Not for the Faint of Heart

In the increasingly competitive fight for top talent, Kronos is winning the battle by focusing on leadership development and employee engagement

A couple of times a year, David Almeda gets a phone call or an e-mail from a CEO or general counsel instructing him to stop trying to hire their employees. Almeda is senior vice president and chief people officer at Kronos, a leading global workforce management company. He knows that the company that attracts and keeps the best talent will win, and it’s tough for him to understand the logic behind companies that make these types of calls.

David Almeda, Kronos
David Almeda, Kronos

The way Almeda sees it, those other companies are fighting a losing battle. “How is another company’s retention my problem?” he says. “Companies shouldn’t be focused on keeping recruiters away—they should be hyper-focused on keeping the great people that they have.” Almeda, a twenty-year human resources veteran, says retention is all about creating a special and differentiated environment that employees fall in love with.

Kronos topped several best workplace and other rating lists in 2015, but Almeda is motivated to do more. “It’s more competitive every day. The tide is rising so quickly that if you just focus on being good, you’ll be under water in a year,” he says.

Why are companies like Kronos trying harder than ever before to fight for top talent? Technology and transparency. Human resources executives armed with modern apps and search tools can easily track down and identify top talent. Those workers then find themselves barraged with multiple offers, better benefits packages, and richer compensation. Savvy organizations know their returns are better if they land the right person at a higher cost instead of luring a less-qualified candidate at a lower rate. Talented candidates—who don’t seem to mind changing companies, careers, or industries—can afford to be picky.

In 2010, Almeda and his team started using statistical analysis from focus groups and internally mined data to discover what matters most to Kronos’ 3,000-plus employees (Kronos has more than 4,100 employee today). With that data, he’s helped implement changes that have taken employee engagement numbers from about 50 to 80 percent in just a few years.

Those numbers are important, because in the modern era, they translate to reviews on social and job-lead sites like Glassdoor. In 2013, Kronos’ Glassdoor rating was 3.3 on a five-point scale. Today, the number stands at 4.3, and 92 percent of users would recommend a job with the company, while 97 percent approve of its CEO, Aron Ain.

Good ratings on Glassdoor are now critical—the number one driver of traffic to the Kronos career page includes Glassdoor and other “best place to work” lists. In 2013, Kronos saw about 7,500 monthly profile views on Glassdoor. Today, it averages about 35,000 views per month.

“If you’re not doing well on sites like Glassdoor or featured on best-place-to-work lists, there is a huge number of really talented people that will never look at your company. We’re doubling down on this,” Almeda says. “Having a deep understanding of what your employees value most enables you to be hyper-focused on those areas and subsequently, materially improve your chances of retaining employees.”

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Almeda spent sixteen years honing his craft at Staples. He led human resources for a $10 billion division with 40,000 employees, and although he had the chance to step into a bigger role in 2010, he decided to join Kronos instead. “I saw a group of leaders and a culture on the verge of doing something really special,” he explains. “Staples was bigger, but what gets me excited is both what Kronos is doing in the workforce management space and where we can go as a company when we implement these types of changes.”

“Companies shouldn’t be focused on keeping recruiters away—they should be hyper-focused on keeping the great people that they have.”

With strategies becoming more complex, and companies moving very quickly, human resources has to understand business at a deeper level. Human resources departments can no longer be reactive. “We have to be proactive,” Almeda says. “It’s not enough to be aligned with the business strategy. We have to be ahead of it.” As the department’s leader, Almeda has to have his own team in place to execute and deliver. In the last fiscal year, his department hired 1,100 new people including many with new skill sets and geographies.

A major software project required hiring 175 highly technical employees in just three months. Almeda’s team found and hired those people after 3,000 phone screenings and 1,200 interviews across four geographic regions. “The infrastructure to pull this off isn’t easy to build, and we consider this capability a strategic weapon,” Almeda says. “Our current and future success depends heavily on our ability to recruit and retain talented employees.”

In finding those new employees, recruiters and hiring managers look for high-performance individuals. “We want people who are talented, engaged, and high performing,” Almeda says. “Some people don’t think you can have high engagement and high performance at the same time, but A-players want to work with other A-players. We want high talent everywhere because it drives engagement.” He believes a positive culture that compels people to work at Kronos is a major driver of the company’s continued success.

That positive culture impacts employees at every level. Almeda believes that great leaders make a huge impact and asks those leaders to invest in the leader-employee relationship. In 2015, his team introduced a program called Courage to Lead, a live two-day session for 250 managers, senior directors, and above, and then a virtual session for another group of 350 people managers.

Since the company has dramatically shifted over the years from a licensed on-premise software provider to a cloud-based software-as-a-service model, human resources launched its program at a strategic time. “It’s not arbitrary. It’s purpose-driven and tied into exactly what Kronos is doing as a business, and how we need people to lead to get us where we want to go,” Almeda says.

About 98 percent of invitees attended the optional sessions with 98 percent of those attendees indicating the sessions were a valuable use of time. They planned to modify how they lead their teams as a result. “We invest in employee engagement and developing great leaders the same way we would any other critical Kronos strategy,” Almeda says. “Very few things have more of an impact on employees than the shadow that our leaders choose to cast every day.”

In 2016, Almeda and Kronos will continue to focus on principals by introducing a recognition and award program for the company’s best leaders. Almeda is also putting new methodologies in place to enhance formal and informal interactions between managers and employees. These efforts, combined with something he calls “an unprecedented way we’ll invest in our employees,” will help Kronos increase the gap between the company and its competitors as it moves to the cloud and seeks continued growth around the world.