Episode 331: The CHRO and Talent Leadership With Deb Hill, VP of HR, FM:Systems
Jessica Miller-Merrell | Podcast| By
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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools, and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Episode 331: The CHRO and Talent Leadership With Deb Hill, VP of HR, FM:Systems
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:25.53] Welcome to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is part of a series on the Wokology Podcast that is focused on the roles and responsibilities of the CHRO. That’s the Chief Human Resource Officer. The CHRO is sometimes called the SVP of HR or the Chief People Officer. It’s an executive or C-level role that deals with managing human resources, as well as with organizational development and implementing policies of change to improve the overall efficiency of the company. The CHRO podcast series here on Workology is powered by Ginger.com. One of the reasons I wanted to do this series is because there have been so many mysteries and questions around that CHRO role, and I want aspiring CHROs to know what types of skills and experiences they need to promote into that role in the future. Along with hearing from senior HR leadership and our peers about how they’re partnering and collaborating, what programs are they working on. Today, I’m joined by Deb Hill. She’s the Vice President of HR for FM:Systems. Deb leads the HR function and oversees culture, people and talent strategy for the company. She has been a talent leader for over 15 years, with a strong focus on leading and scaling talent acquisition for rapidly growing technology companies. Deb joined FM:Systems in 2018 and immediately began transforming and building the company’s HR processes around finding and hiring talented people. Employee engagement and total employee rewards. During Deb’s tenure with the company, FM:Systems has grown from under 100 employees, primarily in one location, to over 200 employees in the US, UK, and Bulgaria. A global organization. Deb, welcome to the Workology podcast.
Deb Hill: [00:02:18.57] Thank you, Jessica. It’s so great to be here.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:21.93] You’ve worked in HR leadership and a variety of industries for the past 15+ years. How did your early experience lead you to your current role?
Deb Hill: [00:02:31.80] Yeah. Thank you so much for this, for this opening question. So what I’ll share is that while I have worked in the HR and talent space for over 20 years, I like to tell people and like to say that I’m, I’m really on my third career, so and that I’ve really finally found the right home. So my first career out of college involved marketing and operations work in the insurance industry, which I found to be extremely kind of gray and boring. And then my second career involved a number of years spent working on the agency side of recruiting. And it is really, it’s really that experience that ultimately led me to where I’m at today. So, you know, while working on the agency side of recruiting what struck me the most as I was working with, with my customers and, and, and candidates was that many of the clients I supported lacked really strong internal support from HR and recruiting, right? That’s ultimately why they were reaching out to me and using me. And so I placed a candidate, you know, at one of my clients and only to have them leave a year or two later because they weren’t seeing the career growth that they were looking for or their training and onboarding was just a mess.
Deb Hill: [00:04:04.23] And, and, you know, they’re leaving six months after, after placement. So, seeing that, it really was my desire to be able to have a, a more of an impact on that total employee life cycle. And that’s ultimately what drew me to this what I call my third career, which is HR leadership in technology companies. And you know, it’s really the experience that I had as an agency recruiter where I was, you know, really developing deep business partnership skills and in chatting with hiring managers across a variety of different companies that, that ultimately, you know, I think helped me in, in my current role. So you can’t effectively support leaders and teams as an HR and talent leader if you don’t have kind of that innate curiosity in business acumen that really, you know, to really dive into what those teams do day in and day out.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:08.22] Awesome. Well, I’m going to ask, even though I feel like kind of already started to answer this question, but let’s dive in a little bit more. What skills and experience do you believe are absolute requirements for the CHRO role? Especially thinking maybe about someone who’s listening, that is just starting out in our industry.
Deb Hill: [00:05:26.76] Yeah. So again, another great question. I think, you know, when I think about the, the skills for a successful leader of people, you know, one thing that I’ll say is that I’m not big on kind of absolute, absolute requirement. So, you know, I, I believe that every person has, has kind of a unique set of experiences and skills that could translate well into, you know, any number of roles. But a couple of things really stand out for me as important in, in a leadership role in terms of people. So one is really strong internal and external communication skills. You’re the voice of the people, both internally as well as externally over the past 18 months, what’s really become apparent for me is it’s important for HR leaders to have empathy. I think the best HR leaders that I know balance that kind of that empathy and connect the connectedness with their employees with, with ultimately the business priorities and kind of the realities of today’s, you know, really competitive market. So, you know, today’s HR leader is, is so much more of a business strategist specifically around the people side of things, you know, but they’re responsible for kind of that intersection of this of leadership and culture and career development and employee engagement. You asked about, you know, what’s important for those just starting out in in the industry and what I’d say there is, you know, I really believe that, you know, a strong HR Partner will come with a variety of exposures to kind of all aspects of HR, so talent acquisition, learning and development, operations. But, but that, that person will never lose sight of the business. So if you’re early in your career, you know and, and you don’t know how to read a financial statement, right? Take classes on financial statements, learn about sales strategy, spend time with operational leaders. So really, you know, take an active role, not just in kind of honing your HR skillsets, but in really learning and understanding the business.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:07:53.25] One of the things I wanted to have you talk about is just what it has been like working during, during a global pandemic for you, your company, and your team.
Deb Hill: [00:08:03.96] Yeah. So I I feel like that that’s something that I could talk about for, for forever. Because it, it really has been so different from, from I think anything any of us, of us have experienced. So it’s been exciting, it’s been challenging, it’s been emotional, it’s been successful. You know, for our company specifically, I’m really proud of kind of the way our employees pulled together. So FM:Systems is a software company and the products that we sell, you know, it’s a suite of, of digital solutions and it’s in workplace management, employee experience, workplace analytics, it, it really helps large companies like, think enterprise-level companies manage their, their office space at a very simplistic level. And so think about that. Think about April of 2020, when the world kind of went dark and everybody left office spaces to go work from home. And so, so really, over the course of the pandemic, as a company, we had to pivot and adjust our messaging and strategy, you know, away from kind of this space and occupancy and towards creating safer workspaces and planning for implementing, you know, more of an employee-centric workplace as people started coming back to the office.
Deb Hill: [00:09:35.55] And so as a company, we couldn’t have done that without the, the, the hard work and dedication of our our employees personally and for the HR team. It’s been a really challenging 18 months. I’m sure you’ve talked to other HR leaders about this. So many different aspects that, that have kind of come into play, right? So worrying about the health and safety of really our entire global workforce and their families, implementing new policies to, to, to kind of accommodate a more flexible schedule to support parents, you know, new mothers, fathers as they’re dealing with, with homeschooling and then also being aware of how like the whole remote work experience might affect some of our employees negatively both, you know, emotionally and mentally. And then, you know, trying to put in place programs that, that encourage and support connection across the organization, even when that, that workforce is fully distributed. So it’s been, like I said, it’s been challenging and exciting. And, you know, no day has been different, but I think overall, I feel like it’s been, you know, personally rewarding as well as professionally rewarding.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:03.11] Awesome. Well, I think everyone listening is probably shaking their heads in unison, saying yes, no day is ever the same. It has been a challenge, but we have really rose to the challenge and I see so many HR teams and organizations flourishing in spite of what’s happening and employees in some cases more engaged and happier than ever, whether they’re in-person, hybrid or remote.
Deb Hill: [00:11:32.98] Yeah, absolutely, I just I think it’s a, I think it’s a great time to be in HR because never kind of in the history of, as long as I’ve been in HR, have we kind of been really on the forefront of strategy across the organization.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:53.32] And I feel like that stuff changes on the daily basis, if not multiple times a day.
Deb Hill: [00:11:59.47] Yep, absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:01.54] When we spoke previously on our prep call, you had mentioned that you worked with an external consultant for DEI training. Can you tell us how you selected a consultant and maybe what the scope of training has been?
Deb Hill: [00:12:15.19] Yeah, so, so as a smaller company, right? You referenced at the beginning, we’ve got 200 employees across the, 200+ employees across the globe. You know, what was really most important to us was that we selected a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting company who would really meet us where we were at in, in our journey. So as a company, we had taken steps really during, call it, you know, the previous couple of years to focus initially on increasing representation of females in our employee as well as management population. So in particular, as a technology company, you know, technology companies tend to lean more heavily white and male. So, so we kind of our first step was, how can we increase representation of females within the company? And I think to a large extent, we’ve done a good job, not a great job there. But, but what we hadn’t done yet was, was really a great job of also being more focused on increasing diversity through the lens of race and ethnicity. And kind of some of that started to, right, we started to think more about that during 2020 with George Floyd and all of kind of the conversations that came out as a result of that. And so we, we were really grappling with how do we talk more openly about race and privilege amongst our leadership teams as well as with employees? And so we ultimately, you know, we selected a consultant who we felt comfortable with, who understood that we were on a journey and that we were kind of really at the beginning of the journey and who would work within the confines of our budget as well. So what we did is we scoped out an initial training for our senior leadership team around privilege, around inclusion, around equity and, and we’ll, you know, we’ll have eventual follow on services from this consultant as we progress in our journey.
Break: [00:14:34.88] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you were listening to the Workology Podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. We’re talking about the CHRO role with Deb Hill. She’s the VP of HR for FM:Systems. This podcast series on Workology is powered by Ginger.com and New Manager Training powered by Workology, and you can learn more about that at WorkplaceMasters.com.
Break: [00:15:01.10] Every employee has different mental health needs, from preventive behavioral health coaching to therapy and psychiatry. Ginger offers effective, convenient mental health care for any level of need. All from a smartphone. Learn more. Visit Ginger.com.
The Long-Term Benefits of DEI and DEI Metrics
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:15:18.92] I want to stay on the diversity and inclusion kind of conversation for a bit. We know that diversity and inclusion is important to our workplace culture and equity in general. I wanted to ask if you could speak to the long-term benefits of DEI in business and how having a diverse team can drive performance.
Deb Hill: [00:15:40.76] Look, I, I believe strongly that diverse teams drive stronger business results. But you know, there are also studies out there that have proved this to be the case. So there’s a couple of reports from McKinsey. There’s a 2018 report from McKinsey Company which found that highly gender diverse executive team. So these would be, you know, teams with equal or near, near-equal representation of both men and women are about 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability. Another 2015 report from McKinsey found that companies that are in the top quartile of ethnic diversity are roughly 35 percent more likely to see financial performance above the national industry median. And so what are some of those statistics mean to me personally and mean to our business and, and how it, how kind of having a diverse team can drive performance? I’ll give you an example of kind of our senior leadership team. So personally, I’m a member of our senior leadership team. I report to our CEO. I’m one of three women on the team of 10. So we’re, you know, we’re not quite to that 50 percentile mark. We’re about 33 percent of, of representation on the senior leadership team. In addition to that, I don’t have children. I have four dogs. I grew up in the Midwest. I’m married to a great husband of 20 years, and he also has a really great in high demand and career.
Deb Hill: [00:17:31.61] And I went to college and graduated from Drake University in Iowa, our team. So that senior leadership team is comprised of, you know, parents and non-parents, men and women, a variety of different degrees. We live in different parts of the world. We have a couple of our colleagues from South Africa on our senior leadership team. So we, we bring a, a, a diverse backgrounds and experiences now. Could we be more diverse? Absolutely. You know, like I said, we’re we’re 33 percent of female. We have not enough representation when it comes to different race and ethnicity. But I believe that even a diverse team like ours, that our dialogue as a team is enhanced because of our differences, right? So we all offer differing viewpoints based upon our identities and our past experiences. And and that ultimately helps as we talk about business strategy or we talk about challenges that we’re facing in the near and short term or near and far term. Those differing identities and past experiences bubble up, and it helps us as a team to, to mitigate a, you know, call it, a groupthink mindset that can happen when, when you don’t have a diverse team and everyone kind of is thinking the same way.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:10.40] I appreciate you being so honest and open in sharing, like you said earlier that you’re at the, you know, relatively beginning stages of this journey and a lot of VP’s of HR and organizations are at the beginning stages and it is a process that you just don’t wake up tomorrow, attend a training. And then the next day, you’re suddenly, you know, 50 percent female and male in your, in your executive leadership team, it takes time and a commitment and a real focus to get there.
Deb Hill: [00:19:48.09] Mm yeah, absolutely. It is. It is definitely a, a, a journey and a good one.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:54.87] There are so many intangibles in our job in HR and absolutely so many intangibles in the DEI side of things. How do you think we can use DEI metrics to help us do better?
Deb Hill: [00:20:08.17] Yeah. So I think for me, the most important part of DE&I metrics is not it’s not the number itself, but it’s the movement of those numbers over time. It’s the journey, right? So as with any metric, it’s more about kind of the story that those metrics help us to understand than necessarily the number itself. So can we look at not just what’s today’s percentage of, you know, black indigenous people of color representation at the company, but what was it, 12 months ago? You know, what is it, six months ago? How is our candidate pipeline looking on the front end? And then are we seeing any trends in relation to retention that’s specific to certain race or ethnic groups? And so it’s, it’s really, it’s using that data to then understand where we might be falling short and dig into that data, talk with our, our, our business partners, talk with employees, right? Who are coming or leaving the company to understand where we might have maybe inclusion gaps or equity gaps that we need to address. You know, the other thing just to say is so for a company like ourselves, small, you know, 200 employees, HR and DE&I tend to get, you know, we’re we’re lumped together. We don’t have a one singular person who is focused on DE&I. It’s across the business. You know, with, with larger companies for companies who are large enough to have kind of a leader of DE&I, it’s really that partnership with HR and talent acquisition. That’s really crucial because it’s, it’s, I think it’s, you know, it’s ultimately policies and programs that are implemented in partnership with a leader of DE&I that that have to be supported by the business and leadership at large, which, which then start to move the needle. And, and then I’ll just say as well, for me, I like looking at metrics because for me, it is hard to really change what you don’t measure and what you don’t know.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:33.01] That’s so true. Otherwise, we’re just walking around with a blindfold or blinders on.
Deb Hill: [00:22:37.51] Yep.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:22:38.47] I’ve had a lot of conversations lately, and I feel like the theme has been about getting comfortable being uncomfortable. And I was thinking about this in relation to leadership. What is your approach to this when you’re working with business leaders?
Deb Hill: [00:22:54.52] I love this, this question going to share a personal story with you to kind of share how I think about this. So a couple of years ago, you know, I participated in a panel discussion of senior women leaders. This was at my current company at FM:Systems. It was part of our company’s GROW Employee Resource Group, and so GROW stands for growing relationships and opportunities for women. And so at the time that I was on the panel, I was definitely kind of the more junior person on the panel. And I made the comment afterward to one of our, is actually one of our male VP’s, that I really wasn’t comfortable with public speaking and that I was completely outside of my comfort zone in that situation. And his comment back to me was something that really kind of struck me and, and to this day, I remember which was something about don’t ever say that, that, that what you’re doing is outside of your comfort zone, you might be stretching, but it’s not outside your comfort zone. And I think his point was that being uncomfortable is okay.
Deb Hill: [00:24:12.34] And, and it’s not just okay, it’s, it’s really essential in order to grow your career as a leader, right? So it kind of made me think about as I was preparing for our, our podcast conversation today, it kind of made me think about how there are statistics out there about how men, you know, will more regularly apply to roles to posted roles where they don’t check all the boxes with qualifications. But women will tend to not. And you know, part of that, I think, is what’s holding women back, the fact of, of being uncomfortable, that maybe we’re just not quite as comfortable with being uncomfortable. And so really, since that time, I’ve, I’ve challenged myself to not shy away from uncomfortable conversations and really have, have counseled other leaders to, to do the same across the business, right? We can’t truly affect change within an organization if we can’t push some of those uncomfortable conversations and then as well, we ourselves can’t really grow as leaders if we’re not comfortable being uncomfortable. Or even if we’re uncomfortable being uncomfortable, we still have to do it.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:25:30.45] True, true. I, I take inspiration from my daughter. She’s 12 and I, and, and it’s been a lot for her. She’s, she’s taking, doing virtual school for the second year, this year, but she’s really thriving. But then I think about I keep sticking her in these camps and classes and situations where she doesn’t know anyone and she just goes. And I think we can learn a lot from the example that you mentioned and like my daughter, like she just does it and makes friends and learns something along the way.
Deb Hill: [00:26:07.14] Absolutely.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:09.15] No podcast during COVID would be complete without the kind of general question we all want to know. What does return to office look like for you and your company?
Deb Hill: [00:26:19.56] Yes, so love this question because it kind of it gives me an opportunity to not chat, not just chat about kind of what we’re doing as a company, but also re-promote the, the company as well. But so at present, you know, the majority of our workforce does continue to work remotely. And you know, to be frank, right? Over the course of the pandemic, we as a company made this strategic business decision to hire across the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, and that limit kind of our talent pool to locations that were in or near our physical office building. So in the States, we have a physical office building in Raleigh, North Carolina, and one in Traverse City, Michigan, and then we have one in Blackburn in, in the United Kingdom. And so as we so now as we look at those physical office workspaces across the globe, we are working through what that hybrid office looks and means to us and our employees. So it’s important because we are now kind of a fairly distributed workforce. It’s important that we create opportunities for all employees to meet and collaborate in person in a meaningful way. And so, you know, that might mean getting teams together at a physical office site once a month or once a quarter. We’re still working through kind of what that really looks like for each team, and that would mean, yes, employees who are kind of not close to an office that they travel to an office, fly to an office for employees who are near to a physical office space.
Deb Hill: [00:28:03.93] You know, the need or, or desire to go to the office might be driven by who else is working in the office that day. What types of tasks does the employee have scheduled for that day? And then is there a comfortable space available for that type of work that the employee wants to do that day? So those are all things that we are working on and thinking about. But, but basically, you know, we, we strongly believe in kind of two things, and those two things are the power of in-person communication connection and team building. So we know that there is power in, in that in-person collaboration. We just came out of our offsite leadership team meeting and we accomplished, I think, a lot more in person over two days than we would have kind of over Zoom calls. At the same time, we also believe strongly in the flexibility for our employees so that they can live it kind of their best lives outside of work as well. So I view this kind of as a great challenge for us to kind of work through right now and in particular because it’s something that, that really all of our customers and all of our prospects are dealing with right now. And you know, I love that as a company, you know, our technology really helps support companies during this, this really huge change in, in the dynamics of the office environment.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:34.50] Deb, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today. I love all the insights and wisdom that you’ve shared. Where can people go to connect with you and learn more about FM:Systems and the work that you do?
Deb Hill: [00:29:49.05] Yeah, absolutely. So you can check out the company at FMSystems.com and then you can also check me out, if you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, I am Deb Hill Recruiter on LinkedIn.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:07.63] We will link to Deb’s LinkedIn profile, FM:Systems website, and their careers page, I don’t know what kind of openings you have, but if you’re in the HR recruiting space and you’re like, I want to be a part of Deb’s team if she has an opening, head on over there and apply.
Deb Hill: [00:30:27.40] Absolutely, yes. Great. Great plug, Jessica. I actually have got two openings right now, so a recruiter role and an HR operations role, so.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:30:38.79] Awesome, well, I didn’t know that I was going to become a staffing firm with this podcast, but hey, if it helps connect you with amazing HR leaders, then I, my, my fees are very inexpensive, so perfect. Appreciate your time!
Deb Hill: [00:30:55.56] Absolutely. Thank you.
Closing: [00:30:57.93] It’s really interesting to delve into how a role like the CHRO, whose experiences connects them to strategy and operations of the overall business. The CHRO doesn’t just lead HR within the company. The company depends on the leadership of this role to set standards and benchmarks for everything from manager training to company culture to employee engagement and connection. I appreciate Deb taking the time to talk with us today. Her honest openness and willingness to share, particularly around the company’s DEI journey, I think is really unique. And this is exactly what I wanted from the CHRO series when we started it at the beginning of the pandemic, is that I wanted real conversations from real HR leaders to share where they are, what they are doing, and what’s happening, like what’s working. And I believe Deb has done that for us today. I also want to thank you for listening to the Workology Podcast. It is sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. This podcast is part of our series and it is powered by Ginger.com and New Manager Training at WorkplaceMasters.com. The podcast itself is for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our Workology Podcast episodes.
Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:32:24.00] Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community, and over one hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recert credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.
Connect with Deb Hill.
– How diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) matter
– Episode 315: Scaling Empathy & Company Culture With Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia
– Episode 327: CHRO Series – How is HR Structured Within Your Organization?
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