Ontraport is a SaaS company providing a comprehensive business and marketing automation platform for small businesses. Their mission is to help entrepreneurs deliver value to the world by removing the burden of technology.
Sara joined Ontraport in 2013. What began as an Office Manager role quickly evolved into much more. “At the time, we were around 45 employees, but we were getting to the point where recruiting and HR really needed to become two different roles, where it had previously been owned by one person.” At that point, Sara began managing recruiting, and after about a year, moved into HR. She started out as a coordinator, but over her time at Ontraport, her role has expanded into that of the Employee Experience Director, where she oversees it all: recruiting, HR, benefits, onboarding, offboarding, and everything in between.
When Sara jumped into HR at Ontraport, they were operating out of several disparate systems that just weren’t cutting it.
As a marketing automation company, they used their own CRM to store basic employee information. But they couldn’t store anything sensitive or private—like social security numbers—because the system lacked sufficient controls over who could access that confidential data internally. “We were using it as a pseudo-HRIS, but it wasn’t secure enough to operate as a true HRIS at that point.”
They were using a different system altogether to manage payroll. As a standalone system, that meant Sara had to manually enter PTO hours, benefits deductions, etc. for each pay cycle—which ran weekly. What’s more, Sara has less than fond memories of processing time off requests. “PTO tracking was entirely manual. We had an automated system for employees to request time off, but no system for actually tracking it. As simple as that sounds, that was our biggest headache.”
It was clear to Sara that the status-quo wasn’t working. Because systems weren’t talking to each other, she was stuck in manual drudgery. “We were about 50 people and were starting to feel growing pains. We knew if we were going to continue hiring and growing, something had to give.”
Linking HR, benefits, payroll, and time off was priority one, not only because of the pain disparate systems were causing, but also because of what it would signify. “It struck us that we weren’t doing things as ‘smart’ as we could have been—which is ironic, because our own business is all about taking separate systems and bringing them into one. It almost felt sacreligious that we weren’t living up to that philosophy with our HR operations. We knew we needed a single solution.”
No one could deny that using their CRM as an HRIS wasn’t working, but Sara had bigger hopes for an HRIS, beyond the ability to store employee information securely. “Having streamlined historical data for each employee was really important, as was having a centralized place where we could have absolutely everything. We also wanted to drive more engagement with our team. We’d built an internal intranet (dubbed our ‘Ontranet’) which worked well as a resource center, but didn’t allow for any interactions or engagement.”
When it came to performance, Ontraport had kissed a few frogs but not yet found their prince. “We’d tried a handful of softwares that got the job done, but they were really difficult to extract data from. They also didn’t have the customizability to make it feel consistent with the Ontraport experience. They all felt very third-party.” Ideally, Ontraport wanted an HR platform with performance included, so they didn’t have to leverage a separate system.
Sara and her VP of Operations took to the marketplace to shop for a solution. “At the time we were looking, Zenefits was in their heyday, so they were certainly a consideration for us. However, they didn’t have a performance module, which essentially disqualified them from our evaluation. We looked at Bamboo as well, but that was even further from our desired solution, as they didn’t offer payroll or benefits.”
When they started to explore Namely, they knew they’d found the all-encompassing platform they’d been looking for. Given their particular emphasis on performance, they were encouraged to find that Namely not only had a native performance management tool, but also offered functionality around goals, competencies, and skills.
The team was excited by the flexibility of the performance tool. “The performance tool was incredibly robust—there were more options and settings than I could have ever imagined! But beyond that, the fact that Namely offered unlimited custom fields, custom roles and permissions, and things like that really impressed us. The customization of the platform overall wasn’t something we were explicitly looking for from the get-go, but ended up being a huge selling point.”
But what struck Sara most of all was the feeling that Ontraport would have a kindred spirit in Namely, from the product to the people behind the curtain. “The highly integrated and user friendly system that Namely offers really resonated with us, since that’s what we endeavor to provide to our own clients. But more than that, we also had a fairly long relationship with Namely’s sales team. Throughout that time, everyone was extremely helpful, extremely patient, and aligned with how we treat our customers. We don’t treat our customers like we’re robots, we’re very much oriented towards building relationships. Beyond the capabilities of the software itself, that was really what sold us.”
Ontraport has grown quite a bit over the years, which can mean an intimidating first day for new hires. “Joining a team of 110 employees and thinking about learning everyone’s names and responsibilities is next to impossible. Having Namely as a way for employees to engage with the rest of the team is really handy.” New hires don’t have to feel embarrassed about asking who someone is—they can figure it out themselves. “It’s also driven a lot of engagement with the different roles here at Ontraport. The org chart and profiles allow employees to easily see who’s on which team, how different teams are structured, what other roles a particular employee has had at the company. With our focus on internal mobility, it’s been great to see how Namely has enabled employees to explore potential career growth.”
Employees were immediately excited by Namely (though that could be credited to the fact that Sara would share daily menus on the newsfeed—Ontraport provides catered breakfast and lunch on campus every day). But beyond the all-important food updates, employees have found tremendous value in the level of self-service they’re now afforded with Namely. “Previously, if someone needed to see a copy of their most recent employment agreement, for instance, that would be a manual process where they would reach out to me, I would pull their file and email it back to them. But getting someone their employment agreement, when I have 20 other things on my plate, would always fall to the bottom of my priorities. When we launched Namely, we started consolidating a lot of those employee resources and storing them in custom file fields on their Namely profiles. Now that we have that level of employee self-service, not only does it save me a ton of time that I can re-invest in improving the overall employee experience, but employees are also empowered to access their own information. That was critical in getting them bought in to the value of the system.”
Sara cites Namely’s reporting tool as a big win for not just her as an admin, but for her executive team as well. “Take benefits for example. There are so many factors to consider when building a benefits plan. Questions like ‘Who is enrolled in which of our medical plans?’ and ‘How many people are enrolled in our HSA versus our FSA plan?’ are essential to answer in order to understand if our plan is working for our employees, and where there are gaps and opportunities. All of that data around plan enrollment and benefit engagement is stored in Namely and is easy to report on, so when it comes to crafting our benefits plan for the next year, we can use that data to make sure we’re offering the best plan possible. The level of visibility that affords our executive team, without them needing to manually dig through mountains of benefits data to try to find patterns or insights, has been really handy.”
While Sara knew she wanted a performance system at the onset of her search, she couldn’t have anticipated the ways she’s been able to leverage Namely to streamline other processes outside of performance. “When we have any sort of acknowledgement—sexual harassment prevention trainings, handbooks, email and internet policies, confidentiality agreements, and so on—we templatize it as a review cycle. All of the essential information is in there, and we have employees initial and the review goes back to them to sign. Everything is time-stamped, so I can easily check in on employees to see when they’ve signed something. We update our employee handbook at the beginning of every year, so being able to use that feature to process over 100 acknowledgements in one fell swoop is the biggest time saver. The performance tool is great for performance, of course, but being able to leverage it for other things too makes it all the more valuable. It’s a little bit out of the box, but it’s been a big win for us, and really speaks to the flexibility and customizability of the system. ”
But it doesn’t stop at performance—Sara managed to customize onboarding templates to make them do more for her, too. “We run required sexual harassment trainings in September and March of each year, and I wanted to find an easier way to make sure new employees were being invited. So, I created custom fields called ‘Sexual Harassment Training Class’ and ‘Sexual Harassment Training Manager Class.’ When someone’s hired, on their onboarding template I assign them to whatever the next class is with that field. When it comes time to organize the class, I can pull a quick report to see who needs to be invited, grab all their email addresses, pop them in a calendar invite, and it’s done. Then, everyone who was in that specific class gets that specific acknowledgement following the training, because of how we’ve set it up in the review tool.”
Sara stresses that in order to get maximum value out of Namely, don’t be afraid to get creative. “Think outside the box. Some of the biggest wins we’ve had from Namely have been things like managing handbook acknowledgements via reviews. We’ve had a lot of success using the tools Namely offers in ways beyond what they’re designed for. Experimentation has served us well.”
Sara has also leaned on the expertise of other Namely power users via our online community, Backstage Pass, for tips and tricks on getting the most from the platform. “If you think Namely can’t do something, talk to some other users and see how they’re handling it or if they’ve found workarounds. Chances are, there’s a solution for what you’re trying to achieve.”
Ontraport is one of 1,000+ companies that use Namely to streamline their HR, payroll, benefits and time management needs.
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