Mon, 15 March 2021
Aron Ain, The CEO of 13,000 Person Ultimate Kronos Group on Building A Company Where Everyone Loves to Work
For several years in a row, Aron has been on the Glassdoor top 100 CEO list and in 2012 he won the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. UKG was rated the #2 best large employer in America by Forbes, it received a 100% on the Corporate Equality Index, and prior to the merger both Kronos and Ultimate Software were separately named a Best Workplace for Parents by Great Place to Work.
How do you build an organization where people love to come to work? Aron Ain, CEO of Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG), believes it is all about trust, transparency, and collaboration. Contrary to past fads, creating an engaged workforce is not about free food, free gym memberships, and frequent parties.
As Aron says, “I believe people join organizations because of the organization. I believe they leave because of who they work for.”
In this episode of the podcast Aron shares:
The leaders that employees deal with on a daily basis make or break the experience that employee has. You can work for the best organization in the world, but if your direct manager is a horrible leader, you are going to hate your job.
Because of that fact, leaders inside of UKG, known internally as people managers, are held accountable to be great. People managers are not just evaluated and rated by their direct reports, they are also evaluated by the employees who work for them. Twice a year employees inside of UKG are given a survey with 19 questions with straight forward questions that measure the effectiveness of their manager. These are separate from engagement surveys as those only measure the relationship between the employee and the organization, not the relationship between the employee and the manager.
How to keep consistency among leaders in an organization
Depending on the situation the first step if a leader is struggling is to have a conversation and see if improvements can be made. The next step may be to move the person out of a leadership role, while still remaining at the company. And if all else fails, they may be asked to leave the company if they aren’t a good fit with the company values.
Having these ratings from employees is a huge game-changer as leaders typically look at employee engagement surveys to get a feel for how they are doing, but that’s not an accurate picture of the employee-manager relationship.
Aron shares a story about when UKG first started implementing these manager effectiveness surveys. There was a manager who asked Aron for a sit down meeting. When they were talking the manager asked Aron, “Are you going to train me to be a better manager?”. Aron told him that of course he would, but wondered why the manager was coming to him at that moment asking for help.
The manager told Aron that he had always seen himself as a great leader because his team always gave high scores on engagement surveys. But when it came time for these new surveys he received a 59 out of 100 and he was shocked. He had never had the right data that would help him measure his true performance. Well after realizing it he worked hard to improve and two years later he had a score in the 90s.
It is so important for leaders to get an accurate view of how employees see them. How can you expect them to change if they don’t realize they are doing anything wrong. As Aron shares, “Our homegrown training program for our managers is called Courage to Lead. And I tell them the action word isn't lead. The action word in it is the courage, because it takes unbelievable courage to be a great leader. It's hard...it’s hard.”
What does it mean to be an un-leader
To be an un-leader means you realize the value of the people around you and as a leader you understand that you are not more important than anyone else in the organization. Un-leaders show respect, they offer dignity, and they are thoughtful to the people they work with. They realize that they play by the same rules as everyone else. When un-leaders don’t know something, they don’t act like they do. They admit that they are not sure.
Aron says, “I don't expect everyone to care about people in the full spectrum of how I care about people. But I do expect everyone to be respectful. I do expect everyone to tell the truth. You want to ask people who work with-- you want to get on my bad side quickly, don't tell the truth. It's like, I just have no patience for that. Look, I'm a sore loser. I'll admit that, I play to win. But it doesn't mean I do it in a way that doesn't exhibit good sportsmanship and being thoughtful about it.”
So as a leader if you give full autonomy and trust to employees how do you deal with failures when they happen? Aron says for him it comes down to not keeping score.
He says, “I try really, really hard to not keep score. And the reason I try really hard to not keep score, if you came and sold me on an idea to do something, and six months later, it's not going well-- and you know it better than anyone that it's not going well-- what do I want you to do? I want you to stop it, stop the project, stop throwing good money at a bad idea. But if every time I'm keeping score, and I'm going to put you in the penalty box, then you're going to spend another six months absolutely, positively proving it was a stupid idea. And wasted another six months of time and money. So that's how I deal with failure. Now, if the same people keep bringing ideas, and we say, okay, go do it. And it keeps being a dumb idea. And at some point, I say, well, I'm not sure that this person has great judgment on ideas like this, but I certainly start with the way I described it.”
Action items for leaders who want to start improving
You should also respect that people have lives outside of the organization and that their families are the most important thing and they should come first.
Take time and think about what it looks like to trust your people. If you trust them to get their work done, how does that exhibit itself? You can’t just say the words, you have to make trust a living breathing part of your organization.
“If we want to be great leaders, if we want to create organizations where everybody loves to work, if you want to have these places that have these great people work for us, then you better find ways to engage them and you better do these key components around this that we've been talking about. You may be able to trick the people to come work for you. But you're not going to keep them.”