Thought Leaders Series: Ben Thompson, CEO at Employment Innovations

The future of work, leveraging technology and the power of free(mium)

In this edition of our Thought Leaders Series, I chat with Ben Thompson, the CEO at Employment Innovations. Employment Innovations is a group of three HR/employment aligned businesses that deliver:

  • Legal services and outsourced HR
  • Employee reward and recognition (Power2Motivate)
  • A cloud based HRIS (EmploymentHero)

In this interview we talk about Ben’s strong views on the future of work, the power of technology to reinvent the way that we manage employment and why “free” can be such a powerful marketing channel.

The interview:

Steve Pell: Ben, thanks for having a chat today. Perhaps if you could start by telling me a little bit about Employment Innovations?

Ben Thompson: Thanks Steve, my pleasure to be involved.

Employment Innovations has a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is to improve the way that employment is managed around the world. We do this in a range of ways.

We’ve got a twenty-five year legacy. Starting with employment law, we’ve got a team of leading employment lawyers and migration agents working in house to keep business compliant. Then we help people manage the day-to-day administration of employment through payroll management, HR technology, HR consulting and safety.

We have a global employee reward and recognition platform called Power2Motivate, to guide the softer side of people management.

More recently what we’ve added, and this is where we’re really excited, is employmenthero.com which is a HR software platform that gives a small and medium sized business all the tools to manage employment from recruitment through to payroll, to performance management and employee benefits.

The platform manages the entire HR process and what we’ve discovered is that businesses who previously never had access to these tools are now finding they can employ more staff, be more efficient, and even for HR managers who had been tied down in administration, by using technology we can give them a hand to get up and start being really strategic.

Steve Pell: Could you talk about who some of your clients are at the moment?

Ben Thompson: Yes, we’ve got a really broad spread of clients. Everyone from your mum and dad biz corner store and franchises, we work with many of Australia’s leading franchise groups. We’re comfortable working with a small business, single store enterprise or a start-up business, giving them the tools and the HR expertise that they need to get started.

Then we move up into supplementing an existing HR function, taking on a lot of the day-to-day payroll services and those types of things. A good example of this would be Mamamia, which is an online publication.

Then we move into more enterprise type clients, like ANZ Bank for example, where we run a large employee reward and recognition program – and we do this for a range of global organisations too.

Another interesting area is businesses that have come into Australia from off shore and have no exposure to the Australian employment law landscape. CGI Glass Lewis is an example of this and we’ve run a lot of its HR services as well.

So it’s a broad spectrum, we’ve worked with everyone from Baker’s Delight and Michel’s Patisserie through to ANZ Bank.

Steve Pell: I’m interested, you’ve evolved from law towards perhaps some of the softer parts of HR like reward and recognition. Has the way you sell and market changed materially as you’ve kind of evolved the group that way?

Ben Thompson: Yes, it definitely has. When you’re an employment lawyer, you’re waiting for people to have a problem. You need to be known but you can’t really sell your product.

I really like products. I like taking all of that intellectual property and turning it into an affordable commodity that every business can use. Again, it’s part of our Big Hairy Audacious Goal to make employment easier and to improve the way employment is managed. If we can package that and achieve it in a product, then we can take that out to market and sell it. Marketing that is a very different thing.

Steve Pell: Let’s talk about that a little bit because it’s a great goal. To have that goal though, you’ve got to have pretty strong views around what work is potentially going to look like in 10 years’ time compared to today.

Ben Thompson: Thanks Steve, this is an area that I could talk all day about, as I’m so passionate and intrigued by it. There are two massive changes in our economy and around the planet that will dramatically affect work.

The first one is digitising technology. So, through 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and just a general digitisation of work that’s not currently digitised, you’re going to see a massive change and reduction in the number of jobs that exist.

We’re seeing that happen already and at the same time at this stage only 40% of the world’s population have internet access. As our existing jobs are changing, a further 60% of the planet’s population will enter the workforce – and they’ll be educated online too using their tablet or phone. You’re going to have this massive supply of work, and a change to the work that needs to be done.

As these two things happen, what I think you’ll see arise is an on demand workforce. We’re already seeing this with Uber and Delivery Hero and all sorts of other on demand services emerging.

I think we’ll see that work actually starts to change, and rather than seeing the job as being a 38 hour a week permanent fixture, businesses will start to look at all of the things they need done. Then they’ll break those down into tasks, and they’ll have access to an abundant workforce all over the planet that can work on those tasks. It’ll be a matter of matching tasks with the best people and the most efficient way to get them done.

Steve Pell: Let’s talk about from there how you come back and integrate those insights into your current product suite?

Ben Thompson: Yes, it’s a big leap, isn’t it? It’s really hard to reconcile where things are going over 20 years and where we are today. Certainly for us, we’re digitising what we did five years ago. We’re a law firm, we’re an HR consultancy – Employment Hero is digitising what we do.

We can deliver employment contracts, award interpretation, time and attendance systems, HR policies, all that intellectual property that you would normally go and see a lawyer to get. Now we’ve put that into a platform, we can deliver it to thousands upon thousands of employers with lawyers sitting back here in the office regularly updating the entire system.

Steve Pell: Do you see yourself as a thought leader in the future of work? Is that like a role that you have in the business?

Ben Thompson: Yes, it is. By setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal to permanently improve the way employment is managed around the world, it means that we have to be thinking about how employment is currently managed and how it will be in the future.

I’m always thinking about that. In fact, I’m obsessed by it. I’m thinking about it day in and day out, and it causes the team to be thinking that way too.

For me, to set a big goal like that is something that requires a lot of thought, and then it is to lead by example in coming up with ideas and innovating around that particular problem.

Steve Pell: Let’s talk about how you market and sell the business right now. What channels are you getting the most leverage out of across the business?

Ben Thompson: We’ve got a bunch of things going on. The first is a form of marketing but also part of our product. A key element of Employment Hero is that it’s free. We offer candidate management tools, a jobs board and paperless onboarding process, so employers can easily induct somebody into their business. All of that is free. Getting that product out there and giving it away is probably the best form of marketing that we can do.

Since December, we’ve signed up just on 5,000 businesses, which I think is phenomenal growth for any web platform in this country. Closer to home to traditional marketing, we’re investing a lot on the website and in content. We have an in-house professional content writer, who is producing great content across a whole bunch of products, again, across employee reward and recognition, the legal side of the business, every part of the business.

We’re taking that thought, that content, and we’re propagating it to create conversations and a dialogue with our interested fans and parties across all of social media, from LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and even getting into things like Instagram too.

Steve Pell: Fantastic. I’m interested to jump into a little bit of the social media. Are you getting leverage, into the B2B side of your marketing? Or is it more from the consumer adoption side?

Ben Thompson: It is more from the consumer adoption side.

But look, I was probably a little late to the game in online social media marketing.

A few years later, that’s where the people are and the engagement rates are high. For example Instagram, which I think is like 80% engagement, that’s incredibly high and there’s a huge population en masse moving towards it.

It doesn’t have the spite that Twitter has either; it’s a pleasant place to be most of the time. If that’s where people are going because they love it, then that’s where you need to go too. You don’t say, “Oh, that’s a place for consumers, for the consumer market only.” It’s where they are, so speak to them. That’s why we’re going down that path.

Steve Pell: What about your big passions over the next couple of years? Where are you going to be driving the business?

Ben Thompson: For me as the thought leader in the business, it’s understanding those radical changes to the structure of work and making sure that we’re ahead of the curve. It’s building the ability to manage work online through a clever platform, and ensuring our product evolves down that track as quickly as the market evolves. That’s my piece.

Where the business will go? The market has moved to mobile, so we need to move 100% mobile and expand globally. As I said, we’ve extending our footprint into Asia and into the UK with Power2Motivate, and we can follow that with Employment Hero shortly.

Steve Pell: Fantastic. Ben, that’s been really interesting. Thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat.

Ben Thompson: No worries, thanks Steve.