HUB – Employee Engagement


“Highly engaged employees are passionate about what they do. They are energetic, committed and feel a sense of ownership over their work.  They often go above and beyond for their teammates and their organization”

“Engaged employees feel valued and empowered.  They provide better customer experiences resulting in happier customers and often increased organization profitability.”

Ask any business owner, especially after reading the above, and they’ll agree: they want engaged employees. You can see the obvious benefit to the business and its customers. But I bet if you ask any business owner, especially small business owners, if they have a pulse on their employees most won’t.

Here’s evidence. A few months ago I moderated a small business discussion forum at the Independent Payroll Providers Association’s annual users conference. This forum enabled business owners to discuss anything they’d like about their business. I thought the majority of the discussion would be about growing their business or sales tactics, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The entire 60 minute session focused on ensuring employee engagement within their organizations. Topics ranged from perks offered to training programs that employees needed. Many shared difficulty in identifying employee needs.  Some shared how providing employee perks, such as enabling remote working environments, resulted in high morale gains with their staff. Others shared training programs enacted to improve employee skills.

Heck, I even chimed with our “google time” policy at Shugo.  What’s google time?  It’s three paid hours each week every Shugo employee has to explore whatever they’d like. Maybe it’s learning a new skill on their own.  Perhaps it’s used for investigation of new technology.  Maybe it’s volunteering at a local charity. Whatever it is, it’s paid and our staff is free to chose what they do with it!

I’ll admit though, I left the forum with a big smile on my face since I knew we were going to add aspects of employee engagement to HUB. See, I think all small businesses need to have a good culture.  They need to have a closeness, a deep friendship, with all members on staff.  And business owners need to be able to easily solicit feedback both on a scheduled basis and at impromptu times.

It’s why I’m excited to announce the first phase of employee engagement will be released in HUB to a group of alpha users on 12/18/2016. This initial phase is characterized by check-ins.

Check-Ins are simple one question surveys used to solicit feedback and opinions from staff. It can be a simple weekly recurring check-in asking employees how they feel. It can be an “on-demand” check-in with employee of the month selections.


I think the key to check-ins include:

  1. They can be scheduled to be recurring or just sent one time.
  2. Check-ins include just a single question requiring very little effort for employees to answer. HUB has eleven out of the box questions available but custom questions can be created as well.
  3. Historical reporting provides business owners a view of employee responses over time.
  4. Check-In summary reporting can be shared with employees if desired.

Check-Ins provide a great way for business owners to get their finger on the pulse of their organization and see trends over time.


Sounds great doesn’t it?  It sure does but I have to caution that check-ins should be used as a tool to solicit feedback.  But the true power and way for employees to feel engaged is to take their answers from check-ins and turn them into actions. Remember, actions speak louder than words.

HUB’s employee engagement won’t stop with just check-ins though.  We’re busy working on two additional features for engagement including:

  1. Employee recognition wall: Employees recognize colleague’s on daily wins and important accomplishments, specifically those which have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
  2. Suggestion box: Safe and secure anonymous method for employees to share suggestions or internal team issues to managers/business owners.

These features are expected to be added in the first quarter of 2017!


Introducing LOFT and HUB Rewards


Today’s a pretty special day. Personally it’s a day I’ve been waiting to see for a couple of years (and if you know me, you’ll know that patience is not a virtue I display all that often).

I’m excited to share that LOFT has been released and our first LOFT app, HUB Rewards is now available. My blog post from a few months back details HUB Rewards and the value we feel it brings to small businesses. But more importantly for me, I’ve been discussing our reward program for years.  It’s part of our mission to bring all we can to the small business community.


HUB Rewards provide exclusive perks and discounts to HUB users. Employee perks are closely tied to employee engagement and retention, and play a big role in recruiting new hires.

As further evidence of the value of HUB Rewards, I read an article on millennials recently and the things that matter to them most when it comes to work and their employer. Continually “perks” are cited as a differentiator since they show employees that their valued and that the organization wants them to be happy.

Think about folks that work at Google. Sure it’s prestigious to say you’re a Google employee. Sure your compensation is great but what do Google employees always gush over? They gush over the benefits and perks they receive from the company. It’s why Google is routinely named one of the Best Places to Work.

Now with HUB Rewards, every employer can add an additional benefit to the list of items it offers their employees.

For those who have LOFT enabled on their account, check out this article on how to enable a LOFT app.

For those who don’t have LOFT enable, notify our team at and we can turn it on for you immediately.

HUB Rewards – One of our 1st LOFT Apps

I have a friend named Dan. He’s actually my best friend and was the best man at my wedding. Dan and I took different career paths. I went the small business entrepreneurial route while Dan went the large enterprise/corporate path. My company has 6 employees while Dan’s has 153,000. See — both ends of the spectrum.

So why am I even sharing this? Because Dan receives special perks and discounts to meals, entertainment, everyday services (cell phone, etc…) and much more because he’s employed by Comcast. I on the other hand do not.

Dan Rick
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Thank about it: if you’re Verizon Wireless, doesn’t it make sense to offer 153,000 employees 10% off their cell phone plan? Even if only 5% take the offer, you’re adding 7,650 subscribers. With an average monthly bill of $100, you’re adding monthly revenue of $688,500. (Remember when you do the math to take the 10% discount out!)

As a business owner, I understand why one would offer perks/discounts to employees of large corporations. To reach the same employee base (153,000), businesses like Verizon would have to partner with 25,500 businesses like mine. Doesn’t make much sense on their part.

Am I jealous of Dan receiving benefits like this? Yes

Is it fair to employees of small businesses? No

So am I just writing this to b!tch? Nope

I’m sharing this as it has a tie into one of Shugo’s first LOFT apps for HUB: HUB Rewards. HUB Rewards is an employee reward/perk program available to employees of small businesses rivaling the discounts and offers employees of large corporations receive. By pooling the thousands of small businesses and their employees using HUB, we’re able to bring the same offers to an employee of a five person firm to employees of large enterprises.

Verizon now doesn’t have to partner which 25,500 small businesses. They submit their offer into the HUB Rewards program and are ensured of it’s distribution to a vast nationwide employer and employee base. It’s really a win/win for all parties involved.

For businesses submitting an offer/perk/discount, they reach a massive audience inside of a platform that employees and employers use daily (so you know they’ll see your offer).

For a payroll provider offering HUB to their clients, HUB Rewards offers a unique value-add for their clients.

For an employer, you now offer a program to your employees similar to that of Comcast and other large corporations. Best of all, you don’t have to lick a finger setting up partner relationships since they’re available right out of the box.

For employees, who doesn’t like dollars off meals and much more…

HUB Rewards is a pretty simple concept and one we’re excited to be offering soon. Phase 1 of development is almost complete and is scheduled for a late summer 2016 production release.


LOFT – without apps, there’s no value


Last week, I shared our thought process on why we built LOFT. I can’t stress enough the value we feel it’s going to bring HUB, but also the value it provides all our payroll provider partners. Each has unique needs. Each of their clients have unique needs. Each of their clients’ employees have unique needs. With LOFT, that entire ecosystem can be satisfied.

LOFT will only be as good as the apps available within it. Think about it, would our iPhones be as powerful as they are without apps? Probably not and with LOFT, we have the same thinking. The value will be in the list of apps available to help provide individualized experiences.

So how do we go about filling the LOFT store with apps? We took a two-pronged approach:

1. Industry Vendors – the payroll industry is filled with vendors who provide additional products and services for payroll providers to offer their clients such as workers compensation insurance, time and attendance, HR services, compliance posters and a host of others. Over the years, Shugo’s been able to create special relationships with a number of these vendors, so we approached many about the value of building a LOFT app.

Luckily, many saw the value and were quick to jump on board.  Currently, LOFT apps are being built by providers in the following spaces:

  • Retirement services
  • Time and attendance
  • HR solutions
  • Background check services
  • Pay cards

And these are just the start. Plus in some cases above we have multiple vendors building apps (again because everyone has individualized needs).

2. Shugo’s Own Apps – No better way to show the value of LOFT than building our own apps. And really, building our own apps had two purposes:

  • We could fill the void in areas where other vendors are not building LOFT apps.
  • We could understand the third-party app developer experience. This enables us to guide developers with their own apps and provide tools and utilities to make their lives easier.

We came up with the idea to start with two simple apps, initially as a proof of concept. They would enable us to learn a bit about app development and provide a good background to help with bullet #2 above. These apps include:

  • Weather App: this app enables the user to see their local weather forecast on the HUB sidebar area.
  • Twitter App: this app enables a payroll company to display tweets from a designated twitter account to HUB users. It could be used to relay upcoming payroll company events, share important news and announcements, market additional products and services, etc…

These apps only took us a few hours each to build and enabled us to create a .Net SDK for other .Net developers to use for their own development. So some great wins were achieved there.

The good news is we haven’t stopped there.  We actually have two more apps on the horizon:

  • Contact Central: This app is a collaboration with one of our clients and allows for presentation of important company contacts to a HUB user. It’s a great place to share the assigned payroll rep with HUB administrators and include detail on the client’s 401k and benefit brokers for all HUB employees. It furthers HUB’s goal of being a complete company intranet for small businesses. This app is slated for beta in July and a production release in August.
  • HUB Rewards: If you’ve been around the payroll industry for a bit, you’ve heard me share a vision for an employee reward/perk program for small businesses. Typically these programs are reserved for large employers (the Comcast’s of the world), but by combining the entire employee pool HUB services we can bring the same level of perks to the five employee company. Who wouldn’t want 10% off your Verizon Wireless bill?  And shouldn’t the employee of a small business deserve that perk just as much as an employee of the behemoth Comcast? An alpha of this app is slated for July with a phase 1 production release in August.

Why we built LOFT?


Over the past few weeks, a number of folks have shared the same thought and posed the same question to me:

“We love the concept of LOFT, but why did you build it?”

If you go back a few weeks you’ll know I shared a number of our new development items result from direct client feedback.  It’s what I called “Collaborative Development“. LOFT though is not one of them.

So why did we build LOFT? It’s simple actually. As HUB’s gained popularity, it’s becoming a big part of the lives of many our clients (payroll providers). In fact, many have shared that their demos and meetings with prospects involve HUB as the core.

First, we’re honored to hear this. It shows our client’s trust in Shugo and the fact we’re building great software for them to offer. More importantly, this means more and more eyeballs and clicks on HUB (i.e. more users). In fact from January 2016 through March 2016, the number of employers and employees utilizing HUB doubled. Yes, in three months the entire user base of HUB doubled.

If you think about the HUB stakeholder base you have:

  • payroll companies
  • employers processing payroll through the payroll companies
  • employees of the above employers

And I’m sure you can guess, each stakeholder has unique needs. Sometimes needs are geographically dictated, sometimes regulatory (think ACA), other times it may be the result of employee count. I’m sure you can understand that an employer with 200 employees with high turnover requires different features and functionality than an employer with 5 employees who’s not hiring.

How can we (Shugo) build all the functionality desired across all our payroll company partners, their clients and their employees? Is it possible?

That’s the question we struggled to answer. After much deliberation, we came to a conclusion:

“We can’t, at least not to the standard we hold ourselves too.”

It wasn’t an easy conclusion. Initially I felt like I was letting our clients down. I’m always the one who wants to continually push the boundaries. I never want to sit still and have our business and feature-set become stale.

Defeated is probably a pretty good way to state it.


But in the end, it was the right conclusion. If we tried to be everything to everyone, we’d fail like many businesses have done in the past. We’d spread ourselves too thin, complete 75% of the functionality required for a feature and never release it. The confidence our clients have in us would wane.

But how do we give them everything our clients want? We needed to find a way.

To start, we looked a few platforms for inspiration.  Most notably:

  • Facebook and the ability for third party developers to build apps
  • The iTunes App store
  • The Google Play store

What makes Facebook and our phones so great? Sure there’s a fantastic core platform providing a rich set of functionality, but it doesn’t end there. Developers have the ability to extend each with anything they can think of through an app. Think about it. Look at the apps you have installed on your phone versus what your spouse, co-worker or best friend has. I bet there’s some similarities, but a number of differences on what’s installed since we each have unique needs.

Case in point: my wife has the Facebook and Instagram apps installed on her iPhone.  I on the other hand do not, but I do have the complete Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc…) which she doesn’t.

The ability to extend a platform through custom extensions (or as we know them “apps”) provides any set of functionality to be included. This is what LOFT is to HUB.

LOFT is to HUB as the iTunes App Store is to the iPhone.

LOFT is to HUB as the Google Play store is to android.

With LOFT, any third party can extend HUB with anything a stakeholder desires. Specifically, LOFT provides:

  • The creation of a customized complete HCM solution under a single umbrella
  • Integration of best of breed vendors/solutions based on individual payroll company, end client and employee needs
  • Delivery of individualized employee experiences

Or simply put: “with LOFT, if you dream it, you can have it”.

LOFT will only be as successful as the apps available for use. This is where we’re off to a great start.  Not only are we at Shugo building a few apps for the LOFT store, but a number of other vendors who service our clients are as well. This ranges from advanced time and attendance apps, 401 apps, benefit apps, background check apps and much more.

So though we agree collaborative development is great and important, sometimes you do need to jump outside the box. Don’t be afraid. Just make sure you do this after much thought and deliberation. In fact, I had personally been thinking about LOFT for over two years…and we finally pulled the trigger.

To learn more about LOFT, click here.

To learn more about becoming  a LOFT developer and building apps, click here.


The Value of Relationships

Jay Foliano is probably not a name many of you know, but he’s someone who early in my professional career taught me the value of relationships. Back in college (late 90’s), I was lucky enough to be presented with internships during the summers and Jay was an integral part of this experience. He was a project manager on a number of projects I was part of and the best PM I’ve ever worked with.

Let me share a story about Jay to start which really shows his character and values. Picture being onsite at a client and your team’s project manager is facilitating the day long session. Because of the jam packed schedule, he’s organizing a call-in lunch order so we don’t lose any steam. When lunch arrives, meals are passed out. Realizing he needs to get the meeting moving again quickly so we stay on track, the project manager eats his lunch in a feverish pitch. A full salad is consumed within a few minutes.

The client’s VP re-enters the meeting room to eat their lunch as they had just stepped out to take a call. This is when the “uh-oh” moment hits. The project manager realizes he ate the wrong meal. He ate the VP’s salad (yes the same VP who’s funding the project). What does the project manager do?

For most they’d stick their head between their legs and turn red like a tomato. They’d scramble, apologize profusely and feel deflated. Good thing that PM was Jay Foliano since that’s not how he responded.

Jay did apologize and immediately left the meeting. He found the best local restaurant and ordered the most expensive meal on the menu and swiftly brought it back for the VP. In that moment, Jay turned a complete goof into a client relationship building event (and story we still tell to this day).

Jay’s passion is two-fold:

  1. Ensuring his team delivers a solution that the client needs and more importantly wants
  2. Ensuring throughout the entire project life cycle, the client is informed, kept in constant contact and pleased with his team’s efforts

Pretty simple but really powerful. Jay was the perfect mix of internal project manager and external business development executive.

As much as we use to “rag” on Jay for being a kiss ass, we all knew the tremendous value he brought to the table and the experience our clients received because of him. And I’m probably being nice saying we use to tease him as sometimes we were downright brutal (think about that lunch story above and you can imagine how relentless we were). I can still hear Todd Donaghy singing “Foooooolliiiiiiaaaaannnnnoooooo” in his best high pitched voice every time Jay was spotted. But our fun with Jay was out of respect, out of the value we knew he brought to our team and the project overall.

This past weekend I ran into Jay at a wedding and it was the first time I’ve seen him in over 15 years. He looked exactly the same, had the same burst of energy and like always was a pleasure to speak with. He asked about my career (again, we haven’t spoken in over 15 years) and was really excited to hear about Shugo. During our conversation though, it struck me how much of an impact he had on my career and how he indirectly shaped the culture at Shugo.

It was his question of “What’s had the single biggest impact on your business?” that brought this to life. My answer:

“It’s the value of the relationships we’ve built with our clients and the payroll industry.”

Not realizing it until this moment, Jay is a big reason why I believe this to be true. He instilled in me as a 20 year old intern the value of relationships in business. We do business with folks we like and respect. And it’s not just building “business relationships” though, it’s building personal relationships with our clients, vendors and partners that truly makes it a great experience.

Jay, even this past weekend, always asks how your family is doing and what your kids are up to these days. This was part of his way of building a fantastic relationship with clients, vendors and partners.

So to Jay, I say thank you.  Thanks for being a positive impact on my early professional career and for helping shaping the values and culture we have at Shugo. To prove how the value of relationships are important at Shugo, check out this 10 minute clip of four Shugo clients sharing why they chose us and our solutions.  I hope after you see this, you’ll understand the impact Jay Foliano has had on my career.

Delight My Customer

“Delight My Customer”:  Pretty prophetic and for small businesses, a great motto. Don’t take my word for it, take Warren Buffett’s word.

Disclaimer: I’m not a Buffett junkie. I respect him but don’t follow him religiously but the article above really captured my attention this morning. It’s a core tenet of our daily lives at Shugo and a big reason I think we’ve had success and have built such great relationships with a number of our clients.

When I think about how we delight or customers, three areas come straight to mind:

Customer Support – If you ask any of our clients, I bet 9 out of 10 say they’re amazed at the level of support our team provides. One of Shugo’s core values is the “Golden Rule”. Supporting our clients is where we see this most but I’ll admit it’s sometimes a challenge!

Responding to a client inquiry in 10 minutes or less is what I consider to be a delightful experience. Where else do clients receive this? Most likely nowhere.

Again it’s not easy. It means constant interruptions because our team is challenged to respond immediately to clients. It means jumping back on the PC after kids are put to bed, on the weekends, on vacations, etc…  As we add staff, it becomes easier but everyone on our team is tasked with support. So yes, there are times I’m still personally jumping back on the PC close to midnight to help folks.

But it’s important and one of the ways we “delight” customers. And don’t take my word for it, here’s some feedback from clients:

“The best support I’ve experienced from a software vendor”

“In regards to the customer service side I have personally found SHUGO to be one of the most accessible and invested companies we work with. I can’t speak enough to the quality of the support staff. They are truly my favorite partner to work with.”

Constant Innovation – I never wanted to run a business that just rests on their laurels. In today’s world of technology, it’s a dying business model. I want our clients to always think “What are they going to do next?”. I want them to rely on us to bring new features and functionality to the market that enables them to thrive against their competition.

It’s why we invest heavily in technologists. Shugo’s a small company, but two-thirds of our staff are developers (myself included). And I’d bet that we have one of the best development teams out there. Admittedly, I’m probably the weakest of the bunch but I say that proudly. I’m not diminishing my technical prowess. It’s just the other guys are that good. The talent we’ve assembled enable us to look beyond what’s available today and apply it to our clients and their needs.

Here’s what some of our clients have to say (keep in mind we build software that our clients offer to their customers):

“No lie; my clients are telling me again how much they appreciate us because we are always innovating”

“I can’t wait to see what’s next on the horizon”

Sounds delightful right?

Delivery – “Under promise; over deliver” is a motto  we tend to follow. The key though is the last word of that statement: deliver. Delivering and keeping to timelines is important. It enables our clients to trust our ability to release new features and products.

All too often I’ve seen many lose faith in a provider for their continual failure to deliver features to spec and on-time.  Heck, I was part of teams many moons ago that was plagued with this. I never wanted our clients to not have faith in our ability to deliver.

There’s something delightful with our clients being able to share with their users confidently that a new feature or function will be available on a specific date. I want them to be confident in the dates we publish and I think we’ve achieved that.

Here’s what a few have said:

“Shugo delivers cleanly designed applications with features that flat out work as intended.”

“Best of all Shugo delivers; their products and releases flat out work.”