As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited some leaders in the field of HR to speak to us about their role in the sector and how it’s evolving.
This week, we had a great conversation with Jon Curtis at myhrtoolkit, who began his career in legal practice at Irwin Mitchell before moving on to become Head of Employment at Taylor and Emmet and a Partner at Ironmonger Curtis alongside his current role as Managing Director of Myhrtoolkit Limited, which he now devotes himself to full-time.
Can you tell us a bit about how myhrtoolkit came about, and what the company aims to achieve?
In 2004-2005, I set up two businesses with another chap, one of which was a law firm—Ironmonger Curtis—and I was the employment law partner. Part of the purpose of setting up Ironmonger Curtis as a law firm was that I wanted to develop as an employment lawyer to do something in line with Human Resources, because I saw a big gap in the market. Obviously, back in those days, people weren’t so sure about having personal data on the internet, so the original idea was just to store documents and discrete business information against employee names.
Quite a few of our clients bought the product, but quickly wanted some sort of self-service system, and then out of the self-service system they wanted a holiday management system, and then a sickness absence system, a way of managing performance, and somewhere to store appraisals and disciplinaries and grievances. The list went on, so it grew from there.
I had the great privilege of working with about 60 clients over five or six years, personally getting their feedback, and they’d say, “Well, this is okay, but what we really need is this”. I had a great feel for what clients in that particular space wanted, so that’s where the product came from. We’re growing fast—we have around 1100 clients at the moment, and around 55,000 people log into myhrtoolkit on a regular basis.
When I worked in employment law, I would get calls from frustrated managers who would say “I’ve had an employee for three years and their attendance is terrible. I want to get rid.” I would ask them to send me the dates of and reasons for absence across so I could have a look at what was going on, and they’d say they didn’t have it. Myhrtoolkit arose out of that frustration, because I could see people didn’t want to spend the time recording compliance data, they’d got other things to do.
How would you say myhrtoolkit is different to other HR software offerings on the market?
I think you can roughly divide the HR software market into three different categories:
At the top end of the market, you’ve got enterprise systems, in which HR software is just one part of this behemoth of an integrated system which covers everything from warehousing to invoicing and accounting and career development.
The Small to Medium Enterprise market of up to 1000 employees has the other two categories within it.
At the smaller end of the market, you get smaller off-the-shelf applications that handle specific challenges—so for example, a little app that manages shift patterns or rotas, then you will get entry-level core HR systems, which will cover a range of HR admin basics.
The market is very much about compliance and control and there isn’t much human about it – it’s the storage of documents and ticking boxes. It’s very useful for businesses, particularly smaller, growing businesses. That’s it’s own little ecosystem—at the moment, there are quite a lot of people in the UK offering products in that space.
Platform based HR products
At the larger end of the SME market, you’ve got platform-based HR products. They’re not the huge integrated systems you get in enterprise companies, but they are very large, sophisticated pieces of software. Generally, they’re built on an API system so there’s a lot of connectivity to other platforms and applications.
If you split the SME market into those two categories, myhrtoolkit sits between those two markets. We aim to bring some of the key elements of the platform to the smaller end of the SME market. My vision was always to bring software to the masses that would otherwise be entirely unaffordable, and to make it usable and user-friendly.
We emphasise simplicity over functionality. A lot of the software in our space has just taken the huge enterprise systems and cut out chunks, so you end up with complex pieces of software that need someone whose job it is just to sit and operate the software, and that’s unacceptable for a business. Core HR software should be integrated seamlessly into a business as part of the culture. There shouldn’t be anybody sitting there thinking “Right, today I need to spend an hour on myhrtoolkit”. That’s just counter-intuitive, that’s not what should be happening.
We also try to bring that human element back to HR software—we’re a very friendly, relational company. The largest share of sales we get is by recommendation, and there are hundreds of Human Resources Consultants and Advisors who recommend our product, use it themselves, and will sing from the heart about the functionality and ease of use and the problems that it fixes. We don’t sell, we just make relationships with people and show them what we’ve got. In the right space, it’s exactly what they’re looking for and they’re very happy when it’s up and running.
Have you seen any prevalent themes in terms of clients’ needs for HR software in the sector?
I think people are becoming more sophisticated year by year, and we’re in a race to keep up with demand for sophistication. Other software offerings we’re seeing in other spaces have done a fantastic job of making things easy for businesses, so their expectations for a well-designed user experience and a well thought-through user interface is way higher than it was two years ago. We’re putting in an awful lot of time, energy, and money into providing well-designed enterprise-level software in the SME space as people expect more from their in-house software.
There’s a lot of talk about AI-led chatbots—I think we can all see that they will play an important part in the process end and the compliance end of Human Resources, but who wants to really speak to a chatbot about how they feel? Nobody. There will always be a limit to what that kind of technology can do, and it’s not anywhere near where it needs to be at the moment, but it will get there, and we’re all going to need to keep our eye on that space.
The other recent rise in expectations is the degree of connectivity that clients are expecting from their software. I think you’ll see in core HR—along with lots of other spaces—a reducing number of entrants into the market, because it’s becoming very difficult to produce core HR software due to the complexities involved, the cost involved, and the level of competition in the market, but those who do enter into the market will need to integrate with other pieces of software. They all need to be talking to each other.
The same expectations of ease of use are also true from the perspective of an employee using HR software, and they definitely play a role in the development of myhrtoolkit. Although our existing software is already very simple in terms of employee interactions, we’ve undertaken a large project to completely redesign our UI and UX, and that’s going to be launched in stages throughout this year. Employees have to log in and enjoy their experience, and we think the project we’ve undertaken is definitely going to deliver that.
Jon has been working as Managing Director of myhrtoolkit since 2005. Myhrtoolkit provides a powerful online platform for SMEs seeking to transform their existing HR and staff management systems.
If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.