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Small Business Week 2019 – Interview with Lindsay Patten

For day 3 of our look inside Reliant Funding’s growth story, we sat down with Lindsay Patten. She is Reliant Funding’s Vice President of Human Resources and a member of the Forbes HR council. She speaks about what it was like melding two company cultures together into one and answers your questions about healthcare.  

Q: Can you walk us through what it was like at Reliant Funding from 2014-2016?  

A: Yeah, so I can tell you exactly how many employees we had. At the end of 2014 to 2015 Reliant Funding had 46 employees. In 2015 to 2016 during the year we merged with New York (Merchant’s Capital Access), they had 54 employees, so we went from 46 to 100.  

Q: So, what was growth like before the merger?  

A: Well we didn’t have the physical space to hire. We had such a small office. The idea around our business before the merger was more of a broker business, very different from what we do now.  

Q: How did the merger effect Reliant Funding’s culture and how did you manage that? 

A: Well Reliant was a high-energy, sales-driven organization that was 70% sales and 30% admin. We had a couple marketing people, operations and our executive team. Merchants Capital Access was the opposite but similar split so 70% operations team that focused on the back end of the business and processing and a small (30%) wholesale team. We didn’t have any layoffs during this merger, that was very important to leadership and remains very important to us.

As far as how I managed it I had to first observe and understand what the current processes were on both ends. Number two was to partner with both teams, network with leadership and employees and work with everyone with the idea that there were going to be training wheels throughout this process. It was not only merging the companies together but merging cultures from two different sides of the United States into one melting pot.  

Q: So how did you scale and keep the family feel that both companies had retained up to this point?  

A: Yes, that was a big challenge. The New York office had primarily used a staffing agency and we were now implementing what culture we wanted moving forward, recruiting internally and deciding if each candidate fit into the culture we wanted to have. Too often companies have a good thing going and they stretch to scale and grow too fast. Everything your doing should be in line with the overall goals of the environment you want to create as well as accomplishing the company’s overall goals.  

Q: How did the leadership team ensure both offices had the sort of face time required to develop those relationships and environment?

A: Adam was going to New York, I think one year he went 13 or 14 times. I was going quarterly and had ad-hoc visits as needed.  

Q: How did you strategize, as you learned where both companies were and where we wanted to go?  

A: Well you look at the company’s mission and what you want the values are and decide the kind of company you want to have around those benchmarks. Then from there you can determine what makes up an employee at the company. We had to be patient and hire slow because our goal was what we are living out today.

Even though the process required more patience, I think we’re all retrospectively glad that the process happened the way it did. We also created a proactive recruiting plan based on what we wanted our culture to be, culture is a huge part of our strategy for growth.  

Q: There are aspects of business that you can very easily find numbers to help you measure change over time, what are the measurable aspects in Human Resources? 

A: That is such an important thing to talk about. When you are hiring people, you should have a strategy for recruitment in the same way you would have a financial strategy or marketing strategy. How will you know if what you are doing is working? As far as measuring aspects that are traditionally seen as qualitative you must consider both quality and quantity.

We get feedback at different stages of the employee’s life-cycle if you will. We ask their managers for feedback as well as evaluating the expectation we set forth and if it was met from the employee perspective within the first week and at the 90-day mark to evaluate how we are doing and what we can do to be better.

You really cannot manage what you can’t measure so as far as the quantitative measurements are concerned. We look at turnover rates, demographic information, turn time, how long to hire for a position in relation to the market average time to hire for the same position. 

For our sales team; we created an employee funnel and with each sales class that we hired on, looked at what part of the funnel that they were falling out. For example, if it is week one and they are leaving was it just shock and awe? Did they leave during their first month of being on the sales floor and was it the transition from learning to performing that they struggled with?

We will also take a retrospective look at their resumes to see the employees who are performing well and determine what qualities they have in common that we can look for and consider when hiring. Same as employees who determined this wasn’t such a good fit for them, what qualities did their personalities have that attributed to that like hard skills vs. soft skills. Furthermore, how are we meeting the expectation of the needs of the employees we have. It was a lot of trial by fire until we realized we needed a scalable process. 

Q: Staffing is a huge struggle small business owners must overcome so I am glad that you went into such detail for creating a strategy around that. Another problem that a lot of small businesses in the US are citing as their “top problems” according to the NFIB report was healthcare. Can we talk a little bit about that and what it was like merging two different healthcare systems?

A: So, two different payroll and benefit systems from California and New York (two of the hardest states to navigate through) was not going to work. There are two different ways that a company can attack this part of having employees. They can get a broker or go directly to service providers. The broker will meet with the vendors and put together demographics and metrics to plan a design. My biggest reminder to small business owners is that they should negotiate on anything they don’t think is going to work.

You must understand your staff and their needs, and you can utilize open enrollment as an opportunity to hear if things are satisfactory because you will get questions during this time. You must balance being the voice of HR but also be able to put your employee hat on. The challenge to anyone in an HR role is to protect the company from employees but then also protect employees from the company, laws, etc.

Mitigating risk is the main goal for me. I just made sure to use these tidbits of advice that I have learned from past experience to help me when I was merging employees together.  

Q: When a Reliant employee starts working here, you go through each page of the new hire paperwork with them vs. Leaving them to figure it out on their own, where did that practice originate? 

A: I have always done that because I think it is important to be transparent with your employees about the cost of healthcare, what that means to them (while still respecting HIPPA law and other privacy regulations). If you don’t know the answer to something it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find out or try to answer the employee’s question. Sometimes all I can do is refer the employee to our healthcare provider, but I typically follow up to ensure that they feel more comfortable with whatever questions they had.  

Q: So what advice do you have to any of our customers or other small business owners that are reading this?  

A: If you don’t know if you are following current employment law, start with google. You can go to google and type in 2019 employment law updates. I am on the Human Resources Council through Forbes and a part of that is training and development. Even if you don’t go through Forbes, having somewhere to go for updated training is something that every employer should do if they don’t have an HR person.

If they do have an HR manager of some sort, they should be going yearly to training. If you are out of compliance you subject your business to thousands in penalties. You can attend an HR Law seminar for $199 and it is well worth the investment. You can also google your state’s new hire paperwork that you are required to have and make sure each year you stay up to date. 

A lot of small business owners are unsure about regulations surrounding having a 1099 employee vs a W2 employee. There are differences in taxes and liability there that can get pretty expensive. For instance, if a business has a 1099 employee, they shouldn’t be using any equipment provided by the business.  

Q: What do you think makes you so good at what you do and what would be a good quality for Small Business owners to consider when hiring and HR manager?  

A: Thank you. I think it’s a lot of just the way my brain works. I am always thinking of 10 worst-case hypotheticals around each proposed idea. Not knowing what the potential repercussions of a decision could potentially cause a bigger headache later.  

Q: Last question! How do you switch from HR to home?  

A: I am a working mom. Not all moms are working moms and is it hard, yes. I have learned to divide my pie slices more evenly. If you think of the way you divide your attention, my pie slices are: mom, fiancée, career, health, wellness. My mom slice was very big because I love my daughter so much.

When I went back to work, I had to make a big career slice and soon after realized that I wasn’t as effective within any category because my health and wellness for self-slices took a big hit. Now I go to the gym more consistently. It gives me an hour to decompress and not be multi-level thinking. I spend a designated amount of time for me to improve myself so that I can be more effective within the other roles I have. It is like if a plane crashes, I am no good if I don’t put my oxygen mask on first.  

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