Aron Ain is the CEO of Kronos Incorporated, a leading global provider of workforce management and human capital management cloud solutions. Kronos was founded in 1977 as the first company to digitise the mechanical time clock, and today they have grown into a $1.4 billion global organisation by developing a variety of workforce applications that help organisations of all sizes and across all vertical industries drive better business outcomes through controlling labour costs, increasing productivity, minimising compliance risk, and attracting and retaining talent, from pre-hire to retire.
Aron begins: “I’ve worked at Kronos for my entire career across nearly every imaginable function, becoming CEO in 2005. Since then, we’ve remained deeply focused on creating an engaged workforce, as our revenue tripled while at the same time being honoured with ‘best place to work’ awards in every region where we have a significant employee presence. In October 2018, I wrote about our journey in the book, “WorkInspired: How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work” to provide business leaders, HR professionals, and people managers insights into how we made employee engagement a growth strategy at Kronos.”
Below, Aron gives insight into effective workforce management and the future of Kronos Inc.
What is the secret behind maintaining a business with a high employee retention rate? What makes Kronos Incorporated a great place to work?
First, we are very focused on it. Great people create better products and deliver better services for our customers — and when great people are inspired and empowered, the results are magical. We invest in being an inspiring place to work as we do for any other strategic initiatives like product development, being a world-class cloud provider, our customer experience, and global growth.
Second, I believe that people make decisions to join an organisation based on what they learn about the place where they plan to work, but then leave if their relationship with their manager does not match the organisation and its benefits. People managers have the single-biggest impact on employee engagement, retention, and overall company performance – so we focus on ensuring every Kronite has a great manager. In 2016, we rolled out an initiative program called the Manager Effectiveness Index (MEI) as a way to hold managers accountable for being courageous leaders. As part of our bi-annual global employee engagement survey, employees rate their direct manager on 19 questions that measure four key behaviours that we’ve found make a great Kronos manager: support, develop, communicate, and empower.
Each manager receives a personal MEI scorecard and are expected to discuss the results openly with their team and then work to develop a personal development and improvement plan as needed. Managers with high MEI scores have higher team engagement and retention results compared to managers with lower scores. And MEI has had an incredible impact on overall engagement: In the first year of MEI, our global engagement scores jumped to an all-time high of 87%.
Third, we also hold employees accountable for modelling “WorkInspired” core competencies of Character, Collaboration, and Competence. In annual performance reviews, 60% of a Kronite’s performance rating is based on what they did (i.e. the goals they set with their manager), while 40% is based on how they did it. How they worked with others, how they innovated, how they communicated and collaborated, and, above all, how they modelled those core competencies.
What advice would you offer to those wishing to improve their workforce management strategy, given your experience?
Running an organisation has become increasingly complex. The workforce is more diverse than ever, compliance requirements continue to be a moving target, and both customer and employee experience expectations grow each day. Organisations must invest in workplace technology that helps employees do their jobs well, communicate freely, have control over their work schedules, and serve customer without barriers. Understand that your employees are your strongest strategic advantage. Really good people being empowered to do what they do best will have a direct impact on your customers and bottom line.
You also must empower people managers to lead. Part of that is ensuring your managers have time to lead, meaning leveraging tools and processes that eliminate manual work to free up more time to work directly with employees and customers. And then, of course, ensuring you have a process for holding managers accountable. When managers lead with courage and humility, their teams can do great things.
If you do it right, great candidates will begin flooding your careers webpage, ultimately leading to improved financial results. Trust me — we’ve seen it happen firsthand!
How do you encourage and improve employee engagement at Kronos?
Inspiring engaged employees starts with me. Being a leader is not a spectator sport, and each day I work hard at being the best leader than I can. If I don’t believe in it, model it, over-communicate, and give my trust to others, why would other Kronites follow?
We also listen to what employees are saying. I don’t let a moment slip by where I’m not asking employees, “How are we doing? What can we do better?” As a result, over the past several years, we’ve continued to adopt initiatives like myTime (our unlimited paid time off policy), student debt repayment programs, tuition assistance, expanded parental leave for mums and dads, adoption financial assistance, childcare financial assistance, and even college scholarships for children of Kronites that have made a direct impact on our employees and their families.
I also make sure not only to thank employees for what they do, but also encourage them to go home and hug their families. I know I couldn’t do what I do without the support of my family, so it’s deeply important to me that we acknowledge our employees have a life outside of Kronos. As I often say, if Kronos is the most important thing in their lives, then they have their priorities mixed up.
What is the difference between a good CEO and a great one?
A great CEO is someone I refer to as an “un-leader.” It’s someone who acknowledges the status that comes with their title, and then does away with it altogether. They’re humble, yet decisive. They put employees first and solicit feedback from the crowd. They trust their people. They show respect and appreciation, and admit when they don’t know the answer to a question. Most importantly, they realise that real leadership comes not from status or superiority, but from affection, admiration, and respect. They do all this while having difficult and courageous discussions while moving quickly to respond to a potential mistake. A great leader doesn’t wait for issues to resolve themselves, because they won’t.
How does the UK and its businesses differ to those based in other countries around the world?
We’re seeing an increased focus on UK organisations viewing their workforce as a strategic advantage. Historically the workforce was looked at strictly as a business cost. Today, organisations realize people are their business. One of our strategic goals in the UK is to help organisations maximize their workforce’s potential by delivering intelligent, automated solutions that drive the business forward with the employee taking center stage. These are solutions that ensure the right person is in the right place at the right time; that empower employees to take control of their schedules; that use data to help fight fatigue and burnout; that free up managers to focus on their people and customers; and provide proactive compliance support to help businesses navigate increasingly complex waters.
How is Kronos anticipating that Brexit might affect it? How do you believe it will affect companies across the UK and what challenges might it produce?
Brexit is obviously on everyone’s radar today, yet it’s one example of many complex issues affecting the world – both for companies located in the UK and those who do business across borders. Like ourselves, UK organisations need to focus on driving higher productivity, automating processes that can be automated, and put a greater focus on investing in their workforce. In such a highly competitive world – both for customers and top talent – organisations can’t simply be average. Finding, developing, and retaining above average employees is the only way to be successful into the future with challenges like Brexit coming at business leaders.
Are there any future events or projects that businesses including Kronos will have to face in the upcoming year?
It’s the most exciting time in our 41-year history. In 2017 we launched our most ground-breaking solution, Workforce Dimensions, and we’ve seen incredible customer adoption in the first year of availability. Our number one priority remains working with our customers so they can maximise Workforce Dimensions benefits like its artificial intelligence engine built specifically for managers and employees, AIMEE, extensibility with technology partners and applications, pro-active compliance, and smart scheduling solutions.
We’re growing at a pace that we’ve never seen before, with nearly 30,000 organisations across the globe working in the Kronos Cloud. As we grow rapidly, we’ll remain focused on attracting and retaining the best people all around the world.
I feel like the luckiest CEO in the world to work with the people I do, and these types of discussions energise me to be even better. Leaders cannot underestimate the value of talking and listening to their people. You’ll learn more than you can imagine – both for how to be a better leader and how to move your business forward.