The cavnessHR podcast – An interview with students from Pacific Lutheran University
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Jason: Hello, and welcome to the cavnessHR Podcast. I’m your host, Jason Cavness. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Audible. Get a free audiobook download and a 30-day trial at www.audiotrial.com/cavnessHR. Audible has over 180,000 titles to choose from for iPhone, Android, Kindle and MP3 player. So, on today's episode we’re doing something a little different. Usually, I’m the one interviewing people. But today, we have five students from the Pacific Lutheran University HR Department that’s going to interview me today. So let’s hand it over to them.
Student: Yeah, how’s it going, Jason? This is James here – a senior at PLU. Just to start it off, what is your background in career history in HR, and also, do you have an HR degree?
Jason: I have a Bachelor's in Political Science and a Masters in Human Relations. My background in HR, it’s actually a funny story. I joined the Army, took the ASVAB test, and it came down to two choices. I could repair parachutes or I could do HR. So the beauty of HR was like inside, nice weather, I saw it that way and I’ve been in HR ever since.
Student: Hi, Jason. My name’s Ally and I’m a senior at PLU as well. So going off about what have been some of the key moments or decisions that have gotten you into this particular career?
Jason: I think, with HR – with pretty much any career – you can’t be scared. You have to make that decision. The biggest lesson is you have to surround yourself with great people. If you have people that are going to take care of you, you’ve got to take care of them, and vice versa. So a little story – so when Jimmy Johnson, the coach of the Cowboys, a long time ago. There's a team meeting and when one of the players fell asleep (was just like an average player), and so Johnson cut him on the spot. They asked him a question on the news conference, “well, what would you do if Troy Aikman fell asleep?” He said, “well I’d go get a pillow and make sure he’s comfortable.” So I took from that, take care of your superstars and let go of your subpar performers at the first opportunity.
Student: Hey, Jason. Ian Chambers here. So how would you describe the role of HR in your organization?
Jason: So, for me, I’m an HR tech startup and so we’re starting off. So I’ll answer that question from a corporate standpoint. So from my viewpoint, HR has many things and many roles. You have to take care of the executives, of the other business partners, the employees of the company, and customers of the company, and also do compliance. So I like to call it the five-legged stool, so to speak. Of course, you can't take care of all that stuff equally at the same time. You've got to learn how your organization works and be able to balance that. Sometimes, you’ve got to prioritize what your boss wants; sometimes, compliance. You just have to have a good relationship with your boss to handle all that stuff.
Student: Hi, Jason. I’m a senior student at PLU also. To what extent is HR involved in the business’s strategic planning?
Jason: Usually, very involved. But, unfortunately, I think we all know that’s sometimes not true. Some people say, “HR, take your seat at the table.” Well, the truth is, some organizations don’t let you take a seat at the table; and then, honestly, some of these HR people don’t want to take a seat at the table. That’s something I call the old and new HR – the old HR is the HR of “no,” the HR of “I’ve always done it this way,” administrative. The new HR is more like trying to, not enforce their ways, but integrate their ways into the business. When you think about any business you have, it’s about people. So wouldn’t you want your people experts be at the table, so to speak.
Student: Hi, Jason. I’m Jess, I’m a senior at PLU. Can you describe your role in your organization?
Jason: So my role is I'm the CEO and Founder of the organization. It’s a HR tech startup. There’s 7200 competitors doing what we do, in the United States. From one-person consultants to big corporations like ADP and Paychex. Most days, those one person consultants have about 5 to 6 customers and they take a whole lot of money. Our company is unlike other HR companies in that we want to use technology to deliver HR. So our philosophy is, instead of me going to your place of business to tell you how to do something HR related. We could do it over the internet or the phone. Set up Amazon Web Buckets or some other type of tech.
Student: Jason, another question we have is: what would you say is the most important aspect of your job? Also, what is a typical day for you at SurgeTacoma?
Jason: So, it’s pretty much like playing Whack-A-Mole every day. Everything comes up, it’s different things. I’m doing sales one day, then it’s marketing, then one day podcasting. The biggest thing is learning – you have to learn something new every day – and networking. You have to meet at least one new person every day that can spread the message of your company.
Student: Jason, when you’re consulting and implementing HR for business, what are the key areas you focus on? I know you talked about that five-legged stool. But what are the important pieces you want to establish?
Jason: So, for my company, we focus on HR laws, employee handbooks, HR policy; basically, all the compliance – the label posters, the job descriptions and compensation is what we’re doing right now. In the startup, we’re doing like a Minimum Valuable Product. (MVP) so we really can’t do all the HR stuff. So we just take those things, try to validate that and then move on if we can find a market for those things.
Student: So, Jason, what would your ideal HR department look like?
Jason: Well, everyone would have a lot of autonomy. Because when you hire somebody you should trust that they know what they’re doing. Plus, it depends on what organization you’re in. If you’re in a nuclear plant organization. It’s going to be a lot of safety stuffB ut if you’re in an HR company, that doesn’t really matter, I think. Just a lot of autonomy, people willing to learn, people that are willing to find a way to say “yes.” Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s things you have to say “no” based on laws and everything. But a good HR person should be able to say, “hey, you can’t do that, but maybe you can do it this way.”
Student: How does your firm actively engage or motivate employees?
Jason: So, one thing we do different is we try to be a remote company. So my philosophy is, I don’t have to look at you from 9:00 to 5:00 every day to make sure you’re doing your job. I don’t care if you do it at 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon, as long as it’s done. So I’ve given you enough flexibility. But, of course, it’s good in being in the same place every once in a while, too. So trying to find that balance. But, having said that, some people can't handle that. I have a friend who’s in Seattle and he said some people, like senior developers and people that can’t handle it because there’s just too much freedom for them. So it’s definitely not for everyone.
Student: In your experience, have you ever had to implement any change, and how did you do it?
Jason: Yes, several times. So, being in the Army, you change all the time. The big thing with change, you’ve got to realize no one likes change. I read somewhere that somebody said, “we’re all for change as long as it doesn’t affect us.” The main thing is to be upfront and communicate it. The big thing, too, is you have to make sure your higher-ups are communicating it, too. You can’t say, “my boss wants this,” and your boss didn’t say anything. They’re going to blow you off. You have to make it seem as seamless as possible for them.
Student: How do you increase the sense of urgency in the workplace?
Jason: Well that is a great question. A lot of people tell HR, “we’ll do it later.” Sometimes, it comes down to getting the boss involved. A lot of corporations and organizations, they blow off HR. They blow off other items. Sometimes you have to get the boss involved. Plus, it comes down to people. Because if you’re an HR person, and all you do is stay in the office all day. You’re not going to be walking around. Suppose you’re HR at a seafood plant. You have to go walk around, go to the production line. Talk to people, get to know them and actually build a relationship with them.
Student: So I'm sure you've come across a variety of different things with different companies you work with. What are some HR problems that you’ve had to deal with that stuck out to you?
Jason: One part is that a lot of employees think that HR is for them – and it’s not really for them. I mean, when you think about it, who pays the HR person? The company does. Some employees always think that HR is like that hatchet man. Oh, HR wants me to see him, they must want to fire me.” That’s a problem. In a lot of the businesses, HR is not invested in the organization and they don’t let the organization know what they can provide for them. Because a lot of times, you only hear from HR when it’s something bad like, “oh, our benefit cost is going up.” Like, I worked at Trident Seafoods, and if something was good, the higher-ups would always say it, when it’s something bad, I’d get to do it.
Student: So, Jason, how many sub-members are currently a part of the cavnessHR?
Jason: So, it’s myself, I have a Chief Technical Officer, Jeff Mccoy, he's in San Jose, Gavin Thomas - Developer, Adrian Kenepah - UX Designer, Crystal Jones - Developer, Juan Chavez who’s doing Cybersecurity.
Student: So, when hiring new staff members, what are the strategies that you use?
Jason: So one thing I do is I google them on social media and that kind of stuff. My thing is, I don’t really care what you do on Facebook. But if you have stuff that shouldn’t be on there and you’re not smart enough to make your Facebook private, to me, that’s a red flag. And just how people learn and move and take risks and stuff.
Student: So, Jason, what is the recruitment and selection process like when hiring employees?
Jason: So, for me, when cavnessHR started, I had no money, so I couldn’t pay anybody. I could get people equity to the company. But I'd tell people that's the same as my telling you, “hey, see that rainbow, that pot of gold, that’s all yours, baby.” But a lot of people like working with startups because it gives you a chance to work with a company from the ground up. That’s a great experience. So, like me, I recruit in colleges like yours. I recruit at different networking events, coding academies. There’s a site called www.angelist.com; it’s like the LinkedIn for startups, I go to their meetings and stuff like that.
Student: How do you identify how a potential future employee will fit in your organization?
Jason: That’s an interesting point. So I just talked to someone by the name of Steven Matly. https://www.linkedin.com/in/smdiversity/ He has a recruiting firm up in Seattle and he said something and I really agree with it. I think we really need to get away from the culture fit. Because every time I hear the words I cringe, to me, that’s like when you say, “you don’t fit, you’re not one of our kind.” We need to go on more shared values. Because how many times have you seen there’s a company like, let’s say, all white males, they drink beer. The Brogrammer philosophy. So I try to go more on shared values. So one thing I’m going to do is, what I have on my website I have the values of cavnessHR. What I’ll ask them when they come in is, “hey, hopefully you’ve looked at our website, of the values, which ones do you like. Which ones reach you the most and which ones do you share with us?” If they can’t answer that. I’ll be able to tell, well, I’m not going to waste your time. Because I’m not going to hire you, you can’t even look up our values on the website.
Student: Alright. Well, I think that’s all that I have for you.
Jason: Any follow-up questions or anything?
Student: So, Jason, how’s the company doing?
Jason: It’s doing well. It’s never as fast as you want it to go.
Student: What piece of advice would you give to HR professionals entering the workforce?
Jason: I mean, just network. You’ve got to meet people. One thing, there’s so many HR people that meet people like hiring managers. Suppose you want to work at Amazon. Don’t just talk to the HR people. Talk to the people in Amazon who are actually hiring. Go to Chamber of Commerce meetings, meetups – just put your name out there. Start a blog. Another thing that’s important, a lot of people don’t know how important personal brand is; People are going to Google you and search you. What if you search Jason Cavness and it’s like crickets? But you’ve got that Jason Cavness has a blog, Twitter. I’m sure you’re all members of SHRM – you all have Twitter accounts? So, on Twitter, every Wednesday at noon, our time, SHRM has this thing called #NextChat. All the HR professionals get to go over 8 questions and you get answers to them in dialogue and stuff. I’ve made so many connections on that. Another thing, too, people want to help you out, you’ve just got to ask.
Student: One last question. So, I’m sure your work day is very, day to day, typically, they don’t all run the same. But in your opinion, what would one of your typical work days look like?
Jason: So, like today, I got up at 4:00 in the morning and did my podcast, did that for a couple hours because you’ve got to post it and all the editing. Then I had a meeting at 10:00 and another one at 1:00. It just depends, it varies. Somehow, it’s worked out where I get lights days on Wednesdays and Thursdays. and I still work 8/9 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. People ask me, “well, what do you do for fun?” I work. “What do you do on vacation?” I work. “What’s your hobby?” I work. That’s just how it is for now.
Student: So what’s the best part about having a startup?
Jason: You have to have a passion for it. So if you say you want to start your own business to make money, you’re going to burn out. In my mind, I want to do HR for all companies in the United States that’s under 50 people. I just have a passion for that.
Student: So I think that’s all we’ve got.
Jason: Thank you very much.
Students: Thank you.
Jason: To our listeners, if you have some career advice for these five great HR professionals who are entering the job market this summer. Or, better yet, if you're hiring, contact me on social media and I will connect you with them. Thank you for your time and remember to be great every day.
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