The cavnessHR podcast – A talk with Matt Burns
Matt Burns’ nearly 20-year corporate journey has taken him around the world, supporting companies with operations in North America, Europe, Asia and South America. He’s presently the Head of HR for a global retailer and leads a team that was recently recognized for the: ‘Most Innovative Use of HR Technology’ in Canada.
Matt is also in the midst of a mid-career renaissance. He’s passionate about innovation and knows things need to change in the Corporate World. He’s in his own words: a “recovering corporate hack’, having recently discovered that his true passions lie, not in personal success, but in engaging and enabling the success of others.
He’s documenting his experiences, using his enrolment in an International Executive MBA program as the backdrop for a transformative change journey that began this past summer in Vancouver, and recently took him to Sao Paulo. Future stops in Mexico City (January), and Nashville, this Spring (April) are sure to incite further learnings, conversation and debate.
The cavnessHR Podcast can be found at the following places or you can just type in cavnessHR on the respective app.
Google Play: https://cavnesshr.co/4a59
Pocket Casts: https://cavnesshr.co/theca447c
Social Media links for Matt below!!
Jason: Hello, and welcome to the cavnessHR Podcast. Our guest today is Matt Burns. Matt, are you ready to be great today?
Jason: Matt’s nearly 20-year corporate journey has taken him around the world, supporting companies with operations in North America, Europe, Asia and South America. He’s presently the Head of HR for a global retailer and leads a team that was recently recognized for the: ‘Most Innovative Use of HR Technology’ in Canada. Matt is also in the midst of a mid-career renaissance. He’s passionate about innovation and knows things need to change in the Corporate World. He’s in his own words: a “recovering corporate hack’, having recently discovered that his true passions lie, not in personal success, but in engaging and enabling the success of others. A newly twenty-year corporate journey has taken him around the world. He has documented his experiences, using his enrollment in an International Executive M.B.A. program as the backdrop for a transformative change journey that began this past summer in Vancouver, and recently took him to Sao Paulo. Future stops in Mexico City in January, and Nashville this Spring in April are sure to incite further learnings, conversation and debates. Matt, you've got a lot going on.
Matt: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree with you more.
Jason: So, Matt, what's going on in your life right now? What's keeping you busy?
Matt: Like you said before, I'm just hearing that introduction, Jason. First off, thanks for the opportunity to speak with you today. I'm exhausted just hearing that introduction; I'm living it, but I can tell you, it sounds like a lot. What's going on with me these days is a lot. I’m working right now as the head of H.R. for an organization called JYSK, here in Canada, and supporting the H.R. team there. As you mentioned, as well, working towards an executive M.B.A. and upcoming trips in Mexico City in about two weeks and then Nashville in April.
Jason: Matt, for people in college right now and they want a career in HR, what advice would you give these people?
Matt: That’s a great question. I actually speak to a lot of either soon-to-be grads or recent grads in the space, and I think it ties into the broader mission that I'm working with right now which is, I think the HR profession needs an overhaul. I've been in the industry now for just over fifteen years, twenty years in business in total. I'm wondering whether or not our function is relevant given all the other changes that have occurred in the space whether it’s technology. Whether it's the future of work, I'm wondering whether or not we are relevant. I ask that because I find that we're not able to deliver the full level of service that our companies need given our current infrastructure as HR professionals.
Matt: So, when I talk to young grads, what I'm saying is come into new businesses and challenge the current status quo; challenge our ways of thinking. If we are doing things that do not make sense for a younger generation, which is the future workforce, you’ve got to tell us. Sometimes you can be in an organization for so long you sometimes can't see the forest through the trees. So, for young folks joining the industry, it’s about recognizing that they, too, have the value to bring to the conversation. That their diversity of thinking can ultimately lead to a much stronger HR team. Then, secondly, because I know HR can be sometimes a tough industry to get involved with to begin with, it's about building relationships. HR is a relationship business. As a function, we have to influence that authority all the time. So, as an HR leader who’s up and coming, I would want to see demonstrated success where you've been able to influence the relationships, help support your fellow HR folks in anticipation applying for jobs.
Jason: Matt, that kind of goes to the next question. In my mind, there’s an old HR and a new HR Old HR is all about saying “no,” they’re administrative, old-school, the answer’s always “no.” New HR is like “find a way to say ‘yes,’” add value. What do you think it’s going to take to get these people who were practicing old HR to come to the new HR? Is it a matter of just having to fade out and retire and go away?
Matt: I hope not. Again, the same I think it's important to have perspectives from fresh grads or new people into the HR industry. I think it's really important to get the perspectives of those who've been in the industry 25/30/35 years. I wouldn't want those folks to retire in mass and take with them all that historical knowledge and cultural information. At the same time, I think they need to understand that the future of work is shifting. That the function is shifting underneath our feet on a day-to-day basis, and that they have a role to help us transition in a responsible way going forward.
Matt: I think for those folks, really it's about taking an opportunity to have a seat at the table and to influence the kind of future shape of Human Resources. I think the way we do that is an interesting conversation because I faced a similar challenge in my current organization. When I joined we were 8 HR individuals in the department – we’re now 22. But for the original 8 folks, there was a perception and a concern that perhaps there’d be challenges around adapting and moving forward with the new model operating in HR. So what we first did was we had laid any fears that they would have around change. We made sure they understood that they were going to be supported throughout the change process. That they felt they had a place in the new future of the department. I think that really is a microcosm for the broader conversation which is: you have to make those folks who are experienced. Whether it's six weeks or thirty-five years. They have to feel like they're part of the change and that they're a welcome voice at the table. I think if you do that, I think we would remove a lot of resistance and likely we would see more innovation in HR departments today.
Jason: Yes. Matt, so let's say somebody’s out there, they’re on LinkedIn, they see your posts and they're like, “man, I want to work for this guy.” How will this person get in touch with you and try to impress you and try to come work for you? What would they need to do?
Matt: I think, generally speaking, I'm a bit of a unique situation in that I want people to reach out to me directly. I have a very active LinkedIn profile page, I’m engaged on the site 7 days a week. If you want to talk with me, just engage with me directly. I’m happy to have a conversation – whether it's to talk about a career. Whether it’s to talk about advice, perspective – I’m always happy to give an opinion. What I'm looking for in HR professionals in our business is really a couple things. So, I believe HR should be sitting at the junction between technology and culture. I want people to understand that difference and they have something to add to that perspective.
Matt: What I mean by that, I don't need someone to have 10/15/20 years of experience. I need someone have an open learning mind-set that will allow them to understand the way we’re going. I want someone to feel comfortable and have a strong voice to bring to the table. I want individuals to understand that, ultimately, innovation and success within culture is going to drive the success of your organizations. So that's really important to me. I'm a firm believer, Jason, in finding a really, really talented, cool, interesting people that can add value, and I make jobs for them. So, if you talk to people here, in my department, you'll find that nobody really has a traditional HR job. They all kind of have hybrid roles where we've capitalized on the needs of the organization. But also their unique skillsets and what they bring to the table. Because, ultimately, I think that leads them bringing more value to the organization which, ultimately, benefits the company.
Jason: Yes. So, Matt, you talked a little bit about how you did the change to the paperless HR. How much push-back did you see from other departments in your company?
Matt: Not a lot. I’m very lucky. I have a very supportive board, a very supportive senior management team here in the organization. The other departments in the business were very, very supportive. There was some curiosity, of course, because we were the first one to go and, generally, within most organizations, H.R. is not the hub of innovation. So there were some people that were curious to see how our progress will go. We had lots of fans along the way and lots of support, as it was required. So we were very lucky that way.
Jason: Matt, can you talk about a process that you use to select your HRIS?
Matt: Absolutely, a couple things for me. There were some macro concerns I wanted to make sure were addressed. So for me, first off, if the end state was going to be automation and paperless, we had to make sure that our systems had a couple things. The first one was that we had to have APIs which, for those who aren't familiar with what the term means, APIs integrate two systems together. Essentially, it’s the pipe or the tether that links two systems. What it does, in practical terms, is as you enter information, let's say into your HRIS, it would then flow automatically to all of your other systems – like, your LMS or to your ATS., things of that nature. So those APIs reduced a lot of that administration and data entry dramatically. We implemented 5 systems last year; we only do data entry into one – the other systems just automatically feed up towards that process. The second thing we did in terms of criteria was we wanted single sign-up, and that was really a by-product of discussions we've had with our IT department. We were very strong partners with IT throughout the entire process.
Matt: They said to us up front, “Matt, if we can get single sign-on of these systems, it will allow us to do two things: First off, make the user experience much more pleasant because they're not going to have to remember another username and password.” I don't know about you, Jason, but I can't remember the ones that I have, let alone five new ones. So, that was a big benefit for those users. Secondly, it made IT’s life a lot easier because there were managing, then, 7500 new usernames and passwords. As you can imagine, that's a lot of help desk tickets for “I lost my password, can you reset my username,” etc. So by having single sign-up functionality, we were able to meet those needs and most providers, fortunately, have that ability. The third criteria we had was we wanted organizations working with us that were going to scale and growth with us. So I think the unique thing, Jason, about what we did was we could have gone out and bought an enterprise solution. There are lots of really good providers out there that provide an entire, total suite of solutions where the integrations are already built in.
Matt: The challenge we had was those enterprise solutions generally have a single way of operation and they want you, as a business, to change your processes to fit the system. That doesn't make a lot of sense – maybe I’m old-school, Jason, in that regard – but I feel like when you cut somebody a check, you should get some say in what the final product looks like. So we wanted to work with vendors that were going to scale with us, grow with us, apply our feedback and, also, give us some good challenges where it made sense, if we can improve our business. So those are the three things that stood out for us right off the bat that we wanted to look at with all systems and then, from there, it came down to things like functionality and what made sense for us as a business going forward. Those are some of the larger criteria we looked at.
Jason: Yes. A lot of the time I don't think people realize how important the user experience is as you build a product. Then you realize you make somebody go through 4/5 different clicks and it’s frustrating. They don’t notice how important that is.
Matt: Technology for us, Jason, is about adoption. So I think, I would say, in my opinion, is that most technologies that we've got at work – they were just fine. The challenge we've had in the past has been adoption of technology is we're asking people to change routines. They’ve been staring at the same screen for three or four or five or ten years, and now we’ve changed that for them, and change is hard. We have a full time job – it's difficult to carve out time to learn a new process, a new system, a new routine. So we try to make things as easy as possible throughout the entire process for our users so that we would increase the rate of adoption and, therefore, reduce the entire lifecycle of the project. We wouldn’t have to go back as much and have to reiterate and retrain and those processes. It's also the reason why we had really strong feedback mechanisms throughout the entire project. Our end users help consult, with respect to the final product. They help during the pilot, gave us great feedback that we were able to apply in the final product in the systems. Then, ultimately, we engaged them all upon launch, and then we still engage them now, post-launch, to get their feedback – what's working, what's not, and how can we further enhance the systems to make it easier for them. Because, ultimately, that is the measure of success when it comes to technology.
Jason: I heard a saying one time where somebody said, “I’m all for change as long as it doesn’t involve me.”
Matt: I think we're all a little bit guilty of that at times and I think that it's completely understandable. When you have a lot on your plate, as most of us do these days, change is something else, and sometimes it’s not always welcome. So our goal in Human Resources really – you mentioned it before – the function is known for saying “no,” I think it's a lot about containment in the past. What we're worried about now is enablement, and that means making things easier. Making things more accessible for our colleagues, and that means that our systems have to reflect that culture and that way of being.
Jason: Yes. Matt, next, can you talk about a time you were successful in the past, what you learned from this success, and what our listeners can learn from this?
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. I think I just touched on the example. So the opportunity to procure, implement, and then integrate five different HR systems in a single year was a phenomenally aggressive but also a rewarding project. We had a really good team here at JYSK helping us with the project. Each of the individual systems was managed and the implementation was managed by a systems owner who was an HR subject matter expert. So they were bought in from a very early stage of the process and they control and manage that whole lifecycle of that project – that was a real big success for us.
Matt: In addition, the recognition that we received after the award for Most Innovative Use of Technology, as a result of our efforts, was really rewarding from a branding perspective. My employment brand perspective; a lot of people didn't know who JYSK was before that, didn't know that what we were an organization that was worth looking for in terms of jobs or buying products. So that was really rewarding that we were able to really cascade our business using that recognition as a vehicle for doing so. So, I would say, that the learning I had was, as an HR function, sometimes we can be guilty of too much modesty. There's a lot of great things happening in H. departments around the world; I wish that we would take more of an opportunity, to me, as a function, to share those with other people. I think there’s really good best practices that can be leveraged all over the globe.
Jason: Yes. I have to imagine that once you won that award you a lot more people reaching out to you and your applicant pool increased tremendously.
Matt: Yeah, it did, and I would say it increased even further when I put up a recent video for a change in management position that we have here.
Jason: Yeah, I remember I shared that on my LinkedIn, as well.
Matt: I appreciate that; that had a great traction. Really, the methodology behind that was, when you're on LinkedIn, most people are sending out written content. I wanted to make things interesting and add a bit of dynamic and show their personality. I would say that the current applicant tracking process, for most jobs, is really in person, and I’ve applied on jobs in the last few years. Before I took this position, and I felt like I was throwing my resume down a bunch of dark wells and not hearing back from a lot of people despite the fact that I'm in the industry and I think I'm a pretty strong candidate for most jobs that I apply for. That being said, I don't think that's a function of a lack of respect, I think it’s just a function of volume and the fact that we're focusing more, now, on efficiencies than we are on person personal relationship.
Matt: So I'm trying to swing the pendulum back to more of a human focus on Human Resources, and in doing so, I wanted to create a bit more accessibility to that job post. So people would say, “hey, this is a guy who works for the company, here’s somebody I may be working with in the future. Do I like this, yes or no, and I can make more of an informed decision around whether I want to throw my hat in the ring. So that had a great amount of success, Jason, and we're going to do more of that in the future in this organization to continue to break down the wall between our applicants and what we're doing in our organization. We think we have a great stories to tell and, therefore, we want to tell them loudly.
Jason: Yes. Matt, and talking about HR being humble, I think our challenge is we’ll do a hundred things; 99 things very well, and one, not so well. We’ll focus on the not so well and talk about that instead of focus on what we did well and that's definitely a thing we've got to get over.
Matt: Yeah, I think we have to, as a group, understand that our success will be driven by the impact we have on a go-forward basis, and to do that, we have to focus in on the things that really bring value to our organizations and, where we have successes, I think we need to celebrate. Because, again, I agree with you 100%, Jason, I think we are guilty, in HR, of helping everybody else before we help ourselves. Because that's just how we’re wired. We like to help people; we generate value from helping people succeed. But I think, ultimately, if we achieve our own success through our own efforts. We're able to share that success, you can, ultimately, have a much bigger impact, which is, I think, as an HR professional, should be the goal.
Jason: Yes. Matt, can you talk about someone who’s helped you in the past and how they helped you?
Matt: That’s a tough question because there's probably hundreds and hundreds of people. I think, most recently, I've been really impressed by the overall LinkedIn community and I've been trying the LinkedIn game for about three months since winning the award. I’ve been more active on the site, I'm on there probably 6/7 days a week and I’m engaging with hundreds, if not thousands, of people. I've been so impressed with the amount of people who just are grateful and complimentary and just want to collaborate and add value. That, to me, was a real shock – I expected people that would be more self-interested as a higher percentage. But I found very little of that because actually a lot of people want to collaborate and, for me, that's a really big impact on reinforcing the values that are important to me. I love to share success, I love when it shifts to have mutual, beneficial value there. So to see that really kind of spurred me on to do more with that. I found that what it’s led me to do actually is be more aggressive in pursuing mutually beneficial partnerships which, ultimately, has helped me catapult our success even further.
Jason: Matt, you’ve done a lot of travelling around the world as an HR professional. What's been your favorite location, so far?
Matt: That’s like asking my favorite kid. I think there's so many great spots I’ve enjoyed. Most recently, I was in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I am absolutely in love with that country, the amount of energy and passion and enthusiasm they have for absolutely everything that they do, to me, is just intoxicating. I was telling someone, Jason, recently, that when I got off a plane and landed in Sao Paulo, I felt almost a hum or a buzz the entire time I was in Brazil. It never went away until I left the country. Because there's just that much energy and passion and enthusiasm and I love that. I've also had great times in other countries and a lot of time in Canada and a lot of time in the United States and I love those countries, as well, for their own reasons. But, most recently, the one that sticks with me is my recent experience in October in Brazil.
Jason: Yes. Matt, did I ask you about how a time you failed?
Matt: You didn't but I'm expecting you to ask me that.
Jason: Yeah, I skipped that one. So, talk about a time you failed, what you learned, and what we can learn from this.
Matt: I think it's a good news story; I talked about the recent project. As I learned myself, this, for me, has been a really eye-opening experience in terms of leading an HR function. For me, it was the first time building an HR function from the ground up. My previous leadership roles in HR, I inherited, already a finished product, I was asked to either restructure it, to redesign it. But to build one from the ground up is really, really interesting. What I learned through that process and the mistake that I made was I probably didn’t do a good enough job thinking things through. The plan B, if things didn't go well. I had what I thought was a really solid plan. That was a two-year strategy. But, ultimately, along the way, as things tend to happen, we had some delays and we had some setbacks. I know that our plan wasn’t nimble enough to allow for that, upfront. We did course correct about halfway through the year last year and made some important changes. That, ultimately, led to the success of the project. But I wish, upfront, I would've spent more time thinking through possible alternate scenarios and would have applied that methodology going forward to make sure we don’t find ourselves in the same spot.
Jason: Matt, in your position, can you tell us what's your breakdown, like, what percentage you spend on your actual HR position, talking to executives, mentoring new people, and doing other things that take up your time?
Matt: The thing I love about my job most, Jason, is that every day is a little bit different, and I tend to apply approaches such that where there’s the biggest need. That's where I’ll spend my time but, absent of any urgent items. I like to rotate my time in various functions of the HR department and I'll spend time with each of the groups. So, for instance, I’ve been spending a lot of time, recently, with employee relations where I’m working a lot with them on engagement and other strategies for 2018. About how we can better engage and communicate with our colleagues in the business. I've also spent a bit of time, lately, with our talent functions. We have a real aggressive growth strategy and that's predicated on succession. So I tend to spend my time where it's most needed and to do so by coaching, enabling, removing barriers. Just adding some passion and enthusiasm and some energy behind some of the initiatives that we have. So I try my best to spend my time equally, but, ultimately, I do go where the business needs me most.
Jason: Yes. Matt, can tell us something about yourself that most people don't know? Of course, your close family, close friends know this, but most people don't know this about Matt Burns.
Matt: Good question. I think, for me, I would just say that the passion that I bring to my profession is a passion that extends throughout my entire life. One thing that people probably wouldn’t know about me is that I can be quite impulsive when it comes to things like travel. So on a couple of occasions, I’ve actually gone down to the airport with a plane ticket, with a bag packed, went up to the counter and said, “I have this much money, where can I go and when is the closest flight?” There was actually a couple of cool experiences where I was able to go down there get tickets to places to Denver and great cities like that. Spend a few days there really with no plan. There’s something inherently unique about landing in a city and not having a hotel having to book it when you get there. I love the kind of the flexibility and adaptability of that. I think it challenges me in unique and interesting ways and I think that’s something people don’t know about me.
Jason: That’s great. That’s something I would do. Matt, can you share your social media links for yourself or your company so people can reach out to you?
Matt: Absolutely. I think we talked about it a couple times, Jason, I'm fully bullish on LinkedIn. So if people want to find me, they can see me at Matt Burns at LinkedIn. You can't miss me if you're looking for me. I'm very, very active and you'll see my wonderful smiling face as my profile photo.
Jason: Matt, so we’ve come to the end of our talk. Can you provide any last-minute advice or wisdom to either HR professionals or anyone else?
Matt: Absolutely. First off, I think as a profession, as I mentioned before. We have some room to move, as all professions do. To realize that we have an impact on the future of work. I think that, as a profession, we have to look in the mirror at where we have opportunities and we need to be open to the idea of innovating and sharing our best practices with other individuals. So, when I’m in Mexico City in two weeks, you'll see me doing that. I’m actually going to be producing and sharing short and long form content on my LinkedIn page and I’ll be engaging with professionals, locally, in Mexico City to share their stories, to share their best practices. Their opportunities and tips and tricks that they have in a local, domestic, Mexican market with the global world. That's a pattern I hope to continue throughout 2018 as I attempt to connect people from around the globe to, again, share those best practices in an attempt to move the overall HR profession forward, globally.
Jason: Thank you for doing that, Matt. Matt, thank you for being a guest on the cavnessHR Podcast, we really appreciate it. You’re really doing a lot of stuff for the HR profession and everyone appreciates everything you’re doing.
Matt: I appreciate the time, Jason. Thanks so much.
Jason: To our listeners, thank you for your time, as well, and remember to be great every day. Thank you.