Different Tangents Of Business Strategies – Laurie McCabe [Interview]
About Laurie McCabe
Laurie is the co-founder of the SMB group. She is a six-time small- business influencer awards winner. She has also been named among the top 200 thought leaders in big data and analytics by Analytics Week. Bringing with her a lot of experience from the IT industry, we would love to know more about her journey in the small and medium business industry.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Laurie today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick intro of peopleHum – peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with automation and AI technologies. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Welcome, Laurie. We’re thrilled to have you.
Oh, thank you so much, Ash. It’s great to be here and chat with you. It’s always a pleasure to get on a video conference. Just see other faces.
Absolutely. It’s our pleasure.
So the first question I have for you, Laurie was, if you could begin and tell us a little about the journey that brought you to the SMB group?
Yeah, sure. I’ve been thinking about that actually a lot lately, because my business partner and I, we started SNB Group and I think at the end of 2009 and we really started it as a result of at the time, the great recession. When all the stock markets crashed and the banks needed bailing out, people’s loans were all going belly up.
We both worked at different firms in the same capacity in market research and industry analysis, and we both got laid off as a lot of companies obviously were trimming staff, and at that time there weren’t a lot of people hiring, so we both freelanced a little bit, but at a certain point, we said, why don’t we just start our own business?
And so I think early 2010 is when we started and got it up and running and in a pretty negative economy at that point. But you know, in hindsight, now it’s turned out to be accidental entrepreneurship. But it’s really worked out well.
Well, that’s great. It’s always amazing to share that. You might start from a very low point, but as long as you’re kind of growing and you know the graph is going upwards, I think that is a great thing.
Yeah, I think you know What I’m thinking right now is that a lot of new businesses are gonna be born out of this horrible nightmare we’re all living through. These kinds of conditions will force some people to change and out of that a lot of new things will be born.
“These kinds of conditions will force some people to change and out of that a lot of new things will be born.”
So hopefully out of this horrible catastrophe, we’re gonna get some great new businesses and ideas. That’s maybe the upside of it.
Yeah! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Yeah, a good way to put it.
So, you know, I understand that you’re a lot into HR analytics and data.
So what do you think, how important the role is HR analytics playing today? And how’s it going to affect the world in the future?
Well, I think sadly, this whole crisis points to just how important both the analytics and flexible kinds of human resource tools are, you know? We just did a survey on the impact of this horrible virus on small-medium businesses. And just a few months ago, we had done another survey, and I think it was a quote, like 2/3 of SMB’s were kind of looking over to increase in the revenues, a good strong majority of them were looking forward to hiring employees and contractors.
Now we do this survey, which we conducted last week, and all that’s off the table. 75% anticipated revenues are gonna go down because of this virus, and probably by about 30% or more. A lot of businesses are already obviously cutting hours and that kind of thing. So I think it’s very important for businesses to have the analytics to understand, Well, if my goal is to survive this and come out, I don’t want to just be doing this as a short term major. I want to be able to use those analytics and data to figure out how to do it most strategically and make better decisions about maybe cutting hours versus laying off, furloughing versus laying off, contractors versus employees.
“If my goal is to survive this and come out, I don’t want to just be doing this as a short term major. I want to be able to use those analytics and data to figure out how to do it most strategically and make better decisions about maybe cutting hours versus laying off, furloughing versus laying off, contractors versus employees.”
Looking at all those things in a more fact-based way is very important. And then having the tools to flexibly administer whatever actions you’re taking now and then. Also, this will end to bring workers back on as the virus subsides and we plan for the interim phase when businesses are building back up slowly and then hopefully getting back to whatever this new normal’s gonna be, but at least a world without the virus being the only thing we think of every morning we get up.
Yes. Especially in these times, I think businesses will have to take a backseat. And they might have to change their business strategy and, when they have to change their business strategy, to look at employees and they’re gonna have to look at what is their future projection and how they’re gonna manage finances and all of that.
What do you think is the most important aspect of changing their business strategy? What is it that they should be focusing right now on?
Personally, I think I wrote a blog about this. I think the most important thing to do right now is focused on what’s the elephant in the room for everyone, which is this virus. Figure out how you can help your customers. Figure out what actions you can take that are meaningful in your community, whatever that might be.
If you’re a multinational company, your community is the world. But if you’re a small business in a small town or city, obviously you’re gonna have a different approach. But it’s not business as usual anymore. So your employees, your customers, your prospects, your suppliers, all of those things, I think it’s time to take a step back and realize that this is like a unique moment in history.
What I’m gonna do now is forever gonna impact my brand. So, for instance, that means we can all see this out here. I mean, you have a great company based in India itself and they have done an amazing job of putting together free offerings for companies, a lot of companies have, for different remote working tools and then you have examples like Uber, which I guess I just read this morning.
They cut off a lot of the drivers any kind of benefit that it had promised they would give them. And I just think All the actions companies take in this time really are going to be remembered long after.
“All the actions companies take in this time really are going to be remembered long after.”
So to me, the thing you need to do around is if you can stick through this, think about how you can help others because doing good now is gonna do good in the future.
Doing good for others now is going to help them. Maybe help a lot of your customers get through this and then we’ll do good for you and them later, maybe you play a small role in helping them and their business survive and in turn that’s gonna come back double in terms of the goodwill for your company.
And those customers that you were there for are gonna stick with you and they’re gonna let other people know that you were instrumental in helping them get through this.
Absolutely. I think a lot of people are going to watch these organizations like a hawk, and they’re gonna, kinda keep a tab on what they’re doing in these times of really being helpful.
It is really amazing because you hear these horror stories of people in Instacart or some of the Amazon workers not being given gloves and things like that until they went on strike or something. And then, you hear these other companies that just are trying to go above and beyond to try to provide what they can and obviously a small company can nowhere provide what Zoho can or Cisco, they’re giving a lot of security tools away. But, you know, if your company has a chance of getting through this, there may be one little tiny thing that you can do that’s gonna help, right?
Absolutely, I think everyone has something to offer. If you kind of, really dig in there you will give value to your customers. Maybe you will have to, you know, take a bit of a hit there but this will go a long way and you will build a lot of goodwill in that way, right.
Well, like, for example, we are a small company of SMB group, but we’ve decided to do the survey just mentioned about the impact of Covid-19 on SMB. We’re gonna give the e-book, the documents, the key findings of this survey because we think it’s the right thing to do. We think people really have to understand the impact of all this. So we can give away 100,000 Chrome books like Google is doing, I guess, to some rural schools in California. But this is one small thing that we can do.
Absolutely, We at peopleHum are also doing the same thing. We’re giving the platform for free for 90 days. Yeah, I think everyone has to do their part to survive this together and really flourish and help each other out, right?
So, you know, since you’re working with so many small businesses, the ones that are probably really struggling a lot, what is the advice that you give these companies to communicate effectively and to really kind of help in this situation? How would you advise them?
Well, I mean, there are different kinds of communications, right? So, you know, for small-medium businesses, obviously, you have your customers and prospects. You have your employees. You probably also may have a dependence on the businesses and some suppliers, so I think the main thing is to be open, transparent, and clear and follow through on your communication.
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You know, we just discussed pretty thoroughly how it’s important to kind of shift the way, the tone, the focus, and everything else of your communications. And the other thing, in addition to being very transparent and keeping everyone updated, is to make sure there’s room for dialogue. So by that I mean, and that again, that will be different for different constituents in your ecosystem. You’re only gonna be as good at communicating if you have a pulse on who you’re communicating with. So that means you need a dialogue, not just a megaphone to tell them we’re doing this, we’re doing that. Instead, tell them, How is this being perceived? What are you doing right? What are you doing wrong? Where can you make something better?
“You’re only gonna be as good at communicating if you have a pulse on who you’re communicating with. So that means you need a dialogue, not just a megaphone to tell them we’re doing this, we’re doing that.”
So I think now, more than ever. You know, listening ears on is gonna really be important to framing up every company’s communications.
And how do you think AI and automation can help in remote working? Do you think businesses are really adopting that right now or is this still a bit distant?
Well, you know what we say again in SMB. So we’re talking about companies from one employee to about 1000 employees. So it’s a very big kind of mix but even in a company with 1000 employees unless it’s a tech company, you probably don’t have a whole of expertise in all these new technologies. Right?
So what we’re finding is a lot of SMB’s are starting to use some of these capabilities like AI and machine learning but really especially the cloud solution vendors like yourself are embedding these capabilities into the applications they provide.
So I guess what I’m saying is the average small, medium businesses, especially right now they can’t figure out how to bolt that on to whatever else and use it in any kind of effective way. But if you have capabilities in the application like a very simple one for people to visualize, it’s expense hybridization, right?
So somebody does an expense report that automatically knows, okay, this is a restaurant. Well, nobody’s going to restaurants and hotels right now, but you know what I mean.
You know, the same thing with job candidates, so how can I use that to better understand if candidates are going to map with the best performing employees in specific roles of my business. So these capabilities can be really very valuable. And I think small-medium businesses, just like any business can very much benefit. But you’re not gonna be able to build this stuff themselves, they’re going to rely on vendors and HR and everything else to put this stuff in so they can do it.
Yes. So the example I love is Amazon. Well, you bought this. So you would like that? Well, Amazon is huge and they could develop that capability for themselves but now a lot of e-commerce applications that a small-medium business would use has this capability built-in. So if you have any commerce site, you know, you don’t have to think how do I offer a recommendation engine? You just take advantage of the recommendation engine that’s built with the AI and machine learning underneath.
And do you think after we get done with pandemic, would there be a sort of revolution or let’s say a wave where businesses really realize that remote working, while they were remote working the use of tech really helped them. And maybe that caused a splurge in the automation market or, you know, looking at analytics and data and then working and kind of strategising that way. Do you think there would be a wave coming in?
Yeah, absolutely. I do. I think that what we saw in surveys, you know, pre-COVID-19 is, a lot of small and medium businesses did allow for some remote working. But it was generally for a very small percentage of the workforce like 10% even 20% that might have done in a couple of days a week. Now we’re seeing from the survey, we just did, of course, businesses are blowing this out. You know, they’re having to accommodate remote working for all their employees if they’re not laying off.
And personally, what I think is gonna happen is, there’s gonna be hiccups. Like I don’t know, we were doing this on Zoom, but the Zoom bombing now a security problem, these are really hiccups. But I believe that we’re gonna learn that a lot of people can do a lot more work, a lot more effectively from home and not be strung out by the commuting times. We’re going to realize, hey, there are advantages to the environment because we’re not all getting in our cars every day to drive to work. And the other thing, I think that’s gonna happen. I think this is humanizing everyone, which is a good thing.
“I think this situation is humanizing everyone, which is a good thing.”
If I was talking to you on Zoom or anyone on a video conference six months ago, I think people felt like they had to have a very professional maybe have their blazer on and, you know, conveying the sense that I’m so professional.
Now I think we’re all seeing everybody’s houses. You know, cats, kids, whatever may be running back and forth through the screen. They had a call the other day. I completely missed the fact that I was supposed to get on this call if I wasn’t so heads down in a project. So I think that work at home is definitely going to be much more widespread after this.
What I do think is gonna be challenging though is the event industry. Obviously everybody’s canceled their events, and some companies have swapped in virtual events. I think this is gonna be a tough one. I don’t think a lot of events translate well to online. I think the whole part of the reason people go to an event is to meet, get to know people. It’s not like you and me, one on one.
Absolutely. But, you know, I did catch onto the humanizing bit. It’s a wonderful way of putting it, how you put it. You know actually, to be more human, you’re playing a part better at this moment.
I mean, even the whole camera thing. I know before this a lot of times and myself included, but a lot of people like I’m not turning my camera on. I just don’t feel like having to see myself there whatever I happen to look like today, but now it’s kind of like a way to connect, so maybe we don’t all feel like we have to look so put together and perfect all the time.
“I’m not turning my camera on. I just don’t feel like having to see myself there whatever I happen to look like today, but now it’s kind of like a way to connect, so maybe we don’t all feel like we have to look so put together and perfect all the time.”
Yeah, I’ve seen that too a lot of people are switching their cameras on just so they want to feel connected.
Yeah, absolutely! Although I know there’ll be a day when I’m in my pajamas. I have bad hair and I will not put my camera on if I don’t have to. But, you know, for the most part, I think most of us are a little more relaxed about that. I know even in personal life I had a virtual happy hour with three really good girlfriends the other day. One is like, yeah, washed my hair and other was like yeah look at my roof and so, yeah, maybe bringing back humanity is one little tiny silver lining of this horrible thing.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a one-time similar landing and I think because we get work into homes, our homes into work. We’re kind of in a comfortable spot with each other because, you know, it’s a very personal thing our homes are very personal. But if you’re getting that into work, it means that there is a kind of comfort level that I have with you when I talk to you even though I am at home, citing the level of comfort also has risen up and that’s a great thing.
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Yeah, I think the implication there for HR in managing people is big too, right? Because now if what we think will happen is that more and more people are going to just end up working from home a lot more regularly. I think there are a lot of implications for managers and for HR in terms of okay what kind of tools and techniques and approaches do I need to do a better job of managing people, making them more happy and productive in their jobs.
And even just measuring, you know, we still have this thing called Performance Management and it’s gonna be different. I mean, I know there’s still companies out there where managers sadly kind of look and see who’s in earliest and who left the latest, and that’s one employee even if they’re just kind of terrible at their job. So I think again these tools to foster cook collaboration and build employees’ skills and build employee engagement are gonna be different and critical.
Absolutely. And, you know, we at peopleHum, we’ve got something which is called performance-based hiring.
Do you believe in the concept of performance-based hiring and is it going to be relevant in the coming few months?
Oh! Yeah! I was mentioning that concept. Do you want to be able to model new hires on your best performers? No question. That’s extremely valuable and I think you’re right.
As more people do more of their work at home, it’ll probably be more important and the thing I’m kind of excited about is that I think it makes our job market more open. So, you know, you could hire the best person as opposed to the best person or maybe not even the best person in your town or in your city.
Absolutely. Yeah, that could be an advantage that you could really leverage. And I think you spoke about contractors so the workers who are on contracts, you know, the whole gig economy thing.
So are you a big believer in the gig economy? And if yes, how do we include them when they’re working remotely. And if any tools that can really help in being more inclusive about that.
Yeah, I mean, they are a big part of the workforce let’s take the gig workers like the Uber drivers and Instacart employees will put them in a separate area because that’s a different thing. I think you’re talking about if you run, let’s say an ad agency and you have some creative people that are contractors, right? How do you bring them in?
Well again, because they’re not full-time employees,
- You need to be able to have your HR system, manage all accounting for them differently, so that’s very important.
- Because they’re not full-time employees, your company may not be the only company they’re doing work for and they’re not gonna be as inoculated with your company, value, missions, practices, everything else.
So you have to have a different way to onboard them and get them up to speed and what they need to really understand. Then, of course, it goes without saying that you need the tools to be able to clearly outline the expectations of what they need to do, monitor them, have the interactions, and the dialogues that you need to ensure that they’re collaborating with whoever they need to collaborate easily and get the work done.
So it is a little different. I mean, it’s not just like Oh, well, they can join our online meeting and we can talk and we can always Slack’. I think you have to be cognizant that unless they’re working for you full time, you’re not their only client, and you have to have a different way to get them up to speed and onboard.
“I think you have to be cognizant that unless the gig workers aren’t working for you full time, you’re not their only client, and you have to have a different way to get them up to speed and onboard.”
You know, somebody was saying, I don’t know if it’s true, but, like a third of the people that do work for Google are contractors. So we all use contractors.
Not everyone, but most companies use contractors and for the flexibility like we don’t need a full-time design person. We don’t need a full-time copy editor, but we need design people, we need copy editors so we rely on contractors to do this, and it’s important to have the process and the collaborative tools in place so you can do that easily.
And do you think, when you consider HR platforms, what kind of analytics and data do these companies really look for, the small-medium enterprises?
Well, it really depends honestly on the low end and there’s many, many small businesses that don’t use HR, right? Just typically use payroll or something like that.
I think what happens is if companies grow to a certain size, they have more to manage, of course, and more employees, you know, all the associated things with them, for the whole employee life cycle from onboarding to any kind of termination of employees or whether they leave voluntarily or whatever.
I think most companies realize it’s really tough to do this all manually, and that’s when they start saying, ‘how do I do this in a more automated way?’ The most important capabilities definitely vary by company and by the situation.
So, yeah, just a few months ago hiring, finding candidates, it’s like a big thing. And then onboarding them, it’s really important. But I think it really depends on the company and again, it’s like another thing if you have a company with a lot of knowledge workers, the things you may want to do and performance management may be critical for you.
Whereas if you’re a hands-on business like a restaurant chain? The manager in that restaurant probably knows okay, these are the staff, they’re pulling your weight because I’m seeing them here every day, and these are the ones that clearly aren’t.
Great. Yeah, it makes sense. It depends on the company, depends on the use case, that depends on what is that aspect that is most important,
Right. Sadly, I’m sure a lot of these companies and no one could have guessed this, a lot of these companies in the U.S would love to have something where they could take advantage of these government programs if they are getting. They can keep employees on the payroll, you’re getting money to keep them on the payroll.
And I’m sure none of them right now or very few of them have any kind of methodology in place so they can kind of look at all this and allocate it, analyze it and make the right decisions about how much of this they should be doing, right? Probably no one does. Because no one could have predicted this.
Absolutely! And you know, just the last question that I had for you.
If you have any interesting sound bites that you like, you know, to leave our viewers with.
Well, I guess I don’t know if I have a sound bite. I guess I would just say, this too shall pass. It’s horrible but while we’re still in it Humanity, being kind, is the most important thing whether you’re an individual or a company.
“Humanity, being kind, is the most important thing whether you’re an individual or a company.”
So I think if we can all do that and, of course, follow all the guidelines about how to stay safe, that’s very important too. But in the meantime, there’s something nice you could do for somebody whether it’s a business or personal thing, just do it. Just do it. You’re never gonna regret that. You may regret not to.
Yeah, just help people and be kind and be nice to them. I think all of us need that. And thank you so much for that wonderful message. I think a lot of us will definitely benefit from what you just spoke about. It was wonderful talking to you Laurie and I had a great time. Thank you so much for sharing your views.
Thank you, Ash. It was a pleasure to speak with you and get to know peopleHum a little bit.
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