The process of seamlessly managing global benefits and rewards programs from one centralized location is extremely complex. Disjointed HR processes and differing laws and regulations from region to region can make the implementation of benefits and rewards a daunting task. If not administered correctly, inconsistent HR practices can significantly hinder employee engagement and satisfaction.
The difficulties and urgency to streamline the administration of global HR benefits and rewards programs became the foundation for me, along with my business partner, Michael Whitfield, in starting a company that would ease the headaches surrounding HR. Utilizing the passion and expertise that we share for people and engagement, we identified the need for companies to maximize investments in benefits and rewards programs using a perfect balance of consultancy, technology and communication services. Thus, Thomsons Online Benefits was born.
Over the last 15 years we have been turning the world pink – the colour of our brand and the very essence of the company – helping to grow Thomsons into a global company that works with many of the world’s most powerful brands and largest employers.
When reflecting back on our journey thus far, it’s clear that it is has been one of success, but not without its challenges. Below are a few lessons I have learned during my global HR journey.
It’s All About Taking Chances
In 2000, we saw Thomsons come to fruition with our first benefits administration technology platform, Darwin™, and our unique benefits strategy development methodology, Intelligent Reward™. The concept of centralizing HR benefits and rewards programs using a single platform meant utilizing cloud-based technologies. Today, the word “cloud” is synonymous with everything from enterprise technologies to personal devices; but back in 2000, it was a concept that had not quite caught on. The task of convincing people to trust in something that was new and unfamiliar was difficult.
Michael and I hired a number of reliable staff and software developers to join the Thomsons team during initial development of this cloud-based technology, and during the process, there were a number of times in which throwing in the towel was a tempting option. Companies were frightened by the word “cloud” and were hesitant to incorporate the new technology into their current systems.
It took perseverance and repeated communication of the challenges and inefficiencies of a paper-based HR process to evoke change. Today, our cloud-based software is being used to connect employees with their benefits in over 70 countries and 19 languages, and is used by the world’s leading employers, including seven of the top 10 technology companies.
Never Lose Sight of Your Company Culture
As Thomsons continued to pick up steam and garner business with some of the most reputable brands, we recruited more employees. This meant we needed to place an even stronger emphasis on our software and continued to drive our cloud-based business model. This also meant that it was time to on-board additional support.
Having experienced significant growth, myself and other members of the Thomsons executive team were advised to bring in more corporate management to continue momentum, and to bring on these new employees quickly. Acting upon the recommendation, new members of the management team were brought on, and as a result, the culture and the company growth suffered.
Since the beginning, Michael and I took pride in Thomsons' fun and innovative persona that is often reflected in start-ups. Moving to a more corporate environment hindered creativity and overall job performance of individuals. We noticed the significant drop in employee satisfaction and performance and very quickly went back to being the company that was initially started. Soon Thomsons began to feel like its old self again.
My biggest takeaway from this experience is the influence that culture can have on a company’s success. An organization is only as good as its people, and finding the right people takes time. Employees are the backbone of Thomsons. Today the company’s culture is centred on hiring the right people (how ever long it takes), and creating an engaging, creative and innovative environment. And we don’t forget to have fun, either!
Pay Attention to Trends From Around the World
In the last 12 months alone, I have travelled to 73 cities in 19 countries and worked with global clients on the advantages of using cloud-based benefits management and employee engagement software. My consistent takeaway was that each region is vastly different from the last in HR processes and procedures.
For example, on my most recent journey, I identified the continued struggle among western companies in understanding and competing in the Asian market, a point of particular importance as the war for talent remains. Similar to the U.S., medical costs in Asia continue to be a significant issue with healthcare costs increasing by more than 15 percent. And while Europe is coming out of the recession, growth has been sluggish. Europe is also seeing growth in flexible benefits as new laws are being implemented that make flexible working benefits compulsory, unlike in the U.S. where these benefits are more irregular and not mandated.
Early on in my career I realized that understanding these trends and detecting change before or as it happens allows Thomsons to better understand challenges and opportunities each region faces. In doing so, Thomsons has allowed multinationals to streamline HR processes and present a more consistent global approach company-wide utilizing its HR management platform.
Today, in addition to being a co-founder, I serve as the managing director for Thomsons. I oversee sales and marketing, and I am also responsible for the global enterprise business. Since its debut, Thomsons has expanded significantly and opened offices in Asia and the U.S. We work with global brands, transforming employee benefit and reward programs for top multinational organizations. Our cloud-based platform Darwin™ has become the foundation for “glocal” HR approach – which recognizes and addresses the connections or relationships between global and local businesses, problems, etc. – and continues to push boundaries for HR technology. The way I look at it is: this is only the beginning of my, and the company’s, global HR journey.
Being Passionate About the Roadmap
Our mission statement says it all. We use technology to revolutionize the employee benefit market, powered by dedicated Thomsons employees. I’ve already talked about the latter part – the importance of people and culture – so let’s get into the former.
Technology is moving forward so quickly in so many different ways. There are so many problems that it can solve, so many new ways of doing things, and so many changing expectations of what technology could do. This is why I spend a lot of my time making sure I understand the changing technology trends and talking to clients about their day-to-day roles and how technology can transform it.
We are fortunate to have a large and very talented development team. There is almost nothing as exciting as spending a day working through the concepts they are looking to develop and challenging how they will continue to deliver on our mission to revolutionise the employee benefit market.
Don’t Let Your Background Define Your Limits
My background isn’t technology, but I have learned enough along the way to keep evoking change and make sure my company is on the cutting edge. I would urge anyone who runs a software company to always talk to clients and take time to understand their view of the world. Always watch and understand market trends. Most importantly, give your team the opportunity to try things out and fail. If you follow these guidelines, you don’t just innovate – you revolutionise!