HRExaminer Radio

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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Cathy Missildine, SPHR, Chief Performance Officer, Intellectual Capital Consulting
Episode: 110
Air Date: August 26, 2015


At a time when HR was about paychecks, picnics and employees of the month, Cathy was focusing on HR performance. Cathy brings her experience and expertise to ICC along with a real understanding of the issues facing companies today. This translates well in her work with executives in the areas of productivity, retention, training, staffing and strategic implementation.

Cathy is also a nationally recognized speaker on “metrics that matter.” Some of her more recent projects include performance management redesign, strategic transformation of HR, change management, satisfaction surveys with quantitative and qualitative analysis, and workforce planning.

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Begin transcript

John Sumser:            Good morning and welcome to the HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser. Today we’re coming to you from beautiful downtown Occidental, California where the fog has rolled in from the ocean and it’s sitting lightly on the roses, which are up for their second bloom this year. Today, we’ve got on the radio Cathy Missildine, who’s the co-founder of a consulting firm called Intellectual Capital Consultants. Good morning, Cathy. How are you?

Cathy Missildine:                    Good morning, John. How are you? Coming to you from hot Atlanta.

John Sumser:            Hot Atlanta. Well, I can send you some of this cool fog. It’s about 65 today and it’ll get up all the way into the high 70s and if it hits 80 we’ll complain about the heat wave.

Cathy Missildine:                    Oh, goodness. I feel so bad for you guys.

John Sumser:            Yeah, it’s terrible. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience? You’re an amazing person, but I know you’ll tell your story better than I will.

Cathy Missildine:                    Well, my name is Cathy Missildine, and like you said, I co-founded Intellectual Capital Consulting about 18 years ago with my business partner, Barbara Hughes, and been so passionate about HR for those 18 years and I continue to be. I love it. It’s in my blood and our firm has been very successful, I think, in making strides in leading companies to be more strategic in their HR deliverables and their HR strategy and things of that nature. I got into HR just in a crazy way. Actually my background’s in marketing and operations and my old boss said, “There’s this opening over in HR,” and I’m like, “What? HR?” I went and just loved it because it, even back then in the early 90s I could tell that HR was very important to the success off the company, and so yeah, that’s a little bit about my background and why I got into it.

John Sumser:            Give me an example of the kind of work that you do at Intellectual Capital Consultants.

Cathy Missildine:                    The cool part is that it’s so varied. I guess if I had to put it in some major buckets, it would be this strategic alignment with HR to the business strategy and I know that sounds very consultanty, but it’s about whatever the organization is trying to achieve, the infrastructure and the people and the process have to be in a line on the same page, so we do a lot of work around that. The second bucket is performance management and along with strategy alignment, you’ve got to have a good performance management system that can cascade those goals down so that the strategy is alive and well from the top to the bottom, so they kind of go together.

Then finally, where I’ve made a lot of strides in the last probably 10 years, is in the area of HR metrics. I just feel like HR, as you know John, we’ve had a bad rap over the last 20 years. You’ve been in it probably longer than I have and even with the latest articles about, on Harvard, we need to blow up HR and the Forbes article and everything else, and I think it’s the lack of HR being able to tell its story. Sales can tell a great sales story and a great return on investment, and safety and quality and customer service have all their metrics and they tell this wonderful story. HR has a great story, too, we’ve just struggled in how to say it and how to say it in a quantitative way and so those are the 3 buckets.

That’s a long way to say my days are very different, so if I look out over the last 30 days, I’ve probably been on the road at least half, maybe 3/4 of that, and whether it’s doing an HR audit for a company to see how they can be more strategic, or is it embedded in a company to actually work with them on setting up their performance management system and what those competencies are and how that performance appraisal should look and how do we get the managers trained, or whether it’s setting up an HR scorecard for a company so that HR can tell its story. The cool thing about my job is every day’s different and every day’s a challenge, and so that’s kind of what a day in the life looks like.

John Sumser:            If somebody wanted to understand if they were a likely customer of Intellectual Capital, how would I know if I was a customer or if I was somebody who wanted to talk to you?

Cathy Missildine:                    Well, I think we’ve had a lot of success, and if I look at our customer base, it’s very interesting, because prior to the recession we had a lot of strength and a lot of good work in larger companies like Intercontinental Hotels, Hilton Hotels, NAPA, companies like that and in their HR department looking at … Because back then they were moving business partner role, how do we get that infrastructure? How do we measure HR? We had a lot of success there. Then of course, the recession hit and everybody buckled down. Then after the recession it was interesting because we got a lot of business and got known in the government/non-profit and education, especially higher education because they were having to really shift their focus on their revenue/tax dollars/funding was way down, so how are we going to be more effective with our people? How are we going to start paying for performance because we can’t afford not to?

That happened and I still have a lot of clients in that arena, but lately what I found that I really enjoy is that company that’s ready to take it to the next level. For example, I’m working with a company here in Atlanta that does non-emergency medical transportation. They’ve been in business about 10 years. With the new healthcare reform, their business has shot through the roof, so they’re growing, growing, growing, and the infrastructure hasn’t kept up with them, whether it’s marketing operations or HR, so now I’m working with them as a growing company, getting them set up for the future, because they are expected to grow leaps and bounds over the next 3 or 4 years. That to me is very exciting. Those are probably the 3 major buckets as I look out over our current client base.

John Sumser:            Got it. Let’s talk about a couple of substance of your work. There’s been a lot of conversation the last 6 months about performance management and so you really get how to beat performance management systems. What do you make of these changes?

Cathy Missildine:                    Well, you know as well as I do, like you said, there’s so many conversations and Deloitte just came out with their new approach to performance management, blowing things up and looking at it a little differently, and I think it is time, it is so time to get this right. If you think about performance management and you talk to managers, and you go, “Hey, this counts as performance management,” they don’t jump up and down and high-five you. They just don’t, and it’s because we, HR, has made it a check off the box, a compliance, a documentation exercise, and I think we’ve lost sight, and I’m talking to my own profession, we’ve lost sight that the reason for performance management is to actually increase performance and to motivate our employees and our managers and our supervisors.

That’s the part that gets all over me and because we’ve used it to, “Okay, let’s document poor performance so we can get rid of this person. Okay, let’s do it so you’ve got to do it by July 1st. Let’s just get this done and check it off the box.” You look at the scores and you look at the distributions and everybody’s a 3, and all I ask my clients, “Do you really have this many 3s on your staff? Because if you do, I don’t understand how you’re being profitable.” You know what I mean? I think the key is for me, and there’s so many new systems out there, so many different thoughts and it’s still evolving.

I love it that performance management is being integrated into other parts of HR. We know what’s going on with technology. Technology, the systems are … We try to have one repository for every single thing, so systems like [Teleos 00:10:02] and PeopleSoft of the world and Workdays of the world, performance management is deeply embedded in the strategy of cascading and career development and succession planning and compensation. When you have that linkage, to me that’s job one. Now, the mechanism or what the performance approach will look like and the process I think, needs some fine tuning and I’m not sure if Deloitte’s is the answer, but I think the linkage and the alignment piece is critical for me.

John Sumser:            Okay, okay. The next piece, you’ve used the word infrastructure a lot, what do you mean by infrastructure?

Cathy Missildine:                    That was a great question. When I think about HR infrastructure, I think of what does the HR department’s, what does their org chart look like? Are we centralized or are we decentralized? Are we generalists or are we specialists? Are we a hybrid model? Part of it’s the HR organizational structure, but then it’s also what is the technology that they use? That’s part of infrastructure. Are we still on Excel spreadsheets and Access databases or do we have a talent management system and one that is robust and can give us what we need so that the technology’s part of infrastructure, the way we’re organized is part of infrastructure?

I also believe that the services and the “products” that we deliver is also part of infrastructure, so your performance management system becomes a part of that, your compensation system becomes a part of that, the way we do employee relations. Are we centralizing? Are we relying on business partners to do that out in the field? What does [leads 00:12:04] look like? What’s the infrastructure for [leads 00:12:06]? Is that centralized or how is that handled? Just taking a look at the whole HR department and all of its technology, its people and its process. Is it set up to align with what the organization is doing to make sure that it’s going to enable the organization to meet its own goals? If we’re in a growth mode and we’re multi-locations, it doesn’t make sense to me to have a totally centralized HR department. We need HR where business is being conducted. We need to look at that sometimes, so that’s my definition of infrastructure.

John Sumser:            Got it, so it’s a comprehensive look. Do you have a sort of a rule of thumb? You’ve been doing this a long time, a rule of thumb about what functions are necessary for an HR department?

Cathy Missildine:                    Oh, gosh. That changes. It’s so changed over the years. I guess what I’m looking at now, and I bet you have some great ideas, too. I’d love to ask you a couple questions around this, but it’s … You think of the personnel department or you think of HR kind of one on one and you’ve got your usual suspects. You’ve got employee relations, you’ve got comp, you’ve got benefits and hopefully, by now payroll’s somewhere else. Payroll’s over with finance. You might have, sometimes you have training in there, it just depends on how you’re organized. Sometimes you have OD, and there’s all kinds of conversations around that, but today I think HR needs to be viewed more as just like any other department in the organization, that HR people need to be business people first and HR people second.

With that being said, I think today, that a communications specialist is awesome for an HR department, to be able to assist with all the communications that go to employees and all the stakeholders, but more importantly, the communication and how HR talks about itself to tell its story, making sure that we’re using the language of the business, talking about HR and how it impacts the business. Sometimes other people can tell our story better than us. I also think within HR there needs to be, and this is probably a bias of my own, but I feel like there needs to be a data component. I mean, we house more data, we house so much data on employees.

We have transactual data, payroll data, we have financial data, we have just all kinds of data that needs to be leveraged, insight needs to be gathered, and we need pockets of really good data analytics and thought HR. There’s tons of companies, examples out there, that do it, but I think even for the medium, that mid-market, that’s when you really start getting in insights, is when you’re taking that growth spurt. That’s when to me it’s critical. I think that question to me is evolving and I know that you’re interviewing me, but I was wondering what you thought about that.

John Sumser:            This is the conversation that … I have this funny story theory that’s not really literal, but it’s a sense of what we’re seeing and the research, and that is that the HR functions are the story of the business and they are the story of the crises in the business. One of the things that we know for sure here at [inaudible 00:16:31] is that nobody ever started a business saying, “We want to make the world’s greatest hair clipper and do HR with excellence.”

Cathy Missildine:                   True.

John Sumser:            Nobody ever said that, right?

Cathy Missildine:                    No, no.

John Sumser:            You open the business and you discover that you’ve got this stuff to do that you didn’t know you had to do.

Cathy Missildine:                    Right.

John Sumser:            What happens is that HR is literally a reflection of the business and never a reflection of HR. One of my classic, classic stories is I spent a lot of time around Macon and the way that you hire people in Macon, Georgia, is not the same as the way that you hire people in Minneapolis. If you are running a heavy manufacturing facility in either place, the most important thing about HR is the safety component of HR. You want to be good at drug testing, you want to be good at on-site medicine. You probably want to be good at having a doctor or nurse in the factory because in heavy manufacturing, you can get killed or lose an arm or those sorts of things can happen to you. You want a relatively chemical free workforce. On the other hand, if you’re running Google, safety’s not an issue.

Cathy Missildine:                    No.

John Sumser:            Safety is never an issue and the only drug test that you want to give people is the drug test to see if you smoke enough pot. Right?

Cathy Missildine:                    Is that a hair test? What?

John Sumser:            What you want in the Google kind of environment is a really, really, extremely broad range of permissible behavior in the organization and when you are in more dangerous kinds of environment, it’s a narrower thing and that changes the texture of HR. The last bit of the story I like to tell is you get there and as soon as you’ve got 10 or 20 employees, you have to figure out how to pay them because nobody likes to do that. That’s why everybody’s got a payroll system, but something like 60% are outsourced to somebody like ADP. The second HR function that you get really depends on what the first lawsuit is.

If you get a big wage hour infraction then you get better timekeeping of attendance management systems. If you get some sort of sexual harassment or perhaps in the hospitality industry something like a lawsuit about somebody getting killed because they drank too much at the bar, then you put in a learning management system so that you can know that all of your people are trained appropriately. That’s how the HR actually grows is it lurches from the next big crisis to the next big crisis and the infrastructure … It’s like that old theory where you don’t put the sidewalks in until you see where people walk.

Cathy Missildine:                    Correct.

John Sumser:            That’s how HR is built. It’s built based on how the company walks and it’s a reflection of the company and its history rather than more elegant maturity model.

Cathy Missildine:                    Well, or what you’ve learned at the last HR conference, that it should be. I mean, because again, if you’re looking at where the company’s going, and I love your perspective also, and where it’s been, because that’s important too, then that’s what your structure should be. I think you’re absolutely right. It’s almost like having HR as a customized approach to HR, which we’ve been about cookie cutter ever since we were HR. The same thing for every employee, everything’s the same, everything’s equal. Everything’s the same, including the way we organize ourselves and the way we look, right? I think that’s real important. I think that’s a really good point.

John Sumser:            Also, really one of the smartest people in the world about how data works inside of HR and HR metrics, what do you see there … [inaudible 00:21:54] asking you the other day about this … I think it’s a myth that HR people are scared of numbers, but we certainly get that [inaudible 00:22:05]. Talk a little bit about those two things.

Cathy Missildine:                    As far as HR people being scared of numbers, John, I do have a strong opinion on that, and for those that know me know I’m not afraid to say it. I guess my opinion comes from the experience in the metrics arena. For example, we give workshops across this country and part of it is, one of the modules, of the 6 modules is finance and business acumen, is one of the modules. We go in, we’re ready to do it, we’re talking about ROI and calculating profit margin and looking at gross profit and looking at a balance sheet and looking at … These are just the basics I think, and looking at the PNL and a lot of times I’d say 50 to 60% of the folks in the room, deer in headlights a lot of times, can’t calculate those basic functions.

Then I start going into HR departments and talking about where the data is and what they need to measure and even something as basic as turnover. I hate to generalize, I hate that, but certain HR professionals I do feel are scared of the data because it’s not been one of our job requirements and it’s not been one of those competencies that we’ve had to rely on in the past. A lot of people, when you say, “Why’d you get into HR?” Don’t ever ask that question, because you’re going to get, “I wanted to help people and I wanted to train people,” or whatever it is. It’s never about being analytical and being in data, so that’s a brand new skill set for us. The competency just appeared in our competency set in 2012 when SHRM announced those new competencies, that’s the first time we really talked about it.

I know [Orec 00:24:26] and company alluded to it and he’s added one since, but it’s not something that we’ve been doing for a long time. If you think about HR degrees, I think about the ones offered here in the Atlanta area, up until 5 years ago you didn’t even have to hardly have a [inaudible 00:24:47]. It’s just, I do feel like they’re afraid of data. I do. I really, really do, most of them. Now, the ones that … It’s interesting because I see a lot of my clients, and you’ve probably seen this as well, HR is reaching outside of HR to bring other types of competencies into HR.

I see finance people coming to HR, I see operational people coming in, accounting people coming in, and I think that’s great because it brings in the business perspective and the analytical perspective that we need while at the same time we still have the HR competence that we can add to that. It’s been a struggle, because I can remember 10 years ago doing just basic metrics courses here at SHRM Atlanta, and I’d have 15 people in the room. Now recently I did one for SHRM National and we had several hundred, so obviously it’s one of those things that people are talking about and big data’s here and it’s not going away, but it’s just one of those things that are still not well understood.

John Sumser:            Got it. Well, we could talk through a number of things and do a number of these conversations. There’s a lot to cover here. We’re headed towards the end of the time, though, so I want to be sure that if there’s anything that you think this audience should know about you or should take away from the conversation, let you get a moment to say that.

Cathy Missildine:                    Well, thank you. I really appreciate it. I guess what I would love for the audience to take away, and I’m assuming we’ve got a large population of HR leaders, and I want them to take away with I believe that it’s a great time to be in HR. I believe that we’re in the place in HR, kind of at an HR crossroads, so we’ve got the business and we’ve got our own profession telling us we need to up our game. Basically what SHRM has said is whether we agree with how they did it or not, we’ve got these competencies. Now we’re going to test you on competencies and here they are. We need you to up your game because we’ve done research and business leaders have told us this is what we need. The demand for us is high. The demand for employee data and how it impacts bottom line and productivity is high.

The problem is the supply is low. I think we have got … It’s our responsibility as HR professionals to close that gap and if we don’t, that’s where there’s going to be a problem, because every article you read, if HR doesn’t figure this out, somebody else will. I think we have to get comfortable with the data. I’m not saying sit down and run correlations and regressions. I’m saying understand what needs to be measured and understand what the data is telling us. There’s tons of [inaudible 00:28:05] out there that could crunch the numbers for us. I want them to take away from is it’s time for us to rise and shine and I think we could do it.

We’ve been making baby steps, but I think it’s the responsibility is on us to make sure that we’re doing the things like looking at the competencies and see where we are, increasing our business acumen, making sure we have a consultative approach, making sure that we can lead change in our organizations and it’s successful. All those sort of things that we’ve been talking about and the talent management today is critical. If we don’t do that right, it’s game over, just game over. I guess my outlook is the glass is half full and we’re at a place where it’s great to be in HR, but it’s going to be a lot of hard work.

John Sumser:            Good. Okay, so thanks so much for taking the time to be here today. Would you mind reintroducing yourself and letting people know how to get in touch with you?

Cathy Missildine:                    Sure. I am Cathy Missildine, which is M-I-S-S-I-L-D-I-N-E. I am co-founder of Intellectual Capital Consulting. Our website’s, and I’m on Twitter @Cathy Missildine LinkedIn, even a Facebook page, so pretty easy to get in contact with.

John Sumser:            Well, thanks very much, Cathy. It’s been a treat to be here and thanks for tuning in, everybody. Have a great rest of your day. We’ll see you on the other side.

Cathy Missildine:                    Thank you, John.

John Sumser:            Thanks so much.

Cathy Missildine:                    Bye.

John Sumser:            All right.

End transcript

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