Julie Rieken
CEO Trakstar

Julie Rieken is the CEO of Applied Training Systems, Inc., owners of Trakstar - a software company that helps HR with online performance reviews.

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Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 194. Today we have Julie on from Trakstar about the use case or  business case for why her prospects and her customers use Trakstar.

Julie carefully follows the trends in HR and in performance management and is always seeking best practices along with new, creative ways to approach performance conversations in the workplace.

Trakstar is a multi-product HR software provider helping organizations put the people back in people management. Develop and align your staff through better recruiting and applicant tracking, performance management and learning management.

Show length: 30 minutes

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Music:   Welcome to RecruitingDaily Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen 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 and recruitment in the HR tech, that’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William Tincup:   Ladies and gentleman this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today, we have Julie on from Trakstar and we’re talking about the use case, the business case for why her prospects and her customers have made the business case for Trakstar. And so let’s just jump right into it. Julie, would you introduce both yourself and Trakstar?

Julie Rieken:   Well, William, thank you first of all, it’s a pleasure to be here and I’m looking forward to today. So my name is Julie Rieken, I’m the CEO of Trakstar and we are a company that addresses a need for talent development software in the market. So we have found over the number of years that we’ve been in business and even more so recently that there is a need to measure your most valuable and volatile assets for people. And right now is a perfect time for solutions like Trakstar because we are all in this fight for talent I would say, to attract, hire and retain the best people. And that’s what we do at Trakstar is we provide software squarely in the talent development space to help organizations find, hire and retain top talent.

William Tincup:   So let’s start with measurement. What should HR… well leaders in general, but we’ll definitely focus on some of the HR stuff. What should they be measured? What should… With everything that we know now, if you were setting up a dashboard, what would be the dashboard? What would be the metrics that you should be looking at as a leader?

Julie Rieken:   Gosh, that’s a really good question. The kinds of metrics that I think organizations should measure start with some really simple basics, but honestly these things for as basic as they may seem, they can be hard to extract and that’s where Trakstar comes in. So let’s just say the very first thing now that I think is most critical is speed to hire. I think we should be measuring how long it takes and a good example of speed to hire that’s one… is a critical metric. In our own business we were looking at how long does it take for us to hire, for example, support people versus engineers and the difference is vast. We can see something like a support person being hired in as little as 17 days, and an engineer could take half a year. Well, these are really critical metrics for businesses.

When you think about making your goals, being able to deliver any kind of product, in our case it’s software, but in anybody’s case, what do I need and who are the people that I need to deliver whatever my widget is or my product is? And being entirely sure that you are being fast about finding and hiring the best people, because without it you won’t make your goals. So I would say speed to hire. And that’s not just a matter of the total terms or the amount of days. I want to know also how many… between interview stages, where are things at and how long is it taking to get in between stages? Because there can be things that hang up and slow down businesses, so that’s a critical metric.

William Tincup:   Are you thinking about the conversion metrics or time in those stages?

Julie Rieken:   I am. I’m thinking about a hiring workflow. From the time somebody submits a resume until the time they first hear from an organization, until the time an interview is scheduled, the length of time in between an offer that’s given and the actual documentation that’s been sent. We have seen organizations losing people at different stages because of speed to hire, and that is not a place we want to be in right now. We all know there’s a shortage of people. We have positions to fill.

And if you’ve got speed bumps in between any of those workflow stages in your normal hiring workflow, this can affect the outcomes for your organization for a whole year, it’s a really important thing to be measuring. So that’s something I would say in terms of hiring people, that’s where I’d be looking because the metrics can be revealing and you can find out for example, oh my gosh, we did all of these introductory interviews, but when they went over and were passed to XYZ department, that department dropped the ball, waited three days and we lost 50% of candidates that we thought were possibly good because they had offers coming in, or didn’t think that we were that interested or weren’t that impressed with our process, right? So those metrics in between workflow stages when we have our processes set up internally for hiring, they’re really critical today and more critical than they’ve ever been.

William Tincup:   Yeah. Those are the inflection points in which you got to measure and really try to figure out how… is it process, is it technology, is it people? How do you gain time so that you can make it fast? When you talk speed to hire with prospects and customers, how often do they bring up quality of hire?

Julie Rieken:   Oh, they bring it up quite a bit. And right now, one of the things that we’ve seen, maybe one of the things that also in terms of the use case for Trakstar, that I think is interesting is that we’ve been quantifying how fierce is the fight for talent. So let’s talk about quality here for a minute. One of the… I was talking with the customer the other day and they said, “Hey, Julie in Trakstar hire…” which is one of the modules that we offer, “We haven’t seen any applicants. Is there something wrong with the software?” No, no, we’ve got great up time. But this was a company in the construction industry and they create some refrigeration units. And so they’re having a banner year because they need more people to build more large scale refrigeration units, right?

So they hadn’t seen any applicants. And so I dug into our data and I said, “Well, let’s just see. Let’s compare construction,” which is your industry compared to say healthcare or renewable energy, other industries. And what we found were that applications were up dramatically, but so was speed to hire. So what was happening here was… I’m calling it a shotgun wedding, right? So this organization was not getting enough applicants in, and the applicants if they had gone to the competition, the competition was snatching them up so quickly that they didn’t have as much opportunity to look for quality because the scarcity was so high. Well, this informs that business, right? That industry. So that industry may say in terms of quality of hire, “Hey, we’re looking for more embodies right now.”

And in another industry they might be able to say, “Hey, it’s a little bit less fierce in our space, we can take a little bit more time.” But that quality of hire and how we react to it today, if you know that speed to hire and you know the statistics in the industry, that’s going to inform the way your organization responds to and behaves with the kinds of applicants that you’re getting in. And by the way the quality has been a challenge, we’ve seen some in organizations that are making compromises in terms of they need people and they’re willing to hire very quickly simply because they can’t wait any longer, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t necessarily qualified, but it does mean that they’re behaving in a different way that they’re hiring much more quickly than they have historically due to a lot of scarcity.

William Tincup:   So when you first framed up Trakstar, you said talent development. So you can’t span talent acquisition, talent management, et cetera. And I think you attract, engage and retain your top talent. Let’s move to some of the engagement metrics or other important metrics, I shouldn’t lead you. You tell me what, again is important to your customers in your prospects.

Julie Rieken:   Right. So that’s a great lead in question to maybe the next metric, which I think is once you’ve high somebody it’s really critical to set expectations and get them onboarded quickly, I mean the measuring engagement. And that’s where… When we think about Trakstar and what is the use case. When we started, we were simply performance based, performance management, how did we measure performance and our customers said, “It’s really broader than that. When we find somebody, we want to get them quickly and then we want to get them onboarded quickly so that they can make an impact in the business.” So a couple of metrics inside performance that I think are critical. Number one, 90 day reviews, whether you’re measuring how are people doing against their expectations within their first 90 days. Any employer who has dealt with new people knows that the first 90 days is critical for their long term success as employees and for whether or not they’re making a match within the business. So performance metrics in the first 90 days, I think are critical.

William Tincup:   Real quick, Julie, sorry to interrupt. But during remote, we’ll let’s say COVID, and then we’ll just say remote work. How is that onboarding and performance feedback, how has that either stayed the same or changed because of people working from home?

Julie Rieken:   Gosh, that is a great question too. I think it’s changed dramatically. I can give you an example within our own organization that is mirrored throughout the organizations that we serve, and I say that because I think there’s a lot of us that we are them and they are us, so we’re watching these trends in the industry. In terms of watching onboarding and these pieces remotely, we’re seeing content being delivered. For example, within our own organization, we’ve built a lot of online modules to deliver content remotely. By force of pandemic, we have a fully distributed workforce. Well, we used to come in and do kickoffs and new hire lunches and all that, we’re not looking at that now. We’ve actually had to build online PowerPoint modules, go take this piece, learn and then we measure that.

And that helps us bring people onboard more quickly. And our organizations are doing things like that too. So they’re using the technology to expand their reach. It is onboarding more quickly, but it doesn’t… William, I think we could probably all agree there’s still some beautiful connections we make in person and yet here we are, so what do we do? Well, we’re going to deliver our content more remotely. We’re going to measure that onboarding piece, and then maybe we spend some of our time together when we do have those moments, less on some of that training and more on some of that personal connection, that’s what we find ourselves doing in our organizations too. So we may deliver some business content more remotely and then when we get on a Zoom call, maybe we’re having a Zoom happy hour. So we’ve got a little bit of that personal piece blended into-

William Tincup:   That’s perfect. I love that. That’s some of the glue that holds everything together. You had mentioned the 90 days out, checking in, making sure expectations that were set, are we meeting those expectations? How do the… Measuring that the event happened is relatively easy, it either did or didn’t. But what are the other things when your customers and prospects when they’re looking at that, what are they trying to mine for? What are they looking for?

Julie Rieken:   Right. There’s a couple of other things, not just in the 90 day but let’s just say in a performance review, there’s a few things that our customers are mining for, some other metrics that we’re watching. Here’s a good example, in January we anonymized and aggregate our data, we looked at our performed customer base and 40,000 goals. Well, it’s actually like 39,931, right? We’ll roundup. 40,000 goals were added in the month of January, and why is that important? Because part of our behavior in terms of setting expectation is ensuring that we’re all aligned, so that was a dramatic increase over last year, and I think that’s in response to the pandemic. So watching how many goals have been set is something that I would say inside software is a really important piece.

And then we also watch how many notes were taken like our meaningful conversations happening, and we can quantify the up for our customers like, are your managers giving feedback? And we can quantify that inside the software so we can know, “Hey, you’re either normal or you’re managers are.” The question of am I normal is really a frequent one. Do we take more notes as a business than an organization similar to ours. And so they like to know in terms of how are they performing. People like to benchmark themselves against other organizations. So they know like, “Oh, we’re normal, or we don’t have enough communication going on.” Those are the kinds of things that we like to quantify there too.

William Tincup:   Yeah. And especially if it’s organizations or industry, so size of companies in the industry. The people are always curious about themselves versus and benchmarking. When you’re… I love that you’re tracking the notes. Are you going into sentiment in positive, negative? And what type of feedback or we just capturing that they are giving feedback?

Julie Rieken:   That’s a great question. We are not capturing sentiment. However, I would say, back to your metrics question if I could thread back to that. We also do employment engagement surveys and the surveys are where we’re capturing sentiment less within the performance review notes area, but more inside the employee engagement surveys. And one of the things that we do and our customers do is just measure that engagement over time, and I’m so glad that we had started this. I’ll use us as an example here, so as to not breach any confidentiality or our customer base and their engagement stuff. But we’ve been measuring, every six months we do an employee engagement survey and it’s been really instructive for us in terms of how people are feeling about either being remote or working in our organization.

And we went from some mid range scores to some higher scores over the last three surveys we’ve done. I anticipate this next one, which will be a two year mark, will probably be our highest score yet. But I think that’s been really important for us because we are in the same fight that everyone else is. We’ve also seen resignations. We’ve seen people move from our organization into new careers. One of our people went to go start a blueberry farm with their family, which really sounds awesome. [crosstalk 00:   15:   20]

William Tincup:   I’m a little jealous, actually.

Julie Rieken:   I know. Me too.

William Tincup:   They have any openings?

Julie Rieken:   They have some lavender and I’m like, “Come on. This is a great business.” So, from people starting new careers to people saying, “Really, I want to work in a different capacity or a different organization.” So, we run the gamut like everybody else does, but I think measuring what people are thinking and feeling has been critical. And one of the things we did this year, which was a surprised to us is we’d asked our people, “Hey, can you rank things that are important to you?” William, I thought after having led this organization for a number of years, so I knew, I was like, “Oh, I’m pretty sure how this is going to go back [crosstalk 00:   16:   06].”

No, it came back and surprised me. I was like, “Oh, oh, that’s what people want. So interesting. I’d have really predicted something different.” And so I think when we go to metrics, measuring that engagement and asking and quantifying it will actually surprise leadership. And I’m not sure I was the only one that was surprised, I think some of our other leaders were like, “Really?” But that asking was a critical moment for us. And so I do think that in terms of responding to how employees are thinking and feeling in today’s world, measuring that engagement score, and the way that we do it is we ask the same questions all the time, because if you ask a different question, you don’t know what your data is between the prior ask, but that’s been really helpful for us and for the organizations that we serve doing things that are similar because it’s allowing us and other customers to measure and respond to. William, what have you heard? Resignation, renovation-

William Tincup:   Oh yeah. Every day is something new.

Julie Rieken:   Different. But I’m just calling it the great 2022 at this point.

William Tincup:   Yeah. Yeah. I like to eliminate the word, great. It’s just… What’s great about it? Been misbranded from the beginning.

Julie Rieken:   It really has and it’s been a heck of a start. So, but I think measuring… So the first 90 days I would measure engagement, I measure the number of notes. I also think there’s one other thing that I would watch. I would watch departmental trends in terms of performance. Do you have engagement issues in groups? Do you have performance issues in groups? And part of that is really being a little bit more predictive and maybe this goes back to the speed to hire, right? Let’s just say that you said, “Gosh, I’m seeing some engagement issues in XYZ department.” Well, if you know that it’s going to take you however many days on average, you may want to have some job postings out there where you’re starting that search a little bit in advance of any anticipated attrition, or if you have a business need where, “Hey, we’ve got a need for increased performance here. I need to find a senior somebody that can help up level the team.”

Those are some things that if you’ve got mediocre performance or… that’s maybe not the right word mediocre, but maybe you know that within a team there’s a need to up level skill set, need of a few mentors. Those are some places where you could say, “Hey, quantifiable business metrics really help me plan for the kinds of things that I’m going to need and get ahead of it,” rather than, “Hey, we just had a resignation now let’s post a job,” which put all behind the curve.

William Tincup:   So retention last on metrics. When your customers and prospects ask you about retention metrics or turnover metrics, or however you want to attrition metrics, how do you guide them?

Julie Rieken:   That… Oh my God, gosh, let me just give this a little bit of thinking here, but in terms of guiding around retention metrics, I always think about do this on the positive. It’s less about, what are we doing wrong and what are the things we can do in the affirmative? How do we act in the affirmative? And acting in the affirmative for me is, are we providing enough opportunities for learning? Are we focusing on onboarding quickly? Have we set expectations? Because-

William Tincup:   Less about them leaving and more about what could we have done to prevent them leaving. And not all turnover is bad. I’ve said this publicly, so I can say it here. I look at regrettable turnover, regrettable churn, or regrettable attrition as opposed to just attrition. Sometimes you want people to leave, you know what I mean?

Julie Rieken:   I would echo that sentiment. There are times when the match is not ideal. And there are times when there are people that you would really like to have kept. And so while looking at those retention metrics, I think one of the things that would keep me up at night is that number but instead I’ve decided what are the things that we can do in the affirmative that create an environment.

William Tincup:   I like that.

Julie Rieken:   Most positive thing that we can do because the truth is otherwise… Well, I’m a runner and so one of the things that… when somebody tells me I’m running slow, I actually run slower.

William Tincup:   Right, right. Work on your form. Yeah.

Julie Rieken:   Work form, right? But if somebody’s like, “Oh, you look fast,” even if I’m running like a slow mile, I’m like, “Man, look at me, I’m feeling good.” And so I think about that with attrition too and being a leader of not only our organization, but back to your question of how do we guide organizations around retention? Look, your best bet is to act on the affirmative, have a great hiring experience, ensure that your people have some way to be onboarded quickly, ensure that they’re having great communication with their managers and those are really the best things you can do. And when you solve for those things and spend less time perseverating on a retention number, it goes forward.

William Tincup:   I like that. So the… I hate categories of software, just FYI. However, on an HR budget, you and I both know that’s in Excel, generally speaking and there’s a row. Where do you all fall?

Julie Rieken:   Good question. So when we think about who we are and where we fit, you can think about HR software and a couple of silos, right? Like Core HR Payroll benefits, maybe time tracking tools, you might think about compliance elements, tax pieces. So, there are pieces of software like that. The way that we think about our software in terms of budgeting is we are squarely in finding, hiring and retaining top talent. So inside a talent development space is where we find ourselves. And in terms of budgeting, one of the ways that we think about that is there are the small point solutions that are very good at what they do. And some of our customers have an amalgam of those, and that creates a lot of pieces that are separate and they don’t talk to each.

And then there’s the really big solutions that take a couple of years to implement and they’ve got really massive modules and things like that. We find ourselves squarely in the space of serving customers that need some connections, but do not want a massive price tag and they don’t want a big, long implementation, but they don’t want the collection of pieces either.

And they’re looking to protect their most valuable asset, their people, and measure that from a talent development standpoint, so they can see the kinds of metrics that they need to find hire, retain people. So I would put ourselves squarely in a mid-market space where we are solving for the kinds of things that people need to serve their employee base in that regard. And in terms of pricing, we’re super competitive, I would say. And we’ve got some benefits too in terms of… because we’re not a massive solution like some of the really big players out there, our implementation time, our time to value for customers is really helpful. They can start seeing some differences in their organization quickly.

William Tincup:   So, two final questions before we roll out. One is the… your favorite part of the demo, because when you show somebody your software, you’re proud of everything, of course, but you also get enjoyment in watching and seeing them respond to something that’s been built. What is that for you when you show people Trakstar?

Julie Rieken:   Gosh, that answer would’ve been different two weeks ago and [crosstalk 00:   24:   27]. A little bit fuzzy, but it kind of is, but we have been working really hard on bringing these data elements together William, because we knew when COVID hit that there was this inflection point of, who is HR and what is their value at the seat at the table? And HR was maybe previously more human relations compliance driven, and now it’s like this critical business element.

So we release the… My favorite part of the demo is that we have an insight dashboard, which shows us some great metrics about an organization performance over time, performance by geography, by location and we can watch a lot of those metrics. And to me that’s critical because when I as a leader think about what do I need to make decisions? I’m looking at things like, “Hey, show me how things are going with this department, how’s that going?” Right? So, that to me is my favorite part of the demo because I know that as a leader that’s the kind of information I need from my HR department, “Hey, do we have any spots that we want to pay a little bit more attention to?”

And again, acting the affirmative, “Hey, is this department struggling? All right, what are we going to do about that? Let’s see if we can be positive in that space.” So, that’s what I really like because to me that’s the most meaningful. I also really love knowing, “Hey, did everybody get those performance reviews done?” Because I think that expectation setting is really baseline and believe it or not, employees just… they demand it, they act for it, they ask for it. So, I love that piece too, but I would say our insights piece is probably the most exciting for me.

William Tincup:   So, because Trakstar uses Trakstar. Have you ever been tempted to use your own dashboard or show people your own insights dashboard?

Julie Rieken:   Well, this is a new piece that we’ve just brought together. So our dashboard is building and growing as with everyone else. Have we been tempted to share that? I do sometimes William, share information and sometimes we do a little redaction, so that [crosstalk 00:   26:   40] but then we can speak so authentically about it because we know, yes.

William Tincup:   I think practitioners… first of all, I think they love that, that when they can see that you’re not just trying to sell me something, that you actually use this to drive your own business and it’s driving your goals and this is how you use it. My personal take on that and experience with that is that practitioners walk away from that going, “Okay, this isn’t just sales, they’re actually showing me how they run their business,” and I love that. Well, last question. What are some of your favorite questions that you love to hear from practitioners? Buying questions can be all over the place.

I’ve steered practitioners away from talking about price. You’re eventually going to get to a proposal, its just you’re not going to sign a contract until… So at one point you are going to talk about price. However, that probably shouldn’t be the first thing you talk about. So, what are some of those buying questions that you just love? You can just tell that they get it. You just know they’re on this path. They’re on this journey. What are some of the examples of those types of things?

Julie Rieken:   One of the things that… and I’m going to lean into our performed place because it’s a space that we get so many questions on, but everybody is looking for top talent. And so some of the questions that we get are, how will this improve the performance in my organization? Do employees like performance reviews? Which surprisingly they do. I know it’s part of the chatter, I know, I know. But that’s not what we’re hearing from employees and from organizations. So they’re really asking, how do we make this process more efficient so that they can give better feedback, set expectations better, and just clarify some of those questions that employees really perpetually have, because communication gaps are not going away. How does this help improve our communication gaps? That’s real and that’s… Whether you have software or not but communication gaps are going to… that’s going to be there from now until… for the rest of humanity.

William Tincup:   And you’re going to be judged based on your ability to either fulfill and exceed those expectations that your employees have or you don’t. So I-

Julie Rieken:   I think part of engagement, right? Is just the improvement of that communication. We have better communication with candidates. We have better communication about our expectations. We have better communication about our learning opportunities. So when they’re asking questions about improving communication, I know they’re on the track to finding and hiring and protecting their most valuable asset. And so that to me, when you get some of the more specific questions they can be a bit more of a drill down, but otherwise you know that they’re looking for something that really values and honors the people that they have in their organizations. And that, that’s a question I love to hear.

William Tincup:   I love it. Julie, thank you so much for carving out time for the Use Case Podcast.

Julie Rieken:   This has been a lot of fun. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you.

William Tincup:   Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Use Case Podcast, until next time.

The Use Case Podcast

Authors
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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