Meet the Agents of Transformation - Paychex

Heather Fry, Director of Product Development, Paychex

Heather is the Director of Product Development at Paychex, a provider of HR, payroll, benefits, and insurance solutions for more than 650,000 small and medium-sized businesses. Her team is responsible for product development and continuous delivery services, which includes test and data automation, build and deploy, and performance services. Heather has been at Paychex for over 23 years.

What do you see as the key milestones on your journey to becoming an Agent of Transformation?

I started my career in IT as a developer and loved it – but I realized quite quickly that I wanted to be in a position to lead the team and drive strategy. One of my first milestones was making the decision to step away from hands-on coding, and instead turn my attention to working with senior management and being part of a group tasked with thinking differently about the way our business could be run.  Once I had the opportunity to make a positive difference in growing our people and processes, I knew I was on the path I was meant for.

How has the IT industry changed over the course of your career?

Early in my career, the pace of technology advancement was not nearly as fast as it is today. Making changes took considerably more time. Keeping up with technology today is nearly impossible. Customer expectations are much higher when it comes to system response time and availability, user interface appeal and ease of use, and our ability to produce new features fast. But it’s technology that enables us to keep up with current market demands.

What are the most exciting transformation projects you’ve worked on and why did they mean so much to you?

As a business, Paychex has transformed from a payroll company into a human capital management (HCM) company. This has meant transforming into a technology company, too, with digital services at the heart of how we engage with our customers. Their expectations are increasing rapidly – they want things faster, better, and cheaper than ever before. To meet these expectations, we have spent the last 18 months focused on introducing a continuous delivery and continuous improvement model, and with it, a significant amount of automation of processes and systems. This allows us to focus on driving innovation and enables us to respond and react far faster to customer needs with an improved customer experience.  We are also transforming parts of our business in many of the product lines we offer. This means a constant commitment to one of our company’s core values: innovation. From our mobile-first design and focus on enabling our clients and their employees to be able to do what they want, when they want (24/7/365) to our ongoing commitment to delivering simple and easy-to-use HR solutions to our ability to move money faster than ever before, we are constantly innovating.

Is there a piece of advice you wish you had listened to earlier in your career?

People should always come first. I didn’t necessarily fully understand that early in my career, but I recognize today how easy it is to become so focused on technology, business goals, and project deliverables that you create a sort of “hardened shell” around you and a culture that doesn’t cultivate an open, team-focused, growth mindset. As a leader, I have learned that mentoring others and building an open environment where it is ok to make mistakes, learn and grow, drives engagement. Positive change ultimately happens as a result of partnerships that are approachable, collaborative, and supportive of a shared set of values.

Can you think of any major challenges or barriers that you had to overcome to become an Agent of Transformation?

Having a great idea is one thing, but trying to maneuver your way through a corporate culture – and perhaps inevitable internal politics – can be challenging. You know you need their buy-in and support, but it requires commitment, trust, transparency, and great communication to influence people with different experiences and different priorities as to why your idea will help the business. Building support around you will help overcome the barriers that may sit in front of you.

What organizational qualities are essential to enabling and supporting Agents of Transformation?

For me, the number one thing a company can do is build a culture of trust. It’s critical that an organization’s leadership understands that people need time to be creative, innovate, and try new things without the worry of failure or the fear of having it held against them. For Agents of Transformation, this level of trust and transparency at all levels is critical, keeping in mind the appropriate level of expectation-setting to ensure risk mitigation.

How do you approach your own development, in terms of continual learning and seeking out new challenges?

I have a natural instinct to ask questions and challenge the way we do things. I am always looking at what others are doing and learning what I could be doing differently. I study analyst reports, from Gartner and others, to examine which tools are out there, how they compare with what we have now, and what tools may help us in the future. I also keep a close eye on industry standards across the technology landscape to help me determine how those solutions could support our business and help us raise the bar.

What tips would you give to other technologists that might feel uncertain or worried about their own capacity to adapt to technological change?

Take chances, try new things, make mistakes, and learn. But keep in mind that doesn’t mean being reckless. Build safety nets – talk to colleagues and managers about your ideas and have them help you uncover blind spots, think through the potential outcomes, and be prepared if things don’t go exactly to plan. In short: Try. Fail fast. Recover faster!

How can those technologists that currently feel held back by organizational structures, processes and culture, instigate the change required to enable genuine innovation and transformation in their businesses?

Identify a few smaller, grassroots proof of concepts where you think you can add value. Then, do your due diligence. Prepare well and have data to support your ideas. Start to build trust with colleagues by sharing your thinking and demonstrating the preparation and thought you have put into your ideas. Finally, when you get the support you asked for, be prepared to be held accountable for the outcome.

How does application and business performance data help you to make strategic decisions for your business?

In today’s technology-enabled world, you need to be able to turn on a dime. When things go wrong – or when clients need something critical to be fixed – we don’t always have the luxury of time! With AppDynamics, if there’s an issue that could impact customer experience, I can see the root cause immediately and work with the team to resolve it quickly. AppDynamics provides the information we need to make real-time decisions and stay ahead of the game.

What I value most about AppDynamics is how it visualizes in a single pane of glass – everything I need to know about the performance of my digital services can be seen in one holistic view. That gives me confidence in the data I am sharing with the business. I can also use the dashboards to share information with the wider team, as the data is presented in a way that is easy to understand whether you work in IT or elsewhere at Paychex.

What are you likely to be focusing on over the next two years? Are there any exciting new innovation projects on the horizon?

Over the next two years, we want to see a continued progression towards IT delivery whenever and however it is needed in an automated, high quality fashion. To do this, we are continuing to drive the importance of shifting left with a Continuous Delivery approach that includes automated standards enforcement, increased test and release automation, and leveraging key metrics and data to continuously improve.

How important is it to you to leave a lasting legacy through your work as a technologist?

Leaving a legacy is really important to me. Standing still doesn’t sit well with me – I am motivated to continually raise the bar and identify new ways to drive improvement and do the best job possible. I also recognize that success is not mine alone – it takes an army to achieve the levels of digital transformation we’ve set our sights on.

"Positive change ultimately happens as a result of partnerships that are approachable, collaborative, and supportive of a shared set of values."

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