It's Time to Modernize Your HR Department w/Annissa Deshpande, loglab Ep#143
SME Strategy is a strategy consulting company that specializes in aligning teams around their vision, mission, values, goals and action plans. Learn more about how we can help align your team with our strategic planning and implementation services.
Anthony: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, folks and people. My name is Anthony Taylor. This is the Strategy & Leadership Podcast. We interview amazing people from all over the world to get their insights on strategy, leadership and all the great things that happen in the world of work. And today, my guest is Annissa Deshpande. Annissa, how are you today?
Annissa: I'm doing well, Anthony. How are you?
Anthony: I'm awesome. I'm excited to chat with you. I was admiring your background. I'm admiring your body of work. And I'm super excited to get to chat. So for all of our listeners, Annissa is the Founder and Principal of loglab, LLC. And she is the author of The Comeback: A Modern HR Novel. Is there anything I missed?
Annissa: Yeah, I think you got it.
Anthony: So tell me about who you are, existentially or not. And if you want to include your body of work, that'd be great, too.
Annissa: Okay, so I'm Annissa Deshpande as you mentioned, I have 25 years of experience in HR, IT finance and strategy. And about seven years ago, I started my own people advisory services firm called loglab. And we help companies modernize HR to create a place where people love to work and to grow revenue. So it's both the business side as well as the people side.
And so we do that in a couple different ways. We offer fractional chief people officer services to emerging growth companies, we offer coaching to high potential HR folks, or people that are trying to make that transition from more of a traditional HR mindset to a modern HR mindset.
And then we do content. So you mentioned the book already, I've got some online video courses, and templates that you can purchase just things that help companies accelerate their transition into modern HR. Prior to starting my own firm, I was the global talent executive at a Fortune 500. Part of my responsibilities, were running the team that hired 20,000 people annually in 150 countries, but also designing internal talent initiatives, like performance management succession, that were aligned to achieve business outcomes. So really focusing on connecting those people programs and what we're trying to do as a business.
Anthony: Cool. So I'm sure you got a lot of experience from 20,000 people annually. But one of the things I wanted to ask you about is, you know, accelerating into modern HR. So maybe to understand where that shift is coming from, what are the kind of key things that people need to realize, and maybe they're still stuck in old HR, and they need to be aware of what they're missing out on?
Annissa: Yeah, so I call old HR, traditional HR. And traditional HR is primarily based on compliance, right, keeping the company out of trouble. The number one focus is compliance, it tends to really just focus on hey, let's make sure we don't get sued. Let's check the box, let's make sure that we are doing all the things that we need to from a compliance standpoint, and it designs its programs and its services around compliance versus a defined employee experience. So the challenge with traditional HR is you often develop a reputation as a cost center. So you're a continual target for efficiency gains and cost reductions.
And one of the biggest litmus tests for me when a HR leader says, "every year, they asked me to cut 10% of my budget", I know that they're practicing traditional HR versus modern HR. So modern HR is what I like to call a revenue enabler. And it really focuses on four dimensions, the culture of a company, the organization, people and rewards. And it takes us four dimensions. And it really tries to align it to what the business is trying to achieve from a strategy and goals perspective. And by focusing on things that achieve business goals, the function actually becomes a revenue enabler. It attracts investment because the leadership wants to invest in it because they see the benefit in their organization from the people side of the business.
And so things that you see in modern HR: a very unique, defined employee experience, and a lot of data driven decisions right there using data. Versus I think in traditional HR we tend to see more anecdotes - a focus on amplifying the strengths of the culture, but also a continuous focus on 'What do we need to improve in the culture?' Every every culture has dysfunctions, but what are some of the things that we need to overcome to help us get to that next level?
We can help you align your team around a clear vision, mission, values, goals and action plans,
so you can lead your organization more effectively and get better results.
Anthony: Oh, I mean, I love that. When we first started talking, it just made me think of like Toby Flenderson, if anybody knows who that is, but what I really liked out of that was moving away from compliance and into culture, organization, people and rewards, and making sure that it's driving business outcomes. So it takes it from costing money to making you money. And I think in this landscape, where more and more people are embracing that, it's going to be table stakes soon, you still need to do the compliance piece. But when you're competing for talent, on a global level, or even in a regional level, the ones who adapt that modern HR faster are going to be the ones that accomplish their business goals faster, and presumably with less pain. Would you say that that's fair to say?
Annissa: That's absolutely true. And like, don't get me wrong, compliance is super important. I'm not saying we shouldn't have compliance in our skill sets and our ability to get things done. But a lot of compliance - like if you're doing the right things from a culture, organization, people, and rewards perspective, a lot of times a compliance follows, right, because compliance is designed to create fairness and consistency in the workplace. That's really what the focus is, right? So when you when you're doing the right things, and a lot of times that compliance just follows along.
Anthony: So one of the things that comes up a lot with with organizations, and when there's a lack of clarity, or alignment or direction, is people want to know about roles and responsibilities. Who is doing what, especially in fast moving companies? So how do you see the role of HR, the role of a fast growing company, and strategy, all combining for successful growth as it relates to roles and responsibilities?
Annissa: Okay, wow, that's a that's a loaded question. Well, I think the first thing is, in order to have an effective HR agenda or strategy, you need to understand the business and where it's trying to go. So the business strategy in depth. I advise any HR leader to sit with the leadership team to get a lay of the land to do the research and to understand the research that's driving where the company is trying to go, and then to figure out the people aspects of it. So what are the implications of what we're trying to what we're trying to do?
So for example, if we're trying to enter a new market, or we're trying to launch a new service or product, what kind of people do we need? How are we going to get them? What kind of local available talent is available? If it's a new market? You know, do we have to import people? How are they going to learn our culture? Right? So there's all kinds of strategic implications when you're building a strategy, and often what companies do is they build the strategy.
And then they think about the people, right? Like, I want to grow 10 times in revenue, but do we even have the people available to us or in the external market to be able to do that? And that's where you see a lot of this competition for talent coming in. So in terms of roles and responsibilities, you know, I think HR has to help define where people's roles start, and where people's roles are not. Where the functions start and where they stop. Who has responsibility for what? And I see HR contributing very strongly to the strategy and not being on the receiving end of it. But when you're having those strategic planning workshops, those strategic planning discussions, contributing at the level of the other participants really bringing in the business discussion, but talking about the people implications of it. So that's a little bit of how I see the roles and responsibilities working. I don't know if that answered your question.
Anthony: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you can't just say, hey, here's where we're going. And then have HR say, Okay, now do it. It both needs to be, I heard co-created, like worked on together, but also managing expectations and resources. You know, we kind of make a tongue in cheek joke, say, Hey, do you have unlimited time, people or money? If you can't, you don't have those. So you need to make strategic choices about where you want to go, who you're going to deploy to do that, and how to make it work. And I also found that like, for the HR and the strategy to say, Hey, who's doing this part, is critical as part of the implementation as a consideration for the implementation, not just hey, here's our plan, go do it. That's what I heard.
Annissa: That's exactly right. And a lot of times what HR is role is when they're on the back end of strategy. So let's say finance and strategy have planned this beautiful strategy of where they want to go. A lot of times HR has to be the one that says, Wait, you didn't consider the people component. And when we look at the availability of talent and skill sets, internally and externally, you know, that's a limiter to our ability to achieve the strategy. So you ended up changing the strategy to meet where you are, to your point about unlimited time, resources and money.
Anthony: And not only from a skills perspective, not only a culture perspective, but also the skills and then adapting. Filling your skills for your future needs, and not just your current needs.
Annissa: That's right.
Anthony: So if we look, I'll ask you about the future. But looking back over your career, you've been doing this a long time. What are some - I don't like the word war stories, but what are some, you know, key lessons that you've taken away in your time in HR working for big companies? You don't need to give any anybody's name away. Just one of those things where you sat down at the end of the day and say, I really learned something today out of blank experience.
Annissa: Yeah, I mean, so many, right. Like, I think a lot of my early HR experiences. And remember, I came in from other functions, and so had been a consumer of HR, and then had to go in and figure out how to work in HR, which are two very different roles.
There were two things I will hit on. One is the lack of data and structure in HR is really a concern. And it's something that I noticed early on, right, like every month, finance comes out with a flash report, or a management report, which compiles all these insights about what's happening in the business, and HR, which really owns the people function, wasn't providing the same insights and data. And I think as a result of that, right, finance gets this great seat at the table. They get the resources, they get everything they need. When HR is struggling, you know, HR is always that target for reductions and cost efficiencies. So, you know, I think that that lack of using data, and I understand it's a little easier and finance to use data, but I think, you know, there's so many sophisticated analysis techniques right now that help us get ahead of trends. That's really an area where I think HR needs to kind of step it up. And we've been talking about it for years. And unfortunately, it's just been very slow to happen.
The other thing that I think I learned early on, as well, is, you know, like, I used to dread a bunch of things like performance reviews, and, you know, these forms that I'd have to fill out when an employee made a change. I've been in the industry - I've been working for 25 years, but even well past when forms shouldn't have been paper or written in triplicate, I was still having to do these things, right. And so HR wasn't thinking about how to optimize the employee experience, right?
If I'm a manager, and I have 10 direct reports, I'm filling out a performance review that adds zero value to the conversation that I need to have with my employees at the end of the year, right? I'm rating people on competencies that don't play in to their day to day business. And at the end of the day, I'm telling people, they meet expectations on these competencies. But that's not aligned to how we're driving, or how we're how we're running our business, or how what our business results are.
And so I think really about the relevancy of what we are doing. Why are we doing it? And how do we optimize this experience for our customers, which are the people and the employees and the managers to make sure that this is something they want to do? That they see the value in, that we don't have to force them to do, but that they just look out and go, Oh, this makes total sense. And this is going to facilitate a wonderful conversation with my employee about end of the year performance. So I think those are some of the lessons that I learned early on that I applied to modern HR, which really helps companies start to look at HR as more of a friend rather than an enemy.
Anthony: Yeah, I get that. Well, a couple things I took away from that. So one was, you know, the lack of data in HR. So all of our HR leaders listening, I'm not an HR guy, my wife is an HR person. But you know, tracking the data, and I find that in marketing in sales in typical revenue generating, you have data that demonstrates your value. So why wouldn't you do that in the kind of downstream activities to say it's not feelings, these are the numbers - numbers don't lie.
The other thing that I heard, which I would assert precipitated the evolution of HR, was maybe 10/15 years ago, software companies making it easier for HR practitioners and professionals to do more. So instead of having to do a paper form by triplicate, well, that's automated HRIS systems, candidate systems, everything is automated. So instead of spending 30 hours doing forms, you can actually as a people person value deliver-er, focus more on that experience. So driving more satisfaction driving more relevance. And ultimately, both of those things are outcome focused. So it was easier to deliver that baseline outcome of compliance. So now you can use your people people to drive more value for the business. Do you see it the same way?
Annissa: Yeah. And I think I'd add one more thing. Most of our employees, I should say, all of our employees have mobile phones, right? They all have apps, and they're usually super intuitive experiences on their apps, right? When was the last time you sat through training to go through a mobile phone app? Ever? No, right? I mean, you just pick it up. And you maybe there's a screen with some arrows, it shows you. That is what HR needs to do with its services and programs, right? And IT systems, it needs to be that simple. So a lot of companies have HRIS systems, but they haven't thought through the experience, you know, how does the employee and the manager interact with that system? How difficult is it for the employee manager to use? And like they'll set up one hour training to go through performance management systems, for example, or LMS, systems, learning management systems. And they're all how to use a system, which is something that should be completely intuitive. And if it's not, then you've got a problem.
Anthony: What if people have no human systems? Like where do they start? They've built the business, they've gotten to a point where they're like 20 people, they don't have somebody, what are the next steps somebody should take to modernize their people processes?
Annissa: Yeah. So typically, if you're at 20, people, you probably have to have some technology in today's world, right? Just payroll and benefits alone, unless you're not, you know, doing benefits, it'd be pretty hard. But a lot of what the smaller companies do is they go to these professional employment organizations that I'm at where it's an outsource payroll and benefits. And these organizations are like co-employers, so that your W2 actually comes from them. But they aggregate a bunch of small companies, and they go to the insurance market. And they're able to provide, like big company benefits for small companies at a reasonable price. They usually have some technology, it's not perfect, but it'll get you going. And then I think there's a number of low cost kind of software. They're almost like little apps or plugins that you can put into different systems that really can automate the experience can create a better user experience.
There's a number of performance management systems, which have been simplified if you're looking for that. And I would say, continue to evaluate what's out there. But you know, you typically are going to start, if you have an HRIS, you have a PEO, you let that kind of go. Those technologies aren't the best, but they get you through what you need to where you focus your technology experience on things that people are using more often. So things like performance management, learning management. There's a lot of real time engagement tools, and bots that can can get plugged into Slack. Those are the kinds of things that you want to look at.
And you want to look at how your organization is working today. So if you're a heavily dependent Slack organization, right, where everything is happening via Slack, and I'm sure a lot of I know a lot of organizations like this, you want to make sure that whatever product you're putting out there has an integration into Slack. If it's another portal that you have to log into, no one's going to use it. The way to get people to adapt to the systems, especially in fast paced high growth organizations is to integrate it into things they already are working with on a day to day basis.
Anthony: I think that's really smart. And I don't want to say it's not intuitive, but if you don't think about it as a system, hey, what systems does our organization already have? How can we integrate that? And how can we look at not only our just our people strategy, because that's a word and it means something, but the overall - how do we support everybody in the organization to perform? I think when you look at it that way with the intention, I think it really shifts how you look at deploying software and deploying systems and getting people to actually use it instead of saying, hey, we have this learning management system, but nobody uses it. Well, did you make it easy for them to actually use it? And then why did you want it? Did you want it to have it to check the box or did you want to have it because you want people to use it? Because it's going to train them so they can do their job better. And I think the context of what you do in your people role will have a huge impact to the outcomes that you drive.
Annissa: That's right. That's right.
Anthony: So, as we finish up here, what are two or three things that you want our leaders, whether they're in people directly or not, to consider to think about to put in place and dare I say, challenge them to take that next level to modernize their, their people experience?
Annissa: Yeah, I think the first thing I would say is ask themselves, do they have a partner that's gonna challenge them on the people side, right? I mean, do they have somebody that's more of an order taker, or somebody that's seeing the path forward, laying out what's going to happen and helping them think through that. Almost like your head of of HR, your head of people and culture should be a coach to you and to the executive team, right, they should be the ultimate executive coach for the company.
And I also think if you're continuing to look for cost reductions across HR, then you probably aren't set up, right. And you need to take a step back and ask yourself, you know, what is it I need to do? A lot of times, the leaders are talking about HR the right way. But when they're going in interacting with their HR leader, they're not, they don't interact the same way that they would interact with their CFO or another leader. So they build up expectations that are not practical, and HR doesn't do a good job of pushing back.
And I'll give you an example. Often, leaders come to me of smaller companies, and they say, Hey, we're right, we're ready to hire a Chief People Officer. And I'm like, Great, okay, so you're ready to start building the function out. Oh, we're going to hire the chief people officer, and they're going to be responsible for coaching us, doing the hands on recruiting, running payroll and benefits. And I'm like, that's not a Chief People Officer, right. If you want somebody to set strategy, they're not going to be the folks that do your payroll benefits and your hands on recruiting. So understanding that, you know, you don't need to hire 10 people at once, but you need to hire somebody, and then empower them to bring in the right partners to help you keep the function running, or get the function up and running, just like you would if you were hiring a CFO, you would have somebody that outsources the accounting, but you'd bring in some more of the strategic roles over time.
Anthony: Cool. I mean, I think that's really, it's smart. It's sometimes obvious, but really, as you're making that next hire, making sure you understand who you're hiring, why you're hiring them as a capacity builder, and the distinction between that like operational role to make sure the stuff gets done, and the strategic role to make sure that you're increasing capacity, you need both. But you got to be aware of what you're hiring and when you're hiring. And then the other thing - building that capacity, like anything, people is a capacity, not just a function and getting the most of your people, I think it's going to be a super worthwhile investment as you well try to get to that next level, whatever that is So where can people get a hold of you? Where can they get your book? Where can they learn more about what you do at loglab?
Annissa: Yeah, so I'm on LinkedIn, my website is loglab.net. And my book is available on Amazon. It's The Comeback: A Modern HR Novel. And I think you got to put my name in there. Just so you guys know, it's a fictional HR book. It's a narrative that tells a story about a manufacturing company that is struggling from a third party competitor and external competitor coming in and challenging their business. And they have to shore up on all fronts. They do a good job from the sales ops, all that stuff, but their people manager, their people leader is struggling. And so the CEO brings in a coach to help her transition from more of that traditional HR mindset to a modern HR mindset. So it's her journey as a company goes through modernizing their HR.
Anthony: That's awesome. I love that. And I think one of the things I'm taking away from today's conversation is really the right person in the role is going to challenge you, which is what most senior leaders want because it's going to help you get to that next level. And at times like question what you think is right. But having that real lens of hey, how do we get the most ROI out of our investment in people, make sure that we have the right systems processes and structure to help us accomplish our goals, and find the right people to get that done? So I really appreciate our conversation today - gave me a different perspective on how to think of people growth and just appreciate the time today.
Annissa: Thanks Anthony. I appreciate you having me.
Anthony: That's awesome. So everyone our guest today, Annissa Deshpande, who is the founder of loglab, follow her online, share this podcast. If you're trying to get your boss to improve your your people ops and your strategy in people, be sure to send them this podcast. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe to the podcast because we want to keep sharing with you and getting amazing guests like Annissa.
So my name is Anthony Taylor, this has been the Strategy & Leadership Podcast, thanks so much for joining and until next time!