Constant Learning Curve

Paychex Inc.'s William Kuchta is keeping his company's bottom line healthy while helping to create a new generation of HR executives.

Monday, October 16, 2006
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With more than 30 years in the human resource field, Paychex Inc.'s William Kuchta still has to pause for a moment before answering a question about what guiding principle directs his daily work habits.

"Well, I try to learn something every day," he says. "Because no matter what you're doing today, and no matter how long you have been doing it, you can probably make it better tomorrow."

As the vice president of organizational development for the Rochester, N.Y.-based payroll-services and HR-outsourcing company, Kuchta often finds himself searching for answers that will benefit his organization as well as improve the lives of its 10,500 employees. While finding common ground between the two is not always easy, he has learned along the way that individual accomplishment means little if it does not benefit the entire business.

"An HR person who has success [whose] company doesn't succeed, that's not good," he says. "Everything we do in this department is tied to some kind of ROI."

Kuchta's expertise also extends past the HR domain and all the way to the research and development of new payroll products for clients, according to Jonathan J. Judge, president and CEO of Paychex.

"Will plays a significant role as a liaison with many industry resources and organizations -- and helps Paychex with product development. He understands the marketplace and needs going forward, and he can help us identify what's next for our client base. Not many HR professionals are also involved in the development of a company's product offering," he says.

Of his many accomplishments, which have earned Kuchta a place on Human Resource Executive's 2006 Honor Roll, two examples in particular stand out: his work in reducing the company's high turnover rate and his involvement in the creation of masters in HR programs at two local colleges.

Taming Turnover

One of the major obstacles in the service industry is turnover of client-services representatives, and Paychex was experiencing higher-than-normal turnover rates. It was costing the company not only time and money spent training new employees; it was also causing service disruptions to clients who interacted with the service representatives.

"Unlike many companies, we knew that there was not going to be a single 'silver bullet' to fix the problem," he says. After some in-depth investigation, Kuchta realized that the solution would need to be discovered on a department-by-department basis.

"I analyzed why it was happening in each of the major domains such as sales, service, corporate and IT. In most of the cases, the biggest answer was that we were not hiring people who were appropriate fits for the positions."

He worked with each area's vice president and management to identify the cause of that area's turnover problem, then developed and implemented solutions specifically designed to address each cause. In several areas, the approach centered on improving hiring practices.

"Instead of using a [screening] test, we now teach our managers to ask behavior-based questions that are suited to fit each domain," Kuchta says.

A major effort was also made to improve candidate sourcing to this unique industry, and a new interviewing and selection process was developed and rolled out. Aligned with this was a redesign of field-service career paths. In technical areas, more effort was put into technical development and career ladders.

The results speak for themselves: Paychex's overall turnover rate was decreased by half, and in the IT area alone, turnover was cut by 75 percent.

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Kuchta's quest for knowledge is also evident in the ways he's helping to create a whole new generation of HR executives to continue the work he and his colleagues have started.

Kuchta, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Bridgeport, Conn., has helped to launch masters in HR programs at two Rochester, N.Y., colleges. He currently serves as chair of the Human Resource Program Advisory Board at Nazareth College and as a member of the advisory board for the Human Resource Development Program at St. John Fisher College.

As for his educational efforts, Kuchta seems to know a win/win situation when he sees it.

"Well," he admits, "it's a little less than altruistic. It's as much a case of feeding ourselves with quality candidates as it is creating new HR people. We want to make what we do with these programs become a kind of a model for what the profession is."

And having two masters in HR programs located so close to company headquarters creates a unique synergy between company, city and college.

"We have a company of 2,600 employees here in Rochester, and most positions are for people who provide service and products dealing with HR. It's been a wonderful match locally of creating a labor supply that didn't exist before" and already having a natural outlet nearby it can feed.

While the master's programs are still in their infancy, Kuchta is hopeful for the future. "We've got a couple of sophomores in the program now and I would expect we'll get some really good labor out of [them]," he says.

Kuchta maintains a steady presence on the college campuses, attending one or two on-campus events, helping with career advisory sessions and even teaching class for an evening when called upon.

"Even a normal class turns into somewhat of a career-counseling session sometimes," he says. But that's fine by him, because Kuchta knows that the next great HR executive could be sitting in that classroom with him.

"And I'm always recruiting," he says.

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