As a Fortune 500 company specializing in treating water, hygiene and infection prevention solutions and services, Ecolab helps advance food safety and clean environments while bringing about sustainability. Its story has been one of growth: “We go where the world needs us,” says Jeanne Ritterson, a program manager for Ecolab’s contingent talent solution team. Her goal is to establish a global framework of labor cost data that supports strategic workforce decisions in the internally run program. The company’s contingent labor strategy relies on a single solution with tech that is intuitive and easy to use, regardless of the markets and geographies it operates in. Ritterson talks about Ecolab’s journey worldwide, its partnership with Utmost and the future of contingent workforce management in these markets. “I’m going to deliver something very simple to managers so that they don’t have to battle technology in order to get their needs [worker requirements] met,” Ritterson explains.

Jeanne Ritterson, Contingent Talent Solution Program Manager, Ecolab

What problems were you trying to solve for your contingent workforce that led you to new technology and Utmost? Describe the thinking.

That gets back to the right solution for the right market. We had a large-market solution, but in our smaller markets, we had different problems that needed to be solved. When we rolled out [a contingent worker strategy] in Indonesia, it was about compliance and cost, so we needed a solution that would help us meet government reporting requirements, and we needed one that was affordable in the Indonesia market — and rolling out a solution that might be affordable in the US or EU markets is not an affordable solution in one of our smaller markets. Utmost provided us with a simple, affordable and easy-to-use solution that we could design around [that country’s] government constraints.

What does Utmost’s technology bring to the table when it comes to deployments in Asia, the Middle East or Latin America?

Again and again, that’s the compliance and the cost. Compliance requirements depend on which country we’re in, so having the flexibility that it provides enables us to address each of those constraints. For example, in Mexico, we’re only allowed to engage outsourced workers, so we need a solution that helps us with control and visibility and ensures managers bring on outsourced workers versus contingent workers. For another example, we can turn to Egypt, where the Egyptian government prescribes vacation time for every worker — meaning Ecolab must demonstrate that we have granted that vacation time even for our contingent workers.

What have you seen as limitations to Ecolab’s current operational governance model? Why was it important to address this challenge now?

We don’t have a governance issue. Ecolab’s governance model is great. I joined the company a long time ago, but I joined this program when it was founded in 2015. At that point, we created a simple tracking system in Workday so we could get initial visibility. And as we gained that visibility, we started to shop for technology solutions. We began that and anchored our program in the large markets where we saw large populations [of contingents] and the opportunity to bring a variety of benefits, which included compliance and cost controls. Though our program has much broader aspirations too.

So that was the beginning. But then as we continued that journey strategically, we were looking at other markets, and we began to branch out. So, we’re not just fixing problems for today, but we’re really looking at that future. Our model has always been a point of pride. We didn’t use Utmost because we had a governance problem; we used Utmost because it made sense given where we were in our strategy at that time.

It’s very forward. It wasn’t an “oops” situation. It was a great opportunity because Indonesia came to us. Back in 2015, when we started rolling out technology, there was a lot of reticence. People did not want us involved in their contingent talent. They just wanted to dial up suppliers and tell them to send over a worker, and they didn’t want us in between.

Since 2015, we’ve seen big change. When a program is new, people are unsure. We had to push in the US and then the UK. But gradually, by the time we got to other countries in the EU, it was opening up. And then, suddenly, Indonesia came and said, “We have a problem, you need to solve it.” And we said, “Great.” Well, since then we’ve got 20 other countries in Utmost, and people are calling us up and saying, “Wait a minute, you missed us!”

Discuss the implementation process, including any challenges you and stakeholders overcame.

We’ve implemented [the product in] 20 different countries. I could have done “onesie-twosies,” but it was really important to me from a strategic perspective to not only engage countries that represent all the challenges so that we could effectively design one global solution that supports those consistent controls and report that we’re looking for, but also to recognize local constraints and to not lock ourselves down into a solution or pave ourselves in a corner. We needed to know what the individual constraints are that we are going to see coming up so we can build open-ended solutions and fix issues as they came along. Twenty countries were a good number for that experience.

We initially implemented Core — the data engine of Utmost — so we can load in a worker record, we can track them, we can offboard them. But that gave us good insight into what the model needed to be going forward. And our next step, of course, is to roll out all of the different functionalities of Utmost. Some of the problems that we had in there, because we’re in these small-market countries, is that a lot of the suppliers are very small and they were very concerned about data privacy requirements. So, we went to them and said, “We want more information about your workers. We want to have the information that we need in order to have a full view of who our workforce is.” We had to provide them with assurances. We needed to know what the law was so that we could provide them with assurances that they were not incurring risks. Because they’re small, they don’t have their own lawyers on board.

It took us a long time to go that route. It’s a little bit different than in Europe, where the suppliers are used to working with technology. They own and load the data from their side and then they continue to own that data, so it’s based on their own contracts with the worker. Here, we were stepping in and wanting the data ourselves, so that was a challenge.

The other challenge was that we did not need a full managed service provider, given that we were rolling out Core. We did this on our own with an internal model, so we have HR in all of the countries who are trained and use the technology.

Not only was I designing the technology and looking at the use cases while working on the integration, but we were at the same time developing this internal support model and trying to figure out what that needed to be and also developing the internal technology support model and what that needed to be. So, implementing in 20 countries and looking at design as well as the support model and the technology model, that was my challenge. It was a lot, but it was OK. As we were stretched in that way, we gained insights, and those insights are what we need to develop our strategy. I’m glad. Being on the front end, driving it, helped us know what we need to do in the future.

How has this new tech benefited the program and the organization?

It has in so many ways. Working with a startup really forced us to think like a startup — to be creative, inclusive and courageous. Our program then became forged by relationships with people in each of these countries. I’ve gotten to know really well people in Indonesia and Malaysia and Kenya and understand how they see their workforce problems. Working this way has given me so many insights that will feed the vision as we build out this solution further.

I see a vision where we have the right solution in many permutations, and that’s because we can control the workforce logic within Utmost. Working with Utmost has helped us shape our vision and given us the tools to meet that vision.

Share two lessons learned during this process.

Number one, enjoy the journey. It’s not the job, it’s an experience — and as you meet all those people, they’ll change you. For me, it was a great honor to be put in this role where I met all these people. I learned all these problems around the world. I became much more of a global citizen. I could have paid to go to college and not gotten that kind of experience.

And then the other one is to listen to the questions because the questions really prescribe the answers you need to gather. Every question is an opportunity and every question counts. Just listen for those questions and ask for more. When you get all of the questions, the answers probably already exist in the company. Other people have the answers, so you need to know all of the questions and then go and find the answers from the people already in the company.

Ecolab knew the answers; the local teams knew what they needed. One good example is in Indonesia; we will look at rolling out workflow, and I was talking to them about the potential for an integration with our finance system. The director there said, “There’s no possible way that we can have a timesheet within Utmost that will prescribe what we owe the worker. It’s far too complex and far too variable.”

It’s a good idea to collect the timesheet and tell the supplier what the hours are. But then you need to pull back from the supplier and have them provide you the invoice data to load. For instance, with another vendor, we push the invoice data out to the supplier. The director said, “Don’t do that.” She was able to provide insights into Southeast Asia. That’s her world, and that saves me a whole lot of heartache by doing good business analysis and gathering those requirements — because if I design a solution for Indonesia [based on what] we have in Belgium, it’s going to be broken from the beginning.

What are Ecolab’s plans for its CW program?

That’s simple: We need to imagine the framework that supports the strategic workforce decisions with labor cost data. With that vision, then we go out for the right technology and then connect business to the solution. We continue to look out at the future and figure out what it is, what framework we need, to deliver labor cost data so that the local teams can make informed strategic workforce decisions.

We may go country by country, or we may get ahead of our businesses that are growing most rapidly to make sure that they have the talent they need. Either way, it’s important that we get the framework right. Once we get the framework right, we can build out the solution. It’s easy to get distracted by the fun features of technology — I’m as guilty of that as anybody — but my job is to keep us focused on outcomes, and our outcome is workforce labor cost data.

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