Matt Lafata joined HRchitect in 2004 and today, leads HRchitect’s worldwide operations as President & CEO. Get to know Matt, his favorite vacation destination and what keeps him motivated in this month’s HRchitect spotlight.
Hometown: I grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, but I’ve been living in Frisco, Texas (north of Dallas) since 1999.
Favorite Food: This is a very difficult question, but my default answer would have to be pizza. It’s always an easy and convenient choice to order when you don’t have anything else for dinner. But in general, everything. I’m a huge foodie – I love all types of foods and I love trying new things. When I travel, one of my favorite things is trying the local cuisine.
Last book you read: I always read several books simultaneously. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton (one of my favorite writers) and a trilogy of books in the Chronicles of the One series by Nora Roberts.
One song you could listen to over and over: Well of course, I’ll say anything by Bruce Springsteen. Specifically, one of my all-time favorite songs is a song called “Badlands”. Every time it comes on, it is just such a pump-me-up, fist-in-the-air kind of song that I could listen to over and over.
Favorite vacation destination: Being married to a travel advisor, this is another tough question. I would have to say overall Mexico, specifically Cabo San Lucas. The people are so friendly, the food is fantastic and without a doubt, it is a beautiful, relaxing place to visit.
Hobbies: My hobbies are traveling, watching sports, exercise, and I’m a huge fan of all kinds of movies.
How did you find out about HRchitect, and what made you join? I moved to the Dallas area in 1999. I started to get into local politics a few years later and that’s when I met the founder of HRchitect, Rick Fletcher. He started telling me about HRchitect, and at the time, I was doing consulting work around helping companies with their sales and marketing initiatives and strategies.
Rick was intrigued by my background because at the time, most of the business development had been done by him and a part-time semi-retired older guy. I was previously an Executive Vice President at Sage Software, where, besides running sales and marketing, one of my duties was running a very large team of certified consultants across North America (300-400), so I knew the world of consulting well and had the business development background HRchitect needed. He hired me in a commission-only sales role at first, because HRchitect was in its early stages. We quickly realized there was a need for focused marketing efforts, so over time, I started running sales and marketing. Eventually Rick wanted to retire and that is when I became President & CEO.
What aspects of HCM technology have you seen change the most drastically over the years? This is a great question because change is a constant in this industry and all aspects of HCM technology continue to change at a dizzying pace. If you look back at when HRchitect started, we were focused on recruiting systems only. That was the biggest part of the company, as HCM wasn’t even a term back then. Recruiting systems have certainly changed with the times, but recruiting is still recruiting, and the underlying concept is the same. HR and payroll systems, on the other hand, have changed a lot. They were such a clunky thing in the early days, but HR and payroll are the systems that really every company needs. Regulations and changes in the world – from a political standpoint to overall world changes such as the COVID-19 pandemic – mean constant changes in these systems, both from a functionality and process standpoint.
In your own words, what do you do at HRchitect? I oversee all aspects of the company – from sales and marketing, finance, HR, strategic alliances, and consulting. I’d still say overall business development is my main focus. No company can survive as an island, so I’m always trying to find organizations that have both complementary services to ours and products that we can implement. From a leadership standpoint, I work directly with the leaders of our consulting divisions, Jacqueline Kuhn and Brian Kimball, every day to make sure our consultants have everything that they need and to strategize on opportunities to expand our outreach into different markets for our consulting services.
What does a typical work week look like for you? There is no typical work week for me – it’s a constant barrage all within a certain realm of activities. I get up in the morning and the first thing I do is check my phone for any emails that need immediate addressing. Throughout the day I get interrupted by emails a lot – there is no 9-5 with that. My days consist of strategizing with the sales team on sales opportunities, creating and reviewing proposals, and statements of work – one of my favorite things because that means we’re closing business. I also attend a lot of industry or vendor-related webinars and have calls with all of our major technology vendors to stay up to date with what is going on. I also enjoy traveling to events, meeting with partners, as well as prospects and clients. My changing schedule keeps me on my toes, keeping me from ever being bored.
What motivates you to wake up and go to work every day? The everchanging environment that we are in is what motivates me. The innovation and the excitement that come with our industry, and trying to stay up with that keeps me excited. I love building partnerships, watching the company grow, hearing from happy clients and helping develop people within our company. I’m one of those people that always wants more – I constantly look for ways to see us get better and grow. I don’t get bored with what I do because there is always a new challenge and something new happening. I can truly say without hesitation I love what I do for a living and hope to do it for many more decades.
A big part of the excitement comes from the people in our company – you can be in the greatest company in the world and be doing amazing things, but if you don’t have good people and people you enjoy working with, there is really no sense in doing that. Our people are like family to me and I’m always looking for ways to do things for them as they do so much for HRchitect, our clients and our partners.
You’re managing multiple departments, all of which are remote. What tips can you share to help others better manage remote teams? The biggest thing I would say is focus on communication. Everyone says that, even when you aren’t remote. It becomes even more important when you’re remote because it is very easy to become distracted when you’re at home – if you have children, a partner, or just life in general. Here at HRchitect, we focus on communication in a number of ways, including regular check-ins with immediate managers, bi-weekly internal newsletters, and constant employee communications on internal chat platforms such as Slack. My advice would be to overcommunicate – check in with people all the time because you don’t know what people are going through without that face-to-face time an office setting gives you, and if you don’t communicate with them regularly, they’ll feel isolated.
What’s your leadership philosophy? My leadership philosophy is to give everyone the tools and whatever they need to be successful and to deal with the exceptions. I like to treat people as professionals unless they give me a reason not to. I work by the phrase “hire slowly, fire quickly”. It means to take your time in finding the right people – not just people with the right skills, but people with the right culture fit, passion, and who fit in with your team. The latter of the phrase means that if somebody is not a good employee or not doing their job correctly, to not drag that out but rather act on it. I’m a very hands-off leader because I believe you hire people to do a job and you need to give them the freedom to do that job, and as I said, deal with the exceptions.
Tell me about a recent project or initiative at HRchitect that you’re particularly proud of. For me, it is mostly about initiatives for what we can do for our employees to make their work lives, and their lives in general, better. I’m always thinking about what more can we do for our employees to show them we care and that they mean a lot to HRchitect. Some notable initiatives of late include our trivia nights to get everyone together to have some non work-related fun, giving out grocery gift cards for our employees as a thank you for being part of our company, contributing to a charity of choice for and on behalf of each employee, and our annual health initiative, where we reimburse employees for anything health-related such as gym memberships and healthy meal plans. For the most part, people have lots of options where they can work, and what sets us apart are the little things we do that they remember because they’re important to them.
Which employee perk that HRchitect offers do you enjoy the most? Why? The flexibility. To me, when you look at the unlimited PTO that we have as an organization, it is not just about vacation time, but it’s really the true freedom and ability to take a few hours off here and there when you need them – whether you need to take your kids somewhere, run some errands, or whatever it may be. It’s vitally important for employers to realize that employees have lives and interests outside of work and there shouldn’t be a need to sacrifice quality of life in order to do your job. This perk allows me to enjoy my life and my work to the fullest extent possible, and I hope that it does the same for others as well.
Learn more about Matt Lafata