3Sixty Insights #HRTechChat with Mitch Zenger, Founder of Synctrics

The latest guest on the 3Sixty Insights #HRTechChat is Mitch Zenger, founder of Synctrics and member of our Global Executive Advisory Council (GEAC). Mitch brought to this episode a wealth of wisdom culled from decades of successful, high-profile work in executive coaching and team building.

The HCM industry and professions gathered around it speak in depth and widely about the pressing need to get better at producing and interpreting data that enables employers to make better decisions in forming teams that will operate in harmony. To achieve this, there is an urgent need to pull in big data sets produced with modern psychometric models. As if this weren’t enough of a challenge to achieve this pressing goal, however, there is a similarly urgent need to completely rethink and drastically streamline organizational data models to give analytics-deriving and -delivering systems the breathing room to play their role. As with so many other things, all the encouraging potential future-of-work scenarios we hear about just won’t happen without this.

Mitch makes great, provocative points here. If you have an interest in learning more about just how we can transcend some of these limitations that the evolution of enterprise software has thus far left us, click on the video.

Our #HRTechChat Series is also available as a podcast on the following platforms:

See a service missing that you use? Let our team know by emailing research@3SixtyInsights.com.


Brent Skinner 00:01
Welcome to the latest episode of HR tech chat. We have a very special guest with us today, Mitch Zenger, who is the founder of sink tricks, and also a member of the 360 insights global executive Advisory Council. Welcome, Mitch.

Mitch Zenger 00:21
Thank you. Thanks for the invitation to join and looking forward to our conversation today.

Brent Skinner 00:25
Yeah, absolutely. And, and I’m looking forward to this too, very much. We had a, we got pretty deep Last time, we were talking about the future of work and, and AI and blockchain and analytics and data and all that. And I mean, I, and we were just chatting, and we weren’t sure where to start here. Because any one of those would be a great sort of entry point to this. But I’ll tell you what, why don’t you share with our, with our listeners and viewers, excuse me, just exactly what Citrix is all about, I think I think that that would be a great place to start, because that’s a really good linchpin for a lot of these, these topics.

Mitch Zenger 01:09
Sure. So Citrix is a early stage startup. So we’re sort of building a very, very different HR tech platform, our main focus is really trying to create people analytics at scale. So really aggregated data that can scale across lots of companies, etc. And to do that requires an extremely different architecture. So if you want people analytics to scale, you know, you need to have data models that are all interconnected together, you need to have data that’s owned and controlled by people. So you have the security and transparency and controls that people would feel comfortable, you know, creating and entering data in. And probably the biggest or most interesting and challenging hurdle to overcome is this idea that your data is owned and controlled by employees, so you own it, you take it with you, it’s transferable. And you can also really, you know, in this new world of work, where you have, you know, gig economy, remote workers, you know, partners, contingent labor, etc, they should be connected to this whole, you know, data infrastructure. So you should be able to, you know, put a team together that has people from a variety of different entities, and really have them see each other for who they are creep, you know, assessments, give feedback to each other, and really coach and support each other. So that’s what we’re trying to build.

Brent Skinner 02:47
That’s really interesting couple of things. So first of all, having having the the individual contributor, whether it’s a contingent worker, or a contractor, or an actual employee, on their own data, to blogs, to them that that’s, that’s a major game changer. Because that’s pretty much the inverse or opposite of what it is today. And I can see what you’re saying around, you know, changing architectures significantly. Maybe you could paint a picture for, for for, to paint a picture of like, like an example. It doesn’t have to be. It can be but doesn’t have to be an overly elaborate example. But what this would what this would look like, just kind of like a, you know, an example, what would this look like, with having this data model being you know, that the data is owned by the contributor? And how would that be? How would that benefit the organization and the individual? Sure, okay. So

Mitch Zenger 03:51
let me take it personal. So for an individual, I want to be in control. And this really is, you know, also kind of the cultural revolution that’s happening in our world today, I want to be in control of who I am, how I project myself, what reputation are sort of what I’m known for inside of my company. That doesn’t happen today, sort of like you get you get pigeonholed into, you’re the project management guy, or you’re the, you know, strategy guy. And you may be good at that. But it may not be who you really want to be at work. And so you don’t really care, you know, your performance review, like you haven’t done every year, does anybody really cared that much about it? Other than Yeah, I want to get, you know, salary increase, not really, because if you’re going to, you know, quit, that data’s gone and lost. So owning that and controlling it is really important. And then with that I’m projecting a little it’s almost becoming more vulnerable to my teammates. Here’s who I am. Here’s what I want to be good at. Here’s my reputation. embrace that. Here’s how I want you to use me on the teams that I’m working on. The projects I’m working on. And so it really is a very different structure and conversation. And then from an employer point of view, employers are not, you know, we’re moving out of this command and control architecture inside of companies, it’s really about how do we support our people, how do we encourage them to learn and develop and grow, and there’s all this, you know, skills, development activity that’s going on in our world today, if an employer should be encouraging that and they should be saying, you know, I want you to create the data that I can use to help you grow and expand, and I’ll support that. So in essence, the business model is I’ll pay you to create data that I can use to see how we’re doing and how we’re performing as a, as an organization. And, you know, drive improvements and changes and optimize teams, structures, etc, with the right sets of strengths and skills. You know, the other sort of narrative I would share with you is, these processes should all be interconnected. So you know, right now you have an employer who forces you as an employee to log into 10 different tools, to do your learning, to do your assessment to do your pulse survey to do your, you know, goal setting, and, you know, then to go and reward and recognize people for achievements or success. That’s crazy. And it’s, you know, it’s it’s cumbersome, it’s complex, nobody really likes that UI. And so in the world of, you know, digital, everything sort of being connected together, it really should be one login, one platform, I go to one place to really see a feat of, you know, here’s the goals I’m working on, here’s the feedback I’ve given, here’s the recognition people gave to me, Oh, I should recognize that person for those kinds of skills and strengths, here’s a learning thing I could be, you know, doing, they should all be the same, and on the same platform, and connected together with the same data structures and stuff like that. Right. And,

Brent Skinner 07:11
and, of course, that facilitate that would greatly facilitate this, this ownership of the data, which that that complete paradigm shift in terms of the ownership of the data, we you’re talking about is is makes me think about some of this future of work, stuff that that’s been coming up around

Brent Skinner 07:33
a real

Brent Skinner 07:35
a shift in, in talent acquisition and how we view that too, right? There’s a, there’s a, I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves right now. But there’s a lot of humans sort of, there’s there’s that human element in talent acquisition and in the determination of what somebody is good at, and what they’re known for, for what how they’re utilized that at the at the employer, because of what they’re known to be good or perceived to be good at, what they perceive themselves to be good at, what they’re, what the, what they’re pigeonholed as. And what you seem to be talking about is a is a transformation or ever, as a transformation or of that, or it taking it kind of putting its on its head, right, putting it on its head, because what we’re talking about is how are are we actually utilizing employees as best we can? And is it and this hadn’t occurred to me? Is it because of the data models? Is it is it partially attributable to the limitations of the data models that we’ve sort of engineers sort of boxed ourselves into over several decades? time? I mean, do you think that that’s part of it?

Mitch Zenger 08:55
It’s, it’s absolutely, you hit the nail on the head, like, the data models, because HR has been separated in all these different functional areas, you know, nobody’s really trying to create a data model that connects the learning development, with the, you know, compensation, with the, you know, out, you know, okrs or, you know, the goal setting solutions, you know, connected to high potential employees and the leadership succession planning. They’re all like different groups doing stuff. And they think of data very differently. But it should come together. I mean, in the world today, I mean, the reason why Google and Facebook are so successful is they can take massive amount of data from all the different sources piece it together, and then they know what you’re going to buy next week, before you actually even begin to thought about what you’re going to buy next week just because of all the intelligence they have. We should be doing The same with HR data. And that only comes one that’s connected. It’s like, on the recruiting side, like, I love all these surveys, they’re great. But I need to have somebody who’s an expert in disk or in Myers Briggs or whatever, you know, tool you use to turn that. So I can actually use it to help me, it should be the opposite, I should be the consumer of it, I should interpret it, I should know it. And I should be the one that could, you know, say, I need this type of strength or profile to come into my team to help me on the change management or the human dynamics of this project. To make us successful,

Brent Skinner 10:44
what I’m wondering is, I’m thinking about Okay, so, let me, let me just share with you when I’m thinking and yeah, if it’s a, you know, this is a, well, let me just share, so that we have, we just, there’s just a slew of best of breed, or we’ll just call them point solution needed point solutions in this space, right, you know, a bunch of special specialists will come in, and say, and they’ll come in and pipe in just for scheduling, right? And some are AI based, or they’re, I think it’s really machine learning based, but But anyway, or you’ll have somebody come in and say, You want the best of breed payroll processing software, right? And you have that, and the rest of your HCM suite may be from one other provider, or maybe you have three providers. And the third is for your Learning and Performance specifically, right? How, how do you see I put this how, what is what is the, what is the path from this sort of, you know, existing reality to, to, to this new reality to this future reality near future reality? That’s, that’s so much more beneficial to the organization, and, and the employee at the contributor, sort of mutually, like, what’s the path to get there,

Mitch Zenger 12:24
it’s gonna be a bumpy path, it’s gonna, it’s not an easy thing. I mean, it’s a major shift in how we think about, you know, an HCM solution in an organization, I would liken it today to what we’re seeing with just like e RP systems, you have the Oracle on the ASAP, they’re locked in, they can’t re architect their data structures, overnight like, and they’re locked into this ecosystem that’s working very, very well. And I think the path is going to be somebody new coming in saying, we have a very different way that we can look at this data control and manage it. And I’m thinking of companies like snowflakes, or data bricks or others that’s like, we can put all this in the cloud, we can automate it, we can simplify it, it’s going to, you know, gonna be 100x simpler to use and to manage. And, and it’s actually gonna have a bigger impact. And I think the path is probably smaller companies adopting it, seeing a bigger impact and, and a massive change in employee engagement and employee loyalty, that’s going to then drive Wow, I want this to scale and grow and expand, I don’t think it’s going to be a big a big company, unless they’ve got a really forward thinking, you know, Chief people officer there, they’re not going to be thinking about making this kind of change. anytime soon.

Brent Skinner 14:03
I was I was, I was gonna say, I think that the opportunity is probably at that inflection point where a small company is, you know, saying to yourself, hey, we need something better than Excel spreadsheets and PDF forms, to manage our HR and payroll. And at that point, you know, there’s, you know, there’s a number of is a number of players out there that will you know, that you know, sort of the, the, the, the conventional traditional look, you know, having an HCM suite for a small business right and it and having those but speaking with those small companies at that point said, Hey, you know, you need to be thinking about more than just, you know, getting the nuts and bolts of HR, right, or raid scene, right you start this is, this is the time it may not seem like it to you, Mr. His small business right? may not seem like it to you right now, because you’re just thinking about getting all of this, you know, this containing all these costs and getting all this stuff more efficient and automated, but this is the time right now to be thinking long term about what’s How is your culture going to be when you’re 500 employees strong as opposed to 100 right now or even 200? Strong, you know, this thinking about, you know, thinking about what employer culture is, at the very beginning, there’s some companies that, you know, they just, it’s a bad culture from the very beginning, and they never get the micro culture, micro company size, right, and just, you know, constant churn of employees, but the ones that grow, and they,

Brent Skinner 15:53
they, they

Brent Skinner 15:54
were speaking with a fellow who, who runs talent acquisition at a, at a trucking company, that’s Michigan based in Michigan, or Wisconsin based, anyway, there are around 100 employees strong, and they have a very strong culture, and they know who they are, right? I suspect there are a lot of small companies like that. And they’re just at that point where they’re thinking of, you know, adopting some better, more efficient, innovative technologies for their talent acquisition. So this is one of those examples where, where you catch them at that point where they’re where they’re fixated on, this is the right time to catch them. They’re fixated on getting that automation, get them getting those efficiencies, because hrs turned is suddenly turned into an unwieldy, clumsy thing that’s an almost unmanageable with what they have in place. You kiss them at that point where they’re so fixated on the automation, you say, Hey, this is the time to think about more.

Mitch Zenger 16:58
Yeah, yeah. And, and I think the other thing that a lot of companies are looking at is, what’s the cost to bring on the HTM plot HCM platforms, you know, the admin setup configuration, all the administrators who are sort of setting things up like that, that becomes a cost to adopt and to, you know, get that to scale. And then the people analytics, I mean, I think we’re just starting to see companies. And these are the bigger ones putting huge people analytics teams together to actually connect all this data, and actually answer questions that executives are asking. And it’s like, if you can simplify it and connected, that’s where I see the huge opportunities like, Hey, I can get all the reporting, I want people analytics I want with centralized data, without having to scale this massive people analytics team. It’s all right there.

Brent Skinner 17:56
What is what how does this change business models in HCM technology space?

Mitch Zenger 18:01
I mean, obviously, it’s, it needs to become more of a consumer like product and a consumer focus. So you need to create more value for the employee versus value for HR. HR is just one of the customers of the data. But the real customer is, you know, that employee experience and what what’s the value that the employee is receiving from all of this? That’s a big change. And then and then theoretically, you could create a whole incentive structure where it’s employers are saying, We care about you, we want, you know, we want to give you well being types of opportunities or benefits, will give you those benefits if you create the data and answer these questions and do these surveys, etc. That’s a very different way to think about it. Whereas today, it’s sort of like, HR is gonna hound you until you create the data. Otherwise, you’re gonna get an annoying email, and then we’ll tell your manager they’re not, you know, doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Like that’s, that’s childish. Almost, I mean, that’s Yeah, that’s like your, your, you know, your parent telling you go do this until blah, blah, blah. That should change, it should be a very, very different relationship. And so it’s, um, you know, that, to me is the biggest transformation is you’re selling to, you’re almost changing who the consumer or the buyer is of this whole technology. It’s not just around HR, it’s around the whole people experience which includes HR, it’s includes team leaders, it includes, you know, senior executives all trying to solve the same problem.

Brent Skinner 19:45
You know, it’s interesting to me as having conversation recently with an I don’t remember who was but they got to this idea of around we were talking about customer experience. And I think it was California based motel, there was a motel in California that in it was it was voted the best. The best, you know, hotel, there’s actually a motel in California to say it beat out Ritz Carlton and, you know, all of these, right. And it was really quite, quite amazing. It wasn’t a particularly special place from aesthetically speaking, you know, they had, you know, it wasn’t rundown, but they had, you know, they have the newest furniture, they’ve had the most, you know, jaw dropping, you know, kind of like architectural design or anything like that. But what happened was that they, they would create these moments, they would create these moments for, for customers just really memorable kind of interactions, they would bring them, you know, bring them in the latest business book or something like that to the pool, or all sorts of cool things, you know, I can’t remember any of the things that they did, but suffice it to say very cool things, and they create a very memorable experience for, for the customers. Okay. And that, that got us to talking about the similarities between, you know, employer, your employees and your customers. And obviously, there’s the service profit chain model that has been our business news business review speaks out right around,

Brent Skinner 21:36
you know,

Brent Skinner 21:37
if your, your floor associates are happy and engaged, your employees or your customers be happy and engaging, keep coming back. Okay. I’m gonna get to the point soon, trust me. So the point is that you can create those moments for customers right now. But I recall another conversation I had with another fellow, Australian based psychometrics company, actually, around, okay, employer culture, or improving employee engagement, it’s not about it’s not about offering, you know, putting a foosball in the, in the rec room, foosball table, or, you know, or having pizza in in beer, or pizza and soda on Friday, right. I was talking with another woman on our council around that also, she calls it the HR, so the campfire girls, right. And, and he and he and I, we talked about, you know, pizza and beer on Friday that that’s not caused him this great thing, it’s nice for you to do for your employees. But so what you’re talking about here around the employees owning their own data, that to me, is a major way to, to just sort of an inch, like a fundamental way to improve the employee experience. It’s, it’s almost, it’s just, it’s, it’s intrinsic.

Mitch Zenger 23:03
Yeah, it’s just, that’s, that’s right there the intrinsic motivation to do this versus being forced on you. And I look at it as, like, yeah, right now, sort of, we’re in the, in the traditional command and control architecture of a company, like, it’s forcing things to get done going, you know, down the food chain. And then it’s, we’re almost building a competition among employees, and all of our compensation, high potential classifications, all of the nine bots, whenever you want to use is basically we’re trying to tell our employees, you’re competing with each other, and whoever, you know, wins, gets, you know, gets to move up. That’s, that creates competition amongst your employees, which then is a horrible experience. If you change that, to try to say we’re trying to create teams, and we’re trying to create those experiences, where you understand each other, and you support each other, and it’s almost as realization, if I support you, and you support me, we’re going to make the company successful. And it’s going to help both of us are it’s gonna help the both of us and the company. And our systems don’t do that right now. Our systems create competition, it’s just the nature of meat. We created that 100 years that we created the systems 100 years ago. And the technology and the methodology hasn’t changed really.

Brent Skinner 24:35
Yeah, yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s it we’re starting to talk about human motivation actually. Which is that’s so you know, there’s this thing called it’s called the ERG Theory is it was developed Hey, this guy. I don’t just like know this forever. I learned about it very recently is I don’t want I don’t want listeners to think Oh, yeah. But it’s learned about recently, we’ve all heard of Maslow’s, many, most of us heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is super interesting, you know, and as you know, I forget what the what the what the, what the hierarchies are now, at the top of my head, I’m having a mind cramp. But, you know, but the lower ones have to do with, you know, just survival, you know, I gotta find my food and water and I need shelter, you know, whether it’s a shanty or whatever, right, thinking about, you know, the cave people and hunter gatherers way back, right. But, you know, today it’s, it’s a house or you know, and then as you move up, but you know, you get into ideas of like, self esteem and communicate, you know, interaction and, and we have at the top is self self actualization, which is interesting, the idea, and that is that you have to go through each one, move up this age, you can’t think about self actualization until you’re till you got your survival needs, and all that kind of stuff figured out. Well, then Clayton elder for later said, you know, what we can consolidate this, synthesize it into just three areas existence, relatedness and growth. All right. And, and it seems to me, and the idea around er g theory is that you can any input, like, from a human motivational standpoint, in the workplace, any person can be thinking about all three of those things, three things at the same time. So you don’t have to figure out your existence before you can start thinking about relatedness or growth, but you can do all three at the same time. So what I’m going with this is, you talked about the comp, people competing against each other on quote unquote, teams right now, that’s really sort of detrimental to organizational success. Right? It can be right, I can think of some areas where it can, you know, help or get some business models, right where it might help. But whole point is that, that’s just focused on existence, that’s just existence, how much money I’m going to make. Right? There’s no relatedness or growth in there.

Mitch Zenger 27:15
Exactly. And if we can create those experiences, and if we can create incentives that say, we’re paying you to connect with each other, to understand your profile, and help people, you know, give feedback on how they’re doing, I’m seeing these behavior changes, can you help me with my goals and, and reinforce so you’re seeing that behavior changes and growth that I want to have and recommend a great YouTube video that I saw that helped in, you know, being more assertive or being more whatever. That’s what you want those kinds of small experiences, where it’s like, oh, my people, I work with care about me and want to support me.

Brent Skinner 28:00
That’s huge. It’s a major retention strategy. Yeah, no, absolutely. Because if you’re just if you’re if you’re getting all three of those things from your current employer, then then you really have very little reason to leave. Right. And we have I’ve been reading recently around this coming. I wish I wish I had come up with this term. I think great resignation. Oh,

Mitch Zenger 28:31
yeah. I read that. I’m already seeing it. It’s happening right now. That’s very interesting.

Brent Skinner 28:39
Yeah. And it in I was having conversation with another person happens to be on the on the council, the 3Sixty Insights council around this. And it’s pretty interesting that I mean, I think there’s all sorts of things going on right now. That are we’re just in a really strange time, because of the massive disruption of the past year and a half. I think there’s no getting around it. I think we’re all you know, the past is not is not necessarily going to be you know, a predictor of the future. At least for the, for the near future. I think we’re gonna see a lot of weird trends happening. But this kind of fits in with this whole existence thing and in competition and, and, you know, its monetary, you know, just compensation incentive for employees, right. This person and I’ve heard this elsewhere to getting into major bidding wars, for new for new, new hires, for frankly, you know, not bad candidates, but not, you know, particularly exceptional candidates sort of middling people, right. I’m not trying to disparage anybody but you know, people who might be good enough for the role of the open roll, right, we’re getting into busy Morrison. So we have people been working, especially desk workers, this is talking about desk workers, because we have the whole frontline workers, we have folks that work on, you know, the power lines and stuff like that to their, their experience has been completely different for with COVID. But for desk work, it’s all been worked from home, you’re on zoom all day, or you’re working, you know, by yourself. And that’s, you know, been trying to support the employee experience there, a lot of people aren’t really getting that that interaction, or that social socialization that they normally get face to face with their co workers at wherever they work. And so they’re so what’s interesting is they’re also they’re kind of reverting back to focusing on existence, well, you know, I’m not really, if I’m going to be working from home, and I can, I’m going to, you know, angle for as much pay as I possibly can. And that’s interesting. And, you know, what’s interesting about it too much is that, um, every single PR, there is no absolute, you know, like, objective truth about what any one person is worth, right? It’s just what the market says, right? Right. In it, because the Absolute Truth doesn’t exist, it just doesn’t exist. It’s just a decision made by several parties that, so you think about the fact that some of these folks that are, you know, they’re good enough for these roles, you know, getting paid, you know, getting into bidding wars to get them? What is this? That’s a huge cost. I mean, there’s actually, I would love to see the art, I don’t know how you would do this, but measure the ROI after the fact of, of this, of this situation, these major bidding wars, and, you know, did these companies actually get what they paid for? And what was what was the what, what was the loss,

Mitch Zenger 32:00
we actually received in what we paid. It’s gonna be interesting, man, I think, if you watch the trends of, you know, there’s going to be more opportunities and more jobs out there, and we’re actually going to hit as that’s an inflection point where there’s not enough people and more people retiring, not enough, you know, new people entering the workforce, and the bidding wars just going to get bigger and bigger. And if you have nothing to sort of, say, Our culture is better, or the way we support you, and educate you and, and, and, and, you know, the our environments better, it’s just gonna be a bidding war, and it will continue to be that way. And, you know,

Brent Skinner 32:44
it might be more cost effective for employers to, to invest. And in some of these, you know, major sort of transformational fundamental changes in the employee experience, to, to ward off the great resignation for their own organization and be more cost effective to do that, or cost less to do that than to get into the inevitable, you know, multiple bidding wars, once people leave, and you need to find people.

Mitch Zenger 33:22
But, but I’m going back, you know, traveling, tooting my own horn, like you need to have data that’s decentralized, that can be like, the glass door here is our culture. Here’s what people say about us that can be shared transparently. And, you know, there’s, there’s not too many sources like that. And so, you know, that that’s the differentiator.

Brent Skinner 33:48
Yeah, I think so. I think so. This has been, yeah, really interesting. Yes. I’m so glad you agreed to be a guest. Because this, I mean, I, you know, we have our work cut out for us. And I say we, I’m just an analyst watching everybody changes people like you are doing the hard work. You know, but, but yeah, I mean, this, there’s gonna be big changes coming, you know, they have to happen. Fundamentally, it’s just some of these architectures to to really enable some of these potential next these potential new circumstances that are there’s so much better for our employer and contributor alike. You know, I guess I guess the The upside is that there’s a there’s a bright, the future of work is bright.

Mitch Zenger 34:42
Yeah, it is it there it is ripe with opportunity and change and the people who do a right and do it the right way are gonna have you know, great opportunities. So yeah, I love seeing is HR has a tape a seat at the table. In the operations and the functions of organizations, they’re not just the administrative side, like they’re a strategies, value creator, inside of companies now.

Brent Skinner 35:11
Yeah, yeah. And that’s the way they’re going to survive, you know, because eventually all this stuff, you know, all of the cost containment stuff is going to be automated, eventually. And even more than that with AI for complex automation of variable tasks. So, yeah, this is they have to embrace this. Yeah. That’s a great, great point. Thanks so much, Mitch. Thank you so much

Mitch Zenger 35:35
presence. Great talk to you. Always look forward to having conversations with you. And thanks for this opportunity to be on your show. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Same here. Thanks, man. All right. Bye. See ya.

Share your comments: