HR Month in Brief - November 2020

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer December 2, 2020
In the first of two Month in Brief articles, the spotlight falls on the HR industry.

(via Ceridian)

November was an interesting month in HR. There were lots of briefings from both long-time covered software companies as well as all-new firms. Merger & acquisition activity was the backstory behind some of the news. And, the pandemic clearly influenced some of the new offerings hitting the market.

HR suite evolution

I’ve written how consolidation in the HR space is continuing with the emergence of more and more suites. The following sections below are indicative of that trend.

Symphony Talent - I had a great call with Symphony Talent a couple of weeks ago. The company has combined the candidate relationship management functionality of Smashfly with Symphony’s on-demand interviewing, pre-application assessment and other jobseeker qualification functionality into a new unified solution: Smashfly X.  The software has a new UX and it looked pretty sweet.

Symphony’s timing is great given the brand damage many firms have done to their recruiting and employment brands in 2020. Symphony’s solutions can replace tired, moribund and outdated recruiting applications and create a far more relevant experience that is appreciated by jobseekers.

Mammoth/ThinkHR - Mammoth’s Diane Haines and I connected this month. Mammoth and ThinkHR hooked up about a year ago and the merger seems to be progressing well.  The company offers a great resource for small-mid-sized businesses. It provides a living handbook for firms where regulations, compliance requirements, safety protocols, etc. are constantly updated and current.  This is JIT HR content. This could be a godsend for many firms and never has this been more important than now as the pandemic is triggering changes at a pace and scope that has been unprecedented.

Information is not just textual. The solution also provides access to experts. This information could be like catnip to accountants, insurance brokers, law firms and others that serve the SMB space. In fact, the solution is already embedded in some premium editions of Intuit’s QuickBooks.

Engagedly - I had a short call with the Skrikant Chellappa, CEO at Engagedly. As the name hints at, they have technology that helps firms engage with their workforce, enable the team to succeed and execute in alignment with corporate goals/strategies.  The product line includes capabilities for performance feedback, 360-degree feedback, learning management, rewards and more. Mentoring functionality comes via a May 2019 acquisition where Engagedly bought Boston-based Management Mentors.   

Their target market includes a number of mid-market and larger firms.

Engagedly’s integrations are quite noteworthy. It works with most major HRMS, Payroll and other solutions.

One final point, Engagedly supports OKRs (objectives and key results) – a management discipline that’s been gaining a number of fans in recent years, especially in high tech. I’ve heard several other HR vendors indicate their support for OKRs, too.  Here’s a solid overview of OKRs.

Betterworks - Betterworks was an interesting briefing. Here’s the premise:

The current pandemic makes ‘execution’ hard to do. People aren’t getting the day-to-day contact with management/leadership within their firm. Their work and its connection to a company’s (constantly shifting) strategy is hard to align and harder still to keep aligned.

Strategy execution and talent acquisition is sometimes elusive for many firms. In my own career, I found my organizations working on initiatives that were aligned with the company’s goals but noticed that we were sometimes at cross-purposes with other groups within the firm. This isn’t always easy stuff to sort out.

Betterworks’ key end product is to have people focused on the right things, being engaged (because they’re doing value-added work), and, understand the role/connection they have to the business’ strategy.

HR & Operations leaders appear to be the key buyers for Betterworks. It appeals to large enterprises and those firms in the upper mid-market (e.g., those with 500-5000 employees).

The software integrates with Workday, systems of work (eg: JIRA, Salesforce), and many other products.

Ceridian - Ceridian had its (virtual) user conference, Insights, a few days ago. It was actually a solid virtual event with tight, focused messaging. I appreciate that.

Ceridian introduced a number of new executives as part of their team. Former Workday executive Joe Korngiebel has joined Ceridian and is now Chief Product & Technology Officer. Other new executives include a new CFO and new CHRO.

Dayforce Wallet was the star of the show. Wallet is their daily pay solution that permits workers to receive their compensation most anytime they want. The demand for such a solution grew during the pandemic as many households had a wage earner who face reduced work hours or lost their job. A daily pay product spares these households from taking short-term (and expensive) payday loans. To that point, Ceridian CEO David Ossip stated that there are “more payday lender storefronts in the US than McDonalds”. Wallet is for the US market only for now. Canada will get it next.

The key message behind Dayforce Wallet was to destroy the old concept of a fixed payday and insist that pay, like work, be a real-time matter.  The longer-term implication behind such a technology was to help firms create an elastic workforce.

Ceridian posted good numbers across most every metric: new customers added, revenue growth, deal size growth, etc. Readers should note how remarkable this is for a product (Dayforce) that didn’t exist a few years ago.

Ceridian has launched a big vertical focus now with emphasis on these sectors: Retail / Hospitality, Manufacturing, Healthcare, Financial Services and Public Sector.

Also getting attention was Ceridian’s recent (May 2020) acquisition of Excelity. This acquisition helps Ceridian in its global expansion as Excelity provides payroll capabilities in 16 new countries. According to a Ceridian press release:

Founded in 1997, Excelity works with more than 300 customers across the APAC region. It operates its proprietary native payroll platform in India, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand delivered through the Managed Services, Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) models. A leading HR outsourcing services partner in the region, Excelity delivers over 1.2 million payslips per month. Customers include Forbes, Volvo, Emerson, Oracle, QBE, Palo Alto Networks, Mammoet, Lufthansa, Uber, and Mondelez.


Papaya Global - Speaking of global payroll, Papaya Global announced a major funding event:

Today, we proudly announce the close of a $40 million funding round led by Scale Venture Partners, with participation from Workday Ventures, Access Industries (via its Israeli vehicle Claltech), and all of our existing investors: Insight Venture Partners, Bessemer Ventures Partners, New Era Ventures, Group 11, and Dynamic Loop.

The new funding round comes 10 months after Papaya completed a Series A round, bringing investment in the company to a total of $95M USD.

Alongside integration with Workday, a leading enterprise HRIS solution, the new funding will be used to support the company’s rapid growth, to invest in scaling market growth, and to launch new products to further support global companies.

I’ve written about Papaya before. Their global capabilities have always impressed me (see this 2016 piece). The Workday Ventures investment might signal a closer working relationship between the two firms. And, for those large multi-national Workday customers, this could be a good pairing in many countries.

Global payroll is a much-desired capability and one that many payroll and HR vendors struggle with. And, if purveyors struggle, my clients really want a true, single global payroll capability, too!

HR in the Press

In Fortune’s Losing Connection, Geoff Colvin discusses the benefits of workers being in close proximity. It’s a solid read and it describes many benefits that companies derive when employees are able to collaborate and ideate in person.

But, I must admit, when I read this introductory statement, I was taken aback:

While many CEOs seem in no hurry to refill their office buildings, and several have told employees they need never return to the office, Solomon made it clear that he wants his colleagues back in the office as soon as is safely possible. He himself has never stopped going to the office through the pandemic.

I’m aware of several executives who have unilaterally decided that since they kept coming to the office, then all other workers should, too. There are several problems with this ‘logic’. First, it ignores what medical professionals advise. Second, people in a crisis that they cannot control, often look for some way to be ‘heroic’. It’s their way of doing something in their old comfort zone even if it’s ill-advised to do so. This ‘courageous’ deed is really about control although in the doing of it, it could be fatal. Third, making accountants to come back to the office just to close the monthly books is vain glorious. And, I’m sorry to point this out but no one should have to put their life at risk to close the books.  No one will ever say “Remember the Close” like they recall “Remember the Alamo”.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s “Silicon Valley Failed to Think Differently” was a great read on the ethnic discrimination in Silicon Valley. As the article points out, this isn’t a pipeline problem, it’s systemic discrimination. Here’s a taste:

To truly make good on all these years of promises, tech companies must start by puncturing two pervasive Silicon Valley myths: that they’re meritocracies where everyone gets a fair shot, and that diversity is a pipeline problem. The reality is that Black employees are leaving faster than they’re being hired because, for people of color, many tech companies can be painful places to work. Getting through the door is one thing; staying and progressing up the ranks to a position of influence is another.

I often grimace when I attend a Silicon Valley event and the CEO is bragging about their social responsibility pet cause. Those words sound so hollow to me as they’re bragging about their employees doing good but the company itself is still notoriously bad about age discrimination, a lack of women in top executive roles and racial diversity challenges. I’ve said it before, it’s time for change.

Fortune’s “Reimagining the Office for the Pandemic Era” is great if only for the 2-page graphic highlighting the myriad of changes an office should make to have it ready for on-site workers again.  I seriously doubt most employers have done (or thought of) many of these items.

Strategy + Business’ “Sustaining Productivity Virtually” is worth a read especially in this pandemic era. The piece starts out dissecting recent research on the changes re: productivity in 2020. It then segues into action items that executives should complete. Here’s a bit on one of them:

Define the right set of KPIs. Effective performance management of remote workers calls for holistic indicators; key performance indicators (KPIs) aren’t simply a matter of sales calls made or reports filed. Business KPIs that track both productivity (in terms of output) and effectiveness drive focus and accountability within the team, but well-being and collaboration KPIs should be added too. They can help predict productivity, or provide early warnings when people are feeling strained.

The key learning from this article should be this: Just because your firm didn’t suffer productivity hits when you switched to remote work doesn’t mean pain won’t come later. It could. It is better to get in front of this issue now while there’s time.

My take

M&A, HR suite evolution and pandemic responsiveness are clearly three things trending big-time in HR software these days. Customers should be okay with these as suites often possess tight integration and a slight implementation cost advantage over best of breed solutions. Regardless, the real headline is that innovation continues in this space and that is a good thing. Let’s hope this continues into 2021….