Four Reasons Private Equity Firms Are Rethinking Their Workforce Investments

Russell Porter and Vineet Kumar

Most methods used by private equity (PE) firms for enhancing business value, beyond pure financial engineering, involve optimizing people management in some way, such as restructuring teams, bringing in new talent, refreshing training programs, or modifying incentive structures. An organization’s talent is increasingly its greatest source of value creation, market differentiation, and innovation.

As a result, firms are putting greater emphasis on maximizing the return on their investments in human capital and using technology to help them do that.

Rewriting the script for HCM

Human capital management (HCM) technologies have evolved significantly in the last decade.

Most now feature artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality capabilities and are delivered via an intuitive mobile interface. Venture capital investment in HR tech firms globally in 2018 was nearly triple that of 2017, with nearly $1.2 billion USD invested in Q3 2018 alone, spurring on these new technologies and highlighting the increasing recognition of the importance of talent.

As Bain highlighted in its 2019 Global Private Equity Report, PE firms are proactively looking at how to cope with digital disruption, increase organizational agility, and mitigate global political and economic risks. While PE firms have not traditionally seen the HR function as a lever for value creation and risk mitigation, there’s a growing recognition that these new technologies are rewriting the script and opening new possibilities.

Meanwhile, traditional barriers to technology investment have fallen with the introduction of SaaS models with subscription licensing, rapid implementations – weeks or months instead of years, and financing models that minimize capital costs and shorten payback periods.

We see several reasons why PE firms are using technology to drive better workforce outcomes.

1. To drive operational efficiencies

Staff rostering and scheduling solutions drive out cost by enabling employees to swap shifts, highlighting workforce risks, and employing intelligent, predictive technologies with advanced forecasting and optimization.

According to PwC, organizations that transition from manual processes and disconnected legacy systems to modern, integrated digital workforce management technologies typically see 15%-25% cost savings in HR and IT spend.

For example, Crocs, the footwear company backed by The Blackstone Group since 2014, was able to move from 17 different systems into one centralized HR solution with standardized workflows for hiring, recruiting, and other workforce management processes.

In addition to HR and IT savings, providing self-service capabilities to employees, managers, and executives via mobile devices speeds the flow of information, increases organizational agility, and enables data-driven decision making based on real-time data from the board level down.

2. To scale the business

After Blackstone’s investment, Crocs closed underperforming stores and exited unprofitable markets. Its growth trajectory had stretched internal operations and systems. To continue global expansion, Crocs needed a scalable solution to drive standard processes while supporting multi-currency, multi-language, and local country business requirements.

Crocs’ new HCM solution catered to these complex requirements. It enabled workforce management processes to be stood up quickly and within local regulations and standards, thereby avoiding the need for complex IT and HR projects in each new market and eliminating one of the bottlenecks to sustainable growth.

3. To mitigate workforce risks

Despite the workforce consuming 40%-70% of a company’s expenditure, organizations often struggle to produce real-time, accurate workforce cost and productivity data. Even a simple headcount report can take days and still be inaccurate due to discrepancies between various HR, payroll, and IT systems. Contingent staff, visa permits, and remote workers complicate matters further.

Not knowing how many people the organization has, where they are, and what they are doing increases compliance risks and potential regulatory breaches.

Between 2012 and 2017, we saw an increase of 22% in the number of labor laws and regulatory changes across 81 countries – so the risks are growing.

Integrated HCM technologies mitigate this risk by housing all workforce data in one central repository, ensuring workforce visibility with an audit trail of activities (for example employee grievances, performance warnings, code of conduct training completions, and safety breaches). And today’s cloud-based solutions are updated regularly so that changes in employment or tax laws are automatically catered for with minimal intervention.

Accudyne Industries (a US-based organization with private equity ownership since 2012) requires employees to complete mandatory safety training every year but was not able to ensure full compliance. With a mobile-enabled learning solution as part of its centralized HCM platform, employees were able to achieve 100% compliance, significantly reducing risk exposure.

4. To attract, retain, and align the right talent

Part of the changes instituted at Crocs with its new HCM system was a revised performance management process that eliminated bureaucracy and instituted meaningful conversations between managers and employees focusing on performance improvement. Combined with better remuneration data and visibility of top talent, managers are now making better-informed pay decisions, including how to rate and calibrate the performance of employees.

Before investing in an integrated HCM solution, Affinity Education Group (backed by Anchorage Capital Partners) was using manual spreadsheets to manage staff performance. As one of the largest private childcare providers in Australia, executives recognized the need to implement more sophisticated processes to provide meaningful feedback to employees while tracking and monitoring operational outcomes and staff development across the dispersed network of childcare centers.

Modern HCM technology helps deliver on commitments to diversity, inclusion, and gender equality.

Benefits of integrated HCM

In SAP’s experience, the benefits of an integrated HCM solution are significant. Organizations typically see proven benefits of reduced staff attrition, lower costs, streamlined processes, increased collaboration, enhanced employee engagement, and an overall lift in organizational productivity of 5%+.

Learn how SAP SuccessFactors can help you harness the best available talent and drive your business beyond bias.


Russell Porter

About Russell Porter

Russell Porter is part of the Business Transformation Advisory team with SAP SuccessFactors. He partners with HR and business leaders to help them identify, deliver and realise the value of innovative cloud-based Human Resources solutions – so that organisations can optimise their workforce and achieve their strategic business objectives. Based in Sydney, he provides industry thought leadership, strategic solution advice and expert consultation across the Asia Pacific region.

Vineet Kumar

About Vineet Kumar

Marketing leader, responsible for marketing strategy, planning and execution of brand awareness, demand generation and customer advocacy programs for SAP SuccessFactors for Asia Pacific & Japan, He has over 19 years of experience in IT, Telecom, Banking & Insurance, Retail and Computer Peripherals industry verticals.