Raymond Hall of Larry H. Miller Management Corporation on Adapting to Need

Raymond Hall, a decorated military veteran, is the chief Human Resources officer at the Larry H. Miller Management Corporation. He has more than 20 years of global HR leadership experience, in both the private and public sectors.

In this episode, Raymond discusses:

  • Why a flexible approach to performance management is needed to support operating differences across businesses.
  • How performance management can be a tool to improve engagement and innovation, which drive business.
  • The importance of adapting the way in which people receive feedback to match evolving workforce demographics.
  • Why empowering employees fosters their accountability and engagement in the feedback process.

Also mentioned in this podcast:

Full Transcript

Michael: So one of things I love about this podcast is the chance to talk to people I don’t know particularly well, people I’ve met casually or just happened to bump into, to get their take on performance management. And my guest today is exactly that type of person, Raymond Hall, the chief HR officer, the CHRO of the Larry H. Miller Management Corporation, and somebody I happened to meet through the Marshall Goldsmith 100 program.

One of the enduring benefits of being selected as part of that is just the cool people I’ve managed to bump into. Now, Raymond is a highly decorated military veteran, he’s had more than 20 years global HR leadership experience, and experience in various industries in both the public and the private sector. We’re going to talk to him a little more about just what is the Larry H. Miller Management Corporation. You’ll actually have heard of some parts of that but first of all, Raymond welcome.

Raymond Hall: Thank you Michael, I’m glad to be here.

Michael: I am glad to have you here. Now there’s a bunch of people who’ll go, “I’ve never heard of Larry H. Miller. Who is that? What’s that?” But I think they’re going to be surprised as to who some of the organizations under that umbrella are, so could you just tell us a little bit about what the Larry H. Miller Management Corporation is?

Raymond Hall: Certainly Michael. So the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies has actually been around for about 39 years. We started in May of 1979 when our owners Larry and Gail Miller purchased their first dealership right here in the Salt Lake area in Murray, Utah. Since that time we’ve grown to employ more than 10,000 employees, doing business in more than 46 states. Our business focus is into five primary areas, the automotive business, sports and entertainment, finance and insurance, real estate and philanthropy.

I think the one business that most would be familiar with is the Utah Jazz of the NBA. So our automotive business includes more than 60 dealerships in seven western states, representing at least 20 different automotive brands, so that’s really the biggest business in the portfolio. And our financing and insurance offering also includes a business called Total Care Auto and Prestige, so we have both the finance and the insurance side basically providing protection-

Michael: Got it.

Raymond Hall: -For homes and vehicles. And we have a very sizeable real estate portfolio as well.

Michael: That’s fantastic. So I’m curious, do you have a kind of standardized approach across all of those … I think it’s more than 80 different companies when you add them all up.

Raymond Hall: Yes.

Michael: Do you have a standardized approach to performance management or is it different within each part of the portfolio?

Raymond Hall: Well no, we didn’t have a standardized approach if you think about performance management in the traditional sense to include technology to support the differences, the businesses have very different operating tempos and so they’re allow some flexibility to do what makes sense for them. We’re actually in the process of implementing a new performance management process and tool, and the primary goal is to increase the frequency of feedback and help connect hearts and minds to the broader organizational strategy. We think that doing that, will help employees understand how they fit and why they matter, so they can really understand the value they bring to the organization. Our goals is to drive engagement, innovation and help us realize our vision of being the best place in town to work.

Michael: I love that. So you had engagement and innovation as the key business drivers, so is this a conversation you had at that senior leadership team going, “This is an issue we’ve got that we want to …” And performance management is a tool to help with that?

Raymond Hall: Yeah, I think so. So one of the things that we do every year, we update our business strategy and our operational business plans. In many of our industries we need to continue to evolve and innovation to us could mean new products and services, or it simply could mean improving what we’re already doing. And so, our engagement survey was one of the key indicators, when we looked at the results, employees wanted a more formalized process.

They wanted more contact with their managers, they wanted to really understand how they’re performing and where they were. And without the process and system in place, it was really inconsistent across the organization in how that was being delivered, so that really drove the process. We had leadership buy-in from day one, which made the change management process so much for easier.

Michael: For sure, for sure. You said the main driver was around an increase in frequency, that’s across all the different companies in the portfolio?

Raymond Hall: Yes, that’s correct. One of things we want to do, because when you think about our business model, wherever you’re talking about the Utah Jazz, and the people who work at the arena, which we also own, or you talk about our movie theater business, or the automotive dealerships, our business is a contact sport, and people are at the center of it. And as the demographics continue to change, people are more social than they were before, so the traditional approach of setting goals at the beginning, talk about progress in the middle, give your report card at the end is not going to help us achieve the level of engagement that we want. And so, the whole focus around our new philosophy is creating more connect points. And so a lot of it would be employee-driven.

Michael: So when you say a lot of it would be employee-driven, I mean … First of all I’m just smiling because I love that expression of, our work is a contact sport. We’ve got to be figuring that out. But when you say, employee-driven, what do you mean by that?

Raymond Hall: Well, we want employees to really take ownership of their careers both performance and their professional and career development. And so, the way we’ve set up the process flow, within our technology platform, is to give them that empowerment, where you don’t have to wait for managers to schedule a one-on-one, you can request that, you can get that time on the calendar. And it puts more of that accountability on the employee. The managers will certainly be there as a resource and provide the feedback and guidance, and make sure that they have the tools and resources they need, so they can be successful. But we want employee to be fully engaged in this process.

Michael: I love that. And that’s such a profound insight around, rather than having performance management done to you or feedback provided to you, it’s like if you are responsible for getting the feedback you want for success in your career, what would you do to take those steps?

Raymond Hall: That’s right.

Michael: How do you nudge people towards that shift in stepping up and taking responsibility for their own careers in their own lives? Because that sounds simple, but it’s a profoundly significant change at least in most organizations.

Raymond Hall: Well it is, and it’s an interesting dynamic that I’ve seen over the years too. I think one of the things that helps is, when you think about our demographics of our workforce, 75% our population are ages 44 and younger. And when you look at the engagement survey feedback, one of the big opportunities for us was around empowerment. People really wanted to have a say in how they did or performed their jobs. And so this is a perfect opportunity to give them the platform to do so.

So versus being dictated how you’re going to do, what you do every day, the goal setting and direction may come from management or leadership, but you have a prime opportunity now to be fully engaged in the process, to help define what that day in and day out looks like as it pertains to you. And so, we’ve been pretty clear about everybody matters, regardless of what role you play in organization. And it’s almost like a sports team, because we’re all on a team, we certainly all can’t play in the NBA. I probably lost that opportunity years ago.

Michael: So close. So close.

Raymond Hall: But when you think about the dynamics of a team, if one person doesn’t do what’s expected of him, then it usually would lead to a loss. And so, we like to use those same concepts when we’re communicating with our employees, so they understand regardless of where they sit, you matter you have a role. And so, when you understand the importance, and the level of accountability that’s expected of you, it does start to shift the mindset where people actually want to do this and actually take the initiative to do so.

Michael: Yeah, I love it. You talked about technology being … enabling people to say, “Hey look, I want that conversation with my manager or with a particular person, I’ll make the appointment, I’ll take the responsibility for that.” Was this new technology that you introduced, is it kind of a standard off the shelf piece of technology or is it something that you created?

Raymond Hall: Good question. And I answered that question in two ways, is it something we created internally? No. The technology platform that we would be using is a Halogen product, which you’re probably familiar with Halogen.

Michael: Yes.

Raymond Hall: I think the difference is … One of reasons we chose to go Halogen is because it’s highly customizable. So when you think about our needs, we did take an off the shelf product, but we were able to customize it so that it becomes us, and it becomes very useful in terms of being able to align what our performance management philosophy is, and also incorporate some of the differences are between the business units that we operate, because they are very different across different industries. And so, it needed to be flexible enough to be able to adapt to those things.

Michael: So I’m curious about the change management process, because the years I’ve had working in change management I’ve come up with a conclusion that, it’s always hard. It is never an easy process to shift behavior and shift a way of thinking and shift a way of doing. And that’s hard when you have a single unified company and culture, and so there’s an old shod way you can see connections. When you’ve got such a federated model like you have, I imagine that it gets trickier rather than easier. So what tactics did you use or what strategy did you have that seemed to work particularly well in engaging these different types of people in more than 80 companies, in more than 46 states in the USA?

Raymond Hall: And that’s another very good question Michael. I think one of the watch-outs when you have a company structure like we are, is what I like to call the unnecessary uniqueness between businesses. I mean, at the core of it what we’re trying to achieve is helping people understand how they can add greater value than they did yesterday. And getting the leadership team on the same page and helping them understand that this is a priority, that’s the critical step in any initiative that you’re trying to drive, because then you can create the pull versus the push.

No one likes to feel like a system or process or something is being pushed down their throat, but it really was, being able to highlight the areas of opportunity and use this as a way where can elevate business performance if we just did these things and here’s a process and a tool that can help you achieve it. My business presidents were 100% supportive and once we got their support, it just made all the other communications very, very easy.

Michael: Well, I love the insight around unnecessary uniqueness because there is a way that you could always make the argument around, “Look, my car dealership is in this state, your car dealership is in a different state, so we’re a different type of organization.” Or more explicitly like, “Look, we’re Utah Jazz and you run a movie complex, we’re different organizations.” But you’re saying, aligning the business presidents with kind of the vision and the shared outcome that we’re looking for allowed for a similar product to be introduced in these different parts of the business.

Raymond Hall: That is correct. And where we did allow flexibility was because the operating models are different, their process flows may be a little different when you look at sports entertainment versus auto. And so, the flexibility there, we did allow that but what was non-negotiable is, when you think about the rating schemes that we would use, performance ratings and those sort of things.

Michael: So I love that. And that’s a great insight, which is be absolutely clear about what the non-negotiables are, this must happen, but then give people flexibility about maybe a different process or a different way of rolling that out depending on the nature of your culture or your subculture.

Raymond Hall: Yep, that’s right.

Michael: Raymond, tell me a bit about how you think about ratings within this organization? Because your ratings get a lot of conversation, some people are like, “Wow, you know they’re inherently demotivating, we don’t want to have ratings at all. We’re abandoning ratings.” Other people like, “Actually they’re the backbone of how we think about performance management.” How do you think about ratings?

Raymond Hall: Well, I actually think, because I’ve been a part of an organization. I worked for Cargill for a number of years and we actually had a no ratings pilot. And so, I got to be able to see how that would work from that perspective. I think what it boils down to Michael is the maturity level of your organization. Those that have been doing this for quite a while, and understand how to differentiate performance especially if you have a pay-for-performance comp philosophy.

Then if you’re very young in this process, and certainly we are, then there needs to be some level of guidance and something that people can look to, to differentiate good vs great. If this is a company who have been doing this a long time and are leading in this area, maybe a no ratings pilot will work for them. It was certainly very positive for Cargill. I believe that whole organization now, has a performance management system that is designed around just touch points and feedback. That’s it. But for an organization just starting this journey, I certainly could see where the ratings would come into play.

Michael: Yeah, I got it. What about lessons learned? I mean, you’ve made it sound … And I’m sure it’s been a very positive clear focused experience, but typically there are kind of road bumps along the way, “I thought was going to work like this, it didn’t quite work.” Are there any lessons learned particularly in that change management process?

Raymond Hall: Yeah, I think so. I think the biggest lesson that I learned with this initiative, implementation of this initiative and others is the importance of getting your senior leaders aligned in their commitment and sponsorship first. Because, culture follows leadership, certainly this is something that when you think about a very good performance management process and system that will help drive elements of your culture as well. And so, the recommendations I have for anybody, whether you’re talking about performance management or diversity inclusion or any other key people initiative is start with senior leadership and gain their buy-in and their support.

Michael: And knowing that you had 80, just presidents alone of different businesses. And then each of them would have had two, three, four or five other senior leaders as part of their own leadership teams, did you just spend a lot of time on the phone or in airplanes talking to people or was there a process that enabled you to get that buy-in.

Raymond Hall: Well, I’m fortunate because the presidents of our divisions or the different business units are all here, in the Salt Lake Area, and once a month we have a monthly president’s meeting. And HR is certainly on the agenda every single time.

Michael: Brilliant.

Raymond Hall: And so that gave me the platform to discuss any new initiatives, issues that we see across the organization and it also gives the president an opportunity to hear from the others. And so there may have been a couple of conversations that I had with one of the presidents prior to the meeting, so I already knew where my support was going to come from. And in the meeting, those presidents would actually speak up and support the program, which really helped gain sponsorship from the others.

Michael: Yeah, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about meetings it’s, the ones that go really well are the ones you know how they’re going to go before they start.

Raymond Hall: That’s right.

Michael: As opposed to the, “I hope somebody supports me on this”, you’re like, “I know exactly who’s got my back on this, and how they might influence the other people who might be kind of on the edge.”

Raymond Hall: That’s right.

Michael: That’s great. Raymond this been a wonderful conversation. Before we go, any final comments or reflections on lessons learned about performance management?

Raymond Hall: Well, I would say one of the things that we’ll need to continue to watch certainly over the next three to five years as it relates to our business, that we need to pay close attention to is the changing of the demographics of our workforce, we’ll need to continue to evolve as our workforce changes and be mindful of how people even like to receive feedback for example. Traditional approaches may no longer be effective. And it also could impact the technology we use, so as we start to see advancements in that area that will help with the effectiveness of the delivery of the process. Two, improving employee experience, that’s one of things I think we’ll need to watch for.

The other is business growth and new markets as the market continued to get saturated in some of the areas where we do business today, and you think about potential expansion, particularly global expansion. We’ll need to consider some of the cultural challenges that might exist there too. And so I think one of the things that we will continue to focus on is making sure we have a very solid performance management philosophy and build our program around that. I think regards to where we do business that will help us achieve a level of consistent with regards to where we are.

Michael: Brilliant. So it’s about getting on those core principles and from there you can adapt to the growing need.

Raymond Hall: That’s correct.

Michael: Raymond Hall, CHRO of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, this been a great conversation so I thank you so much for your time.

Raymond Hall: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

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