Nearly 3,000 HR professionals and business leaders assembled in Las Vegas last week for an at-capacity 2017 Connections, Ultimate Software’s annual customer conference. Living up to this year’s theme of “Elevate,” the jam-packed, four-day event featured more than 60 hands-on workshops and engaging breakout sessions; a full lineup of inspiring keynote presentations; a nonstop, 48-hour Code-a-Thon; and an energetic pop-rock concert by platinum-selling Maroon 5. Concluding the week with an unforgettable community service project, customers had the opportunity to participate in Ultimate’s award-winning “People First” culture, most recently recognized as #2 on People magazine’s inaugural 50 Companies That Care list.
Attendees also received an exclusive look at what’s ahead in HCM cloud technology, as Ultimate unveiled its newest product and service offerings and presented an in-depth preview of its roadmap. The event kicked off with a tag-team keynote presentation by Adam Rogers, Ultimate’s chief technology officer, and Martin Hartshorne, Ultimate’s vice president of products. The duo detailed the newest UltiPro® features and how they’ll enhance the employee experience, putting people first at all stages of their careers.
A Humble Leader and A Fresh Prince
On Wednesday, Connections attendees heard from Scott Scherr, Ultimate’s chief executive officer, president, and founder. Humbled by his reception, Scherr delivered a heartfelt address recounting the company’s 27-year history, from its modest beginnings with two cubicles and four employees to its current culture of more than 3,700 employees strong.
“When the thunderbolts came, we never choked,” said Scherr. “We always broke through together, and became stronger because of it. We were relentless, and we always made sure the main thing remained the main thing. And that main thing has always been you, our customers.”
Scherr reiterated the importance of preserving a “People First” workplace culture, and discussed how Ultimate has never waived when it comes to taking care of its people. That includes covering healthcare premiums for all employees and their families; making every employee a company shareholder with restricted stock units; and offering a 40% dollar-for-dollar match on employees’ 401(k) contributions. It’s this unyielding care, Scherr said, that has led Ultimate to bring the best people onboard—people who remain relentless in creating innovative products, delivering industry-leading service, and always caring for Ultimate’s customers.
Following Scherr’s presentation, the audience had the opportunity to listen in on a candid conversation between Oscar nominee Will Smith and Ultimate’s CTO Adam Rogers. During the chat, Smith shared insightful stories from his childhood, relayed lessons he’s learned throughout life, and even showcased some beatboxing skills.
With regard to succeeding in HR and in business, Smith said companies have to shift their focus “from product to people,” and make improving lives their number-one mission.
“No matter how great your product is, it doesn’t mean anything if you damage people in the process,” said Smith. “When you elevate people, your product will be fantastic.”
F-14s, Stick Figures, and Frenzied Fans
Thursday’s events included two TED-style talks that provoked thoughts, a Code-a-Thon demo that wowed the crowd, and a rocking performance that pleased all fans.
Carey Lohrenz, the U.S. Navy’s first female F-14 Tomcat Fighter Pilot, provided a personal glimpse into her former high-stakes career and discussed the positive impact of taking calculated risks, whether in the air or on the ground. With so much going on in our professional and personal lives, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or try and complete several tasks at once, said Lohrenz. Her advice? Focus on the fundamentals, and don’t let fear prevent action.
“When we are overwhelmed, we start to pull back. We’re afraid to take risks, and we wait. But, taking action will mitigate fear,” said Lohrenz. “Often times, we think, ‘I’m just gonna wait, then I’ll go for it.’ Don’t wait for an invitation to make a difference.”
Tim Urban also spoke about action—or a lack thereof—as he offered a procrastinator’s perspective on why some people wait until the final hour to act.
Author of the acclaimed blog, “Wait But Why,” Urban used stick-figure illustrations to tell the story of an “Instant Gratification Monkey” and a “Rational Decision Maker” that continuously compete for prominence in a procrastinator’s mind. He then introduced a third character, “The Panic Monster,” as the driving force that finally takes charge when a deadline arrives.
After a thoroughly entertaining explanation of a procrastinator’s daily plight, Urban departed with a motivational message: “Everyone is procrastinating on something important in life. Pay attention to the Instant Gratification Monkey. Start today…okay, maybe not today…but sometime soon.”
Thursday also included the highly anticipated results of Ultimate’s second-annual Connections Code-a-Thon. A team of Ultimate’s talented software engineers spent two sleepless days coding a prototype solution based on ideas submitted and voted for by customers. This year’s requested solution centered on a Job Description Library.
Audience members cheered with approval as Joseph Cutrono, manager of research and member of the Innovation Team at Ultimate, premiered the working prototype. The new feature enables UltiPro users to search within an existing job library; build configurable description templates; and view, print, or email descriptions as PDFs. Cutrono also announced that the feature is officially now on UltiPro’s roadmap, which drew more applause.
Capping off Thursday’s complete schedule was Ultimate’s Customer Appreciation Party, featuring a private performance by Maroon 5. The concert included a showcase of standout songs—from early hits (“Harder to Breathe” and “Sunday Morning”) to new favorites (“Animals” and “Daylight”)—and even a surprise cover of Prince’s classic track, “Let’s Go Crazy.”
Community Service and #UltiConnect
Before wrapping up a memorable, engaging, and productive week in Vegas, Ultimate customers and employees participated in a special community service project. Rising and shining early on the final day of Connections, attendees teamed up with nonprofit Clean the World to prepare hygiene kits with soaps and bottled bathroom amenities donated by local hotels. The kits will be distributed to servicemen and servicewoman through the USO Las Vegas.
Missed this year’s Connections, or want to catch up on all the happenings from the conference? Check out #UltiConnect on social media, including photos and videos on Ultimate’s Facebook and Instagram pages.