Building a Better HCM Mousetrap

September 10, 2016

ralph-waldo-emersonRalph Waldo Emerson was credited with the quote “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”  True, True!

I rediscovered this quote recently while preparing for a presentation to a group of CPA’s about compliance with the Affordable Care Act’s Employer Mandate, and was astounded with how much the quote resonated with Commonwealth’s approach to our clients.  While much of the context around ‘build a better mousetrap’ was unknown to me, its conclusion –  ‘the world will make a beaten path to his door’ – certainly was. Emerson’s statement pretty much sums up the desired result of our company’s vision of helping our clients find ‘a better way’.

This line of thinking defines our fundamental approach to the marketplace.  To have the tenor of our interactions with our clients, prospects and their advisers be validated by a 19th century poet who could never conceive of the concept of Human Capital Management is always reassuring.

I can remember 12 years ago, a seeming lifetime ago career and industry-wise, where our ability to process a client’s payroll was our only asset and how we did it (by being nice) was our differentiation in the marketplace.  In other words, we could do it competently where others could not, and our clients enjoyed doing business with us because we cared about their needs and we were flexible for them.  Not many companies had the same capability, so we were successful because our competitors (the national companies, mostly) could not be as nimble or as nice.   It helped that our clients’ expectations were relatively low (bar set to ‘mediocre’ by the national companies) and for many years there was little innovation allowing the ‘nice guys’ to be successful.

The payroll industry, while it still exists, has altered drastically when we examine it today.  There is still a need for payroll to be processed for small tiny companies, much like we did back then, but that’s now the domain of bookkeepers and off-the-shelf accounting software.  The business Commonwealth is in is no longer the payroll industry, but rather what is now referred to as HCM, or human capital management.  And we are both implementation experts in these systems, and have built a working service bureau around them.  More importantly, we are still very nice about it.  While the technology drives all that we do, it is useless without our team to both implement and support our clients.

Perhaps this could be construed as Emerson’s ‘write a better book’ or ‘preach a better sermon’.

Back in the ‘payroll days’ of the early 2000’s, our approach to clients outside our relationship with them, was either about saving money or addressing service issues. No matter whether or not it was us or another company, the motivators for a client were basically the same.  Today, we find that things couldn’t be further from the truth – what motivates our clients is possessing the ability, and the knowledge, to do more with less.

In other words, our goal and our mantra is to assist our clients in re-engineering their internal processes around human resources, payroll, managing employee time worked and time off, tracking benefit eligibility and participation and other related areas – all parts of HCM (human capital management).   To make this efficient, the client demands we implement tools that empower employees to do more for themselves, and to do so in a self-contained, ‘single database’ system.  This represents to us and to the client, the ‘Better Mousetrap’ of Emerson’s reference.  It means streamlining the process around paying employees, and less time on payroll and benefits -meaning more time to be deployed on the core mission of the business – revenue generating activities.

Having a computer that can calculate gross pay to net pay are the table stakes for sure, but being able to implement a system that can make the ‘people’ who run the human side of the business ‘commanders’ over their systems rather than ‘taskmasters’ of it, and empower employees at the same time has truly allowed the world make a beaten path to our door.

We are both lucky and blessed to be able to represent this to our clients, and to the marketplace.

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