Tech & Innovation Blog
Career Path, Fireside Chat, Latest Tech
Career Path, Fireside Chat, Latest Tech
ADP Technologist, Nik Palmer, hosts an engaging chat with our Global Product & Techology leader, Don Weinstein, and the executive sponsor for our Generations Business Resource Group. Don chats about his career path and gives some advice. He also shares the latest tech happenings at ADP, machine learning, and our evolving products. The Generations BRG focuses on creating connections between emerging and established professionals.
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[NICK PALMER] Howdy and welcome to the GENcast podcast. My name is Nick Palmer and I will be your host for this episode with Don Weinstein, Chief Product and Technology Officer here. Don is also the Executive Sponsor of Generations.
His role is somewhat unique as most companies separate product and technology. And what’s also interesting is that Don has a background in aerospace engineering and consulting prior to coming to ADP to work in corporate strategy and technology. Don, welcome, and thanks for sitting down with us.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Thanks, Nick. It’s great to be here.
[NICK PALMER] So to get started, let’s find out a little bit about you and tell us a little bit about what generation you identify with most closely and what are your standout roles.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Great question. I’m Generation X through and through. I do like from time to time looking at those different examples about the– or the differences in the different generations. And the one that always stuck out to me with Generation X being kind of a sandwich generation.
Stuck in between the boomers and the millennials is just kind of being the pragmatists in the room and figuring out how we help move things forward and make progress and maybe less about it was stuck between the me generation and the we generation before and after us.
[NICK PALMER] Building bridges versus building walls.
[DON WEINSTEIN] I like that. I hadn’t heard that, but I’ll quote you on that going forward. It’s really about just again, not trying that overly call attention to ourselves as a generation as much as just moving things forward. I was going to say, my top two stand out roles are advisor provider, which I was told was a somewhat unusual combination, but that’s all I know.
[NICK PALMER] Right on. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve met one of those yet. So that’s interesting. So tell us a little bit about some technology happenings here at ADP. If our listeners haven’t had a chance to listen to your recent HRExaminer executive podcast with John Sumser, we’ll make sure that we put a link up there and encourage them to take a listen.
In that podcast, you cover some excellent material there about how ADP is addressing diversity and inclusion via our products and our client services, most of which is just given away for free. Can you share a little bit about the GTP diversity and inclusion strategy and its intended impact for both clients and associates?
[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, I’d be glad to. And I think the first thing to peel back on is this isn’t some new idea that just came to us because of obviously what’s been happening, the increased focus we’ve seen based in large part on the recent tragic incidents with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which I think have created a renewed focus on the problems and the challenges that diversity has and that we have with diversity as a country and in particular in the workplace.
So I am glad for that renewed focus. But this is something we’ve been thinking about for and working on for a while. I’d point you back to, it was 2016 when we launched our Pay Equity Explorer and actually was recognized as an awesome new technology for 2016 by HR Executive Magazine the HR Tech Conference.
And in particular, what made the Pay Equity Explorer great or an awesome new technology is it took this long founded challenge that we know about, disparities and discrimination and pay practices in the workplace, and took a new angle to it where we could leverage ADP’s vast treasure trove of data so we could understand industry benchmarks, both outside an organization, as well as inside an organization, and in addition to which we can apply machine learning algorithms to help identify not just– you see the classic studies that say, OK, in this context, women get paid 82 cents on the dollar.
It’s a constantly moving benchmark so I don’t remember what the latest is. But that was a relatively recent one. And it’s important. And it’s important to know. But it’s not actionable. OK. So what do I do about it? More importantly, where do I get started?
And so the Pay Equity Explorer was able to break that down using machine learning to crawl through a client’s data and identify very specific, this individual in this job relative to this internal and external market benchmark is being underpaid by this exact amount and here’s how you can take care of that.
And I think that was a real breakthrough in terms of attacking that problem. And we looked at that across all dimensions. We looked at it by gender, we looked at it by race, we looked at it by ethnicity, because trying to get multi-dimensional on the problem.
And that was really just the first such example. We followed that up with a couple of more products, one of which we focused on including a little about diversity and inclusion and inclusiveness. We’ve been very focused on accessibility in our products.
And I’m talking about making content more accessible in particular for folks who may be visually impaired or other types of impairments that would prevent them from being able to access their normal workplace tools.
So our core application, My ADP, that’s used by employees and managers, as well as our ADP mobile application, we’ve been embedded enhanced usability and accessibility controls. We’ve been doing that for years. I’m actually trying to remember when we started. It’s been so long that we’ve been at that I couldn’t I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head, but it’s been a while.
[NICK PALMER] I know I’ve supported AudioEye for a while now.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Exactly. AudioEye as a partner, we’ve worked with on both to consult with us on how to design our products to make them more accessible, and then they have plug-ins that handle all different types of impairments and get us beyond level two on the web content accessibility guidelines.
And those are just a couple of examples. I could drone on forever. You probably don’t want me to. We’re continuing to push the ball forward. We had a couple of things in the works. We’re working on some new diversity inclusiveness dashboards with our data cloud team to give clients better analytics about what they’re doing, multiple different metrics around– you’ll get the entire talent lifecycle.
Are we recruiting diverse talent pools? How are we rewarding? How are we retaining? How are we promoting? And taking all of that through a D and I lens. We’ve kind of already started working on that next iteration when obviously the external environment kicked it up a notch in terms of our priority level.
And you had asked the question not only from an external angle but also from an internal angle. So I’m super excited that we’ve been able to partner with our internal ADP D and I team, in particular Aisha who is our Chief Diversity Officer, to have ADP be client number one for any and all new products that we want to push in this area.
And actually have been having great success with Sreeni Kutam about making ADP client number one for any of our enterprise HR products. And diversity inclusiveness is just the latest example that we’re putting a lot of energy into right now.
[NICK PALMER] As we move from a service company to a technology company, it’s interesting to see that dynamic come into play and adoption of that agile startup mentality of using what we build internally. That’s awesome. So, tell us a little bit about your path towards executive leadership and how that shaped your approach towards management of people and product.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, I’ve had somewhat of a circuitous path. You pointed out in the intro that I was an aerospace engineer by training. I started my career at General Electric. And I was working in the satellite telecommunications side of the house.
So I worked on such projects as the Dish Network and GPS. So if you’re using Waze on your way home at some point or the next time you’re in the car, you’re welcome. And truthfully, a lot of people worked on that project. You can imagine I was just one of many really brilliant and talented folks who did that.
But it was fun. It was an exciting place to start a career. But how I got from there to the payroll and HCM industry, it was not a linear trajectory whatsoever. I was bought, sold, merged, acquired six different times in my first several years. GE at some point decided to get out of that business.
They sold it to Martin Marietta. Martin Marietta merged with the Lockheed Company, became Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin shut down the facility I was working at. There were 5,000 people there when I started. And I was the 10th to last to walk out the door and shut the place down.
And now it’s just an industrial brownfield site that’s been sitting there unoccupied for 20 plus years, which is kind of sad. What I learned in some of that– first thing, so, coming out of that, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
So what do you do when you’re a 20-something engineer and you don’t know what to do with the rest of your life? I went back to school and got an MBA. And then when I finished up my MBA, I still don’t know what I wanted to do with myself?
So what do you do when you’re an overeducated 20-something who doesn’t know what to do? You go into consulting and tell other people what to do. I don’t know what to do with my life, but let me tell you what to do with yours.
Consulting was a good experience for me in that up until that point, I had only known one industry, one business, and one functional area. So it really helped me broaden myself out. And I think if there’s one or two takeaways I could take away from that experience, it’s I had the opportunity to work in a lot of different industries on a lot of different problems, and having that cross-functional type of experience I think was useful.
Even starting my career at GE, they really encourage some rotational type assignments. I have noticed within ADP, we probably don’t do that as much as other organizations. Also I made a stop at IBM for several years. And we used to joke at IBM, it stood for I’ve Been Moved.
But at ADP, I think we have folks who tend to spend more time in one area. And it’s great for developing deep expertise in that area. And some of the stuff that we do, you have to be pretty deep and expert to do it.
But I think also we can benefit and folks can benefit from taking that kind of side step rotational assignment to learn about the business through another lens and then come back. It’s something I’ve been encouraging within my technology organization now. Really, two things.
One is getting more rotations within technology, including on my leadership team. So the simple way we think about it is I’ve got the applications side of the house, as you said, the product side. And then the traditional infrastructure, the technology side.
So we’ve been rotating people within products, moving from one product, maybe moving from a shared product like our identity management or reporting solution into a market facing product like RUN or Workforce Now or something like that.
Gives people a different perspective. Moving between the application side and the infrastructure side of the house. So we’ve done a handful of rotations there. And I think we’ll do some more. And also encouraging bi-directional folks from the technology organization to roll out into business type roles and vise versa.
Folks who are in the different sides of the business who have interests or an aptitude for technology to come do a tour of duty in the technology world and then go back to their functional areas with a greater appreciation for what we’re doing here.
It’s something, like I said, I was able to benefit and take advantage of early on in my career. And I think that’s something that I’m trying to encourage others at least within my scope of influence in GPT to take advantage of as well. Does that make sense?
[NICK PALMER] Yes, it does. That’s great. I think that I’m going to quote you on the merged, bought, sold, and acquired. Yeah. One of the things that you said in there that was particularly interesting was about that tour of duty in rotation.
And that’s something that I’d like to make sure that we’ve heard is covered again and mentioned again because that’s something that we’ve heard from our membership, saying how should I approach the career path and moving forward?
Should I jump around and try lots of different things? Or should I stick and go deep expertise? And I’ve obviously stuck and done the deep expertise side of things. But I tell people all the time, jumping around and gaining a broad perspective, that’s also equally valid.
They are opposite sides of the same coin. And as long as you’re holding that coin and paying attention to it, either one can afford you great insight and knowledge and career path opportunity. So thanks for sharing the opposite side of the coin from what I typically do.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, and if I could just put a nuance on that, I like to think about it as a major and a minor. Because I wouldn’t want to create the false expectation. I think too much jumping around, also a bad thing, right? I think you need to stay long enough in an area to develop a certain level of depth and expertise.
And that’s it. That’s your major. And then when you have that depth of expertise in a certain area, then when you go out into another area, you may be a novice in that new found area, but you can be valuable to the folks there because you bring the expertise about something else that they don’t know about.
So for instance, do a typical one again in my area, is if I’ve got somebody who’s super knowledgeable about infrastructure and then they go do a rotational assignment on the app side of the house, they may not know everything there is to know about app development, but they can bring to that team their richness and depth of experience on infrastructure that is going to be beneficial to the team.
And then potentially, like I said, not then move on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. But do that as sort of like a side step and then come back to infrastructure and be a better infrastructure engineer because you understand more now how the application that your infrastructure is supporting.
So a little different than saying jump around as much as you do a sidestep, come back. Maybe apply what you learned. Maybe do another one, come back. So I think it’s useful for somebody to have a major. I’ll tell you, my life experience, as I said, I started out as an engineer. Spent several years in engineering.
Coming out of engineering, I went into consulting and I got to apply that in a bunch of different areas. Then I did some work in strategy. Came back to product. Then I came to ADP. Well, did a long tenure in project management.
Went out to strategy. So I was a Chief Strategy Officer for a couple of years. Came back to GPT. So not floating all over the place, but sidestep, come back, sidestep, come back, learn a new skill, come back and apply it kind of model, if that makes sense.
[NICK PALMER] Right, and I think how I would encapsulate that nuance that you’re talking about is you have to do the tour of duty. You have to learn something, not be a tourist and jump around. So there is a difference in terms of your depth and understanding that you gain in a tour of duty versus just being a tourist to a new location.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Very well said, yes.
[NICK PALMER] So let’s get into the big elephant in the room. One of the biggest hurdles we had in late FY 20 was the rapid change to remote work modality. The business continuity team recently discussed this undertaking in their internal webinar.
And you talk about the international effort in depth on the HRExaminer podcast. The company saw some wonderful productivity engagement through the process. And as associates continue to work remotely and some areas slowly begin the process of returning to the office, what kinds of productivity and technology challenges do you see arising?
[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, it’s a good question. And something we’re thinking a lot about these days, of course. The first thing I observed is as we moved everybody remote, there was this certainly surge of connectivity going on that causes a lot of technical challenges. And now we’re keen thinking already ahead to like, what the year end is going to look like and is that going to be another surge.
But the productivity question is I think the one that’s even more interesting because you see different views out there and different scenarios about, well, are we more productive in a remote setting or are we less productive? That’s a question that comes up from time to time. And I’ll share just a couple of dynamics.
And these are anecdotes that I’m observing. I don’t claim to have the full settled science on is work from home more or less productive yet. But the one thing I noticed is in the past where we had most folks working in an office and then a minority working from home, I thought it was hard to be in that subset minority of folks who weren’t in the office, versus when everybody is remote, it seems like, if you’re having a meeting and there’s 12 people in the meeting and nine of them are in the room and then three are on the phone or the video, you’d see that the folks who were on the phone or the video, every once in a while somebody was like, oh, stop, wait.
Folks on the phone, do you have anything to add? Because it almost becomes an afterthought. Whereas when everybody’s remote, I actually think it makes that aspect of it work a little bit better. But now that we’re talking about reopening, and by the way, just for full disclosure, I’m in sitting in Roseland right now because part of the very first wave of US pilots, Roseland was the first office and I was in the first cohort of folks who raised my hand and said, sure, I’ll come back into the office.
So I’m in Roseland right now. But some of our offices around outside the US have already started to open up. Shanghai was the first and a handful in Europe as well. But I think it’s a challenge when you’re in this partial hybrid state, right? So if everybody’s remote, I think the collaboration works better.
And in particular getting more voices heard. But when some folks are remote and some folks are in the office and you have this partial stasus going, I’m not sure that that works as well. And that’s something that we have to be very mindful of as we hopefully at some point start to transition back.
And the second thing I’d point out is where we have mature teams of people, I’ve got a mature team of folks, they’ve been working together for a while, they know each other, they’ve been working on their products for a while, they know the products. I think those teams going remote were capable of doing so.
And it was almost a seamless transition. Now we’re at the point, it’s July, and this is the time of year when we have our new college grads start showing up. So I’ve got close to 100, I’ve got 150 total who will be showing up here over the next several months. And so the ability to onboard and assimilate those new hires into the company– so first they have to learn about the company, about the products, about the other team members.
For most of them, it’s going to be their first real work experience. And the ability to manage through that in a remote setting I think is a little bit trickier. And it’s one that I don’t know that we’ve cracked the code on, but we’re mindful of now that we’re going through a virtual onboard process.
So I think those are some real challenges that we need to be really taking seriously here the longer that this stretches out. I don’t know what that would be like to onboard as a brand new, fresh out of college graduate, my first real job, my first company, and I’m remote for six months. Nobody knows. I mean, I saw Google came out and announced they’re going to be remote at least till next summer. Not saying that they’re right, but it just shows you where things are moving.
[NICK PALMER] Yeah, the vision is definitely down the road as opposed to next week or next month.
[DON WEINSTEIN] That’s right. Definitely doesn’t feel like it’s around the corner.
[NICK PALMER] And I think the key thing, though, that you bring up is that we’re mindful of it. We’re aware that this is a potential issue. And unless we are aware of it, we can’t really do anything about it. So it’s good to hear that we’re paying attention and monitoring, even if we don’t have all the answers right now. We’re closely watching and observing to see what those answers might become and reveal.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Exactly.
[NICK PALMER] So in terms of that, how do you see the business resource groups and Generations playing a role in this remote and hybrid environment?
[DON WEINSTEIN] It’s a great question. It’s an important one. And I’ll go back to the beginning of my career and tie that into why I always felt so passionate about Generations and the work you all are doing here. And that is that I felt like I did have a good onboarding experience when I first started my career back at GE.
Again, I came in as a brand new, fresh faced engineer right out of college and got to work on some pretty complex stuff. But I was lucky to really have– and this gets the spirit of Generations. We brought people in together as a class. So we had a cohort of people I came with, that I bonded with, and some of whom are still my closest friends to this day. So I had a lot of peer interaction and learning through it together.
And then we had senior level mentoring. And I remember a couple of mentors in particular who really took me under their wing and showed me the ropes a little bit and helped me really accelerate my career by being able to learn from the wisdom of some of the folks who had been there together and enjoy the camaraderie aspect of being part of a group of people and not feeling like I was at it alone.
It’s one of the things we’ve tried to bring to, as I mentioned, and we called our GPT Development Program when we onboard the new college graduates. We bring them in as a class and try and create that spirit. And we assign them mentors from within the broader organization. And as I look at where we are as an organization right now in terms of moving folks out of the office remote, I think it’s been about 20 or so weeks here in the US since we went to remote work.
And again, I know there was this initial surge of productivity because people were certainly, we had a lot of work to do as we were responding to various aspects of the COVID crisis from a regulatory or compliance aspect. And there was just the change element there, I’d say, almost like a mini little euphoria.
I’m speaking for myself now. I’ve been coming into an office for 30 years and I never really had an opportunity to work from home for any kind of extended period. So it was just different. You get a little bit of an, I’ll call it an adrenaline rush.
But I’ve seen and I’ve also read some interesting articles by others about how that phenomenon played out in a number of different organizations. But after that initial adrenaline rush, now we’re settling in for the long haul. And how do we keep folks engaged?
How do we avoid burnout in a world where if you’re like me, the whole work life balance, whatever it was went away because I wake up and get my first cup of coffee and, boom, I’m right at it. And then I just keep going all day, all night. That’s not a recommendation or a lifestyle tip, but it makes it harder.
And so there is some notion that the longer this drags on, the current scenario, you’re worried about either, you’re worried about burnout, you’re worried about fatigue factors, you’re worried about people losing engagement, losing connectivity to their team or to their organization.
And so I think the work that business resource groups do is probably more critical now in this type of environment than ever before in terms of creating a sense of affinity and shared purpose with people who have common interests and common objectives that span organization or function or job, but rather say, we have connectivity at a purpose level here.
And so I’m thankful that our ADP, that our HR organization had the foresight to start us down this path several years ago. And we’ve got this kind of infrastructure in place now today. Because I believe it’s critical to helping folks navigate the current crisis from a personal work life relationship aspect.
[NICK PALMER] Right on. Thank you very much, Don. We appreciate your time here today. And I wanted to thank you personally for your guidance and suggestions for the Generations Group. I know that we are looking forward to an amazing FY 21.
One of the things when we connect and we talk about is books and self-improvement that we’re undertaking currently. So would you like to leave the Generations members any suggestions on what you’ve been reading or studying lately?
[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, I’d be happy to. I’ll just share with you what I’ve been reading. I don’t know how helpful it is. But I’ve become quite a big fan of this– is an academic, a historian at Oxford, Yuval Noah Harari.
He’s written a few books. Sapiens was a history of humankind. Homo Deus was a kind of a forward looking one. And the current book that he’s got out there is called 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. And it couldn’t, in my opinion, couldn’t be more timely.
It was sort of a little dark, if I would offer, and maybe it’s in keeping with the times. It’s funny, he published it before the pandemic or some of the unrest that we’re seeing happen. But seems to have a little bit of– seemed a little prescient in that.
But I can skip you through some of it because there are like 20 chapters like, yep, that’s where we’re at. That’s not working, that’s not working, that’s not working. And I get to the end, I’m like what’s the answer? So what do we do? And his only answer is meditate.
[NICK PALMER] I’m a big fan of those books. I would recommend them to all of our Generations members. I know we’ve shared a couple of those in previous quarterly book roundups. So thanks for the plug on those.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Absolutely. This is the generation that’s going to carry us forward. So meditating and being a little contemplate, not the worst idea right now.
[NICK PALMER] Thank you very much, Don. We appreciate your time today. And we will look forward to having you back sometime in the future.
[DON WEINSTEIN] Thank you. My pleasure.
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