Prior to joining HCM solution provider BambooHR as its director of HR in 2012, Cassie Whitlock held several financial management positions, including a six-year stint as a CFO. Her number-crunching prowess has informed her analytical approach to tackling HR challenges, and helped her contribute to the utility of her employer’s product offerings. Employee Benefit News recently spoke to Whitlock about her role and that of HR technology at the Lindon, Utah-based company with nearly 400 employees.

Employee Benefit News: Bamboo’s mission is to “set people free to do great work.” What’s the role of HR technology in helping you pursue that goal?

Cassie Whitlock, BambooHR
Cassie Whitlock, BambooHR

Cassie Whitlock: Some of it is purely operational in nature involving the day-to-day work of employees, setting people free to work on bigger things. For example, we do e-signatures within our software that streamlines the onboarding process, so people can review their documents prior to setting foot in the door. So then on day one, instead of going through this litany of documents and signing them, they’re instead engaging in building relationships with their new employer and just diving into the job. That’s a small example of helping people focus on the more mission-critical, high-value return activities.

EBN: And what about you?

Whitlock: For me as an HR person, it means I can spend time focusing on other things as well, like employee satisfaction rather than making sure their forms are signed, or working on leadership development.

EBN: Have you played a role in the development of BambooHR’s solution based on your own professional experiences?

Whitlock: Yes. Sometimes we get involved even just on the theory level of, when we’re asked, “Hey, how would this work?” or “What would it look like?” There also have been times that we have gone out and run an experiment in the background, not necessarily through our software, to see what it might look like, what issues we would encounter. And certainly whenever we have a new feature coming out, we’re one of our early access consumers and providing feedback and making sure that it’s been fine-tuned before it goes out to general consumption.

EBN: Can you offer any examples of features you have road-tested lately?

Whitlock: I have a finance background, so I love to dive into data. I found that I was moving beyond the functionality of some of our standard reporting formats. So in our system, one of the things that I loved is our reporting module where you can build a customized report in seconds, and pull any field available in the system and report on it with whatever correlating factors you’re looking for.

EBN: What was the problem?

Whitlock: I found that with retention data, I was trying to take it beyond what it could do when I was pulling in a lot more variables and factors to better analyze turnover inside of each department. I had to pull some numbers in Excel as a work-around. I told our product team that it would be awesome to have this capability readily available in the system. They enhanced their reporting functionality specifically around the turnover area to get better insight where now I can not only pull up turnover for a specific division or department or look at who’s having turnover by manager, but I can also have elements like tenure or their ratings in the performance management module all right there.

EBN: So what have you learned and acted upon based on this enhanced reporting capability?

Whitlock: We didn’t have a bad turnover rate, but I still didn’t like where it was. We had already been talking about it in monthly leadership meetings. I started working with individual managers. We created some custom fields in our software to take a closer to try to pinpoint why people were leaving, so that we could we create change. After analyzing it and making some changes, we had about a 50% reduction in turnover in a couple of the departments that we had targeting for improvement.

EBN: What seemed to be the culprit?

Whitlock: A common reason in most companies is around career opportunity and growth, or relationships with supervisors and coworkers.

EBN: You’ve been in rapid growth mode since the company’s founding 10 years ago. How are using your talent management solutions to help with that?

Whitlock: We are always hiring. Our talent acquisition team works within our ATS software. We really love the new mobile apps that help you to stay on top of those open positions so much easier now. If you’re a hiring manager or a recruiter, you don’t have to be in the office all the time. You can get that notice wherever you are to see that the applicant responded to something you sent, or maybe they signed an offer letter. While we highly value work-life balance here, the reality is that in the TA function, you have to stay on top of those things. You need to have that fast response time with your applicants.

EBN: We’ve been discussing operational issues and solutions. How are you using technology to guide you on the larger strategic HR questions?

Whitlock: There are certain things that are considered tactical or operational, but I believe it’s the way that you do them that can create added strategic value. So how do you attract the right talent to your organization — that’s a broader perspective to look at. Does your ATS have the proper functionality? Do you have the right people interacting with your talent? Do they have the right skills? If you don’t have the right tools to help them, they’re never going to be as good as they could be.

EBN: Other examples?

Whitlock: The onboarding process sounds operational, but how well it’s done has long-term consequences. We know that in their first six months, people are still continuing to decide if they made the right choice by joining your organization. It’s hard to execute a strategy without hiring the right people and keeping them productively engaged over the longer term.

EBN: How do these help you look at the larger picture?

Whitlock: Having the technology to support the varied tasks that HR performs, and then having them together in one system, is where you can get information to help drive your business decisions. You have to tie those tactical operational pieces up into that broader vision to identify business opportunity.

EBN: When you’re looking for insight into your human capital, aren’t there limitations when you have a relatively small sample size, like fewer than 400 employees, in BambooHR’s case?

Whitlock: You do need to take that into consideration, determining whether you’re looking at a real trend or not. That said, you can’t ignore what your numbers are telling you. Take turnover data. When you look at why somebody’s leaving your organization, you can’t wait for three, five, or eight more top performers to leave your organization before you’ve got a real sense as to why they’re leaving. Each one matters. You have to be proactive and care about each one.

EBN: What’s your current professional focus, and is there a technology tool you’re looking for to help you address it?

Whitlock: Here at BambooHR, we care so much about the employee experience. I probably spend 95% of my day working on issues related to that. Organizational health is that new frontier in the HR world that will continue to be explored and developed — both in technology but also just in people’s skillsets and talents.

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