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CWC 25: Patrick Rogan on HR for small-to-midsize agencies

Patrick Rogan of Ignition HR joins to discuss how small and midsize agencies can meet their human resources needs with a combination of vendors, consultants, and in-house staff.

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Patrick Rogan of Ignition HR joins to discuss how small and midsize agencies can meet their human resources needs with a combination of vendors, consultants, and in-house staff.

We explore when an agency needs to think about having in-house HR support and how part-time, fractional, and interim external resources can help.

Patrick also discusses why a good human resources function can help agencies perform better — and why ignoring it can introduce unnecessary risks.

Automated Transcript

The following is an automated transcript. Please review audio for accuracy before quoting.

CHIP GRIFFIN: Hello and welcome to another episode of chats with chip podcast. I am your host, Chip Griffin, and my guest today is Patrick Rogan with ignition hr. Welcome to the show, Patrick. Happy to be here. It is great to have you back on the show. I know we’ve, we’ve chatted previously about acquiring and retaining top talent for your agency, but today I thought we’d dive more into the operational side of hr because I think that’s something that a lot of agencies a struggle to get right for one reason or another. But before we do that, why don’t you, uh, give the listeners a little bit of background on ignition hr?

PATRICK ROGAN: Yeah, sure. So, um, I started this organization three years ago. Hard to believe that much time has passed. I’m worked with about a dozen companies and what I basically do is I help small to midsize organizations, organizations enjoy the same people related systems, processes and tools that larger organizations shoots. I just Kinda scale it down a bit. So a lot of my work is in the operations area, heavily focused on the talent side, but I pretty much covered it. Soup to nuts

CHIP GRIFFIN: and in the interest of full disclosure, I have used you in the past, uh, for some of my work and you’ve been very helpful as a consultant for that and of course we worked together in the past as well for an agency. So we’ve got some, some long history here, uh, working on these kinds of his together and so it’s always great to get your perspective of thing. Sure, sure. So let’s, I mean, let’s start with the sort of, the key question is, you know, you talked about uh, how, you know, large organizations obviously have certain capabilities that small and medium ones don’t. How do you know that it’s time to have your own internal hr operation versus using part time work consultants, contractors, outsourcing, all of the different things that we’ll talk about as option or the small to mid size guys. What’s that break point? Is it, is it by employees? Is it by revenue? Is that what guideline would you,

PATRICK ROGAN: you know, I would say, you know, once you are in a position where my, my sweet spot for the work that I do is organizations between 50 and 200 employees, but I also work with organizations you as small as 10 or 12 who are in the position where they expect there’s going to be some significant growth in the future. So about about half of my clients are forward looking so either they’re small or growing or a midsize and they want to shore things up a bit. I’m the other half of my clients are in typically the same size range, but instead their motivation is maybe because some bad things have happened and they don’t want to continue to happen and they realized from that perspective that they need to get things to a better place number, right? About 50 50.

CHIP GRIFFIN: Well, I mean that does seem to be where a lot of organizations end up turning for outside help. It’s when something has gone wrong and so that’s when they decide, okay, I need to get an outside accountant, hr consultant, legal advisor, whatever. As opposed to being proactive, but folks will see most of the benefit when they’re. Or they’ll see the biggest benefit when they’re proactive because hopefully that heads off or at least minimized as some of bad events.

PATRICK ROGAN: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And usually when something has gone wrong, it’s something not horrible, you know, maybe um, there’s an employee relations performance issue or maybe there is a termination issue or maybe there’s a, maybe I’m not hiring the right kind of talent issue. And then that invites the question, well wait a minute, maybe there are other areas I need to be thinking about on the people side too. I need someone to help me with this. And then it just kind of grows from there.

CHIP GRIFFIN: Right. Now. So are most of your clients have a full time hr person in house, a part time person or is it just another manager who happens to have hr responsibilities?

PATRICK ROGAN: So most of them are, are at the point where typically they’ll have someone who has some hr responsibilities, but then they do other things as well too. So maybe they have a role in marketing or operations or finance. So that’s the typical, you know, as in growing an organization, particularly until your large, you want to maximize roles for multiple uses is as best you can. So usually there someone who has some familiarity with the hr piece but it’s usually not their primary focus.

CHIP GRIFFIN: Right. And, and so do you think it’s, is it sort of at the higher end of your, your sweet spot if you will, your 50 to 200 employee customer base? Is it, is it, is it at the high end where they would typically have a full time in house hr person or you know, is that somewhere in the middle of where does that full time personally start to show up and they’re doing nothing?

PATRICK ROGAN: You know, that number usually hits right about right about it. 70. Um, you know, in, you know, in larger organizations, kind of your rule of thumb is one hr person per 100 employees when you’re efficient and everything’s just like moving right along. But in a growing organization, you know, you don’t want to spread your hr person typically quite that. Then. So 70 is kind of a kind of the magical number when you typically want to have a full time hr person on staff and then the, you know, the larger organizations I work with typically I’m somewhat familiar with the HR space, they kind of have some systems, tools and processes, but usually the first conversation with them as well, can you just do like an audit, just kind of take a look at where we are from a soup to nuts perspective from recruiting, performance management, benefits, employee relations, you know, those kinds of things, organizational design and kind of give us your thoughts on the organization and you know in some cases the result of that, it’s usually about a three to four week process. Sometimes the result of that is, you know what things look pretty good. I don’t actually recommend you change very much. And other times it’s like you know, these, these parts are working well, these parts probably could use a little bit of work and if you want some help there we can, we can help you in that capacity as well too. So in the larger organizations, that’s typically how it starts and flows from there

CHIP GRIFFIN: and so you know, when you tend to work with an organization that’s got the, you know, let’s assume someone’s at least part time responsible for hr. So I guess technically even once you’ve got one employee, you got someone who has to be responsible for, for her, but you know, because you’re going to have hr issues that come up even with a single employee, it just hopefully a lot less frequent, unless something’s really wrong, in which case you probably need to change who the employee is. But as you’re, as you’re working with them, are there areas that you find most organizations are turning to you or another outside consultant to help them on that, that maybe is not as easily done by someone part time in house? I mean, what kinds of things do you layer on top of that in house admin slash hr for sure.

PATRICK ROGAN: Yeah. So, so what, what I’ll do is I’ll kind of take a look at, um, what I call them, big buckets. So one would be recruiting, you know, finding the right talent, selecting the right talent, making sure that the staff that they’re bringing on board are both of fit technically, uh, in terms of what skills they specifically have to bring to the table, but are also a fit for the organization. So that’s a whole big area that includes, you know, the recruiting system, applicant tracking system, um, that, that they might want to consider. I’m training for managers so that they can ask the right probing questions and followup questions. I’m helping them understand how the whole offer process should work, um, and just kind of tightening up sort of what typically is done on sort of a loosey goosey basis and smaller organizations just kind of tidying it up from a quality and process perspective.

PATRICK ROGAN: Um, so that’s one, that’s one bucket. Another bucket is the whole performance management area. So how do we communicate to staff both the things that are doing very well as well as the areas that they could be done better. We all have both of those areas. Um, and how do we systematize that so that it’s a little bit easier for managers to have a regular interval conversations with employees as opposed to, you know, what I typically see is a one time a year conversation that happens right before a, if it’s a organization that pays bonuses right before bonuses go out and you know, there’s usually some salary component that comes with that. And then next year, 365 days later, there was a second conversation and will help organizations take that to be more of a regular conversation process that happens throughout the year. Um, the whole employee engagement areas.

PATRICK ROGAN: Another big bucket, um, typically, um, I’ll talk about benefits in a second, but typically employee engagement I’d like to cover first because there’s an output that impacts benefits. So I’m a big fan even in smaller organizations, uh, in, in reaching out to staff to figure out, well, what, what do they feel is working and not working within the organization. So employee engagements surveys can be a great tool to kind of find that out. I’m working with the organization to find out, well, do, how are we aligning our teams together? How are we motivating our employees, how engaged are they? Those are kind of key pieces of information so that when we take the next step and look at, well, what’s the cost to the organization and the benefits? I’m not talking just health insurance, but I’m short term disability, long term disability, what are. What are the options that are available in terms of benefits to offer employees, but before we talk about all those options and the amount of holiday pay and sick leave and all those things, it’s best to have asked the employees ahead of time what do you. What is it you want? Right? And that way when we look at the benefits that the organization is going to provide that costs hard dollars, we can make sure that those dollars are being spent on things that have value to employees. So many times I go into organization that it’s kind of for something out there, what we think we should do, this, that and the other and find out maybe half of them. The employees really appreciate and value and the other they don’t, but yet they all cost money. So those are

CHIP GRIFFIN: last fall and a lot of times there’s a lot of times in my experience with benefits, they end up sort of being almost on autopilot. Right? So an organization sets up their, you know, their overall benefits package, whether that’s, you know, things like insurance or policies and all that. And then they’re like, okay, I’m done with that. I don’t need to ever think about that again. And, and I think you’ve made a great point there because you know, as the organization grows and evolves and frankly a society grows and evolves and you know, the outside factors change, you know, it may be appropriate to look at, at how you’re assembling your overall benefit structure and thinking about it from the point of view of, you know, as you say, you know, what are the employees looking for? What are the things that are driving them, what will help you retain the best talent that you can.

CHIP GRIFFIN: And if you, if you’re thinking about it more proactively rather than, you know, the only time you look at health insurances when you get a big price increase from your broker and you’re like, oh, well, okay, now what about that? Right. Because that’s, I mean usually I’m, and I’ve been guilty of this in, in, in many of my companies over the years, you know, the, you get the health insurance quote from the broker for the same kind of package year over year of the price doesn’t look that bad. Okay fine. We’ll just stick with it. You know, you don’t really put any time into thinking about, you know, are there other tweaks we can make? Can we tweak a vision or dental or something like that that, you know, maybe the employees are really interested in would cost your short dollars to add and a and has value. So I think what you’re touching on, you know, sort of that being more responsive to employees and making sure that you’re consistently looking at the benefit is an important part of putting together a good hr pro.

PATRICK ROGAN: I totally agree. And it. And it really helps the organization figure out from an Roi perspective. I mean, we pay a fortune for benefits, right? I mean they’re, they’re just there for every order that for every people oriented organization benefits or like one of your key cost areas that you’re going to have your ever year and for having sex, let’s make sure that, you know, if there’s a particular health plan, if there was a particular vendors that are, you know, is, you know, dental really important, you know, to the employees as vision care or something that people just don’t have it. It’s like something that just really annoys people. Then if we know that ahead of time, then Gosh, when are I perspective, you know, we can just nail it and that’s uh, and you know, if we can have an impact on employees lives, even though it doesn’t, you know, touch what they do in the office everyday, sort of. It can have an impact right? Then that can be really, really beneficial.

CHIP GRIFFIN: Well, I think, I think getting the feedback from employees that can be particularly helpful now with more organizations being dispersed geographically, you know, whether that’s because you may be, you’re, you’re running a virtual organization or you’ve got some people who don’t work in an officer, you’ve got multiple offices, uh, you know, things like healthcare, you can have a very different experience in one region versus another with the same plan. And that’s the kind of thing that may not be immediately obvious to, you know, the owner or whomever is making the choice, right? Because typically the, the plan will be tied to headquarters even though it may be being used elsewhere. And if you’re not understanding, well gees, this is a great plan if you live in New Hampshire, but if you live in New York, not so much, the choices aren’t as good. Uh, you know, if you’re not getting that kind of feedback from your employees, then you’re, you’re essentially a sticking a thumb in their eye every time they have to go deal with a, a doctor or whatever. And so, you know, the, the, the importance of coming up with a good benefits package. You really can’t overlook that as far as retaining talent. You know, if, if the employee or the employee’s spouse is complaining every time they go to the doctor that the healthcare is difficult to use, you know, that’s going to wear down and caused that employee probably just start looking sooner than they might otherwise.

PATRICK ROGAN: Absolutely. And it can be one of those little things you don’t really think about. You just, you’re moving right along. We’re taking care of clients, everything’s working. I assume everything’s fine, but underneath a layer two there, you may not even know it’s an issue. One thing I also wanted to mention ship in terms of, you know, the value of getting employees opinion. Certainly it helps with these kinds of decisions. Um, and I, and I think that’s really important, but another value that people don’t think about, the simple process of asking an employee’s opinion has a huge return from a general morale perspective. Think about it from the employee’s perspective. You think enough about me to ask me what I value in terms of what you’re providing to me. Just the fact that you asked me as an employee, I’m like, I’m impressed by that. It’s a simple little thing, but it had. It’s blown me away and the responses that I’ve gotten over the years that I’ve been doing these surveys so many times, the first response, you know, in a followup conversation with them is like, Hey, by the way, thanks so much for asking. I really, really appreciate that. So that’s another benefit. You can’t put dollars around it, but uh, but it certainly has an impact that I’ve definitely noticed that over the years.

CHIP GRIFFIN: And there are, you know, I think there’s, there’s a number of things like that that, you know, making the employees feel like they’re part of a process can be really important and obviously making them actually part of the process is even better. But yeah, things like, and, and you and I have talked over the years, you know, I am not a big fan of performance reviews. I think that if you’re, if you’ve got a good manager, employee relationship, you know, everything in a performance review should be already known to both sides, right? Because there should be a good line of communication that said, in my experience that for going performance reviews is not appreciated by the employee because they like having, particularly millennials, they like having that opportunity to have feedback and talk about things. So even though I’m not a fan of them, I think that they are an important element and so you, you do them for that engagement with our employee value and, and their perception of it. Anything else? So, you know, certainly the, the employee survey goes into the same bucket. Excepted. The employee survey I think is much more likely to uncover hidden things that you may not even have realized were issues or may uncover opportunities where, you know, you can make slight tweaks to things and really get a positive benefit or employee base.

PATRICK ROGAN: Jay, you were, were, uh, I think birds of a feather chip in terms of a performance management. I’ve worked over the years with some ridiculously complicated systems and um, you know, kind of just felt the frustrations and the organization. I find that the best performance management systems tend to be the simplest ones. And I think, I think there’s some great products out there. Um, I think there are some great tools that really help, but what’s important, I’m like you just said is it’s, it’s the, it’s the conversation that happens and the frequency of the conversations between managers, employees. I’ve always said that if the conversations happen and there’s clarity between the manager and the employee in terms of what the expectations are, what’s working and what needs to be improved and if all that’s documented on the back of a cocktail Napkin, then from my perspective that success.

PATRICK ROGAN: I’m not very expensive. I’m not suggesting it’d be done in a bar, but I do think that um, that’s, that’s it. That’s the driver. That’s what needs to be done. And if there was a tool that facilitates that conversation happening, then I’m all for it. I was just hope it’s not too complicated. And, you know, sometimes over the years we’ve kind of ever done it a little bit from competencies and those kinds of things. Not that I don’t feel they can have their place, but, uh, but I do think the less complex the better. I think we’re, we’re pretty similar in that regard.

CHIP GRIFFIN: Yeah. I mean, to me it just, it all comes down to making sure that you’ve got open lines of, of honest communication, um, between employee and employer. And that’s, that tends to be how you see the best results. But, you know, as I said, sometimes you need to have the process there too, just to make people feel like they’re, it, it’s it, it’s being taken seriously. Right, right, right. Yeah. But, you know, keep it simple. Stupid is always great advice. And particularly in that area, it’s like you, I have seen some incredibly convoluted a view system and they tend to add absolutely no value and occasionally actually I think a rub salt in the wound of, of existing problems. So better to keep it simple. Um, you know, one of the, the other areas that I think, you know, working with an outside hr advisor can be helpful on is in minimizing legal costs and not that, you know, I don’t have great friends who are lawyers and you know, I’ve, I’ve dealt with a lot of good ones over the years, but they do tend to be fairly expensive.

CHIP GRIFFIN: And so, you know, one of the things that I’ve found is, is working with a good hr advisor, you’re able to even, even though they are not typically lawyers, you’re able to short circuit, um, bad things from happening, which keeps you away from the lawyers, but also in, in many cases, uh, you know, a good hr advisor can give you solid advice right up to the line of being glib advice, um, that perhaps makes it such that you don’t have to go exorbitant hourly rates. That employment there is like the charge days, uh, is, is, is that a fair perspective? And if so, how would you advise people on, on where to draw the line on, on when to use them?

PATRICK ROGAN: Hr Advisor? Yeah. I, I, you know, I, I do think it is important in, in all of the clients that I work with, I have, I’m very careful to make sure that there’s clarity in terms of what I can provide them from an hr perspective and what an attorney can provide either from a business liability perspective or an employment law perspective. And, you know, a good, a good example of that would be, um, earlier this morning I was talking with the, um, the head of an organization that I work with and they’re outside employment and attorney and the topic of the conversation was, um, they wanted unimproved employee handbook. Um, I’ve been working with this organization for about three months now and you know, I’ve reviewed their existing employee handbook and clearly was written by attorneys. It was written probably for a organization and it just didn’t fit this organization and half of.

PATRICK ROGAN: But I didn’t understand what it was. And I’ve read tons of employee handbooks. Uh, and uh, and I was just kind of like, wait a minute, you guys need to Redo this. So, you know, I was working with the leadership team. I said, well, listen, you know, there’s a piece of this that needs to be reviewed and there needs to be input from the outside attorney for that piece, but what I recommend is let me take this existing document and um, and make it understandable to your average employee. Make it something that you could potentially use as a sales process and recruiting and employee, oh, by the way, these are the rights and responsibilities you would have in our organization. And then after I do that, then let’s take that document and have our outside attorney review that and make sure that it’s current for existing laws and in your particular geography, make sure that you have the protections that you need as a business because the attorney is going to be much more attuned to that than I am.

PATRICK ROGAN: And Oh, by the way, we’ll make sure that the document still readable at the end of the day and understandable. And I think it was a perfect example of, you know, kind of the intersection between the HR and legal profession where we can kind of work in concert together. For most of my clients right now, most of my clients are between 70 and 150 employees. I don’t talk with our outside attorney every single week, but not a month goes by. What? I don’t at least have a couple of conversations just to making sure we have everything on the straight and narrow.

CHIP GRIFFIN: Yeah, I think that’s, that’s great advice. And I think that the employee handbook is a, is a great example as well because I think too many organizations allow the lawyers to have too heavy a hand in the employer, in the employee handbook and they don’t understand that this is, that this is a document that, you know, while we as managers may not think about it as much, employees will often go there to get answers. Um, so that they don’t have to ask a manager. Right. And so, um, and, and I’ve frankly been shocked over the last few years in particular over how many times a perspective employee has asked to see the employee handbook before making a decision, which, I mean 20 years ago never seem to happen. Um, you know, but now I wouldn’t say it’s, it’s a regular occurrence, but it’s not irregular either and it’s um, you know, understanding how employees are going to perceive this document and really valuable.

CHIP GRIFFIN: It’s certainly needs to be clear and understandable, but you also want to look at it and make sure that it’s not just a, you know, a corporate cya document and in fact, you know, really is, you know, good guidelines, employer. Yeah, I agree 100 percent. So we’re just about out of time. But the last subject that I wanted to touch on is, you know, I, I know that, uh, you know, in, in the modern era there are um, you know, in a number of different operational areas, a lot of organizations that provide either interim or a fractional cfo, hr, et Cetera, type it, all these different kinds of services, you know, how does fit into the modern hr mix, you know, do those things make sense? Is it, are they, are they viable options or they only short term, you know. So talk to me in particular about, you know, interim and fractionals and how you see those operating in the world of hr today.

PATRICK ROGAN: Yeah, sure. I think it’s a, it’s an area that, um, that I’ve noticed growing up, particularly in smaller organizations, but it can have some impact on larger organizations as well to kind of like the, you know, the adage is, you know, if you need a gallon of milk, you don’t need to buy a whole cow. And most organizations particularly, you know, between say 15 and 100 or 150 employees really don’t need, you know, a vice president of human resources. You know, someone who has got 25 plus years experience that they really don’t have the complexity. The majority of their hr needs can be done either by a generalist or a parttime generalist who does some other responsibilities. But having some oversight, having someone you know, to, to available, you know, a day a week or two days a week or four hours a week. Um, to kind of make sure that their basic building blocks are in place can be really, really valuable.

PATRICK ROGAN: And, um, I’ve had, um, I have one organization I’m coming up on two years, um, where I’ve been in, in an interim head of hr responsibility and it’s, um, it’s been very beneficial to the organization. They’ve been able to, you know, we’ve um, we’ve totally revamped how they do recruiting. We implemented a performance management system over the summer. There was always like one next project that we want to get to and I can help them, um, you know, making sure, sure from a systems, tools and process perspective that they have everything in place. And the reality is they just don’t need me, you know, a full week at a time. They just maybe need me, you know, for a day a week or two days a week. So, um, so I think that’s a, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of that. And not just in the HR space I’m seeing in the marketing space I’m seeing in the finance and accounting space.

PATRICK ROGAN: I find that an organization doesn’t have to wait until they have 300 employees to have, you know, a solid talent there at the table to advise and assist them. Um, and having people on staff to do the more administrative tasks I think is very valuable and I think that’s a good, that’s a good Roi for the senior staff, you know, buy it as you need it, you know, don’t, uh, again, don’t, uh, don’t hire the whole calorie if you’re just looking for a, for a gallon of milk. So that’s my perspective on that. Is that helpful?

CHIP GRIFFIN: That is very helpful. And that will actually bring us to the end of our allotted time. I know we could go on for quite a bit longer to talking about all sorts of issues, so I’m sure we’ll, we’ll have you back on a, on a future episode to talk about some of those. But in the meantime, if you, if somebody is interested in getting their, their gallon of milk on the HR front instead of buying the whole cow, um, you know, how can they find out more about you and ignition hr? Sure. Well, my email. Lots of information in there. Feel free to reach out to me. Excellent. Well thank you to you, Patrick for joining me and thank you all for listening all the way through to the end. I always appreciate listener feedback, so go ahead and share that with me if you have it and we’ll be back with you on the next episode of chats with chip.

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