Serent Capital 2020 Human Resources Summit: Key Takeaways

Serent Capital 2020 Human Resources Summit: Key Takeaways

January 19, 2018

Human resource leaders across the Serent portfolio gathered virtually to share challenges and successes they’ve witnessed this year.


“It’s important for HR leaders to be ‘healers’ at this time.”


Each year Serent Capital hosts the Human Resources Summit to convene portfolio company leaders on keeping employees engaged and satisfied; advancing diversity & inclusion (D&I); and implementing the latest HR technology among other demands.

HR leaders shared best practices and lessons-learned in themed group presentations, one-on-one’s and break-out groups. We also socialized via the virtual networking app and closed the event with a virtual scavenger hunt. This year’s key takeaways included the following:

  • Work from home (WFH) is transforming company culture permanently, even after we return to the office. HR leaders need to retrain themselves to think virtually about employee engagement, performance measurement and global teamwork.
  • Now that hiring can transcend geography, the “war for talent” opens a new front.
  • Employee well-being is more crucial than ever. HR leaders must serve as healers, helping employees navigate uncertain times.
  • Promoting D&I is more than just the “right thing to do.” A more diverse workforce helps your company resemble its customer base and thus connect more effectively with customers.
  • Employee communications have gotten more creative and tech-enabled during COVID, freeing HR leaders to think ahead strategically.


Company culture


At this year’s virtual Summit, we polled participants to inform live discussion.

Here’s a surprising statistic: our participant poll revealed more than 60% of HR leaders working from home had lengthened the average workday by 1-2 hours – despite eliminating commuting time. Company culture has gone fully virtual, if temporarily – so employee engagement and performance measurement must go virtual as well.

The Global Human Resources Director of FranConnect, a provider of SaaS-based franchise management systems, explored their response to a timely challenge: how could they foster connectivity between independent teams in India and the U.S. – and do it in a suddenly 100% remote environment? They shared many low-cost ways to engage employees virtually like book clubs, trivia hours and “lunch roulette” pairing 3-4 employees who don’t usually interact to get acquainted. They doubled down on employee recognition and shifted to a “virtual bell” to mark big sales. They changed performance expectations, too: paying for Internet access in India for those who didn’t already have it and increasing executive exposure across both continents.

Importantly, FranConnect acknowledged that “it’s okay not to be okay right now,” increasing flexibility for parents and offering days off to reflect on social justice issues or volunteer. Staggered scheduled and more parent-friendly resources was a theme running through other breakout sessions. While nobody feels like they’ve fixed this problem, just acknowledging it as an ongoing issue can boost employee morale.


Hiring & talent

Real Green Systems, a provider of field service software for lawn care, landscape, and pest control, needed to uplevel their team’s software expertise while retaining a family-like culture. This entailed formalizing a referrals-driven system with an ATS and sourcing tools and strategies to facilitate fast-paced growth. Over the next 15 months, Real Green added 105 employees, which basically yielded a new team. Real Green’s VP of Human Resources and Talent Management walked the group through a five-step structured process that helped them navigate this breakneck growth while managing performance.

  1. Phone screen with a recruiter
    1. Ensure the candidate was a fit for the basic job requirements
  2. Technical/analytical skills and personality test
    1. Determine baseline metrics and workplace strengths and weaknesses
  3. Interview with the hiring team
    1. Also met with cross-functional leaders to get a 360° view of the candidate
  4. Interview with the VP of HR and Talent
    1. Shares background and values of the company, while assessing for culture and values fit
  5. Team vetting session
    1. Review the notes collected across each stage to determine concerns and opportunities

Interestingly, Real Green found themselves hiring “remote-first” (outside their geographic area) more than ever – a theme echoed by other Summit participants. Real Green advises creating a remote onboarding playbook for new hires with “buddy systems” to orient new employees.

Other HR leaders echoed the sentiment of the remote environment creating opportunities for talent, but noted it has also increased the competition both to recruit and retain talent as other firms have also begun adopting the “remote-first” philosophy. Based on this shift, HR leaders recommended focusing on 3 main areas to improve recruiting and retention:

  1. Culture
    1. Focus on improving your company’s culture and ensure there’s transparency. Having tactics such as senior executive check-ins, flexible schedule, and regularly highlighting wins all help fortify company culture.
  2. Compensation
    1. Consider adding incentives such as retention bonuses and ensuring a plan and communication for restoring any pay cuts. In those communications, remember to include personal notes or emails.
  3. Exit Interviews
    1. Always do exit interviews – they are full of key learnings that you should consider acting on to continuously improve your recruiting and retention.


Employee well-being

The VP of Human Resources at Digarc, a catalog and curriculum management software provider to higher education institutions, shared an excellent presentation on employee well-being. During the presentation, attendees were polled on the importance of a culture of well-being. Participant polling revealed how the prioritization of  fostering a culture of well-being is – with 40% of respondents citing a culture of well-being “somewhat important” and 60% of respondents citing it is “extremely important.”

The ROI argument for employee well-being is clear: Pre-COVID, U.S. employers lose about $200BN/year in productivity to stress. For every dollar saved in healthcare costs, employers receive an extra $2.30 in productivity. But during a pandemic with mental health impacts, employee well-being extends beyond the traditional definition. Digarc shared how they pivoted their employee well-being program post-COVID thoughtfully and effectively. Perhaps the most interesting employee need they addressed was for financial literacy. They noticed many employees stopped contributing to their 401(k)s last spring and instituted a “lunch and learn” series with a financial wellness coach.

As the pandemic continued to be a source of stress, the need for mental health support grew, which Digarc met with mental health pulse surveys and LinkedIn Learning and virtual coaching sessions on mental health. Crucially, the executive leadership team, including the CEO and the VP of HR, were involved in mailing cooking herb kits and Whole Foods gift cards to employees. “It’s important for HR leaders to be ‘healers’ at this time,” noted Digarc’s VP.


Diversity & Inclusion

In our D&I roundtable, it became clear that “diversity” should be broadly defined to include under-represented groups but also diverse life experiences and ways of thinking. Revinate, a provider of guest data management and intelligence solutions, formed a “culture committee” of monthly employee forums to advance conversations around D&I. They started with awareness-raising topics, like sharing statistics about the company’s demographics contrasted with that of their customer base so employees could perceive the gaps. Subsequent forums progressed to higher-touch or more difficult conversations. Revinate also added new questions to employee surveys such as “I feel a sense of belonging at the company” and started measuring this metric over time. A brand-new Serent portfolio company Quorum,  a cloud-based software & data solution provider for government affairs professionals, shared its Path for Progress initiative, too.

It’s critical that senior management recognize that hiring for diversity makes good business sense, but it may mean committing to a longer timeframe to find the right candidate. Several companies recommended listing jobs on boards that attract HBCU graduates and more diverse talent pools.


Employee communications

“Overcommunicate” was the overarching theme from all our companies. Employees working from home feel isolated and financially uncertain. HR leaders must make every effort to reach them virtually – without creating so much noise that they drown themselves out. Creative channels and tech-enabled active listening can help employee communications break through and improve culture and morale. Examples of creative channels included creating a Slack channel where employees with children could share their tips and tricks for working in a remote environment as well as creating a text thread where employees could share photos of their pets to help keep work fun and personal.

Next Gear Solutions, a provider of job management and workflow software to the restoration industry, shared its recommendations for an HR tech stack that can streamline HR’s many functions, freeing up HR leaders to think strategically and holistically. Next Gear’s VP of People and Culture recommends investing first in HRIX (core HR data and analytics), ATS (applicant tracking system), and performance measurement software, then layering on engagement software, learning management (LMS) and employee recognition software. “Modern HR has new considerations,” said Next Gear’s VP. “Office centricity is over and trust is key. Tech can increase the human connection.”


Serent Capital invests in growing businesses that have developed compelling solutions that address their customers' needs. As those businesses grow and evolve, the opportunities and challenges that they face change with them. Principals at Serent Capital have firsthand experience at capturing those opportunities and navigating these difficulties through their experiences as CEOs, strategic advisors, and board members to successful growing businesses. By bringing its expertise and capital to bear, Serent seeks to help growing businesses thrive. Learn more about our portfolio companies.


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