Ep. 63

The Evolution of Human Resources w/ Phil Strazzulla

In episode 63, we talk with Phil Strazzulla about the importance of HR software and the shifting role of human resource pros within their organizations.

Phil Strazzulla

Entrepreneur, Investor, Founder at Select Software Reviews

The world of HR changes quickly, and those who learn to adapt will ultimately find the most success. On this week’s episode of the HR Mavericks podcast, I talked about the evolution of human resources with Phil Strazzulla, an entrepreneur and investor and the founder of Select Software Reviews. Phil has been in the HR space for a decade, and he started Select Software Reviews to help small businesses make the right decisions about what HR software they should use. That means that Phil has a close-up view of how HR tools and approaches have changed throughout the years.

I talked with Phil about:

  • The sheer number of HR tools businesses have to choose from
  • How businesses of all sizes can leverage HR tools
  • The future of artificial intelligence software in the HR space
  • Why it’s important to get buy-in from multiple people before choosing an HR software
  • Ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced human resources
  • HR’s shift from administrator to strategic driver
  • Examples of successful companies that approach HR strategically
  • Understanding the impact that human resources has on your business.

Looking for a new HR tool? Check out Select Software Reviews for ideas.
Take a look at Eddy’s Select Software Reviews page.

Episode 63 Transcript

You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. 

[00:00:00] Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of the HR Mavericks podcast. I’m Garrett Jestice and today I’m joined by Phil Strazulla, who is an entrepreneur, investor, and founder of Select Software Reviews. Phil, how you doing today?

[00:00:15] Phil Strazzulla: I’m doing well. Thanks a lot for having me.

[00:00:17] Garrett Jestice: It’s great to have you on the show. How’s the beautiful weather in Boston today?

[00:00:21] Phil Strazzulla: It’s good. It’s still beautiful. We’ve got another couple months left before it’s horrible, we question why we live here, but today we’re grateful.

[00:00:31] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, hang on to that. Right. I, I get that. I, I lived in Minnesota for a few years, so I know how that goes, right. That winter’s coming quick. So anyways, it’s great to have you on the show. I’m excited to dive into our topic today. 

And you know, some of our guests might have heard your brief intro of a founder of a software review site, something like that. Right. And think, you know, what does this have to do with HR? So you do have a ton of experience, especially when it comes to like the HR industry and tools in that space. So tell our listeners a little bit more about your own career background, and also what Select Software Reviews does.

[00:01:07] Phil Strazzulla: Sure. Yeah. So I’ve been in HR/HR software for the last 10 years. I originally started my career off working at venture capital firm that invested in a bunch of this stuff like LinkedIn and cornerstone and a bunch of other companies, but I always wanted to start my own business. So I went to business school, taught myself out of a program.

And then started a tool that basically just helped companies to fight against Glassdoor reviews, and build their own employer brand. Three to four years ago, I hired somebody to run that on a day to day basis as a general manager, wanted to start another business. I love to learn. I love to teach and I saw that a lot of companies really struggle with tool selection.

I think there are about 30,000 HR tools out there at last count. That’s a lot, especially if you’re a smaller business. And so it’s hard to know what tools to look at, how much to pay for ’em, how to get your boss to say yes, how to implement ’em correctly. And so we do, we give bad advice on select software reviews.

We talk to who we think are the smartest people ops, HR, recruiting folks out there and just kind of pick their brain. I just did an interview all about employee experience tech. We do, you know, payroll, HRS, ATS, like all this stuff to help people just be more successful. And it’s all free. We have a community where people can ask questions and newsletter, all that good stuff.

[00:02:24] Garrett Jestice: That’s awesome. And it’s definitely needed. I, you know, I moved into the HR space just just a year, year and a half ago. Right. And it’s, and it’s kind of my introduction into that space and it’s, it’s insane how many different tools are out there and it’s, it’s confusing. And it’s a mess for, especially like those small businesses where you might have an owner who’s doing the HR work, or, you know, one of those accidental HR people might be your office manager and they’re kind of tasked with, okay, what’s the right solution to purchase.

And not only that, but it’s so fragmented with, do we need something for payroll? Do we need something for HIRS, hiring all of those different things? Right. Definitely see the need. Excuse me, definitely see the need there. And, it’s, it’s definitely, definitely needed. So tell me a little bit more about what drew you to the HR space specifically.

[00:03:19] Phil Strazzulla: You know, I I’ve always been interested in people’s career paths. How does somebody become, I don’t know, the CEO of a company or something like that. And it it’s sort of a cliche, but we spend more time at work than anything else, really in our, in our lives. And so it’s this really important aspect of everyone’s experience in on this planet.

And so I, I think there was always this like latent interest in it. And the way I kind of got into it was building an app to help people understand what are career paths like, you know, what, what’s it like to be a private equity investor or to work as a product manager at Google or something like that?

And through doing this thing that I was just really interested in and I realized like, oh, companies are, companies wanna share this information, right? Like if you’re Google, you wanna share what it’s like to be a product manager. And this is 10 years ago before employer branding was as big as it is today.

And so I realized, oh, I can actually make this a business. It’s not just like a side project. And as I sort of got more and more immersed into it, I started, you know, talking to three or four HR people every single day and you just get into it. You’re like, okay, this is sort of like the heartbeat of a lot of companies.

How can I continue to make an impact in this space? And it just sort of, you know, led me down this rabbit hole that a decade later I’m still here.

[00:04:38] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that’s awesome. And it’s a perfect, you know, precursor for our topic today, because I’m like really excited about this topic. I, I just want to pick your brain more on this idea of how did HR evolve to where it is today? Right. Because you know, you’ve seen in the past decade. And even before that, I mean, one of the first in the, in the field was ADP in the fifties, right?

Like starting, you know, the first thing that became the, the payroll software company ADP. So, so I want, I wanna get your take on it because you, you have been in this space for the past decade plus, and you work with all of these different software providers and tools in this space. And so I think that gives you a unique perspective to be able to share with us, you know, what you’ve seen, how it’s evolved and, and what you think is coming next.

So, you know, really to start that off, what, what would you say are some of the latest trends in HR that you have seen most recently.

[00:05:35] Phil Strazzulla: Sure. So like most people I’m very biased and I’ll start off with a trend around technology. You know, 1999, I think like iSims was the first hosted, you know, SAS, HR technology platform as an applicant tracking system. And we’ve just seen a crazy explosion in tools. And you’ve got sort of your platforms that everybody needs like an HRS or a payroll system or an ETS, or if you’re growing, but then you’ve got all these sort of niche use case tools that can help with scheduling with assessments…

and it’s not just assessments. It’s like this one’s for sales assessments. This one’s for engineers. This one’s for personality. And so you, you can get these high powered tools that are allowing companies to be a lot more effective because HR is like, oh, okay, we’ve got a problem with retention and customer success.

Let’s do a better job of explaining what it’s like to do that on the website. So that’s like the employer branding thing. Let’s do a better assessment. Let’s have a better, in candidate experience, better onboarding, et cetera. And we’re all sort of targeting that one pain point of customer success retention through these different modalities and, and supported by tools.

And so I think tools is, has sort of been like the exoskeleton for HR teams to leverage whether you are doing HR as a founder, which honestly, I, I actually am, we’re a 20 person company. We don’t have an HR person. Or you are a, an HR team of one or a hundred. That’s really been a huge thing. And, and I think where we’re going next is we’re just going to continue to leverage these smart tools. 

So we’ve all heard of artificial intelligence. I think some people think it’s gonna take my job or something like that. But I, I think the reality is it’s just like software that’s smarter than the average, you know, workflow tool. It’s not just a database, it’s a database that can look at the data and, and maybe do something. A really good example of this, is a tool called Hire Fly, which is just top of mind for me.

And it’s, it’s a new company it’s only a year old, but essentially what you do is you upload a job rack and it reads it, the machine reads it and it says, Hey, okay. It looks like you’re looking for a Java engineer in Boston with five years experience. Is that right? And you’re like, yeah, good job machine. And they’re like, okay, cool.

We’re gonna go find 20 candidates on the internet. And we’re gonna go to Twitter and GitHub and LinkedIn, all this other stuff. And we’re gonna email those people. And the people who respond positively about wanting to meet with you, we’ll just double check that they’re actually really good and they’ll put, we’ll put them on your calendar.

And so this, this AI sourcing tool, I guess you might wanna call, it allows an HR person or a founder or a leader in a business to be super effective because all you had to do is write that job description. The next day, you’ve got a couple candidates in your inbox that are prevetted. And they’re on your calendar.

Like that’s pretty amazing. And the tool a lot cheaper than a human is. So, that sort of stuff is really cool. And, and you can apply the, the AI sort of framework to everything from, you know, answering the same employee questions over and over and over again about PTO or whatever, to employee onboarding, to basically anything you can think of.

[00:08:47] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I, I, I totally agree. And I think it’s, it’s very fascinating. The bar has definitely been lowered. I was, I was reading some research and,just this morning actually, and I’m trying to remember it so I can get this right. I think that they’ve been doing this survey for, you know, since 97, I think was the first year that they did it.

First year, they did this survey among HR professionals. The, the smallest company on average that was purchasing HR software was like a 1500 person company. Right. And today, based on that survey, it’s about a five person company, right? So the, the barrier to entry there has been lowered because there are so many tools and they are affordable.

Now the challenge is, you know, which one do you need and when do you need them? And I think that’s kind of a key thing that a lot of, especially small businesses think about is this crucial right now? Or do I wait? Or when do I do this? Especially when you don’t, like you mentioned, you know, 20 person company, you might not have an in-house HR expert with that background.

You have people who are kind of filling in and doing that until you get to a bigger size.

[00:09:52] Phil Strazzulla: Yeah, many times. If, if you have an HR specialist, unless they’re spending a lot of their time staying on top of the HR tech landscape, they might not really know what’s out there. You know, they, they might be using tools from five, 10 years ago because that’s sort of like the thing that they were introduced to, and they’re still using that system.

And realistically, if you’re an HR team of one, you’re not gonna spend a lot of time understanding the landscape because you’re dealing with employee relations issues, the payroll didn’t run, it’s open enrollment, like all this stuff. Right. And so it, it it’s really challenging, to, to understand what you should be adopting.

These tools aren’t free. Like they, they cost a decent amount of money and maybe even more important, they take a lot of time to do them correctly and buy in from your organization. And you can pretty quickly use your internal social capital up if you are trying to do something that the rest of the group just kind of doesn’t like, and, and that’s why… 

I was talking to this woman earlier today who’s bought, I don’t know, maybe 50 HR solutions over her career. And one of the things she loves to do is just get like four or five people from across the company to use something in a demo before we actually purchase it, to get their buy in, to get their feedback, to, to pick the right tool, but also to get their buy in.

So when you buy it, roll it out, you’ve got somebody in operations and sales, whatever who are like, yeah, this is great. You know, I, I actually help that on this.

[00:11:20] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that makes total sense and a great suggestion. So I’m curious how, how COVID has changed, how we view HR, HR. I mean, there’s, there’s so many impacts we hear about all the time and, you know, in, in the news, but, you know, from your perspective, what are the biggest changes that have come about since COVID.

[00:11:39] Phil Strazzulla: So I I’ll give you sort of the, the data. We, we get a lot of interesting data on like what people are actually like looking for in purchasing in terms of tools, which is cool. At the beginning of COVID everything shut down. Maybe a week or two into it, you know, April 2020 people started buying virtual everything, virtual interview software, video interview software, virtual onboarding, etcetera.

I think in the first week of April, the interest in video interview software was up like 600%, like week over week. Like pretty crazy stuff. Then companies were like, wow, you know, we’re all depressed working from home and, and dealing with this pandemic thing, let’s get employee recognition and employee engagement, employee mental health, and then towards the end of the pandemic, or, or the end of that first year, it was kind of like, how do we do more with less, because we need to now like rehire tons of people or whatever.

There’s just like too much work to do. And so the interest in artificial intelligence really spiked. And I think that what’s cool to me as a nerd. And, and maybe the definition of not cool, but, people are just like better understanding how to leverage technology, whether it’s people analytics and doing like really sophisticated stuff around strategic workforce planning, like, Hey, like we’ve got, you know, these three futures for our company.

If this happens, we’re gonna need to hire this many people. If this happens, we’re gonna have to reorg, et cetera. You know, utilizing AI, utilizing like all these really sophisticated point solutions. And I think that that’s mirroring where people often in HR is heading, which is much more of a strategic driver for the company versus the administrator who is taking, you know, it’s not Toby from the office.

It’s like, somebody that who’s not in the show in the office, who’s really competent at their job, like pushing the business forward.

[00:13:29] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. And that’s, that’s actually my next question in the, so I wanna, I wanna double click on that. If we can of just, you know, where is HR going? What’s what’s what do you think is, where do you see it evolving in the future? And so you kind of hinted at some of that of HR becoming a more strategic player rather than an administrative function.

Is that right?

[00:13:49] Phil Strazzulla: That’s right. So it’s, it’s a tough bet to make I think because realistically, you know, part of the pandemic we had this 10 year bull market. Unemployment record lows. And to be honest with you, when I went into the talent acquisition teams at even decent companies, they were not super high performing. I think the, the answer to many questions was let’s just get more recruiters, let’s get more bodies versus like, let’s be more efficient.

However, I, I think in the last year or two, whatever it is, there are more and more outsiders coming in. So people who are like the CFO had a marketing, et cetera, coming in with different skill sets, different mentalities, a more business focused mentality, to be honest with you. And then there are a lot of HR and people ops and recruiting people who are like, Yeah, I’m gonna get on this bandwagon.

I’m going to sort of reframe how I think about my job and my career path. HR, like every other part of the organization and our economy, every five to 10 years, it’s just gonna be completely new. And there are gonna be some people who change and, and evolve and some people who come in and then there, there’s gonna be some people who just don’t.

And if you’re listening to this podcast and trying to, you know, better yourself, you’re, you’re almost certainly not in that latter category, but I think for sure there are a lot of people who are just not gonna keep up and, they’re gonna not really have their pick of the litter when it comes to their career opportunities.

[00:15:17] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. And I, I wanna bring this back to, you know, kinda what we talked about at the beginning is, you know, tools, right. HR tools. And that’s one of the changes that you’ve seen, especially, you know, recently in the HR space and, you know, something that kind of stood out to me that you said that I, that I fully believe, especially for much of our audience, listening to this there’s small business owners, solo HR people. 

And it’s the role of tools, HR tools, especially in a small business, because I think it’s, it’s a key piece of exactly what you hinted at, where HR is going, right. When HR as a function can evolve to be a strategic partner in the business.

And some, some do that. Well, some don’t and a lot of small businesses, you have a, an HR function that’s just administrative, right. And part of the evolution to, from administrative to strategic is having the right tools and resources in place so that you’re not doing everything manually, right. It’s not just an administrative function, getting people to sign paperwork or whatever it is, right.

That it is a lot of that because there’s so many great tools out there, you can be so much more efficient in doing that work. So you have more time to reinvest in people and strategy. Is that right?

[00:16:39] Phil Strazzulla: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And. I think that there are many organizations and individuals who get that, and you need both, like, if, if you have a rock star HR person in a company where they sort of view HR as Toby from the office, then it doesn’t matter, right? Like they’re not gonna give ’em resources.

They’re not gonna listen to them. There’s just a bias. And, and maybe that bias has been built up through experience, but like it still exists and it’s still a hindrance to actually collaborating. But when you… all those two things together, you’re gonna see a lot of progress. And I, I think the best examples of this are companies that got it a really long time ago, like Google, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, BCG, like these are some of the best run companies in the world.

And they realize basically from the get go that people ops, recruiting is the blood of their business. Like that’s like the, the lifeblood, sorry. Not the actual blood, the lifeblood of, of their business. And in order to succeed in, in the marketplace, they, they need to align their organization with that function.

And you’re just seeing, you know, it used to be 0.1% of companies. Maybe now it’s 15% and hopefully that’ll continue to grow and grow.

[00:17:54] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I think, I think that’s absolutely right too. So bringing this back to, again, like those small businesses, if, if there’s a small business, someone in a small business, who’s listening to this and they have that desire, right, to elevate HR, to be more strategic, to have the right tools and processes and resources in place like a lot of those big companies that you just named, where would you recommend they start?

[00:18:17] Phil Strazzulla: I think you need to start with understanding how HR can make an impact in your business. So a lot of CEOs, they, you know, they view HR as pencil pusher, but if you start to think, okay, you know, the reason we didn’t hit last quarters number is because we didn’t have enough technicians. Okay. So we need to recruit better.

We need to retain better. Maybe we need onboard better. Maybe we need to train better. All these ways that HR can make a difference. Okay. What’s the ROI of that? Okay. How do we make that investment? Do we have the right leader in place? Maybe you don’t have the right HR person and you need to go find somebody and that person might have an HR background.

They might not, a lot of the best performing HR people that I’ve met in the last decade have come from other functions, and it might take ’em a year or two to, to kind of learn the ropes. But because they come in with a different mentality, maybe a different level of aggressiveness, they can be super, super effective and they can learn the blocking and tackling stuff pretty fast as well.

So you’ve gotta understand how it can make an impact and then go find the right leader and then resource them, give them the ability to go buy the right HRS, the. LMS, you know, time and attendance systems, recruiting systems, all these different things to actually allow ’em to do their job. Otherwise, you know, you can’t just have a human and, and say, Hey, go, you know, figure out how to 3X the number of technicians we have, that’s not gonna work.

They need tools. They might not need headcount as well.

[00:19:42] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, that’s a great point, Phil. This has been an awesome conversation. I really appreciate you joining and sharing some of your insights and some of the things you’re seeing in the space. As we kind of wrap up here, one of the questions I like to ask a lot of our guests is, what’s a commonly held belief, in HR, especially among small businesses that you just passionately disagree with?

[00:20:06] Phil Strazzulla: In the last 10 years, you know, you meet people at parties or whatever, and they’re like, what do you do for a living? And I say something, something HR, and then people are like HR and they’re like HR, they’re the police. And I think that a lot of employees and probably a lot of C-level executives kind of view HR as the police, right?

Like they’re there for the employee relations issues they are kind of doing some admin stuff in addition, and I totally disagree with that. I think, you know, obviously somebody’s gotta be sort of, enforcing the rules or whatever, or there, when there are employee relations issues, but realistically, like your HR team is a, an asset in your business that can drive your organization forward and it should be treated as such. 

And that might mean that you need to augment or change the team. It might mean you need to augment or change the tooling or, or whatever. But once you start thinking about it in that way, you might be surprised that how much it can perform and make an impact.

And you’ll certainly be surprised over the long term. If you make the right investment.

[00:21:09] Garrett Jestice: Amen. Couldn’t add anything to that. I think that’s absolutely right. So, Phil, thanks again for taking the time to be with us today. If there is, if there are any listeners that wanna get in contact with you or learn more about, you know, this topic or your company, what’s the best way for them to do that.

[00:21:25] Phil Strazzulla: Sure. So you can find me on LinkedIn fairly easily. Phil Strazzulla with two Zs and two Ls. I’m the only one out there. You can also go to selectsoftwarereviews.com if you’re looking at tools or you wanna ask our community a question or, or join our newsletter.

[00:21:40] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Thank you, Phil. Hope you have a great rest of the day.

[00:21:43] Phil Strazzulla: Thanks you too.

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