Robin Throckmorton of Strategic HR, Inc. – Strategic HR workforce management
February 13, 2020
About Strategic HR, Inc.
Derek Gallimore interviews Robin Throckmorton, President and Founder of Strategic HR, Inc. The company offers outsourced recruitment and HR services as well as virtual HR tools 24/7. They focus on small businesses with their HR needs whether or not they have an in-house team.
Robin Throckmore shares about employment, the gig economy, and outsourcing from an HR perspective. They will tackle the challenges that the gig economy and outsourcing face in the US and their insight on the changes in the workforce.
Robin Throckmorton: Strategic HR Inc., I started the business as I said, about 25 years ago.
It started SME with the focus of trying to help smaller businesses have the same resources to be as competitive with larger ones, making sure they have the right tools and information on hands to be successful.
As we’ve grown to where we are today, probably we have 20 employees. About half the team does just HR services. They run the gamut from everything from doing an HR audit and figure out where we are and what we need to do to; training, employee engagement, surveys, compensation, benefits we need to offer, hiring, termination, you name it.
Then the other half of our team is recruitment. They just work on an outsourced basis recruiting for any of the openings our clients have. It’s kind of a split office with about half the team on HR, half the team on recruiting.
But we really get into on the HR side because most of the companies we work with don’t have it at all. Or, the ones that we do talk to maybe have a lean HR team.
They’re pulling us in to do a piece of the HR puzzle and just supplement them so they can continue with the day to day of what they’re doing.
Derek Gallimore: HR is such a critical part of any business because, without people, there is no business. I’m just saying if it’s not working well, then it can very easily derail the business. Now, I think most people understand the recruitment aspect of HR.
That’s a very obvious part of the HR journey because people are onboarded via recruiters. But then, the rest of the HR puzzle sometimes gets a little bit overlooked. I think a lot of sort of swashbuckling entrepreneurs often overlook the need for HR.
How do you see that more tacit aspect of HR, and how does it blend or how is it divided between the compliance aspects and the rah-rah-rah of the motivational aspects of building a team?
Robin Throckmorton: It’s funny. We have a wheel of HR that I often use to draw and show prospects and clients what all HR does. Then we have the whole grey matter of legal compliance that weaves in and out of everything HR.
You got to be aware of the laws. Here in the States, there are federal laws, but there are also state and even local, city or municipality laws. There’s a lot of compliance that have to pay attention to in the HR space.
But we do really try to understand a little bit better about what the company is trying to do, what the company’s strategy is, and then how can Human Resources align with that. As an example, we’re trying to grow the business so we’re going to hire some salespeople.
With that, not only the hiring piece that you mentioned, Derek, but also when those people come on, do we have the right compensation structure in place to help them or entice them to be go-getters and doing the sales.
Do we have the right performance metrics or performance measurement tools in place that’s going to incent them and give them the right feedback and measure their performance? There’s a lot of aspects of HR that go into any of the strategic goals that a business might have.
Sometimes I mentioned earlier, we start with an HR audit to see what’s being done across the full spectrum of HR, or what’s not being done. Even do an employee engagement survey to find out a little bit more about how the organization from the eyes of the employees is doing.
That might lead to reevaluating our benefits or increasing our communications to all employees about the state of the business. We might dive in and find out there’s high turnover and never been any evaluation of what’s causing it so that we can create a retention plan.
It really gets into anything you can think about the lifecycle of an employee from the moment they recruit and come on board with you until they either retire or leave the business.
Executing HR strategies…
Derek Gallimore: In terms of actually executing the ideal work environment and HR strategy, is there one right way? You see extremes in terms of Google having free time and sleeping rooms and ping pong tables.
Then maybe the other end of the extreme is sort of the Amazon warehouses where people said, run ragged every day. There’s now the movement into remote work. It seems that this liberalisation of the workforce, as well as increased legislative restrictions on how they can be treated.
Is there any easy navigation of saying this is the way to run a perfect workforce? Or does it really depend on the industry that the person, entrepreneur, and the boss, the mission of the company?
Robin Throckmorton: I think it probably really does depend on, I know that’s the answer. A lot of HR people give us It depends, but it is going to make a difference in the size of the business. You mentioned the size of the business, owners, philosophies, and values, that industry that they’re in.
There’s a lot of those factors that will play into it. If you’ve got a call centre and people need to be at their desk making phone calls and collaborating with one another, it may be tough to have an environment where you’re laying on couches and brainstorm and that type of thing.
Some of it’s determined by the industry in the requirements of the roles that some people have. We’re seeing a lot of pushing for some of the things you said, a little bit more fun in the workplace. We work a lot of hours and we have fun there.
We’ve seen some businesses switch to the workstations or cubicles or open office space, even to the point where they do hotelling so they don’t have to pay as much for a facility to people come in and work there when they need to but work from home the other times.
They really have to look at any of those solutions and figure out what’s best for you. I’ve been to a number of events where people want to hear, for example, what’s Disney doing? Or what’s Southwest Airlines doing? And how can we copy it? You can’t.
You can’t copy what they’re doing. You can hear what they’re doing and say, Would that work in our workplace? Is our environment our jobs? Is our industry conducive to that? Your people are probably your best answer by just simply asking them.
We had manufacturing facilities. Obviously, they’re not an open environment or any things we talked about, and some of their requirements or requests were made sure we have some fresh fruit in the break room, maybe even the popcorn popper stays, and wouldn’t it be nice to have at least some music out on the manufacturing floor?
There are different things that the employees will desire requests. Sometimes they’re as inexpensive as popcorn in the break room. I’d suggest asking the employees. That’s who you’re trying to attract and retain versus trying to copy what somebody else is doing.
Derek Gallimore: Sometimes as we onboard clients, it comes as a bit of a surprise to people that as you build a team in the Philippines, we say treat them like people. Make sure they’re brought on board with your mission and share your values. Say hi to them and how are they doing and build a rapport with people.
Sometimes people are a little bit shocked. It’s almost like an afterthought, that we have to look after the person behind the productivity. In some ways, I think HR is a little bit like that. People hire staff to get a job done.
Then they’re somewhat surprised that oh, my God, now I have to remember people’s birthdays. I have to sort of make sure that their welfare is looked after. Do you see that in the maturation process of businesses in that at the beginning, the tires and people, they get the work done?
Then as the business matures, is it’s a bit more space, then they realize they need to look after the welfare of the people and make that environment a little bit better and, and more productive?
Robin Throckmorton: You probably just nailed it. What every organization could or should be doing is just treating their employees respectful as people that are going to help the business grow. You’re right, I’ve seen a number of businesses still.
They might spend thousands of dollars recruiting, then the person comes on board and the end of taking care of them stops. It has to keep going it, starts out as the candidate experience and the recruitment process, then moves to the employee experience when they come on board.
It’s equally important to do that. It’s hard, I know. When we’ve done training for managers, they’ll say, gosh, you have a lot. You want me to remember about each employee that I manage, but every employee likes to be managed differently, they’re motivated different, rewards are different.
It makes jobs for the manager a lot harder because they do have to pay attention to all those details on each employee that they have. We’re seeing the more individualized the organization is, the more care we have for people, the more engaged and committed they are to the organization.
We have something we do in-house, it’s an employee interest form. We ask those questions, what are the things you love? What are the things you prefer never to do if you didn’t have to? Even go into what are some of the dreams you have, not just work-related that we might be able to help you accomplish?
Really trying to dive in and understand each employee from the beginning and then revisit it as we go throughout the year, whether it’s with one on one meetings or an annual survey or performance discussion, that type of thing.
But the more you can engage with employees, the more you can understand what they’re looking for, and do as much as you can and make it a place you want to go to every day versus it’s a job that I got to do and I got to put the time in, I think is we have a lot more success.
Understanding generational differences…
Derek Gallimore: I personally deal with teams in the Philippines and obviously there’s a whole raft of different laws and labour environment here. But I think a lot of the principles still apply. It’s relevant as to how you motivate teams, how you build teams, how you get them to stay.
Have you seen this progressing? You’ve been in the game 25 years now. There are now the millennials getting out of college and everyone’s saying it’s all different. People are maybe becoming a little bit more sensitive, and the office environment needs to be carefully moulded.
Whereas maybe, 25 years ago, there was just a desk and you did your work. How have you seen the industry evolve? I suppose on top of that, there’s also more regulation, more insurances or legislation. What is your general view of the trend over the last 25 years?
Robin Throckmorton: That’s a great question a big one. I mean, we’re definitely seeing quite a bit shift and change and even some of the things we’re seeing are probably come up back from the way they were.
I actually did a lot of research and co-authored with my mentor, Linda Gravett, a book called Bridging The Generation Gap. We were a little bit ahead of our time because we did the research and published it about 2010, but we’re seeing a lot of what we learned then coming out full force now.
Depending on the sociologists, you follow that younger generation, either the Gen Ys and Gen Zs can be your first wave or second wave millennials. But some of the Gen Y’s are in their 40s, so they’re not young. They’ve been around and we’re seeing a lot of the things that those generations are looking for.
Being inputs in the workplace, being able to have a lot more flexible hours, a lot more opportunity to telecommute. Even the benefits are shifting a little bit because you have more men involved in raising families. It’s not all a maternity leave or a woman’s issue. It’s becoming more of a man’s issue.
Even equity in the workplace with women versus men. A lot of these changes are, I think, evolving through history but also being driven by the generations. I’m a Gen X. If you go back and look at Gen X, we grew up with parents that, as you said, had a desk, a chair, and a phone and they were happy.
We saw them working long hours and getting laid off when things got tough and that Gen Xs did not want to do that. You see, people today building off that, we push for work-life balance. We push for independence and making sure you focus on your own career. Now you see the other generations jumping on that.
Every generation brings something different. But I think it after we start understanding why they’re asking for it, it really helps the other generations say, you know, that’s not so bad. I think just watching the generations is probably been a big thing and you do see the workplace evolve.
Not too long ago, it would have been offices everybody’s in. Now, it’s back to the open workspace. Now I’m here, swinging back to is the open workspace the right idea, should we be back in offices. Those types of things, even the amount of time you’re spending at work.
Compared to 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago, people are looking for the workplace to be a more engaging, fun place to work. Which again, if you’ve got a large generation coming behind, Gen Xers, the millennials, there’s a large group of them and they are younger.
They’re going to bring in, I’m going to work eight to 10 plus hours a week. You’re definitely seeing some of those changes, but I think we’re all benefiting from them once we learn to listen and accept them. I know one of the biggest things Linda and I found with our research that every generation said is the key is respect.
Try to understand me but respect that I might be different than you. The wants, the needs, that how someone works effectively on the job is going to be slightly different from baby boomers to Gen X, Y, Z, and we just need to respect them for what they bring to the table.
The gig economy in California…
Derek Gallimore: That’s quite a relevant message, isn’t it? As a bit of kickback about the baby boomers, the ‘okay, boomers,’ and I think the younger generations really want to be heard instead of, I suppose, just pushed to the side. I generally see the world getting easier.
For want of a better word, it’s slightly cushier, and certainly, the work environments are getting better and incredible facilities. For the majority of people, things are generally improving. Certainly, within the employment environment, I think there’s a lot of protections around that.
But then, off to the side, we’ve seen this thing bubble up, like the gig economy. I’m not sure if you keep abreast of this in California. They’ve now, I believe, stated that it’s illegal to run the gig economy as it is doing and they are trying to bring employment back to more traditional route where the employees are protected.
It seems that without really noticing, this whole gig economy sidestepped all of the decades of work and development of protecting employees. Do you have an opinion on that? And do you think if things get screwed down too tight, then it’s inevitable, that these little side factions open up and new forms of employment begin?
Robin Throckmorton: It’s interesting because people have been freelancing and contracting for years, but it’s become a larger percentage of the workforce and become that gig workforce. Early on, when you started here in the gig workforce, the legislation does not keep up with it.
It’s very hard for a company to hire gig workers, because of the laws, particularly in the United States. Anyway, we got to consider, Are they really an employee or having their work controlled? Are they using your equipment? Are they doing work otherwise an employee would do?
Because the laws are trying to protect the employee so that they have the benefits and everything that they would get if they were an employee. But in many of these cases, it’s a choice that that individual wants to make.
It’s not that the company’s putting them there, not giving them the perks they wanted as an employee. That person wants that flexibility. They want to control their career. When California made its first change in this respect, it felt like a change in the wrong direction.
We were thinking there might be laws that make it easier for people to be gig workers since they want to, but the law was trying to tighten it up a little bit more to protect the employees. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
Because I know a lot of people that are truly in that freelance gig workplace, they want to be there. It’s going to put an added burden on to employers to figure out how do I comply with legislation in my area, but also comply with what these gig workers really want. It’s not going to be easy, because right now, the needs and the laws are the opposite.
Derek Gallimore: It’s funny you said that because I’ve been looking at the newspaper articles. Generally, they focus on the people that are not benefiting so much from the gig economy. But it’s absolutely correct, that there’s a lot of successful and happy people working within the gig economy.
I suppose it comes back to the point where it must be very difficult creating one legislature and one set of regulations that then serves everyone and everyone’s individual needs and everyone’s preferences. It must be an impossible task.
Robin Throckmorton: It’s funny because I’ve got clients that really like to have the gig workers and they really do like to treat them like their part of the team, whether it’s part of a company celebration or rewarding them for a great job. Proactively, the company’s wanting to try to do something special.
But in that regard, it converts that person into being more of an employee. They actually are backlash because they tried to do the right things for the employee. Eventually, we’re going to have to find a balance.
It’s just hard to imagine what that balance would look like that would protect employees for what they want, whether that is being a gig worker, or being an employee that has all the perks and benefits.
Derek Gallimore: It’s fascinating, isn’t it? It’ll be something that’ll be interesting. And the entire Silicon Valley tech scene, I think, relies on the development of this gig economy. So it’ll be something, well…
Robin Throckmorton: (Inaudible) designers. I mean, there’s so many of them that that’s what they’ve always been, as a gig and there’s quite a bit of them.
California, I think, is their own country with some of the laws and things they put into place, but they usually lead what you might see come in years down the road.
Here in Ohio, it’s probably a long time before things get to us. But, California does a good job setting the stage and starting the wheel spinning on new ways to approach the workplace.
Derek Gallimore: It’s sometimes better not to be at the forefront of all this, isn’t it? It’s sometimes easier just to sit and watch and then you can react once it’s all played out.
Robin Throckmorton: Exactly.
The future of workplace…
Derek Gallimore: Another big topic about workers is remote work. Obviously, We Work is big in the press, and their propaganda would have you believe that everyone now is working remotely. Everyone’s working in cool, funky spaces, in distributed spaces, and the whole world of work is moving that way.
What are your thoughts on the viability of everyone working all over the country? working remotely, having no office? Is this the future?
Robin Throckmorton: It sure feels like it’s trying to be. There are so many pros and cons to it, it’s really hard to say. One of my friends works with a large organization here in the United States and they do what’s called hotelling.
They try to minimize the space that they buy or purchase for employees to work in. People can come in when they need to come to the office or work from home for the rest of the time. There’s not as much camaraderie or collaboration with them when you do that, because you’re not really in the office.
Some tech tools like the web conference with people help us do that, but it’s different. I mean, even if you walk into the office, if you’re in hotelling, the desks are empty.
Those that aren’t doing that, that is I’ll say, maybe still in the olden days, you walk in, you know the personality of the person because of the pictures they have on their desk or things they’ve posted up or plants they might have there.
If you’re hotelling, you’re coming in and might have a locker cubby to put your tennis shoes in. But, you’re really coming in and just find in a desk that may or may not be around your coworkers. The flip side of that is it’s very flexible, so more people can work from home.
I know, for us, we used to do a lot of remote work, oftentimes, because we didn’t need to be in an office together. We needed to be either at our clients or we could work on things at home. But we really did miss that collaboration piece.
I think the organizations that are trying to find a balance are probably going to be what we’ll see tomorrow. Meaning, I can’t have your work from home every day of the week as we lose the collaboration, but maybe it’s one day a week, maybe it’s one day a month, maybe it’s flexible hours.
Do you have four 10s or, four nines and a half-day on Friday? Are there some flexible things you can do with the hours that give people that work-life balance as well as to meet what their needs are. Being able to be off if you need to get the kids on the bus or they have some special athletic event or program at school.
I think that’s where we’ll see it go because people like to work from home, but also a lot of people miss that connection. I think we’ll probably see a little bit more of the balancing act than completely remote.
Derek Gallimore: It needs to come back to the balance because I think at certain stages of lives, when you’ve got children and you’re also professionally mature, you know what you’re doing in the workplace, then it’s okay to work at home.
But, if you’re a 22-year-old graduate, you don’t know what you’re doing. You need to be in the environment. Also, it does not only need to be to learn the job, but it’s where you have the camaraderie, it’s where you meet your work friends, it’s where you build the networks.
It does seem something difficult to click together, doesn’t it?
Robin Throckmorton: That and there are some jobs that just can’t be remote. From a human resource perspective, it’s a hard balancing act to say Hey, manufacturing floor, you don’t get remote work options, obviously, but the other half of the office may or may not be here.
It does create internal issues that HR has to deal with when certain roles can be remote and certain roles can’t be. As long as employees understand it, it’s okay. But it also can create some friction of us and them if it’s not that way.
Employment and offshore staffing…
Derek Gallimore: More problems. Offshore staffing. Donald Trump was elected and he actually took to offshoring or outsourcing to a task, he said that he would stop it. It is obviously an emotive issue in the West.
As an HR professional, do you come across offshore staffing? Do you come across this form of outsourcing? And again, maybe the perspective of what it was like 25 years ago versus today?
Robin Throckmorton: That’s another good question. I mean, you do see it, I think we talked about some of the key areas. Even call centres, you might see those offshore. Some of the IT or technical support for some of the organizations, especially here in the US, you do see it with some of those.
I’m trying to think if you really saw it, even 5, 10, 15 years ago, that like you do today. A bit more. It really depends on the business and what they’re doing. They have their reasons why they’re doing that. It’s not unusual if you pick up the phone to call the telephone company that might have that service being offshored.
We’re in the States and a huge labour shortage for specific skills as well as people. I think the last numbers said we were at 3.5% unemployment. Some positions we really are needing to go outside of the US to find employees.
You see a lot of some of the issues with regards to immigration or offshoring as a way that can help fulfil the needs that we have in job openings. But at the same time, things can shift. And when they shift, are we going to be putting people out of jobs here because we’re offshoring them?
It’s really hard to say. I think it’s just a balancing act of figuring out what’s best for the businesses in each of the different countries and who has the expertise that can fulfil needs the best.
Derek Gallimore: It’s slightly ironic, isn’t it? Because It has been an ethical issue. I think certainly when it started 20 years ago, there was a lot of resistance to it. There was fear that all of the jobs would go offshore. We were still at the lowest levels of unemployment.
Also, there’s a narrative around AI and automation, taking everyone’s jobs. Still, we are at the lowest levels of unemployment. You’re absolutely right. People need to look after their economies and look after these balances, but it still seems after sort of 20 to 30 years that it’s yet to have any detrimental effect,
Robin Throckmorton: There’s just so much that has changed, too. A lot of the ones that I keep seeing are more in the tech space. Technology is moving so fast. It’s hard to keep up with it.
Somebody that may go to college today to study in technology, what they’ve learned that the first couple of years will be outdated, probably before they graduate college.
Being able to tap into resources that have the newest and the best technology is probably one of the key things that are helping a lot of businesses. Again, as I said, it gets back to that balancing act of how do we make sure we’re fulfilling those needs that we have.
But also not losing track of the people that need some of the work here in the US or whatever country it might be.
Derek Gallimore: Absolutely. Back in the business school, high school where I did business, I learned a little bit about specialization and generalization of skills. Then I learned a little bit about in-housing of skills versus out-housing or outsourcing of skills.
Now, you are an outsource specialist and the economy is full of outsourced specialized services like accounting, bookkeeping, payroll, HR, obviously, marketing, advertising. How do you see this fitting into a firm?
Obviously, your firm provides that for businesses. Where do you see the balance in terms of companies generally having their own in-house staffing to do tasks within the business versus seeking outside professional services?
I think it really does depend on the organization, the size, the industry. I mean, I can even speak to our ourselves. We’re 20 employees and what I’ve seen with myself and a lot of clients we work with, we try to be everything and we need to focus on what we’re good at.
Robin Throckmorton: If I need to outsource the IT for the business or, as you mentioned, the payroll, or even the accounting, it lets myself and my team focus on human resources for our clients.
There’s a huge advantage for businesses to outsource, especially when they’re younger or growing or small businesses. It’s a way to scale. It’s to be able to outsource. I have even seen some of the larger businesses with their peaks and valleys and changes still doing the outsourcing.
It allows an organization to be a little more nimble, and get higher-level skills that they might be able to afford if they hired a person directly. It also protects them a little more. I’ve run across people that say, if I go hire this job, that’s a full-time equivalent on my payroll.
But if things start softening up, I gotta let them go or I got to be able to do with them. Whereas if you outsource it, most businesses and outsourcing, we know we can scale back if we need to for you.
But you’re still going to have HR needs even in a situation like that, but we can scale it back to support in situations that may be changing for the business at that time. I would recommend it. It took a while for me as a business owner to let go of those things.
But, once you really hone in on what’s your expertise, and where’s your time going, is it more effective to have someone that’s got that skill set and hire them to do it rather than trying to do it yourself?
The future of gig workforce…
Derek Gallimore: Absolutely. Again, drawing on your vast experience over the last 25 years and with the advent of contractors, freelancers, everything moving online, the gig economy, do you see this happening?
More people sticking to a core of two or three people and then getting everything done externally? Or are you saying, it’s sort of ebb and flow?
Robin Throckmorton: We’re probably right now seeing It’d be more of people really being lean. There’s a lot of hiring going on. But even with the hiring being tight, they’re going to again, that gig economy, the freelancer, the outsourcing, to be able to supplement those needs.
I definitely see it as more today. I think it’ll continue. It’s still going to come down to that legislation that might or might not impact whether you can continue to do that.
But the more individuals are formal businesses, formal employer identification numbers make it easier for a business to run and be a gig employer or employee if they’re in a formal structure of sell services to multiple clients.
It does let businesses be a little leaner and then depends on experts and some of those administrative corporate areas.
Derek Gallimore: Again, congratulations on your 25 years with Strategic HR, Inc. If anyone wants to know more about Strategic HR and what you do, how can they get in touch with you?
Robin Throckmorton: Sure. Our website has a wealth of information. It’s strategicHRinc.com. We have a lot of information about what we do and our team.
We also have a number of no-cost resources, everything from our newsletters to articles, questions of the week, all types of information that would be very helpful for someone that’s just even thinking about HR or looking at whether they need HR help.
Derek Gallimore: That was Robin Throckmorton of Strategic HR, Inc. If you want to get in touch with Robin or know any more about this episode, go to our show notes, which is at outsourceaccelerator.com/275.
And as always, if you have any questions, just send us an email to [email protected] See you next time.