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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: Don Weinstein, Corporate VP, Global Product and Technology, ADP
Episode: 371
Air Date: June 26, 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

[00:00:00] John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. I’m your host, John Sumser and today we’re going to be talking with Don Weinstein, who leads ADPs global product and technology team. Don’s been a guest many times over the years and it’s great to have you back. How are you Don?

[00:00:31] Don Weinstein: I’m doing great, John. Great to be back. How are you?

[00:00:35] John Sumser: Well you know, outside of the fact that I’ve been in prison for a hundred days I’m doing great. I have a good roomate in solitary confinement. But man, I was not prepared for this. How about you?

[00:00:49] Don Weinstein: Yeah, no, likewise. I think you and I are both are in the same boat. I now have more roommates than when I started the year with some of my college kids moving back in with us and, you know, we’re all adjusting and we’re all adapting to the new realities.

[00:01:01] And even the bandwidth constraints, you never find out how strong your wifi signal is until you’ve got five teenagers or three teenagers and five people on it. But. Everybody’s healthy thankfully. And we’ll see, hopefully, you know, here I’m in New Jersey, uh, you know, the trend lines have been positive and we’re, we’re back on to phase two of our reopening and hopefully getting to phase three, just watching out to make sure we don’t have that dreaded the second wave.

[00:01:26] John Sumser: Yeah well, I’m here in California and we’re seeing the second wave.

[00:01:30] Listen, would you take a moment before we get too far down the conversation would you introduce yourself? So the few people in the audience who haven’t run across you before will know who you are.

[00:01:42] Sure I’d be glad to. So Don Weinstein, I’m corporate vice president of global product and technology for ADP.
[00:01:49] And what that means is I basically am responsible for anything and everything technology and product related, and it’s a little bit, it’s actually a somewhat unusual role. In that it combines all of our external facing, you know, client facing product work with also all of our internal technology function.

[00:02:07] So think about it as the traditional CIO role and CTO role all wrapped up into one. So if anything goes wrong, it’s all my fault is how I like to say it.

[00:02:16] John Sumser: But your influence in ADP is vaster than that. When I think about ADP, I think there’s Carlos who is the jovial CEO and then when he has any questions about anything he turns to you to get the answer. So, it’s bigger than you describe I think.

[00:02:33] Don Weinstein: I’m sure Carlos would appreciate being described as jovial. And he’s an amazing CEO. And I think the thing about Carlos that everybody says the most is a very high integrity person in his case, which is critical. If you think about what we do in terms of handling so much of the nations and the economy’s payroll, you want a really, really high integrity person running the show, but I’m glad that his external persona is jovial. I’ll let them know that. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.

[00:02:58] John Sumser: Oh you know, he’s just easy to like, he’s just really easy to like. He creates a sense of trust in every interaction that I’ve ever seen him in.

[00:03:13] Don Weinstein: I agree. That’s the integrity dimension in particular, right. Because you know, we talk about the speed of trust and all that, and you know it when you have somebody that you’ve worked for that you trust, it does create that safety environment to be able to do your best.

[00:03:27] John Sumser: Yeah, just to keep dwelling on this a little bit of my sense is the way he builds trust is by giving it. Right, that’s the trick that I think most people don’t understand is, trust engenders trust. And so if you lead with trust, you get trust back.

[00:03:43] Don Weinstein: That was really well said. You know I hadn’t heard it put that way before, but as you describe it, now, that’s exactly the way it’s experienced on the team.

[00:03:51] So I have to quote you on that.

[00:03:52] John Sumser: Well, you know, add that to your long book of John Sumser quotes. It’s probably hundreds of pages long by now.

[00:04:00] So, you’re an engineer by trade. There are not great quantities of engineers who have a highly visible positions in HR and HR Tech. Well, how do you see the relationship between those two disciplines?

[00:04:15] Don Weinstein: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think engineering engineers at their core are problem solvers, very pragmatic people. You see a problem or you see a process or there’s no process or problems that can’t be fixed or improved.
[00:04:28] You know, in my world, we talk about how do we eliminate friction or pain in every single process or interaction between a worker and the client. And really just try and take an extensive. Do you, with that to say, not only looking at the pain that people complain about. But also sometimes there’s pain that people don’t complain about because they’ve just learned to accept it will to live with it as a way of life.

[00:04:52] But, you know, engineers, we were trained not to accept anything for what it is, but to always assume that there’s a better way and constantly be on the search for that better way of doing things. But at the same time, you know, I think the discipline of HR and human capital management reminds us that, well, there’s a human side to this and that the people who are engaging, that they’re not just bits and bytes, they’re actual people on the other side of the product and the technology.

[00:05:19] And we really have to humanize our approach to optimization problems and also recognize that people don’t always respond in the ways that you might expect on your spreadsheet or your prototyping process. So. No, I think to that end, we’ve got a couple of interesting things at ADP in terms of roles that we’ve added to the team.

[00:05:39] So we have both behavioral psychologists. I have a couple of PhD, behavioral psychologists on the team who help us try and understand and even communicate with emotion to the clients and the, and the workers. Ultimately you’re on the receiving end of everything we do. And we have a corporate anthropologist who likewise.

[00:05:57] Is trained more than the art of observation, not almost to recede in the background and see things for how they are. And then the engineering side can come back and say, here’s how they could be. But recognizing that we are dealing with people here and people can be emotional beings and you have to handle the psychological aspects, not just the operational side.

[00:06:20] So I’ve spent some time with Martha Burns. She’s pretty amazing. She’s your corporate there. This leads me in a weird way to the next question, which is there’s a lot of unrest in the country right now. Um, diversity and inclusion have become important things for corporate executives to talk about, but in general, talking doesn’t get much.

[00:06:44] And the unrest is about the fact that people have been talking about stuff for years. ADP as the biggest player in the HR tech space by law leaving here. So would you talk a little bit about how you guys were thinking about and what you’re doing in Georgia?
[00:07:01] Yeah, it’s a great point, John. And I think you’re right.

[00:07:05] Fundamentally, that’s been a lot of talk for a long time, but maybe not as much action. And that’s what you, one of the factors, obviously, a lot of factors, but one of the factors contributing to the general sense of frustration. This has always been important to us. This is not like something new, both internally within ADP.

[00:07:21] I think if you look at any of the, kind of the external reference bodies, like diversity and core, that human rights council that generally speaking ADP scores pretty highly on them. What types of things, because we do care. But I think point about being the largest provider in the human capital technology space, you know, we not only have to lead by example, but we have to also help others.

[00:07:43] So along those lines of few things that we’ve done and are continuing to do is, you know, we launched, uh, our pay equity explore part of our data cloud, which was analytics and insights to help clients, companies identify where they might have discrepancies pay discrepancies by race, by gender or by ethnicity.

[00:08:03] Somewhere in their organization and do it in a way that action orient. Well, it’s not just to say, look, you’ve got these pay discrepancies, but here’s the, the individual here’s where they work. Here’s what the market benchmark says. It should be click here to take action on it. We try and make it much, much more action oriented did around it.

[00:08:21] Not just analysis, but rectifying some of those disparities. Similar on the recruiting side, we’ve gone out with our candidate relevancy algorithms, which are really, we’ve been out there for a few years now have attempted to strip biases out of the talent acquisition process by removing things like race or gender or other ethnic identifiers from a candidates background, and really zero in and focus on just pure skills.

[00:08:47] And I think we’ve seen good examples of that. I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and. No. So I read in the book outliers about the experience that had with the orchestra is I forget which one it was, where they had a very low penetration of, you know, very small number of females in the orchestra relative to the total population of musicians.

[00:09:08] And when they went to blind audition, it instantly jumped up in a normal, I still about 50 50, which is where you would expect it to be versus I don’t remember the number, but it was far below 50% of their orchestra. So it just kind of bore out this point, the point that if you could strip out that there was some unconscious bias in the selection process.

[00:09:25] And to the extent that you could strip that out, things could follow a more natural. Sequence. And so we’ve had some of these things in the market for a while now with some success, I would say my hope is that I think we’ll get more traction with them going forward, by the way, just one thing to point out when we’ve introduced these types.

[00:09:43] So capabilities, we haven’t charged for them. We haven’t tried to monetize them. It’s like if you’re a client of ADP, you know, if you’re using our recruiting solution, We’re we’re going to give you that candidate relevancy album for free, essentially, because we think it’s important for you to have it and use it.

[00:09:58] We’re not trying to make a buck off of helping fix what I think is an important problem. And then, you know, in addition to that, I think one of the things we’ve really, and looking at going forward as we started an AI ethics board, because this topic about algorithms in the workplace and machine learning, you know, if you do have biases that are already present in the workplace, you know, if you put algorithms around that, are they going to correct for the biases or if implemented poorly, there’s always the risk that they could just reinforce them.

[00:10:26] We could be more efficient at implementing your biases. So. We started an AI ethics board. And it was important that we had a mix of not only internal, but also external participants, you know, from outside the company. So from inside, we have our chief privacy officer. We had our head of corporate diversity as well as our chief audit officer, but then we also got some external counsel from the world of HR practices and employment practices, legal counsel, to be part of our AI ethics board.

[00:10:56] John Sumser: Other than today, we should have a long conversation about the things that I’ve been learning about ethics, that you have to have a fairly rapid turnover with people on the other score, or they will tend to become a rubber stamp, but that’s not on the list for today. Thanks for talking about it a little bit.

[00:11:15] I’ve been curious about what you’re doing there. You run this big global development. What are the hard parts of your job is that you’ve got a huge ADP software development project with major developments all over the world. And I was always blown away by how complicated that is and gracefully executing.

[00:11:36] That was my question is help me a little bit more about that. And then having that broadly distributed workforce. Does that prepare you for the crisis when you had to move everybody in the company from their offices have been working from home seven.

[00:11:54] Don Weinstein: Yeah, let me tackle the second part first then I think in a sense it did a little bit in that due to our breadth, we felt with a multitude of regional issues in the past, mostly natural disasters like hurricanes in Texas and Florida, or flooding in Chennai or the yellow vest strikes in Paris where the transportation system was shut down.

[00:12:15] All of which caused us to close offices temporarily. And so doing our business continuity plans into practice. Every organization has a business continuity plan, but you never know how good it is until you actually have to put it in and see how it works. But I think what was unique about this time was that this was our first global, well, everything else was regional, like, okay, well, we’ll send the folks from this office into a remote setting and then we’ll distribute the workload around.

[00:12:42] But mission is truly global, which put a tremendous amount of load on our internal network. In particular, you know, our VPN capacity was never sized past 60,000 associates logged in at the same time. And whereas economies like North America and two events in Europe had a little bit more, more of a history and a practice of working from home.

[00:13:02] In other areas of the world, but in India, it was never really a work from home environment. People didn’t even have laptops and trying to procure laptops in those locations right now, almost impossible. And we in fact, went out and we bought wireless cards and had associates plug the wireless cards into their desktops, bring their desktops home because they might not have even had good infrastructure at home.

[00:13:24] We created our own internal geek squad that would go out to the associates houses and check in on their setups and make sure that they could operate. It was quite a logistical undertaking, but, you know, we managed to, to get that all done and not really miss a beat. I think it’s always, for us, it’s been an advantage having that global footprint in part, because we provide services to clients in almost 140 different countries go through ourselves and through our partner network.

[00:13:51] And so. Being able to have engineers in the markets, software developers in the markets where we’re doing business just important to stay close to our clients, our global clients, and, uh, make sure that we’re also close to the local regulatory environment. Again, part of this change that’s happened in light of the pandemic governments around the world are all passive legislation to try and sustain their economies.

[00:14:17] Here in the U S obviously we’ve talked a lot about the cares act and the paycheck protection program, which we’ve been on the front line. And I do use a military battle analogy of frontline to describe the response to the PTP program, which keeps changing. But globally, we’ve had almost 2000 legislative changes that we’ve had to implement in a multitude of countries around the world.

[00:14:42] John Sumser: Yeah, one of the times seven for you. So you moved all these people probably are opposites to remote work settings that now every one of those 60,000 people is competing with three teenagers in the house. What are you learning? You start to get your balance in this new work environment. Yeah, well, look, working from home has been a hot topic and it’s been at the forefront ever since.

[00:15:07] I think it was Marissa Meyer, a Yahoo called all the Yahoo engineers back in from working from home. And there was this hot debate out there. Lots of folks they’re being even more productive now that they’re working from home. I do see a greater blurring of work, you know, for instance, as I mentioned now that we have our global workforce on the VPN and we were monitoring VPN activity, just to make sure we have capacity, you could actually see the patterns of work around the world.

[00:15:34] The biggest thing I saw was how many hours people were logging and it seemed like that was up. And that folks are always connected and not just connected, but being active. But, you know, on the productivity side. And I think this debate is not going to quiet down. It’s only going to ramped back up again on is working from home, more productive or less productive.

[00:15:52] My personal experiences. We have a hundred percent of everybody working remote. I think we’ve had some pretty good, good productivity. As we start to look now at organizations doing a partial return to office. I think that’s going to be hard. If you’ve got 50% of the folks in the office, 50% remote to sustain that same level of productivity and that type of environment.

[00:16:14] There’s more sensitivity to making sure everybody who’s remote is heard when a hundred percent of the group is remote, but I’ve experienced it myself firsthand. If we have a meeting and, you know, a majority of people are in the office and a minority are on the video call, making sure that we’re balanced and everybody has a chance to be heard and participate equally.

[00:16:32] It can be a challenge. And I do wonder how that’s going to evolve. As people start to slowly open back up and return to their offices. Cool.

[00:16:41] John Sumser: So you’ve got 810,000 customers extraordinary, but you’re watching what’s happening as those 810,000 customers. What is she? How’s the world really reacted to this.

[00:16:57] Don Weinstein: Yeah, it’s a great question. We’re able to walk that very closely. You know, I think we talked about it even a little bit when the national underemployment report that we put out and Carlos did mention some of this at the analyst day, but she liked you’re in the U S the economy hit rock bottom, kind of around the end of April or the beginning of may.

[00:17:14] Certainly our may employment report was pretty rough. And then the one that just came out in early June, which went through the middle of may, it was still down, but it was down much, much less than the April report. Or if I could throw an engineering term at two with a second order, derivative turned positive, which is the change in the rate of decline.

[00:17:34] That decline much, much, much less. And so we’re starting to see green shoots across the board in terms of how many hours are being clocked or logged by the workforce. What’s the dollar wage that’s getting paid. So we definitely, I feel like we bottomed out and things are ticking up true V-shape recovery, so to speak.

[00:17:54] I still haven’t gotten back to where we were prior to the start of the pandemic, but it’s definitely trending in a positive direction. I think now what we’re all on the lookout for is that second way, you know, things continue on the current course and trajectory. You know, you could see us in the second half of the calendar year, almost getting back to where we were before, but nobody knows what’s going to happen with the virus and what’s going to happen with the related economic expansion.

[00:18:20] But right now, at least it feels like we’re on a positive trajectory, albeit off of a very low bottom.

[00:18:26] John Sumser: [00:18:26] So to jump, you are now one of the largest providers of machine learning in the industry and the heart of machine learning is history. I wonder how your views of machine learning have changed over the last 90 days, because we’ve heard this play place where history may not be as relevant as it was 90 days ago.

[00:18:52] Don Weinstein: The great question. I think we. I’ll go back to kind of the national employment report example for a second. You know, we track it. Relatives could be BLS, the Bureau of labor statistics. And in a normal month, we might be looking at deviations. I mean our employment report and the BLS report that might be on the order of tens of thousands of jobs.
[00:19:13] And, you know, in our may report, we were down two and a half million. Everybody thought that was crazy until the BLS came out and said, well, no, the economy added two and a half million shots, which is really cool.

[00:19:28] But the deviation between the two numbers, as I said, we’d go into panic attack. If the deviation, you know, was in the tens of thousands, that was a deviation of 5 million. And nobody even batted denied because everything was just a volatile at the time. I think it’s important to recognize to your point then, which of those?

[00:19:47] So you’re right. The machine learning is learning on the data it’s learning on history. And I think the key thing is to understand what data sets are materially impacted or impaired because of the volatility of the environment and which ones aren’t. Because not everyone is, as I mentioned, you know, we were looking at our skills, taxonomy and running a machine learning algorithm against that to try and help identify the best candidates, regardless of race, gender, and ethnicity, that doesn’t change.

[00:20:16] I don’t know that that has changed necessarily in this at the same time. I have to be mindful of those, because for instance, you may have had a preference for candidates who were closer to your office. And now that you know, maybe there’s more flexibility to working from home. You don’t want to start screening out those remote candidates as much.

[00:20:36] So I think the most important thing to your point, what have we learned about machine learning is you just can’t put it on autopilot. And let it run and the algorithms will tune themselves, but I think they benefit in our own hands. If you actually understand what’s inside them, what are the factors that they’re keying off of?

[00:20:54] What are the waiting and just recap those assumptions and say, does that still make sense? And definitely materially impacted based on what’s happening. There’ll be some cases where that hasn’t changed. There may be others that have, you know, compensation factors may be interesting to look at because you know, we’ve been chugging along on our market.

[00:21:12] They pay rating was talked about before and the good news is, you know, we have a lot of data in general. I find when you have a volatile environment, having too much history in the, in the algorithm can be problematic because you might overweight the history accidentally. So I think that, you know, do we tighten down those time periods now and try and understand a little bit better?

[00:21:34] Is there a material turn going? Yeah, but I think the question, the big picture question that you raised there is, you know, what have we changed in our view about machine learning? Or I would say evolve. It’s really just understanding that this isn’t something that can run on autopilot, that us as the provider of the algorithms, in some cases, and for sure, a client company or organization as the consumer, you really want to know what’s in there.

[00:22:00] Yeah. You can’t assume that it’s operating as usual, but at least make that proactive chalk and say. Hmm. Is this going to give me a credible result or should I be mindful of the underlying factors? Cause I don’t want to stay. We’ll just roll them all out now because it history has changed because some of them are still going to be very, very useful, but you have to make that kind of conscious deliberate assessment and not just allow things to operate as is.

[00:22:25] If that makes sense.

[00:22:26] John Sumser: That makes perfect sense. If you’ve got a couple of extra minutes, I wanted to ask you about innovation, right? You have a remarkable innovation program, ADP. Um, I’ve been leaving with it for years and now we’ve got everybody Christmas. How’s innovation going in this environment. And how are your innovation centers doing?

[00:22:48] Don Weinstein: Yeah. So the innovation centers are cranking along as I’ve shared before. I think folks believe that their productivity is up getting really good metrics about knowledge worker productivity is a hard challenge for us, but we look at the throughput of the delivery and they’re cranking along. You know, one of the things we do as well, we’ve been doing some engagement pulses as the workforce has transitioned to a working from home.

[00:23:11] You know, we acquired Marcus Buckingham’s company a few years back and we’ve adopted his engagement pulse and the engagement framework. I mean, it’s quite remarkable. And one of the beauties of it is that it’s kind of manager empowering, so I can run an engagement pulse for my organization whenever I want to.

[00:23:27] So we actually ran one right in the middle of the downturn and we had had a baseline just beforehand and we actually saw engagement went up five points, which was remarkable and it gives you that adrenaline rush. So, you know I believe that we’re continuing to execute. And in fact, in some cases, a little bit of an adrenaline rush happening where folks are working even harder because there’s this blending now of, you know, work like the work home separation, which never was really there to be begin with is even tougher right now, but works fermenting with some new tools to help us do kind of virtual event storming and brainstorming on virtual yellow stickers and user journeys.

[00:24:04] But I think as we moved off site. I think that innovation culture has stayed intact and just transferred to digital. But one of the reasons I think that was the case is that we already had established those centers. And the programs and the teams and they were already mature. I would not be as confident about starting something brand new, like, hey, would I start up a brand new innovation center or team right now?

[00:24:31] Especially because we’ve hired a lot from the outside. I wouldn’t be as confident in that at the moment. I think we’d have to think through that one a little bit harder. But taking the existing kind of, you know, more mature team that had been working together and had already kind of moved into that performing phase and then going virtually, I think that’s been a smoother transition than we feared.

[00:24:52] John Sumser: That’s fantastic. So we’ve run through our half hour. It’s been a great conversation. Anything you want to add before we go?

[00:24:58] Don Weinstein: You know, I think it’s been, as you said, the pandemic has been all encompassing. You know, we’ve had to focus on business continuity. We’ve had to focus on compliance and now we’re turning our attention to, okay, some clients are looking to return to office. Others are trying to figure out how do they navigate their new digital future. And we just kind of keep progressing this thing in waves. You know, we’re sort of on wave three of our pandemic response and nobody knows what wave four is going to look like, but we’re committed to staying out in front of it.

[00:25:27] And you know, it’s been a challenging time. It’s been a crazy time, but it’s also been one where I think at least within my organization, you know, I look at the engagement scores. I look at the productivity, it feels like in many spaces, people like rising to the challenge and rising to the occasion. You know, that’s really gratifying to see.

[00:25:44] So, hopefully you guys are staying safe and sane over there and we’ll try to do likewise.

[00:25:49] John Sumser: We are. So would you take a moment and reintroduce yourself, tell people how they might get ahold of you?

[00:25:55] Don Weinstein: Yeah. Don Weinstein, corporate vice president of global product and technology for ADP. The easiest way to find me is to look me up either on LinkedIn or message me on Twitter, DonWeinstein1.

[00:26:07] John Sumser: Thanks Don. It’s been great having you. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations, and we’ve been talking with Don Weinstein who is ADP’s lead for global product and technology.

[00:26:19] Thanks for tuning in today and thanks again Don. We will talk to you back here next week. Bye bye now.

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