they’re working, “Am I going to be safe at work?” has become a primary concern for workers. That’s where solutions like CarePoint come in. In addition, it is become increasingly important that organizations have technology that improves the ability to notify your employees about changes in workplace safety – posting messages on your home screen that go to all employees or mobile push messages that go out to all workers that can announce adjustments in workplace safety practices and training for new office policies.

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Given the changing workplace trends that Covid-19 has forced everyone to adapt to, how do you see this impacting the overall benefits structure in larger firms and what should companies be thinking of focusing on when it comes to employee safety and health, down the road?

We sought some guidance from our vast network of partners to address this one. Dean Eggerding from the St. Louis USI office has this to say about the state of benefits: “I certainly think you will see more flexibility from employers as they map out working from home versus working in an office setting. Finding the right balance between working at home or at the office will need to be analyzed for the physical and mental health of employees, while not sacrificing productivity will be important in the future. Benefits will also take on a more technology-based feel and plans will be built around accessibility for care in a safe and effective manner.”

Even before the pandemic, studies showed that American workers valued strong benefits above higher salaries or more impressive titles, and that feeling is only likely to increase now. The bottom line is that health and safety will be front-of-mind for every employer and every employee for the foreseeable future, and benefits structures will need to reflect that.

How would you advise companies to enhance their overall employee experience using a balance of traditional HR practices and new technologies?

First off, the very concept of employee experience has changed in our new reality. It’s very unlikely that we’ll see a quick return to the employment levels we had before the pandemic. In a world that’s gone from 4% unemployment to 10% unemployment, priorities have shifted. We can’t try to apply last year’s rules to this year’s reality.

Employee experience goals are going to change for many companies. Effective management is the new focus, developing strategies to first survive and then start growing again. This is another area where having easy access to the right data is so important. Does your data tell you how your business and teams are really performing, how you’re handling things like scheduling and staffing, or how you’re retaining your most skilled and productive employees?

None of that means employee experience is no longer important, just that it needs to be viewed through a lens of managing that experience as efficiently and effectively as possible.

A few general thoughts / tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic?

Nobody knows exactly what they’re doing right now, or exactly what’s going to happen next. The businesses that will perform best in the face of all this uncertainty are the ones that have built in as much technological and organizational agility as possible. There are times when an organization can get away with keeping narrow focus or a rigid business plan, but these are not those times.

 

Ascentis offers easy-to-use human capital management, HRIS, online payroll, talent management, recruiting and timekeeping solutions that support greater business efficiency and accuracy.

Troy has a background in driving market and business change to create high growth businesses-to-business enterprises. After several years in finance at PricewaterhouseCoopers and General Mills, he spent the last 17 years focused on leading global marketing efforts at Software-as-a-Service based businesses. Prior to Ascentis, Troy held a variety of leadership roles at Sovos, and helped the business grow from 30 to over 800 employees over his eight-year tenure. Earlier in his career, Troy held marketing leadership roles at Concur, Gelco and Honeywell.  

Troy served as vice chairman at the Electronic Tax Administration Advisory Committee (ETAAC), an advisory group chartered to provide recommendations to Congress on driving digital initiatives at the IRS. He is a mentor to technology startups with the Minnesota Emerging Software Advisory (MESA).