Unlocking the Employee Experience
On this episode of "The People Part of Business," our guest is Anthony Horton, CEO of Corporate Relocation International. We’ll get Anthony’s perspective on the critical nature of employee engagement and the inestimable value it brings to any workplace, especially where retention and recruitment are concerned.
Our Conversation with Anthony Horton
Hello, this is Anthony Horton from Corporate Relocation International and welcome to the People Part of Business podcast.
I've spent a lot of time in my career within the Human Capital Management space, probably for the longest period with ADP, a company which most of us are aware of since they pay something like 60% of Americans.
I joined CRI in the spring of 2020, of all times, at the genesis of Covid. I was really intrigued by not only this industry and how it intersected with a lot of my background in the Human Capital Management space...I was really quite taken by CRI itself, both its unique model and structure, and I think more than anything, really, this spirit of what we now call “service obsessed,” but truly kind of living the mantra of putting client service and employee experience first.
Joining in the beginning of 2020, as I mentioned, was quite interesting as it was a mobility company that moved people around when people weren't leaving their basements. It gave me a great opportunity to dig deep into the organization and truly see where this kind of incredible value that we bring that's very differentiated in the market, and learn more about that and come out of that period really focused on articulating that to the market, to our current clients and partners, and definitely prospects and new clients, because it really reconfirmed for me that we have something very unique in our ecosystem structure, how we approach the market, and really how we've kind of delayered a lot of the supply chain in an industry that's very much based on supply chain management.
This podcast and the concept behind it...again, the timing is really quite interesting because since that initial period in 2020, as we really defined our place in the market, and refined it in terms of how we're able to articulate that value that we bring...we're at a time now when we're really poised to spread the word and to ensure that we are sharing some of those unique differentiators and those things that make us so different to a broader audience and a broader market. As we talked about this podcast and how we could make it as effective as possible, but also as useful as possible to those within our very broad sphere of interest.
We really wanted to make it less focused on relocation specifically, and really getting into interesting subjects and topics, interesting people to talk to from all sorts of backgrounds in business and other industries. We really wanted to be able to provide useful information and thought leadership and tying everything back to the employee experience, which of course we have a specific interest in...in terms of relocating employees. But we really wanted to ensure that we're covering this whole spectrum of interesting topics that just affect the people in organizations...the employees in organizations and I'm really pleased. I think we've really hit the mark with this podcast and had some interesting guests, but really have been able to bring it back to our world and focus heavily, at the end of the day, on what employees are going through, what the whole talent market out there is experiencing today, and what we expect they are going to be experiencing in the future.
I've always been involved in what I would call the service side of the equation in the Human Capital Management space and so really being able to interact and set up structures that are very, very much geared towards elevating the service experience. Whether it's in HR, whether it's in relocation or mobility, or whether it's in things like payroll...whatever service you're providing has such a profound impact on people’s lives because as employees, it involves their compensation, their careers, their jobs, their families.
One of the most important elements of people's lives is obviously their work life. And in the Human Capital Management space (HCM), anything you do is touching that very important element of their life. So you need to be precise. You need to be empathetic and compassionate, and you have to make sure from the service provision perspective that you are truly helping people.
The other piece that really intrigued me in the HCM space was technology. As with any industry, there are obviously huge technological advances over the course of the last couple of decades. In the HCM space, it probably got a later start than some industries such as telecommunications and other markets like that. So it was almost like there is a real opportunity to stay on top of technological innovation and bring new solutions to bear, new platforms to bear, that really enhance that employee experience overall and fit into the service value chain as a result.
There has been, in multiple industries related to the employee experience, a tendency to promote too many technology solutions that focus on employee self-service to a degree of exclusivity that employees and people using a service don't necessarily want. Where that really came from was as millennials entered the workforce and there was all the talk about Gen Y coming in, there was this common notion out there that Millennials don't want to talk to anyone. They want to interact through their phones, through chat, through e-mail. So a lot of the technological solutions that have been created have really been around creating self-service experiences for employees and yet, you know self-service is great...up to the point that you're doing all the work.
So a lot of that was that we pushed technology that provides self-service but it creates a scenario where the employee using that service is actually taking on more of the administrative work that should be removed from that equation. Obviously when you're talking about HR and human capital, it sounds obvious to say it, but there is a real human element and interaction and collaboration from a service perspective that is really needed and important in any of those equations. It's so interesting...when I've talked to actual Millennials about it, what they've said is “yes, we want to be able to self-service when it's convenient and makes things more efficient and I can get them done. However, I also want live human expert support and assistance, on an on-demand basis, when I need it.”
So I think that the companies that get it right going forward are going to find that balance between efficient self-service and expert, live on-demand support and service for employees in those situations where it's most valued and most needed.
From the employee mobility side of things, there have been drastic changes since COVID. Prior to COVID, there was significant immigration and work-related immigration. People were very comfortable with the concept of taking expat positions and moving to other countries. COVID really changed the collective psychological state of a lot of people, and I think that has created some reluctance to maybe jump at the next opportunity to move countries, move around as fluidly, as people did prior to COVID. So you combine that kind of psychological impact with the fact that we kind of went through a period where countries themselves and borders closed or were more restricted. And while people have come back to traveling and global travel, we've definitely seen that, from an international standpoint, it just isn't as fluid.
There is also a global macroeconomic situation right now where there is a fair amount of increased protectionism and, as a result of that, you don't necessarily see companies setting up as many international sites or operations as they did before. Then you have this really interesting emergence of PEO (professional employer organization) companies - one that we're partnered with is called Globalization Partners - that has brought the PEO model that was really a U.S.-centric structure of hiring employees through a PEO provider and made those types of services available across the globe. So, if I'm a leader and I'm thinking...well, am I going to send somebody over to this job in Tokyo or am I going to hire a team over there through an international PEO provider, for cost reasons, for complexity reasons? I may now have this other option that makes moving people around the world for their work a little bit less necessary.
Back to the Podcast...
Some of the economic indicators would suggest that we're already in a recession, an inverted yield curve, which caused all the issues in banking, some of the slowdown, some of the things that have happened in the tech space. But then when you look at the labor force itself and the employment numbers, that isn't following a typical pattern that you see in a recession where you start seeing joblessness going up, you see the things happening in the tech space, and people are picking up other roles. I don't think that scarcity in the labor pool is going to go away anytime soon because you have Peak 65 over the next couple of years, a whole wave of baby boomers retiring...a lot of organizations haven't done the comprehensive work of fully planning for the exodus that's going to happen in that, and as a result, we think the labor pool is going to continue to be really strong.
So I think really after COVID, we've started to see different factors in the economy and I think we're going to have to get used to a recession being defined as “this”. I would say right now we're kind of in an economic stall, with some factors indicating a recession or a definite deceleration, and other factors remaining fairly strong. So it'll be interesting to see over the course of the next decade...do the key indicators, and how we think about periods of economic decline...do they change and how do we assess them and what their impacts are?
I think AI is here to stay. Innovation...it's on this curve of accelerating returns where you never really go back, you continue to innovate more and it gets faster and more capable. So, I think the ship has sailed on AI in terms of just the incredible ways in which the AI applications that are coming out now are truly able to emulate human logic and research and now writing and creative processes. I don't subscribe to the view, the scary matrix predictions that AI or computers are going to take over the world and this is the start of machines gaining superiority over us. I think every technological advancement that has ever happened in human history...the industrial revolution...going back to the printing press...there have always been sort of apocalyptic gloom and doom predictions about how the technology is going to cause the downfall of the human race, and I think that's a lot of the buzz that we're seeing right now. I think AI is going to continue to become just incredibly useful for us, across business tools and our personal lives. I think the benefits far outweigh any of the potential concerns around it.
At the end of the day, a business, an organization, a company is a non-tactile, non-real thing. It's something we all agree - this is an organization of some sort that is going to follow these rules and this structure and do this in a market...but it's all kind of a collective agreement. Like Coca-Cola is not a thing - it's a brand and a whole structure and things behind that. And the one thing that you really can't do without in a business or any organization that is trying to accomplish an objective or goal of some sort...you can't do it without people, and you can't do it without continuing to motivate, continuing to work with individuals both in challenging situations, whether there's conflict or whether you have to get past a certain amount of friction. And that is the whole concept of figuring out those dynamics between people and with people to make something successful where all of that collective investment and effort ends up moving the needle forward in terms of getting to those goals.
I think that's always been at the forefront of my motivations and learnings. For me, it's really being self-aware, self-critical, evaluating myself in terms of the situations that I'm in and how do I continuously learn to interact better, to lead better, and to get the most out of that kind of singular progression of business goals or objectives or whatever you're going to as an organization by really focusing on that people element of it. And that starts to encapsulate everything about the business and those goals. Because you start thinking about talent and you start thinking about how do we get these groups of people to collaborate, and how do I consider the individual and the entire team in terms of trying to lead that charge? It's fascinating. It's ever changing. And it's different in every situation. So you constantly get to learn about self and about others.
There are so many people that I've interacted with over time that have different qualities that I try to emulate or, again, learn from or really respect. It's difficult to center that into one person. In this podcast, one of the interviews we did was with Fran Tarkenton and I've always enjoyed interacting with him because I think he has really taken the concept of winning on the field, the concept of teams and being a professional athlete, and brought that into the business sphere in a way that...I've always found him very encouraging...and to hear his stories and translate his experiences as an athlete to the business world because it always comes back to those same elements - the people on the team, the attitudes of the people on the team, how you get those working together, how you continuously adjust. I have a lot of respect for what he's been able to do in terms of coming out of a career as an NFL/Pro Football player and being a super successful entrepreneur and business leader.
What inspires Anthony...
My favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I just think it combines creativity, a really interesting story that holds you in suspense, and at the same time, it has deep pathos to it... it's just a great book. My favorite author, however, is Pat Conroy, who wrote the Prince of Tides and Lords of Discipline and his writing style is like art on a page. I love reading anything that he has produced. I try to read two or three fiction books and then a nonfiction book and I always try to make the nonfiction book something that's outside of the business side of things since I'm immersed in that every day.
What I'm reading right now - I'm actually almost finished – is a book called Psych. It's written by a professor at the University of Toronto named Paul Bloom, and it's a very up-to-date, almost like Psychology 101, nonfiction work. But it really goes into the latest thinking and discovery around nature versus nurture with genetics and what we inherit and what we don't and some of the changing thinking around that. It really dives into items like human consciousness and it's a good read.