Storytelling About HR Acuity With Deb Muller and Rebecca Trotsky

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 165. This week we have storytelling about HR Acuity with Deb Muller and Rebecca Trotsky. During this episode, Deb, Rebecca and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing HR Acuity.

Deb is CEO and co-founder of HR Acuity, while Rebecca serves as vice president of talent and employee relations strategy. Both are experts in everything talent management and organizational capability, and their passion to help companies thrive through people and culture really comes through during the podcast.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 27 minutes

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Deb Muller, CEO & Co-Founder
Rebecca Trotsky, VP Talent & Employee Relations Strategy HR Acuity

HR Acuity empowers you with structure, content, and tools around documentation, investigations, and analytics in ways that provide accurate, reliable, and uniform experiences for your people. All with software that equips you with built-in expertise to make best practice your process.

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Music:  00:02

Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens-

Music:  00:08

Or should happen-

Music:  00:10

When practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William:  00:25

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the Use Case podcast. Today we have Deb and Rebecca on from HR Acuity and we’re going to be talking about the use case or the business case for why their clients pick and choose HR Acuity. So we’ll jump right into introductions. Deb, why don’t you go first? Introduce both yourself then, Rebecca, why don’t you introduce yourself? And then one of you introduce HR Acuity.

Deb:  00:51

Awesome. So thanks for having us, William. I am Deb Muller and I’m the CEO of HR Acuity. Prior to that, I was a longtime HR and ER practitioner and leader.

William:  01:03

Do you say recovering at this point? Can you say recovering?

Deb:  01:07

Yeah, I guess so. I guess recovering. I think I’ve recovered. I’m hopefully recovered, yeah. Rebecca’s a little closer to it, though, so I don’t know about her.

William:  01:16

Okay. So, sorry. I’m still such nerves already.

Rebecca:  01:23

It’s nice to meet everyone. I’m Rebecca Trotsky. I have not yet recovered. I still am in the world of HR and I have grown up as an HR business partner but I did have the luxury of having a five-year deep dive into the world of talent. And now my role with HR Acuity allows me to bridge those two worlds. I get to build HR internally at HR Acuity, but I also get to build and drive employee relations capability and effectiveness across our customers and our clients and internally with our employees so that we can elevate the impact.

William:  02:02

Oh, that’s fantastic. So you get the best of both worlds.

Rebecca:  02:05


William:  02:05

You get to both do it and help others. That’s the best part about consulting.

Deb:  02:11

[Crosstalk 00:02:11].

William:  02:11

Go ahead, Deb.

Deb:  02:12

She’s leaving out the best part. When I first developed HR Acuity way back 2009, 2010, I was on my own, kind of an entrepreneur starting this crazy thing. And I reached out to HR practitioners and lawyers that I dealt with over the years. And I said, “I need some testers.” And Rebecca quickly raised her hand. She had worked with me years before, not that many years at that point, and was one of our initial testers of the software. She saw it and said, “My company needs this.” Then her company was actually one of our first, earliest adopters of the software. So, she’s also been a user prior to joining us just recently in her role of VP of Talent and the ER strategy.

William:  02:50

Oh, that’s fantastic. What a great story. Okay. So HR Acuity, as we explain it to the world, how do we explain it?

Deb:  02:58

Yeah. We are the only software, the only platform that was specifically built for employee relations. And so a few weeks ago, I would’ve said that covers like the ER, day to day issues, and investigations primarily used by HR practitioners, ER professionals, ethics, compliance sometimes also gets into the mix, certainly legal. However, we’ve just introduced, two weeks ago, we formally launched our second product, called manager or managER, which really starts to involve managers with the system because, as you know, they’re very involved in employee relations. They are really the face of the employer for most employees.

William:  03:40

And also the reason that some people leave a company. So good place to fix any potential communication breakdowns. Let’s start with the obvious, COVID, and obviously employee relations has seen… Well, it was always important check stated and covered, but it obviously, if everyone’s going remote on Friday, it gained in prominence, for sure. I’m sure it also blindsided a bunch of people, both at the executive level and in HR proper. So how did COVID come to change y’all’s world?

Deb:  04:23

Yeah. I’ll take this one because Rebecca hadn’t joined us yet. You know, like everybody else, we didn’t know what was going to happen. We said goodbye for the two weeks, you know, those long weeks.

William:  04:34

Still going on technically.

Deb:  04:35

Yeah, and quite frankly, right at the beginning, all of our ER leaders that we’ve been talking to about buying our software, they sort of got a little distracted. So, Q2 2020 was not one for the record books. We did a couple things. We actually pivoted immediately and started offering our software free because, like you said, we realized that documentation was never going to be more important. What you were telling one employee one day about, “Were we going to give them an accommodation? Should they stay home? Should they not stay home?” could potentially be very different and illegal the next day. Right? We were totally dealing with our playbooks. There were no regulations to rely on, no past precedents. Documenting why you made a decision when you made it was critical and we knew that was needed.

Deb:  05:22

So, we had tags in our system for COVID for our current users. We extended free licenses for our users if they needed them for this new use case that we’d never considered. We offered the product for free. We had many companies take us up on that because we wanted to help them. That certainly elevated employee relations as a function was thrown into the spotlight, like never before.

William:  05:46


Deb:  05:46

Sort of like the way the CFO was thrown into the spotlight during the 2008 time period, this was really the time for employee relations. Everybody was looking at them to see what was happening. At the end of that 20… Q2 wasn’t so great, but actually 2020 was our best year ever. We exceeded our plan because you people started not only dealing with COVID, this new work-from-home reality. But, of course in June of 2020, we had George Floyd’s murder, which started kind of elevating once again, the black lives matter movement and how that was impacting the workforce and how we needed to be different.

William:  06:24

Anything to add Rebecca,

Rebecca:  06:27

I would just say that in my experience, it highlighted the need for high quality management handling employee issues in real time, as they emerged. So, this is reinforcing why the manager product that we just released is so important right now.

William:  06:47

Yeah. It’s interesting because in employee communications, there’s so many things that we can learn from public relations, right? So there’s so many things that we can actually learn from our friends and colleagues in PR, but apply some of the same principles internally.

William:  07:02

Rebecca, you hit on something that’s really interesting in the sense of the velocity of how things work now, as opposed to years ago, where you might have days or maybe even weeks to contemplate a response to something where now it’s in seconds, minutes and hours.

Rebecca:  07:20

That’s right.

William:  07:23

How have y’all seen that play out with your clients?

Rebecca:  07:26

Well, in my experience, it’s interesting to connect what managers are dealing with on the day-to-day basis, like what you just described, to all of the work that was done prior around engaging employees and managing employees, leadership development, all of which is important. But, if you have left out the foundational element of building trust through a process that’s going to be transparent and repeatable and consistent in how you handle employee issues, you’re missing a key element. So you could pour a lot of money into all of those programs and not get at the crux of what’s really happening.

William:  08:11

Right. Deb, how much of when you… I mean, obviously, when you started and now has conversations around the employee experience?

Deb:  08:22

It’s changed so much. When I started, I was just teaching people. It was such a new idea and it was novel, but now, particularly post 2020, it’s a lot about employee experience. We think about all of the CEOs that in 2020 came out recommitting to diversity and inclusion and equity in their workforces and what it’s like for an employee to be there. We think back to “Me Too” and the employee experience and why people came forward or why they didn’t.

Deb:  08:53

How do you know that you are actually hitting those commitments, that you’re meeting those commitments if you’re not looking at the data that Rebecca’s talking about? Those day-to-day interactions of what it’s like to be an employee in that organization and looking at them on a one-to-one individual level so that manager and employee experience and what’s happening in that particular experience with that manager and that employee, but then looking at it in the aggregate, across the organization. How do we know that we’re being inclusive? How do we know that there’s no bias? If we can’t look at interactions down to the level of a written warning or a verbal warning or a coaching situation and make sure that there’s no bias… Not intended, but maybe there’s bias across our organization that we wouldn’t normally see if we didn’t start looking at that information.

William:  09:44

And tied to other platforms and, for both of y’all, where does this sit in an overall technology stack or HR tech stack?

Deb:  09:54

I think we fit in a… I know we fit in a couple areas. We always connect with, obviously, the H-R-I-S, right? That’s the system of record to get information about the employee demographics, who they report to, such and such. But, more and more, we’re seeing ourselves also integrated with ticketing services or sort of core case management services that do sort of tier one tier zero type of things, but then some of them need to get elevated out. So, whether it’s a ServiceNow or some other type of generic case management system that we’ll be notified through or a hotline where, okay, you’re notified of an incident. It’s only one way to get notified of issues. So, integrating it in there as well. We service the hub. It’s not about the notification, but it’s about what happens after we’re notified of an issue and how you manage it because, as you know, that has as much to do with getting everybody back to work productively as the issue itself.

William:  10:52

Thank you for that Deb. Rebecca, the communications part, obviously, both of y’all are experts at that. How do you think about the closing of the loop? You, as a practitioner, but also as a consultant to your clients and also doing it yourself, how do you make sure that they got the message? So, your communication, at least as we were taught in college, is sender-receiver. There’s this little loop that goes back and forth. How do you know that they got the message? Not just semantically got the message, but like substantively got the message. How does the system help them make sure that the supervisors and managers know that they got all communications and consumed them, et cetera?

Rebecca:  11:43

What’s really beautiful about the managER product itself is that it does link to the HR Acuity product that we’ve had for many years now, that I used as a client. When a manager is using that in real time to handle an issue and is getting some guidance in real time about what to do next, some tips and some tricks, some ways to make sure that they’re following up and checking in, they can engage with HR at any point to make sure that they have understood correctly what’s happening and that they know the best path forward. The system itself is almost like an extension of HR because it provides some basic, yet crucial support in the moment when a manager needs it. So, I think that’s how you can ensure that the communication gap, as you mentioned, is closed.

William:  12:40


Deb:  12:41

Yeah. I’d just add that those nudges. Someone’s having an attendance, nudging them to say, “Hey! Two weeks later, have they been there on time?” Either it’s like, “Yeah, thumbs up. They’ve been there.” Or “No, they’re still late.” Well, it says, “Okay, well then here’s what you need to do next.” So, kind of taking them on that journey through the system. The other thing that we’ve implemented within our core system, and we will eventually put into our managER system, is this eNPS, score or rating. Asking the employee how their experience was.

William:  13:13

Oh, that’s cool.

Deb:  13:14

Yeah. We’re not asking them, “Did you like the outcome?” “Did you like-

William:  13:18

“Did you like the new sexual harassment policy?”

Deb:  13:22

That’s right. That’s right. “How you like that?” What we’re asking them, things like, “Were you treated with dignity and respect? Was your issue handled in a timely manner?” I think if the crux of it is, the true eNPS question is, “How likely are you-,” and this is more for the core product, but it can also be extended over, “-how likely are you to recommend that a peer or colleague go to HR or your manager for a similar issue?” And-

Rebecca:  13:46

Yeah. If I could just jump in there, I think we’ve all… well, maybe not everyone, but I have been a part of HR organizations where the word on the street was that HR was a black hole or it wasn’t effective and nobody wants that. That’s not our intent ever. So, this ensures that that is not the case.

William:  14:07

Ratings is just, we’ve seen it with all the apps, ratings are a great way to kind of democratize that. So, I love that. Both of y’all have been beaten to death with ROI and the math as it relates to employee relations. I’m sure it’s a little bit easier, business case today as it was two years ago, but you’re probably still beaten with people that don’t either understand the value or don’t get it. How do you both combat, or do you?… Shouldn’t be assumptive. How do you deal with people that don’t get the… Just fundamentally don’t understand employee communications?

Deb:  14:49

I think for our core product, we really did a lot of work on ROI, put together calculators. We worked with Forrester to help us. A lot of it’s turnover. It’s not the only thing that impacts turnover, but turnover’s a huge cost for organizations. Legal risk mitigation, better insights, things like that. But, for a manager, in particular, I have a CHR that has told me, “I know I can’t scale my HR organization. The company’s going to grow. They’re not just going to start handing me people to help them.”

Deb:  15:27

So much of what HR does right now, or ER, does to support the manager is so manual and tedious because the managers need the hand holding. And that’s for only the things that they know about come to them. This is a way really to enable the managers to empower them and to drive those efficiencies, but also effectiveness.

William:  15:45

I love that. Okay. So let’s jump into software real quick and let’s do HR Acuity proper and then we’ll do the managER product.

Deb:  15:55

I like that. “HR Acuity Proper.” We should… That should be how we-

William:  16:02

So, what’s… And again, when you show the software to someone that’s never seen it before, what’s their favorite thing. What’s the thing that just, they love?

Deb:  16:13

I’ll ask the user. Rebecca, what-

William:  16:16

Nice! Well done.

Rebecca:  16:18

Yeah. For me, it was so beautifully laid out in terms of how to track an investigation and keep it all in one place, super well-organized and easy to use. If somebody left the organization, it was all still there so that if down the road, we got a lawsuit or an E-E-O-C claim or something like that, we had all of the documentation right there. Nowadays, since seeing the product after being away for a few years, I love the health score that you get in an investigation. It guides you through how to make sure that you’ve hit all of the things you need to to make sure that that investigation was done properly. I just think it raises the competence level and the confidence of the HR team.

William:  17:09

Yeah. The vision, the visibility and transparency into what’s going on, where they’re at in the process, and also some of that historical stuff that may be in file folders or whatever, pre-digitalization we would’ve lost. Or, we would’ve-

Rebecca:  17:25

That’s exactly right. You think it might be in file folders if you’re lucky.

William:  17:29

Might. Yeah. Is the I-O-9 the nine mixed in with the other form? Great.

Rebecca:  17:31


William:  17:34

Okay, so let’s move to the managER product. Now that you’ve released it… You’ve obviously probably had it in beta for a while, but you’ve released it on the world. What are you now starting to hear from people when they see that for the first time? What do they love?

Deb:  17:49

Yeah, I would say ease of use. I think with both products, we’ve really tried to understand the user because having been on the other side, having had some really terrible HR software in my lifetime or being the user of it, that was sort of a commitment that I made going into this. So, we did that on the HR side, really thinking, or I was a practitioner, thinking about what the HR practitioner would want or the ER practitioner. Now putting on our manager hats and saying, “We got a million things going on, we got a lot of software thrown at us, what’s going to be something that we love, that really helps us?” So, driving that very kind of consumer-like experience, making it easy to understand. I don’t have to go sit through a classroom learning session to figure out how to use a software, right?

Deb:  18:36

No one teaches me how to use the apps on my phone. I keep telling their team it should be the same way. Making it something that helps them. It’s not something they have to do, which I think sometimes HR is sort of guilty of. You know, giving people more things they have to do, but really giving them things that help them guide them along. For example, templates are in there, very easy to create from an administrative side, lots of flexibility so that the manager can go in there, have a starting place, and start to modify it for their need. But then there’s a collaboration with their HR partner that’s either approving what they’re doing or helping them make it better. They’re seeing it, they’re learning as it goes through it. Those hints are all built in there.

Rebecca:  19:25

I would just agree that it’s so beautifully done that it’s engaging for managers. It’s something that will help them and I think that will resonate with them. And so, it won’t be that HR has to do a lot of convincing because they will want to get the tips and the nudges and use this for their own effectiveness.

Deb:  19:46

I have to just add across the two-

William:  19:48


Deb:  19:49

For me, it’s the power of the analytics. By having this data to know what’s going on in your organization… and again, when we have clients that use it from HR to ethics and compliance, it’s critical for an organization. If I’m about to give someone a manager or put someone on a performance improvement plan, or do something like that, it is critical for HR to know that that person has made a complaint to the ethics hotline, that potentially there’s a whistleblower complaint.

William:  20:17


Deb:  20:17

That performance warning could constitute in their mind, or could be seen as retaliation. So, having that holistic view across the organization for that, for diversity, for looking for bias is just, you have to have it.

William:  20:33

Right. It’s become “have to” out of… Probably in our lives, it was seen as a “nice to have.”

Deb:  20:41


William:  20:42

Whereas now it’s not a “nice to have,” it’s “you must.” We’re there now. So let me ask about the products, both the Acuity product proper and the managER product. Can folks buy just the managER product or do they need to buy the Acuity product proper and then extend into the manager product?

Deb:  21:04

It’s a great question. When we first started, we thought it was an extension. And then we were out, actually showing to a particular client or a particular prospect, and they’re like, “Hey, we-” They had just signed with some other case management and they weren’t very happy about that and they’re like, “We really want managER.” We’re like, “Okay.” We went back and we talked to our tech team. So, the answer is you can do either. We really want to help organizations figure out the best place to start getting involved based upon what their needs are at that moment.

Rebecca:  21:37

Yeah. In my experience, if an HR team is small, managER might be a better place to start because, to my earlier point, it’s extending the HR reach.

Deb:  21:48


William:  21:48

And if, again, a small team, they might not have as much resources or… And so it’s an easier way for them to get in. I love that they’re unbundled, if you will, because it allows people to buy how they want to buy whereas-

Deb:  22:06


William:  22:06

So many of… We’ve all bought of HR software. So, we’ve been forced into those kind of constructs where you have to buy the recruiting product to get the other product, to get the other product. So-

Deb:  22:17


William:  22:18

We’ve all been… we’ve all made those choices.

Deb:  22:24

I think that the other thing we sort of bring to this, sometimes it slows it down, but it’s better in the long run, is because Rebecca and I bring this understanding of change management to what we’re doing, we will slow things down. We would never say to a client, “Let’s roll them both out at one point,” because that’s not going to work. Right? So, we have to figure out what makes sense for you, your organization. Even if you’re rolling this out to all of your managers, we would never say, “Roll it out all at once.” Let’s do it. Let’s phase it in, let’s learn. Let’s get people evangelizing, let’s get your best managers and your worst managers using it first. Let’s learn from them and then we’ll roll it out because adoption is so critical. You get one shot with your managers.

William:  23:05

So let’s do a couple favorite customer stories. And again, without names, just things where you’ve seen them use either the Acuity product proper or the managER product in just kind of really innovative ways.

Deb:  23:21

Let’s see… Innovative ways for using it. We have one retail bank customer that started during COVID using it for documenting customer issues. So our customers were coming in and saying things that were offensive to the client. They started documenting that. And we’re starting to see that more.

Deb:  23:41

I would say one of the drum beats that I’m talking about a lot more with ER leaders is about protecting our employees, right? Proactively protecting them. Don’t wait for the issue to happen. Don’t wait. I mean, of course, when someone alleges legislate been harassed, you need to have a process, but what can we be doing from data to see those predictive indicators earlier and then stop them? The employee doesn’t even know what’s going on. Let’s just protect them and make sure they’re safe in their workplace.

William:  24:12

I love that. Rebecca, you got any fun stories?

Rebecca:  24:12

For me, what I’ve been impressed with hearing since I’ve joined just two months ago is how clients are using it in this crazy time of tracking vaccine accommodation requests or medical or religious accommodations. They, as we’ve talked about, it’s ever changing, but they’re able to use it in a way that gives them some comfort because they know they’re handling it consistently, at least in that moment.

William:  24:42

I love that. So, advice you give… Last question for both of you. Advice you’d give to ER leaders and business leaders for 2022. Not what we’re going to be blindsided by, because you probably don’t know that, but what should they be thinking about in 2022?

Deb:  25:02

Funny because we are just… We have our employee relations right round table next week which is where we bring together the employee relations community. And so, I’ve been thinking a lot about some remarks that I’m going to be making at the beginning. It’s really about, from my perspective, extending ER beyond HR, right? ER cannot be seen as an HR function and that’s why we believe the manager is so important. They are employee relations, the relationship between the employee and the employer. That is the manager. So, we need to start thinking about that, and obviously we think our product helps with that. Then I would say the other one that I just talked about is really how do we take care of our employees? How do we put our arms around them so that they don’t have to think about… They don’t have to wait for something bad to happen to come forward. We’re going to just allow them to do their jobs and be safe.

William:  25:53

I love it.

Deb:  25:54

Rebecca, what do you think?

Rebecca:  25:55

Yeah, I would say the same around taking care of employees becomes even more important in a hybrid work environment. There is a lot that’s written about employees feeling psychologically safe, so we want everybody to feel that they can contribute and that they belong. If, at the very basic level, they don’t feel comfortable raising a complaint because they don’t understand how it’s handled or that they don’t trust the system, they won’t feel safe. So, this is absolutely of foundational to that. And so I would just ask people to think about “What does safety really mean for your employees?”

William:  26:36

I love it. Great way to end. Thank you all so much! Deb, Rebecca, thank you for carving out time and coming on the Use Case podcast.

Rebecca:  26:45

We enjoyed it.

Deb:  26:46

Thank you so much!

William:  26:48

Absolutely. And thanks for everyone for listening to the Use Case podcast until next time.

Music:  26:51

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The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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