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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Jason Averbook, CEO of Leapgen
Episode: 358
Air Date: March 20, 2020




Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

John Sumser 0:13
Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. I’m your host John Sumser. Today we’re going to be talking with Jason Averbook, who is the CEO and founder of a company called Leapgen, but you’ve probably run across him. He’s been a key figure and icon on the landscape of HR technology for gee, as long as I can remember, it’s probably 100 or 200 years by now, Jason, how are you?

Jason Averbook 0:40
John I am doing well. It is a crazy moment in life that we’re all living in. So all I can do is say I’m doing well at the moment and more importantly, really, really optimistic about the future.

Yeah, me too. I think good to notice that the Chinese character for crisis is also the Chinese character for opportunity, and in every moment like this there’s an explosion of innovation and an explosion of reframing the world that we live in. So take a moment and introduce yourself, there may be one or two people who have run across you before I doubt it. But if you would introduce yourself as if there might be somebody out there who’s never heard of Jason Averbook.

So John really really quickly,

Jason Averbook I’ve been in the HR technology space for like he said, 200 years. The reason I got into the whole HR space, and I’m just going to talk about HR, not HR technology, specifically is that my mom was an educator. My dad was a business person, and I was a technology geek growing up, and the three of those things blended together where I got my first job in this space `at Ceridian or Control Data Ceridian Corporation, fell in love with the concept of how do you actually use technology to try to make people more whole and have them show up at work in a better way, and have been doing it for 28 years since then. Through all the different changes that have happened in the space, I think the most important thing to understand about why I love this space, and that’s really what all we can think about is, you know that it’s trying to bring the best out in people and trying to match the best in people with what an organization is trying to do, to me has always been and always will be a Holy Grail.

John Sumser 2:21
That’s fantastic. So step me through a couple of the details of the query, you’ve been in some amazing places of amazing points in time. So you started at Ceridian? Did you go straight to PeopleSoft from Ceridian? Or was there an interim experience?

Jason Averbook 2:35
I started in Ceridian working with our DOS products? I ended up building one of our first Windows product probably one of the first Windows if not the first Windows product in the industry, really focused on how do we actually start to leverage technology like a graphical user interface to make changes during the time where Microsoft Windows and OS2 and this is dating myself, were having a battle you know, I ended up making a choice about Windows where this organization I was with at the time made the choice around going OS2 when I made that choice, I went to join PeopleSoft and Ceridian flash Control Data continued down the Lotus Notes / OS2 path, I joined PeopleSoft fairly early did everything from implementations to open new offices to lead product strategy and direction to acquiring JD Edwards to fighting off the Oracle takeover, which I didn’t wish I wasn’t successful doing. And after that really made the decision that you know, I’ve had enough time on the vendor side. And I’ve been really sick of watching organizations waste money on software without really addressing the issue, which is themselves and how they have to adopt and adapt themselves in order to make sure that people use the software and moved over to the services side of the business, not the implementation side of the business, but the deployment side of the business and helping people really think about how do we deploy these solutions to make the business impact that we’re trying to achieve?

John Sumser 3:51
So you started a company called Leapgen and Leapgen is somehow interested in what is being called employee experience or workforce experience. Tell me about that. What is Leapgen and what does it do?

Jason Averbook 4:04
First of all, we’re somehow interested in John, the only thing that we’re interested in is helping organizations create the best possible experience for their employees at work. Because we know that if we create a great employee experience for employees at work, that they are going to create a better experience for our customers. So period, end of story. Now really quickly, let me talk about the name Leapgen because I need to do it service. The name Leapgen came from a great friend of mine named Steve Farber, who lives down in San Diego who wrote a book called The Radical Leap and Radical Leap stands for, the leap part of radical leap stands for love, energy, audacity and proof. How do you love what you do, which generates energy, to do the audacious and to prove value? And John in my 20, some years in the space, I’ve watched HR people really, really, really, really, really not do the audacious. I’ve watched them

Basically do status quo.

So it was really important to me to bring love and energy to do the audacious into the name of our company and everything we do with our customers, which are all fortune 1000 customers at the moment, which is quickly moving to an SMB space and the new digital world we’re living in. Because the number of inquiries we’re getting from SMBs has skyrocketed in the last couple weeks is all about how do you create the energy to do the audacious in one of the oldest professions in the world?

John Sumser 5:29
That’s interesting. So I’ve run across a bunch of competing definitions of employee experience. What’s yours?

Jason Averbook 5:35
Guess what?

John Sumser 5:37

Jason Averbook 5:38
Don’t have one?

John Sumser 5:39
Oh, that’s interesting. That’s interesting. So,

Jason Averbook 5:42
I don’t, I personally believe that every organization needs to create their own definition for what the employee experience is that they desire that they need at the moment to meet the business outcomes that they’re trying to achieve. And whether that employee experience is a digital platform. Whether that employee experience is a new way to work from home like it is today, whether that employee experience is a new cafeteria, to be honest with you, John, I don’t care what it is. What we try to do is help organizations understand that as you define the employee experience, it needs to be personalized. We don’t live in a world that we’re in anymore, where I can buy a piece of software, or read a book and say, here’s my employee experience, it’s gonna work for me. It must be personal to the culture and the employee value proposition that I’ve built as an organization and want to build as an organization.

John Sumser 6:33
So how do you do that? So you don’t have a definition of what employee experience is it needs to be personal to the employee and connect them to the organization? How do you take people through that process?

Jason Averbook 6:46
Creating it, what’s the vision of what you’re trying to achieve. And it’s an alignment between the CEO and the CHRO around the optimal experience that they want for their employees. I’ll give you examples. You know, there are organizations that say we want all of our employees to be able to do whatever they do wherever they are with zero friction. Now zero friction, it sounds great John, but we all know kind of a bullshit, excuse my language, statement, what does zero friction mean? Okay, diving into it, it means Hey, I want it to be simple. I want it to be easy. And I want them to only call HR for X. I don’t want them to call HR for Y, I want them to never call HR. I want them to not think of HR as even an existing function. I mean, the reason John, so I have a bunch of I have a bunch of definitions for employee experience, but I can throw off the shelf and they were in my last book, about the guide to a digital employee experience. But what’s become so clear to me, John, and you know, you’ve seen some of the work that I’m doing in the last couple of weeks around, the future of work is over. We really live in the now of work and it’s stupid to talk about the future of work at the moment. It really is stupid to talk about it. And we live in the now of work and we all need to start working in that model, you know that we have to realize that the employee experience of what was three months ago is not going to be the employee experience going forward. And it’s not something that you buy from an ERP vendor or a, you know, a point solution vendor and say, hey, guess what my employee experience problem is solved? Because

that doesn’t happen and never will.

It’s an agile thing, it changes all the time. Go ahead, go.

John Sumser 8:16
That’s good. So let’s get into this difference between the future of work and the know of work. Give me a little bit more about what you mean, what’s happened to make that as important distinction.

Jason Averbook 8:25
So John, a couple of things I just did a, you know, we can share it somehow. I did a big article for HR Executive Magazine this morning that talked about this. You know, all of a sudden, John, we have organizations that were focusing on the future of work, which means I’m going to be focusing on X, Y, and Z, and trying to build into this future of, hey, guess what we need to make the workplace ready for, you know, we need to make the workforce of the future ready for the workplace. We need to make the workforce of the future ready for the workplace. And guess what, all of a sudden we all hit a wall going 150 miles In our, where we realized this shit, we’re not ready. We work with organizations all over the world today who are trying to either hire people, trying to layoff people, trying to understand their talent situation, trying to understand how much they spend on contingent and contract labor versus full time salaried labor versus hourly labor. And guess what?

It’s a shit show.

They can’t get the data. And because they’re in crisis mode, which happens, which happens, they’re all making bad decisions. And at the same time, they have 10s of thousands of employees, calling them looking for answers, looking for answers. If you watch the heartfelt message from the CEO of Marriott, which I would ask everyone to do because it should wake us all up to humanity, CEO who’s battling pancreatic cancer and same time closing hotels and at the same time laying off 80% of his workforce. What we need to think about is we need to think about the that what I just described is the now of work, I don’t have time and I if I didn’t do the work and building bikes If I didn’t build the concept of an anti fragile Foundation, if I didn’t actually make sure that I had concepts around how people get answers to questions in a seamless 24, seven way, it’s too late. So we’re defining the future of work right now. And what’s going to come out on the other end of this, like you and I talked about earlier, where we talked about positivity, and we talked about there is another end of this. It’s great, but what we’re experiencing right now, is the redefinition of what we’re doing. And let me give you one example. I talked to a CH ro yesterday was like, you know, we’re thinking about getting rid of the once a year engagement survey, because we’re afraid that if we ask people right now, the data would be skewed. And like when I heard that John, I almost no, I know it’s funny. I almost fell off my chair. I don’t need to swear so much, but I’m kind of in that I’m like, No shit Sherlock like you actually think if you launch your your once a year survey right now that it’s going to skew things, of course. But it should lead to the fact that by the way, you should not do once a year employee engagement surveys anymore. Like you don’t take your temperature once a year, you don’t weigh yourself once a year, you know, you don’t check your email once a year, you know, you don’t as a human, you don’t ask someone how they’re doing once a year. So I actually think this is the flushing down the toilet moment of all of these old school HR processes that don’t make sense in the now of war. And the concept of breaking it up between future of work and our work is Let’s just end it. Let’s just get done. Let’s not say we’re going to get rid of it in the future. Let’s get rid of this stuff. Now. That’s not going to work for the next three to six months, and use this as a moment to do it.

John Sumser 9:42
Oh, that’s that’s what a hysterical story. It’s so interesting that we’re in this moment the people of HR are being dragged through extraordinary times. They have to demonstrate compassion while they’re helping with a layoff list. And that’s the hardest part of the HR job and now you add this additional factor to it. Which is, this crisis shows exactly where the conventional wisdom of HR over the years has gotten really broken. And so that’s what you mean by the now work is that well, yeah, it’s like the waiter dropped all of the dishes. And you have to start from scratch with newdishes.

Jason Averbook 12:19
We, let me give you another example. You know, we have organizations right now who are approaching us every day, saying, we need to think about virtual onboarding, virtual onboarding, you know, and again, they’ve been flying people in, they’ve been doing the old stuff forever. They’ve not they’ve not put in place processes like this. They’ve wasted lots of money thinking that in-person onboarding might be the answer. But guess what, now all of a sudden, another type of a seminal moment is Whoa, we need to really think about how do we do this differently when people can’t get on the plane and maybe that was never the right thing to do. And maybe that didn’t add value, etc, etc. Another flushing down the toilet moment of, hey, in the world we live, you know, as I onboard new customers to the Domino’s Pizza app without flying them into Domino’s headquarters to get them to buy stuff from me, do I really need in person onboarding for every one of the jobs? And if not, even if it’s not a full virtual onboarding, could I take 90% of it? And make it that, do I really need in person I-9 verification like all that stuff, John, like the now of work is let’s just like let’s use this moment to realize that we can we have the permission to end that stuff. And that any any one that said, Well, guess what, we’ve always done it that way. Or when John was here, he told us we had to do it that way, like this moment in time allows us to reset and that’s why I’m opportunistic, and positive about what the future looks like for those organizations that take the moment and do the reset.

John Sumser 13:53
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. You’re gonna cause some serious trouble Jason. The other day, there was a great service that Vizier did for the people in the analytics community. And I saw you talk about five basic ideas for the people analytics community. And I think it’s relevant here. Would you mind walking me through those things again?

Jason Averbook 14:14
So, you know, it’s a great question, and I’m going to walk you through them. And one of the things that I think is fascinating, still, John, is that I’m just gonna throw this out there is that organization still think of data as, oh, guess what there needs to be a special group. It’s called the people analytics period. And I totally get that I totally get what they’re saying. But guess what, we in HR all need to realize the data, data, data, data is our biggest part of capital, you know, and the more that we can think that and the more that we can act that way, the better we are. So when I talked about those five things, the first thing I talked about is need. And when I’ve talked about needs, I said, you as analytics professionals, or you as HR professionals, get involved with what the executive team is doing and say, I can help you with that answer, I can help you

with that answer.

Okay, the second thing, how do I then help executives and help the business, do some modeling because guess what we are all and I’m just going to, John, don’t kill me for using this. But we are all in a wartime setting. And this I’m not talking about the war of the virus. I’m talking about the economic war of business. Every single business in the world, not one is not doing modeling right now and not doing scenario modeling. And guess what? They’re doing scenario modeling around their people. And guess what, that’s what we’re built for. And guess what they’re doing it without us. We need to be able to understand and help them realize that we can we were built this and people data. It’s the most valuable data that we have next to the cash that’s sitting in the bank. Let us work with you and let us show you once and for all that HR isn’t a place to collect data. But HR is a place to actually help the business. Do this kind of modeling. Three, how do I look out for some of the HR stuff? Who’s on benefits? Who’s a protected class? Who do I have to treat differently? I have all that data that business leaders don’t have. And if they don’t have that data, they’re going to they’re going to crap. Number four, how do I make sure that I think about talent and realize I want to think about what this looks like on the other side, on the other side of this, you’re going to have businesses that look completely different than they do today. And if they don’t, they’re stupid, okay. 2008. Businesses change and never came back the way that they were before 2020. This is not when I said 2020 was a year to bring, get 2020 vision. This is not what I expected. But more than ever, I think we are going to create a different vision for our businesses. So number four is how do I actually think about the talent that I need going forward, not the talent I have today. And number five, being able to show business impact, not measuring HR looking at themselves in the mirror, hey, guess what our cost per hire is X and our time to fill is X like awesome. Take that into your bathroom and you know, deal with that. But when you actually present it to the executives, it has to be the business impact that this is going to have. So needs modeling compliance,

talent and impact. Those are the five.

and every person in HR should be living and breathing that data right now and saying how do we match our data with the needs of the business that are changing by the hour?

John Sumser 17:33
So let me get this down. Needs, modeling, compliance, talent, and impact are the five pillars of a now of work, HR organization, that fair?

Jason Averbook 17:45
Specifically tied to data. Now, if I can’t make that broad of a statement, because what I will tell you, the biggest thing for an HR organization right now to be is to help managers and leaders be human.

John Sumser 17:57
Right? Right. So that gets us to the next So,

Jason Averbook 18:02
I mean, john, one of the things I talked about all the time is I talked about the concept of Hams, Head’s and Hearts. And you and I have had some amazing and we won’t do this now, but amazing discussions on how do people and machines work together. Machines are great at the handwork machine suck at the hearts work, you know, and well, we argue and while some people could argue that the future is machines are going to be great at making me feel good, and being able to show empathy. We’re not near that today. So I need a balance as an HR function, the human part of Human Resources right now more than ever, with how do I leverage my data to make a difference?

John Sumser 18:40
Cool. So now we’ve got this, the HR people are really on the front lines right now. And they’re torn between needing to help people deliver heart and do the work supporting the saving of the business which is probably not going to be very compassionate, laying people off is not generally a compassionate activity. Any advice that you could offer somebody who’s torn between those two polarities?

Jason Averbook 19:09
You know, one of the things that we talked about, and I it’s I had an opportunity opportunity to do a discussion yesterday that, you know, that’s out on Twitter that’s out in the sphere with Tim Sackett. And one of the things we talked about was this term of rational compassion, rational compassion. And that’s Tim’s term. And I loved the way he phrased that. Because what I’m trying to do right now, is I’m trying to bring compassion to people in a time of hurt people in a time of confusion, people in a time where they’re not really sure exactly what’s next. And then on the other side, I’m trying to be rationally compassionate to a business, which is saying, we can’t keep burning money. We can’t keep the restaurant open. We can’t keep the hotels open. You know, we can’t afford to do this stuff as we don’t know what’s next. I shared John, that not to call these things out. But you know, from an economic standpoint, you know, 911 happened fast. And, you know, for those of us that remember it, you know, the recovery started, not soon.

Not too far after that,

You know, 2008 happened pretty fast. And the recovery started, not too far after that. We don’t know this one yet. And because we don’t know the length of this, and we have people saying it could be three months, we have people that are saying that 18 months, we don’t know the length of this. So that all being said, I my rational, this, we’re in for a fight, we’re in for a long flight. You know, we’re not just into, okay, let’s just close our eyes for two weeks. And then all of a sudden, we’re in recovery. You know, this is longer than that. So, you know, the whole concept of rational compassion, how do I make sure I’m there for my people when they need me? And at the same time, how do I make sure that I’m keeping the most important thing which is having a business and keeping the business alive? It’s a really hard balance. And I would honestly say, as someone who’s been in their space for a long time and work with, you know, probably hundreds of thousands of HR people, I don’t think that they’re good at rational compassion. And as someone who has been the CEO of four companies, I’m not that great at rational compassion. I’m not sure any human is because you’re balancing the human needs of Maslow’s hierarchy, with what it’s really going to take to keep a business running. And those two clash?

John Sumser 21:29
Yes, they do. Yes, they do. So the last question is, you’re talking about aggressively moving into the way the work actually is today, as the now of work. And that’s going to mean some some rearrangement of the way we operate into a more adaptive form of making sure that we consistently work in the now of work, which will be a changing thing. How do you do that? How do you stay flexible while building the kind of policies that HR has to do to do the governance part of its work.

Jason Averbook 22:09
You know, I think John, and you know, this is really hard for me and I in a unit want to do, and I have lots of common conversations about this. Also, I think that we have to let me share an example. I was on the phone with a huge grocery store organization. Last week, actually, dude, last week, it was two days ago, feels like last week, we’re having this conversation about background checks. And they’re like, what do we do? Like we’ve got this background check process built into our ATS process and our hiring process, and we’re being killed by the stores where they just need people to stock the shelves. What do we do? Why do we have in there? I mean, the question was this. Why do we have an eight step approval process to get someone hired when we don’t need step approval process? all they’re doing is clicking on a button and not even looking at the data. And I think that’s A oshit moment, John, I think that’s a wake up call. Because we put in place as HR processes that aren’t efficient, that don’t add value, and that don’t help the business actually do their best work. So how does this happen? I think what how it happens is we learn from what we’re going through right now. There’s not a better business, I’m stupid, but there’s not a better time to learn what you need and what you don’t need than in a crisis. Now, does that make sense? There’s not a better way, right? What you do is you look at essential you look at what’s required, and you say, what’s required for us to do this. And guess what we in HR have been doing a lot of stuff for the last 10 years in this upward bubble that I would say have been nice to have. And we’ve put a lot of stuff in place. They have valued us as HR, but haven’t valued the business. And I really think what’s gonna happen in the now of work is that script is going to flip and we’re going to come out of this thing Let, we realized that we didn’t need this, guess what we realized that this was a nice to have. And we realized that going forward, we’re not going to do that. But we’re going to focus on what’s most important. So that’s my prediction John, I can tell you that 50% of orgs are going to fall back into normal operating procedures. And I can tell you that 50% of orgs, for example, orgs that we’re working with, are using this opportunity right now, to create the future now of work. And I truly think it’s just a question as to, you know, which one of these camps which one of these camps do people fall in? And I know we’re almost out of time job, I want to make one more statement if I could, and this is tied to vendors. vendors in our space, have made a lot of money. vendors have made a lot of money selling technology, to HR people. And it is fascinating to me, and I’m sorry that this gives me a weird insight into how my brain works, but it is fascinating to me to watch How vendors are either stepping up or stepping back at a time of crisis. I got probably 10 offers yesterday from people to join webinars or events that had nothing to do with the world that we live in at this moment. And I’m like, Are you serious? Like you want me to join this thing to talk about? How do I leverage AI to make sure that there’s no bias in my recruiting process? And do I believe in AI to get bias out of my recruiting process, but this is not the time you’re on mute. Let’s focus on reality. So looking at some of the things that you know, like a league is doing to offering their platform for free, you know, around health and benefits are looking at some of the things that Cornerstone is doing around Cornerstone cares and offering their learning capabilities up to organizations for free slash sponsoring our digital Meetup group. So looking at that and doing that for free for us to help people during this time of service. Now as you know, has put out an amazing set of emergency capabilities to all of the customers into how to deal with COVID-19 and in truly servicing employees when and how they need it. So I just would like not just us, John, you know, we’re taking the time to do this in a moment where we’ve got other things that we probably could be doing both personally and professionally. But I’d really like to call on the vendors in our space to step up.

And, you know, we as enterprises have all been good to them. We’ve all given them a lot of money. Help us help us at this moment deal with how do we deal with our workforce in a moment of crisis where we need to be as human as possible.

John Sumser 26:37
I think that’s powerful and important. You’ve recently started, I still don’t have a total grasp of it, but there is a Slack channel that is growing fairly rapidly that that is your product. Tell me a little bit about that. We’re done.

Jason Averbook 26:52
So basically, junk. I’m a community person, I need to create communities and I need to help people. We started slack group, that slack sponsored called the Nnow Digital Meetup. Okay, and what the Now Digital Meetup is, is it’s a 24 seven, place for HR, HR tech, digital HR people to go to have conversations about what they’re experiencing, what they’re experiencing in the workplace, what they’re experiencing in life, and most importantly, asking for help and sharing with each other, which we need. There isn’t a place to do this. There’s webinars, there’s users conferences, there’s all that stuff. But guess what, I need help now.

We need help now. So the concept of this now of work slack group and the digital meetup, which is a live version of it, which happens every Friday, which we’ve had lots of requests, by the way to happen every day now, you know, is basically a shoulder, a shoulder to come to a shoulder to share with and a shared shoulder to to get best practices, and it’s really easy to join. It’s flash. Now flack Now, slack now is now of work. So once again, Now Slack, if you join that you’ll be immediately entered into the group. There’s ongoing discussions right now, there’s a conversation right now at this moment that I’m watching, which is an organization that’s talking about how do they create a map with COVID-19 breakouts overlaying to where their employees are at the moment. And that’s a real life problem that real life HR person is trying to solve. So whether you’re a vendor, I’ve said this, and I said this a week ago, whether you’re a vendor, whether you’re a consultant, whether you’re a practitioner, this isn’t a one vendor, one consultant, one practitioner, solve, this is a global solve. And if nothing else, we have an HR function need to come together to do this. So we’re going to keep this going as long as we need to, as long as we’re adding value. For me, it’s the least you can do in a world where everyone needs each other.

John Sumser 28:59
Thanks for watching. wonderful conversation would you mind reintroducing yourself and tell people how they get ahold of you?

Jason Averbook 29:06
Sure. Jason Averbook with Leapgen. And you can find me all over the place. Jason Averbook, A-V-E-R-B-O-O-K, on LinkedIn @jasonaverbook, you know, and join the slack group at and you can find that on all of our channels as well or has all that information also.

John Sumser 29:26
Thanks, Jason. It’s been an amazing conversation. I really appreciate your passion and your insights. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Jason Averbook 29:34
John just really quickly in closing here, you know, I and the whole community just have to say that we-love-you. We-love-you.

John Sumser 29:45
What a nice thing. Thank you! I needed that, thank you.

Jason Averbook 29:49
You have to realize that someone that’s willing to do this for free, someone that’s willing to put together content for free and share it with a community all in the best interest, all in the best interest of trying to help an industry is something that’s truly, truly special. And you know, I just wanted to take a second in a moment where there’s not enough of that, to call you out and just say, you know, we all love you, and thank you for everything you’re doing for the space.

John Sumser 30:16
Thanks. Thanks. I really appreciate that. So you’ve been listening to HR Examiner Executive Conversations, and we’ve been talking with Jason Averbook, who is the CEO and founder of Leapgen, and the founder of the now slack group at If you’re in the industry, you should be part of that conversation. Thanks again, Jason. And thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll see you back here next week. Bye Bye now.

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