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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Robin Schooling, VP of HR, Hollywood Casino
Episode: 158
Air Date: March 9, 2016



Robin Schooling, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is VP of Human Resources with Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge, LA and has extensive experience in a variety of industries including gaming, banking and health care. She’s a regular speaker at HR, Recruiting, and business conferences, has a popular HR blog at and is on a mission to make organizations better by making HR better

The Huffington Post named her one of The Top 100 Most Social Human Resource Experts on Twitter and Glassdoor called her one of the 2015 HR and Recruiting Thought Leaders to Follow. She’s been interviewed, quoted by, or has written for numerous entities including Yahoo, CareerBuilder, Monster, HRM Online Canada, Certified Magazine, HR Examiner, SHRM and Recruiting Daily.

She serves on the Advisory Boards for HROnboard and BlackbookHR, is the current Ringmaster at the Carnival of HR, is active with the ATD Baton Rouge chapter, has been an involved SHRM volunteer leader, and once upon a time received an award as “HR Professional of the Year.” She has been known to search out the perfect French 75 and is a fervent and unapologetic fan of the New Orleans Saints.

You can connect with her on Twitter at @RobinSchooling and LinkedIn.


Audio MP3





Begin transcript

John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner radio. I’m your host John Sumser. Today we’re coming to you live from beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada where the sun is just coming up on the desert. It’s a gorgeous day. Every day should be like today looks in Las Vegas and not like today will be in Las Vegas. We’re talking with Robin Schooling today. Robin is the VP of HR for a casino company in Louisiana, Hollywood Casinos and we’re delighted to have her. Robin’s one of the strong women who make HR today what HR is. She’s known broadly as an innovator and a sometimes troublemaker. Robin, how are you this morning?


Robin Schooling: I’m good, John. Thank you. I like the troublemaker part.


John Sumser: Part-time troublemaker.


Robin Schooling: There we go.


John Sumser: That’s a good thing. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience.


Robin Schooling: As you said, I’m working as a VP of HR for Hollywood Casino here in Baton Rouge. It’s somewhat interesting because it was pointed out to me the other day that I just continue to navigate back to the gaming industry. This is my second casino, but I also spent seven years with the lottery here in Louisiana. Apparently I’m all about fun and entertainment and gaming and the bells and whistles and the lights and the fun that comes with it. It’s an interesting and fascinating industry, but I started my career in HR in totally the opposite side of things. I worked for a bank. I started in banking, worked in healthcare, spent some time in non-profit world and third party logistics. I worked in a lot of different industries, but these last ten years has really been all about gaming. When I look back it’s kind of interesting to look at the different industries I’ve been in and how different they are, but also how similar. At its core, HR is HR.


John Sumser: HR is HR and at it’s core the casino business is a bank.


Robin Schooling: True, a big bank.


John Sumser: I was noticing last night that one of the things that you wouldn’t immediately think about the gaming industry is that it’s a conservative industry with extremely predictable financial performance. It’s extremely predictable financial performance because everything about the business is calculated. Everything in that business is calculated, and Vegas is crazy. You get off the plane and it feels like you’ve entered a conveyor belt in some large supply chain and you have all of this contradictory and paradoxical experience. In the end it’s always the exact same experience. The ability to deliver that with predictability is what the gaming industry is famous for. It must be interesting to sit on the edge of that kind of analytical thinking and try to do HR in that context.


Robin Schooling: Yeah, it really is. It’s fascinating to be part of these discussions. Just here at our property, we have a very robust analytics team that dive into all sorts of things. They fall under the finance department here. We have three very strong analysts and they divvy up the different things that they work on, but the predictions, the scheduling for what income is planned for, down to by machine, by hour, number of hand pulls that will occur on a particular floor or at a particular machine, the estimates of what that revenue will look like, the estimates of the head count of the people coming into the casino. It’s fascinating to see how they do that, how they create it, and how really spot on they are, cause it’s years and years of data that they’re building on.


  What we do then from the HR side, this is actually something we just were talking about recently, is doing a much more effective job of scheduling our labor on top of that. The analysts, one of the members of the team is in the process of layering on head count and staffing on top of what the business is like so that we get much better at that. He’s creating a whole new mechanism so that our department heads can more effectively schedule their staff to meet the demands of the business. Much more of a productivity based scheduling model. We’ve got that data. We’ve got that information. Let’s use it to manage the workforce just from that real basic standpoint of that. It’s fun to watch them pull all this together. I sit on the sidelines and put my two cents in and see what I can help with.


John Sumser: That’s interesting, so you probably should be able to see characteristics of people that you want to hire and use that data to figure out hiring parameters. Is that on your list?


Robin Schooling: It’s certainly on the wish list. We’re not there yet, but it’s one of the things I’d like us to get to. I’ve been here four months. The list of things and plans that I have for the next couple of years is quite vast. I would like us to get to that stage because I think we’d be able to do it much more successfully. We’re operating like most midsize businesses operate in terms of how we hire. It’s people in, it’s interviews, not necessarily based on any data, we’re not necessarily doing a lot of assessing or anything like that. We need to get tighter around that because making the right hiring decision is something that we need to get to. That’s one of our opportunities, to get much better at that. I envision us getting to that point in a couple of years potentially of doing that on a much more analytical way. Making it faster, making it better, and helping us improve who we’re bringing in. I think we can get there.


John Sumser: That’s cool. What a nice clear ambition. How did you get here? I can’t imagine that when you were in the sand box doing little construction projects and imagining being a construction worker that all of a sudden this balloon went off over your head and said casino HR. That’s it. It’s got to be a pretty tortured story. Tell me the story.


Robin Schooling: I went into my first casino role ten years ago, 2005. We had lived in Louisiana for a couple of years by then. I was working for a third party logistics company doing HR, basically HR business partner role for three of our chemical plant customers in the area. I was in the plants very much distribution center, manufacturing, chemical industry things. I enjoyed it, but it was one of those it’s time for a change, what do I want to do? I wanted to get into something different.


  We have three casinos. Well, at the time we had two casinos in Baton Rouge, now we have three. I worked at the other casino at the time down the street from us. I was only there about a year because we ended up being sold and they did massive reorganizations and a number of people left and positions were eliminated, but that year that I was there I just fell in love with the energy is really the best way to put it. The day-to-day energy. Now don’t get me wrong, it is exhausting, but in a good way. I come to work. I’m pumped up every morning and by the end of the day I am worn out. Worn out from activity and worn out from getting things done. It’s nonstop. It’s 24/7/365.


  It’s the industry that allows me to also interact with the customers, with the business in probably the clearest way that I’ve ever experienced just by virtue of the way the properties are set up, what you need to do. When I’m out walking the property I will have regular, daily, constant interactions with customers. They’re coming in to play. They see I have a badge on. They have a question. Can you help me get to the buffet? When does this restaurant open? Oh, my gosh, can you find the casino host for me? I need a comped pack of cigarettes. Whatever it may be. It’s having those little moments at the core of the business that I also enjoy. I think oftentimes in HR you’re so removed from the customer. I am interacting with the customers every day and that’s enjoyable. It’s not just HR. There’s this very operational aspect to it.


John Sumser: Do you think that’s a piece of the hospitality industry or is it unique to the setting that you’re in?


Robin Schooling: I think it’s true in the hospitality industry to some degree, but not always. You could do HR in a hotel and you’re still probably segregated off in this annex wing with the finance guys or something. You could do hospitality in a restaurant or for a restaurant group, but the likelihood of you being on the floor and interacting regularly with the customers is probably not as great. Certainly it has to do with how our property is set up. We walk out of our HR department, we go down a hall, we’re right in the main lobby. There’s a bar two feet from me. There’s the valet stand, the valet office is right next door. There’s a guest services group. We walk out of HR and we are smack-dab in the middle of activity. I think that’s a little bit different certainly at this property. It was at my other property too. We were there. We were on site. To get from point A to point B you were with the customers.


John Sumser: What’s a day like? I have this picture of you sitting in a high stakes lounge with eye shade on playing cards and sipping expensive cocktails, blowing smoke rings with a cigar maybe. It must be a great job. You probably play a lot of poker every day.


Robin Schooling: If only we could. That would be wonderful. This has been one of the changes for me that I’ve had to adjust to coming back in house. I knew what I was getting into. I knew what the pace was going to be. It’s been really getting the rhythm down, the daily rhythm, the weekly rhythm, cause it’s very different. We are our busiest when everybody else is off. They’re coming here Friday and Saturday and Sunday are our busiest days. We peak obviously later into the evening, so seven, eight p.m., one a.m., that sort of thing. Kind of understanding that pace and that flow and how things happen has been a change.


  A typical day, there really of course is no typical day, but it’s very quiet here in the morning. Within the HR department that’s when we get a lot of our planning work done. If we have projects that we’re working on, if we want to get together as a team and map out something that we need to tackle, we need to do that in the morning before it really starts to pick up. Once we hit about eleven a.m. we have more employees coming on. Shifts start at all different times, but we have a group that start coming in about ten, eleven a.m. The employees on the property starts to pick up, customers start to pick up. We usually have a big crowd of people here for lunch in our restaurants during the day, and then it just keeps growing throughout the day. All the activity grows during the day.


  One thing I’ve found is usually when it hits about three, four o’clock is it’s a mad dash to get stuff done. That’s when everybody’s here. That’s when employees are coming in. That’s when a lot of the managers are here, the department directors are here, when they need to get things done or we need to have a meeting or we need to solve a problem, it’s that time of day. Three p.m. to seven p.m. is like the key, everybody’s here. If we’re going to get together, plan something, work on something cross-departmentally, that’s the time to do it. Every day builds to that rhythm. As we get through the week by the time we’re hitting Thursday and Friday the pace to me just picks up during the week. There’s more things going on. There’s more activities. There’s more customers. The parking lot’s packed. That kind of picks up through the week. I’ve had to adjust my work style to that rhythm.


John Sumser: You’ve made this transition. You for a long time were an in house HR person. You went out on the open market. Now you’re back inside. Tell me about the journey.


Robin Schooling: There were so many things that I liked stepping out and working for myself. It was one of those things where if I hadn’t tried it I would always have wondered what if, what if? It allowed me to explore different things. It allowed me to challenge myself. It allowed me to realize what I was good at and what I could improve upon in terms of some personal development opportunities. I’m not ashamed to say I’m not the world’s greatest business development person. That was not necessarily my strong suit, but I needed to discover that for myself. It was nice to call the shots, but I missed being part of a team. I missed being part of a larger group and for a longer time. Getting a group of people together and just being a manager of people, having the opportunity to develop my HR staff and help them grow. I love doing that and having that opportunity to come back in house and work with people on my team and grow their HR skills. I miss that too. Now I’m glad to be back in that realm.


John Sumser: What do you miss about being outside of an organization, of being independent? What did you give up to get here?


Robin Schooling: I gave up the ability to speak my mind perhaps a little bit. I think the responsibility of being part of an organization of course is that you don’t tell tales out of school. There are lots of lessons that I’m learning and some operational things, not business secret type things, but how things work, how they don’t. I can’t necessarily go out and talk about those as freely as I felt that I could when I was on my own. I wasn’t representing a particular organization. I was representing myself. Some of the what are things that an organization should focus on or what are some leadership capabilities that are lacking in people? I don’t really feel comfortable talking about that because I think sometimes people would assume oh, she’s talking about her organization. I may not be, but I’m very cognizant of that. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m talking about my group. I miss that freedom.


John Sumser: Yeah, I bet. I’ll ask you a quick question that runs along those lines. There’s all sorts of interesting stuff that people keep wanting to invent in and around HR. It probably looks different when you’re outside than when you’re inside. I wonder if you could tell me of all of the hot topics that are out, what are the two or three things that are actually meaningful to you in an operational HR environment?


Robin Schooling: I think one of the things that I see that I wish there was more emphasis on was a little bit more of the unsexy, foundational, process-driven technology. I see the opportunity to make improvements in some of those areas. Everybody seems to want to go out and oh, let’s tackle the next big thing. Here’s whatever, touch point feedback surveys or is your workforce engaged? Every day have them chime in on this app or that sort of thing. From the in house, day to day, how do you run an HR department, I would like people to focus more on giving me solutions that make it easy from a workflow standpoint. Easily moving people, for example, from the ATS, through onboarding, through feeding right in to the HRIS payroll, all those sorts of things. That seems to be very cumbersome. I’d like something that’s a little easier to use. I’d like people to go in and optimize that. How do these things all connect to each other without a lot of need to sit on the backside and worry about it or customize it.


  I think that the other piece I would like to focus on is the understanding that not every organization needs to recruit tech workers, that there are a lot of us out here are hiring entry level or non-exempt hourly workers, maybe part-time positions. Not everybody is as tech skilled in their personal life and so we have a lot of problems … I wouldn’t say problems, but a lot of challenges sometimes for some of our candidates to successfully navigate systems. We have a huge hourly work force obviously. Probably about seventy, maybe eighty percent of our employees do not have work e-mail. They don’t have a desk. They don’t sit at a desk. They’re on the floor. They come in, they work, they leave. Finding easy ways to communicate with them is also a challenge. I’m trying to find different ways to do that in the easiest way possible. Not everybody even has e-mail. We run into people all the time that don’t necessarily have a personal e-mail address. They’re using a family member’s e-mail just to get through the application process.


John Sumser: How interesting. Would it be fair to characterize what you just said as you wish that there were more solutions to problems instead of great big new ideas?


Robin Schooling: Yes. I think the way to get at that is … I guess I see it happening a little bit more and more, but I wish that the solution providers would have conversations with their intended audience before they jump off the cliff and start to develop something. They develop something cause they think it’s going to make a splash or sell or oh, we can ride this out for a year and be on the tip of everybody’s tongue, but ultimately they’re not providing something that’s needed or that solves a problem. That’s because they design it without talking to people who would ultimately use it. I think that’s a stage of that design and development process that vendors would be well served to bring in an HR audience or the recruiters or whoever it is that they’re focusing on. Bring them in early before they design something that’s not even needed or wanted.


John Sumser: In a different conversation we should talk about whether or not that’s possible. I am of the opinion that HR isn’t really something. HR is different by region, and there’s a lot of regions, by size, by financial model, by workforce construction, and by industry. One of the flaws in current thing about HR is that there is a kind of generic way that you can do HR cause you’re problem set is not the same as the problem set of somebody who runs a heavy manufacturing operation in northern Minnesota, but they’re more similar than Google.


Robin Schooling: Exactly.


John Sumser: A product that works for Google may not work in your environment, but it’s really hard to tell that. If you had to design HR for all of the possible circumstances you’d never get a product in the marketplace. There’s this paradox here that’s awful that results in people being dissatisfied because the only way you can afford to build software is by assuming that HR is the same when it isn’t.


Robin Schooling: Right.


John Sumser: I don’t know how that one gets solved just yet. What it really means is that HR automation will be very expensive for small companies for some time to come. That’s joyful opportunity for people like you and me who want to help things work in specific cases rather than in big generalities. We have zoomed through our time together. What should I [crosstalk 00:26:31]?


Robin Schooling: We have.


John Sumser: It’s been great.


Robin Schooling: I guess what you didn’t ask me but what I’d like to talk about are some of the things outside of the day to day that I’m working on. I should say this sort of goes back to what I mentioned about acclimating to the new pace and the new job and what the rhythm is and all of that. Once I kind of gotten that down somewhat I’m diving back into working with some outside groups and some outside entities. One of the groups that I’m fairly excited about is the HR open source group. I’m thrilled to be on the volunteer team working on the content side.


  I’m really excited about that group because I think it does get back, to some degree, some of the things we already talked about. It’s sharing information and yes to other HR professionals, but also to those who are in the space. It’s the vendors. It’s how can they learn what it’s like day-to-day. What I hope we do within that group is, as we dive into having more case studies and that sort of thing out on that site and being shared, I hope that we realize the need to do that for small and midsize companies too. They have a great story to tell too.


  I think having those conversations allows Sally the HR manager at a two hundred employee insurance agency, allows her to see yeah, I don’t just have to pay attention to what the Oracles and whoever else is doing on their HR team, but what is someone similarly sized or in the same industry doing as well. I think that’s where the opportunity is to let HR professionals know you can read and learn and you can maybe scale things down, but let’s also have the conversation amongst different types of organizations, different sized organizations. Don’t leave anybody out of that conversation. That’s where I hope to help take that group.


John Sumser: That’s great. I’m part of the fun there too. I think it’s a great idea. I do wonder if it’s possible to do what you’re talking about because the overhead associated with making crowd sourced insight accessible to a market as complex as the one that we operate in, it’s a capital intensive challenge and it’s not clear to [crosstalk 00:29:32] open source initiative gets and uses capital. That will unfold, the first thing is to get the momentum going so that you can see whether or not that problem is worth solving. I’m excited to be part of that. I’m glad you brought it up. It’s a great thing. With that, would you take a moment to re-introduce yourself and we’ll get going.


Robin Schooling: Sure. Robin Schooling, VP of HR at Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge. You can find me on Twitter and my website is just I love to connect with people so hope folks find me. I like to share information and make those connections. I think that’s part of what can make HR better is when we all talk about it together.


John Sumser: Great. Thanks for being on the show. Thanks for taking the time to do this. It’s been a real delight to have you and let’s do it again sometime soon.


Robin Schooling: Sounds wonderful.


John Sumser: Fantastic. You’ve been listening to HR Examiner radio. We’ve been talking with Robin Schooling who is maybe more than a part-time troublemaker, but she’s currently the VP of HR in Hollywood Casino and she is the current ringleader of the HR … What do you call that thing?


Robin Schooling: Carnival of HR.


John Sumser: Carnival of HR. I wanted to call it the HR circus for some reason. Google Carnival of HR and you’ll find some amazing stuff. Thanks so much, Robin. Have a great day everybody.


Robin Schooling: Thanks, John.

End transcript

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