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The “secret sauce” for creating high-performance businesses

“If you are not putting talent at the heart and the core of your thinking, you will struggle to perform.”

This observation comes from Humanforce CEO Clayton Pyne, a man who knows a thing or two about business performance. Under Pyne’s leadership, Humanforce is on track to deliver enviable growth of 80 per cent this year and has recently completed a $60 million deal with Accel-KKR. This growth investment will allow Humanforce to rapidly expand its suite of solutions for businesses with a deskless workforce.

“The investment will take us from a workforce management solution to a broader human capital management solution,” explains Pyne. “We intend to do that through a combination of our own investments in the product, organic innovation, but also through our inorganic strategy in terms of mergers and acquisitions.”

Humanforce is a technology business, but Pyne rarely mentions the technology that underpins its offering. What he talks about often—and passionately—is helping his customers meet the unique needs of shift and roster-driven employees.

Employee-centric growth

“For 20 years, Humanforce has helped its customers meet their compliance obligations, maximise the productivity of their workforce and optimize their costs. It has achieved this by elevating the needs of deskless workers and offering them solutions,” he explains.

“The future of our business will live at this nexus between business optimization and what we call the employee experience. Now it’s about fulfilling the needs of individual deskless workers.”

Pyne says that Covid-19 shone the brightest of lights on frontline workers, especially those in aged care, child care, clinical care, hospitality, and retail. In a post-pandemic labour market, his focus is helping Humanforce customers improve their employee value proposition (EVP), at a time when the war for talent is fierce. 

Image supplied by Mulberry Marketing Communications

“Our clients cannot find staff. The number one challenge they talk to us about is attracting and retaining staff.”

The Humanforce workforce management solution helps clients to strengthen their EVP in several ways.

“The first area we focus on is assisting our customers in thinking about recruitment and assessment of staff and how they bring them into the roster. So how do they tap into third-party labour pools, whether it be staffing marketplaces or their staffing agency relationships? 

“The second area is what we refer to as micro-learning, which is becoming increasingly important for deskless workers. These workers don’t sit behind a desk and a laptop, but they have a mobile phone in their hands.

“Our mobile app can develop these workers by providing training for certifications and qualifications. As an employer, you’re able to offer a learning and development pathway, which has not always been the case for deskless workers.

“The third area we focus on is employee engagement. What many of our customers are talking to us about is employee listening. It’s an opportunity to really engage your staff and understand and have more empathy for the challenges they face on the frontline.

“Employee engagement, what does that mean? It means surveys and polls. It means understanding the happiness of your staff and what you can do to enhance their working environment. 

Image supplied by Mulberry Marketing Communications

“And finally, the fourth area that we focus on is employee wellbeing; mental, physical, and financial wellbeing. It’s how we can assist with things like earned wage access and working with other partners around broader rewards and recognition for what has been, let’s face it, a very high churn workforce. Giving them a stronger, more resilient financial position in their working lives is something we are really excited about.”

Walking the talk

Pyne understands the importance of Humanforce having an internal culture aligned with its commitment to making work easier and life better for the 80 per cent of the world’s working population that don’t sit behind a desk.

“How can I deliver a phenomenal experience for Humanforce customers if I can’t deliver a great experience for my team? The nexus between that vision and purpose for our company and how we treat our people is so important.”

Workforce management tends to be a very resilient business because in the good times, you can grow with your customers, and in the tougher times, they turn to you to drive even more efficiency in the business.

Increased compliance in the care space resulted in opportunities for Humanforce during Covid-19, and today this is a fast-growing segment of the business. However, like all businesses, responding to changes in how the company operated during the pandemic was challenging.

Pyne says that rapid operational shifts were an important cultural moment for Humanforce, with management committing early on to providing the team with the right tools and flexible ways of working. Humanforce also committed to proactively offering support to its clients by creating principles to guide the business when customers started needing support in a new way.

“We didn’t sit back,” he says. “We leaned right in and put policies and procedures together very early. This served us tremendously well. By June 2020, we were back on track financially, and we have pretty much powered through and set record after record in terms of our growth since then. 

“I would say that there were two main reasons for this. In the early phase of the pandemic, many of our customers took stock of their operations and committed to coming out of the pandemic stronger than they were before. And they turned to software to drive the optimization of their business. 

Image supplied by Mulberry Marketing Communications

“Then, about halfway through the pandemic, The Great Resignation entered the vernacular, and we saw an acceleration in that side of the business. Clients started asking if we could help them attract folks and help them enhance their employee value proposition and brand.”

So, what will the new investment mean for staff? 

“The growth of the business is providing more opportunity than ever before for our team to find different career pathways.  I’m constantly asking myself if I have my best people in key open roles, which creates a lot of mobility within the organisation.”

Pyne acknowledges that as Humanforce grows, its culture will need to change. He says that cultural contributions are now an important consideration in hiring decisions.

“We have elements to our culture that are great. Customer intensity, our action bias and pride in our product, are the values that the business was founded on. We’ve got to retain that magic but make sure we have a phenomenal contemporary value proposition for flexible working environments that allow people to bring their whole selves to work. I’m really conscious that if we are going to compete for talent in 2022, we have to stand for something as it pertains to diversity, inclusion, the environment, and social good.”

Picking the right partner

Like many startups, Humanforce was bootstrapped in the early years before a 2019 Series A round brought Accel-KKR and Humanforce together for the first time.

“In the last decade, there’s been plenty of capital out there to be had,” says Pyne. “What matters is the partnership you strike and the value you derive from that. 

“You need to be discerning about your investment partner. When you take capital, make sure you are getting an advisor that supports the broader network around the business, which will add value to you. 

“I think that’s more important than ever in the current macro environment where we see high inflation and high-interest rates. In the technology industry, valuations are currently under a lot of pressure, so you must think for the long run and play the long game.

“And we are very blessed with Accel-KKR. They’ve been a tremendously strong partner to our business. And in this next phase, they will add a lot of value working with us around our inorganic strategy, which is something they are very well known for and very, very good at.” 

In terms of broader advice, Pyne says you can spend considerable time on raising capital and lose sight of the fact that “cash is king”, and you must have enough on the balance sheet to fuel growth and support your customers. 

“Despite how arduous it can be to raise capital, you must ultimately stay focused on your customers. It sounds simple but at the end of the day, it’s only ever about customers.”

Preparing for acquisition

“Companies that we’re assessing [for acquisition] care about two things as deeply as we do,” explains Pyne. “Number one, compliance, and on both a strategy and culture level, they must be living our ethos around the employee and their experience. We want to see financial strength and we want to see the strategy is there, but underneath that, are they walking the talk? 

“A potential acquisition target might also just give us a highly differentiated piece of technology. They may not have a lot of customers or a lot of revenue but would potentially provide us with two things, maybe some great tech, but also some great people.

“And I think that’s the other thing around the capital raise worth mentioning. It is fantastic to fuel the business and deploy those funds into great initiatives, but it also lifts our profile in the market. Like every other business, we are out there in that war, trying to attract the best and the brightest to join us at Humanforce.”


Read more: Why employee engagement is critical

Read more: Lean in or lose them: Why you should make employee engagement a priority in 2022


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Clare Loewenthal

Clare Loewenthal

Clare is an author, business commentator and passionate contributor to Dynamic Business. She was the Founder and Publisher of Dynamic Small Business magazine, which became Australia’s largest small business publication.

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