Denver: We regularly feature some of the best workplaces in the nonprofit and social good sector on the program from both the CEO and employee perspective. But periodically, we turn to an expert for greater insight. This evening, we’re fortunate to have with us one of the very best. He is Aron Ain, the CEO of Kronos who is a multi-year recipient of Glassdoor’s Top CEO Honor and the author of a great new book, WorkInspired: How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work. Good evening, Aron, and welcome back to The Business of Giving.

Aron Ain

Aron:  Hi Denver. Joyful for me to be with you.

Denver: Let’s begin, Aron, by having you tell us about Kronos and what the company does.

Aron: Kronos is in its 41st year of business. We started with the basic idea to take an everyday business practice, being the time clock, and automate it. Today, we have software systems that help companies effectively manage their workforce. We start by keeping track of when people come and go to pay them accurately. We automate all that. We also schedule people so that the right person is in the right place at the right time, at hospitals and retailers and manufacturers and police departments and fire departments, etc. We also do payroll and human resources and aspects of recruiting and compensation and performance management; this whole world of helping the human element of companies effectively manage those team members.

…the CEO’s role is perhaps the single most important aspect of establishing a culture and driving the culture.

… the impact that managers have on their team members is perhaps the single most important thing

I don’t think people talk about them enough. I think that some organizations and leaders view them as soft areas or soft skills. For me, they’re as strategic as can be to our success.

Denver:  Becoming increasingly important.

Corporate culture means different things to different people. How do you define it and what is the CEO’s role in shaping it?

Aron: First of all, the CEO’s role is perhaps the single most important aspect of establishing a culture and driving the culture. If the CEO doesn’t believe in an engaged culture that drives performance, then it’s not going to happen throughout the organization or it’s going to be more difficult. For us at Kronos where we have wonderfully successful, engaged environment; and I would say an inspired culture; what it means for us is, where we trust each other, where we openly communicate with each other, where we’re transparent with each other, where we collaborate with each other, where we support each other, where we also communicate to our 800 people managers that the privilege they have of leading people needs to be taken very seriously, and the impact that managers have on their team members is perhaps the single most important thing. These are all important areas, and I don’t think people talk about them enough. I think that some organizations and leaders view them as soft areas or soft skills. For me, they’re as strategic as can be to our success.

…continuing to stay connected to people on their team, continuing to stay connected to the organization and treat everyone as almost they’re an equal to you in these important ways; that you can get better results.

…It’s not that you’re giving up your responsibility; you’re not. You’re still assuming the responsibility and making difficult decisions but it’s not all about you.

Denver: Not a lot of them learned about it in business school and just don’t know how to get their arms around it….but as you say, it is so central.

The concept of leadership is changing, so much so that you have referred to it as an “un-leader.” How does an “un-leader” behave and act.

Aron:  I believe that sometimes when people reach their leadership positions; the higher up they get, tends to be more acute; they get too wrapped around who they are, and too wrapped around their title and their position, and they don’t understand that by continuing to stay connected to people on their team, continuing to stay connected to the organization and treat everyone as almost they’re an equal to you in these important ways; that you can get better results. And I think when people understand that, they can be more effective. So, I call it in the book, an “un-leader.” It’s not that you’re giving up your responsibility; you’re not. You’re still assuming the responsibility and making difficult decisions but it’s not all about you.

“Here’s what your team said. What are you going to do in the next six months before the next survey happens to improve? I don’t care what it is right now. I care what it is six months from now,” and have conversations with the team. “Why did I get rated this way? Why did we get rated this way? What can we do to improve?” And that’s what we did. We asked, we focused, we acted, and the results have been magical.

Denver: When you became the CEO in 2005, as you mentioned before, the engagement scores were not all that high, and they have now gone off the charts. You talked about some of the things that were critical to that such as transparency and trust and things of that nature, but what did you do to create those things and allow them to happen?

Aron:  Great question. The first thing we did was we started by asking our employees what they thought. I think a lot of organizations ask them what they think about the environment and the company and the culture and the practices, but I don’t think all of them act on it. So, we combined listening carefully with acting on it. For example, we took all the results from a particular manager down to the individual manager level – “Here’s what your team said. What are you going to do in the next six months before the next survey happens to improve? I don’t care what it is right now. I care what it is six months from now,” and have conversations with the team. “Why did I get rated this way? Why did we get rated this way? What can we do to improve?” And that’s what we did. We asked, we focused, we acted, and the results have been magical.

I stay very connected to what’s happening. When my mind is a little bit fried in a given day, I say, I need a half hour break. I’ll go to a different floor in the building that I don’t normally go to, and I’ll just walk around and talk to people, and see how they’re doing. This gives me an opportunity to know what’s happening, and it’s so valuable and so important. A lot of times, I act on what I hear.

Denver:  One of the things you talked about in the book in terms of a great work environment is kibitzing… which you happen to be very adept at. Talk a little bit about kibitzing and also some of the things that create a great workplace environment.

Aron: When I walk around our corporate office with 1500 people, 17 floors, I don’t have my nose in my cellphone. I’m talking to people. I’m walking with people from the youngest interns to the most senior executives, and I’m asking them all the time when I’m riding up in the elevator, how you doing, how’s your family, how’s Kronos doing? They say, great. I go, how do you know it’s doing great? And they tell me, and I learn about what’s going on in the company, and I stay deeply connected. When I go have lunch, I go in the area where lunch is served for everyone, where they buy their lunch. I go and stand on the same lines with everybody else and I talk to them, and then I go sit with different people, and I talk about how they’re doing and what’s going on in the business. I stay very connected to what’s happening. When my mind is a little bit fried in a given day, I say, I need a half hour break. I’ll go to a different floor in the building that I don’t normally go to, and I’ll just walk around and talk to people, and see how they’re doing. This gives me an opportunity to know what’s happening, and it’s so valuable and so important. A lot of times, I act on what I hear.

Denver: I can almost hear you say that. When you are fried and you do that, some energy just seems to come out of nowhere and you get excited by things.

Aron:  How could it not be?

Denver:  Absolutely.

Aron:  I mean, you love the people. You want them to be happy. They tell you what’s going on. The more they talk to you, the more you want to hear them.

Denver:  You talked about managers before and the central role they play in workplace culture, and you’ve really codified this in the Courage to Lead leadership course which is mandatory for all managers. What is communicated, Aron, in that course?

Aron: Good question. I personally believe, and I believe this with all my heart, that being a great manager is really hard. It takes tremendous courage. Who likes to have difficult conversations with people particularly when it’s going to impact the person you’re talking to in a negative way? What happens is, sometimes, people just don’t do it or they think being a manager is a spectator sport. That it’ll just happen on its own. So what we did was, we started by putting a program in place called Courage to Lead. The management training program, the operative word for me isn’t to lead. The operative word is courage because it takes remarkable courage to be a great leader, and we teach them over a multi-day period and over a multi-month period all the tools that we think it takes to be a great manager, and that’s what our courage to lead program is about. I believe very deeply that great companies are driven by great people, and if you’re going to make a decision like we do to hire great people, then you better have a great culture and you better have great managers because the disadvantage of hiring great people it’s great people have choices. If they come and work for you, and it’s not the kind of place that meets their expectations; because they’re great, they will go work somewhere else. Our Courage to Lead program is meant to create great managers who can help us create a great environment to motivate and lead great people.

Denver: Another element you added to that back in 2016 is you launched your Management Effective Index. Correct?

Aron: Correct.

Denver:  I was just think it’s a matter of time on Glassdoor, you’re going to see managers rated. Do you think that day is coming?

Aron:  I think it would be fantastic because we rate them. We have all 800 people managers that are rated from one to 800 by how their teams feel about them, and the people in the lowest group, we work with them to share with them the feedback so that they can get better. If they don’t get better, then we have to move them into another position at the company. So, why not. It works from that point of view.

Why did we do this I think is really important, Denver. We did this because even though we have wonderful training through Courage to Lead, how do we know that people took to it? How do we know that they got it? So, we started by doing the Courage to Lead training then saying, “Oh great. We trained everyone. Everything’s perfect.” And then we realize no matter how good the training was, some people weren’t going to get it. That is what led us to go do this.

Denver:  And you want continuous improvement, and if they don’t have a feedback loop, how they’re doing, you won’t get that continuous improvement.

Aron:  Right. Some people think they’re doing great, and they don’t know that they could do better, and this is the way to help them.

Denver: We discussed workforce management, and you have some 35,000 organizations, Aron. I know it’s hard to generalize, but what are some of the most common problems you think they encounter when it comes to workplace culture?

Aron:  I think that they have the problems we talked about; create an environment where people are motivated and excited to come to work, where they’re engaged because engaged people, motivated people produce better products and deliver better service. This happens whether it’s in a commercial business, it’s a for-profit or whether it’s a not for-profit that’s serving citizens or serving people in need. The same rules apply in terms of driving towards this engaged workforce, and once again, I don’t think enough companies, organizations understand the value of it, and it’s a challenge they have today particularly in a world today where knowledge workers, the unemployment from my perspective must be zero because everybody we hire today has another job; who are happy to take from other places. So, we have to work hard to make sure we create an environment where people want to be in our organization.

Denver:  Let me close with this Aron. The ideas that are professed in this book are really universal and are applicable to just about every organization. But I know that you devote a lot of your time to philanthropic and social causes, have a lot of clients in that arena as well, and I wondered if there was anything specific that you would advise to those kinds of organizations.

Aron: I think that the principles of driving an engaged workforce, whether it’s not-for-profit, philanthropic, service-based organization; even a small one are as important – in some sense is more important. Why is that? Because in a lot of cases, these not-for-profit, philanthropic organizations do not have the resources to pay people what they might be able to get in the commercial sector. So, you have to go do those other things really well about creating an environment where people are excited, and they want to be there. So, all these areas of over communicating and trust and transparency and collaboration and giving them great people to work for and understanding the importance of that – I would suggest is more important in those environments than in a for-profit environment where you can pay people more money in many cases.

Denver:  I would agree wholeheartedly. One other thing too is, in a lot of these nonprofit organizations, they don’t have a product. The people are the product, so it becomes even that much more important.

Aron: Right.

Denver: Aron Ain, the CEO of Kronos, I want to thank you for being here this evening. The book again is WorkInspired: How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work. If you’re a manager or ever hope to be one, this is a wise investment in your career and your future. Thanks Aron. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.

Aron:  Thank you very much.

Denver: I’ll be back with more of The Business of Giving right after this.


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

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