Bryan McComak: In HR, a Variety of Lenses Help You Figure It All Out

Global HR

The following transcript is provided unedited.

Brian McComak:

When I was at AMC Regency Square eight, which I worked at in the early nineties, we expanded that to a 20 screen movie theater to be the second megaplex in the country. And I had six weeks to hire 150 people. And one piece of the puzzle was we had a realistic job preview as part of that process because a lot of high school students, we would hire them and their parents would say, “You can’t work after 10 p.m. on a Friday and Saturday night.” Well, that’s how it works at a movie theater, so.

Tony Lee:

Welcome to the HR Storyteller podcast series from the Society for Human Resource Management. I’m your host, Tony Lee, head of content here at SHRM. Thank you for joining us. Our HR Storyteller podcast feature practitioners and thought leaders in human resources sharing stories about why they love HE, what motivates them, and what’s moved them in their careers. Today we are joined by Brian McComak, who is the CEO and founder of Hummingbird Humanity in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Brian, thanks so much for joining us.

Brian McComak:

Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Tony Lee:

Well, it’s our pleasure. So you have a story to share about how you got into HR?

Brian McComak:

Yeah. In college, I was one of those students who had all of the majors. I was pre-med and pre-law and engineering and music even at one point, and really had trouble finding where I fit. And one of the cool things about me is I like to explore lots of things and learn lots of things. So I appreciate that about myself. And during that part of my career, I was working at AMC Theaters and was an operations manager, and I worked for AMC for 10 years.

For those who don’t know, when you’re an operations manager at a movie theater, you also have a secondary responsibility. And I was always the HR person at the theaters I worked at, so it was just natural to me to be an HR person. Now, when I share those two realities, I was a college student who didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was a professional who knew exactly the kind of work I wanted to do. And during my time at AMC in my early twenties, I had the surprising wisdom that at some point I’m going to not want to work until dawn on a regular basis and decided to go back to school. My undergrad was in management and marketing ultimately, and I decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree.

So as I was exploring that path, I was going to go to law school or to get my MBA. Still not clear on who I actually was, I guess. And as I was exploring those MBA programs, I found masters in human resources and change management, and all of a sudden the light bulbs connected or went off and the wires connected and I said, this is the path I need to take. And so I went to earn my master’s in human resources and change management at the University of Central Florida and have been committed to my career in HR ever since.

Tony Lee:

Wow, that’s great. And during those days at AMC, did you face HR challenges that you look back on and say, boy, I did that really well, or boy, I really missed that up?

Brian McComak:

Well, yes to both. Yes to both. I try to be one of those humans that acknowledges I’m human, so I don’t always get it right. There’s one story though, that when I started to learn the practice of HR and the ways that we would recommend certain aspects of engaging with humans in workplaces be done, one of the things that I learned that I did write was what we would call a realistic job preview. When I was at AMC Regency Square eight, which I worked at in the early nineties, we expanded that to a 20 screen movie theater to be the second megaplex in the country. And I had six weeks to hire 150 people, and I put together the whole plan on how we interview and how we orient.

And one piece of the puzzle was we had a realistic job preview as part of that process because a lot of high school students, at least then, I don’t know how this plays out in movie theaters today, but we would hire them and their parents would say, “You can’t work after 10:00 PM on a Friday and Saturday night.” Well, that’s how it works at a movie theater. So we took some real steps to make sure they understood what they were signing up for. And so it was cool just to see that even just they had some natural instincts for how to do HR.

Tony Lee:

And those were the days before you could do video and actually show them what it was. Did you bring them in late at night and show them what it was like?

Brian McComak:

Well, we didn’t do that, but we held a mass information session. So every Friday evening for about two months, we held an information session that if you wanted to work there, you had to come to the information session. When I became an HR person, I wondered if we should have paid them for that, but that’s another question altogether.

Tony Lee:

That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. So you bring up an interesting point that we actually hear a lot about for people who are new to HR, which is should I get an advanced degree? A lot of folks major in business administration or something like that, and then they explore options. They try HR, and then they either fall in love or they don’t. But those who fall in love are often struggling with, do I know enough? Should I know more? What would your advice be?

Brian McComak:

I would suggest that being successful in possibly any career, but certainly in the human resources arena, requires ongoing learning and curiosity. So whether it’s a certificate program or the next level of the degree in your own personal career journey or an internship, I had a full-time career as a movie theater manager, and I resigned from that full-time position and got an internship in HR because I wanted to learn this new career path. My parents were terrified. They’re like, “Brian, you don’t have benefits anymore.” I said, “I know. I’m going to be okay.” But I did it because I knew that I needed to learn the practice of HR and I wanted to start from the ground up. So I think my counsel would be, as I say to often career seekers or who are looking for their next job and are worried about the economy and how it’s going to affect their career prospects is be curious, make sure that you’re of value, you’re always going to find work.

Tony Lee:

So you have a unique focus on DE&I. It’s an area of real interest for you. What do you see changing these days? Because there’s been so much discussion of DE&I, certainly the last couple of years. Are companies approaching it in a different way, a way that’s making it even stickier? What do you think is happening?

Brian McComak:

You’ve offered a great question about whether it’s sticky boar and I think it’s a little too early to tell whether the surge in DEI activity is really making a tangible difference in workplaces. Certainly the murder of George Floyd had us all paying attention and has us all paying attention in significantly different ways, and that’s created an opportunity for me and Hummingbird to be of service and to help the organizations that are now joining the party and working to make workplaces where humans thrive.

I do think that surge in activity combined with the pandemic and the reality that leaders, I think, finally understood was that they’re leading humans and not robots. And of course no leader would like to hear that, but so many of the practices and policies and the ways we treat people in workplaces are centered around taking out the emotion of humans in the workplace and expecting them to be these perfect robots, and that doesn’t work that way. So I do think we’re seeing a shift in how leaders lead and how companies engage the humans that work there. I think we have a long way to go though.

Tony Lee:

Yeah. So there’s been a lot of talk about incentivizing DE&I, you know have CEOs and boards that are measured very carefully on their DE&I initiatives and their achievements. But one of the things that we’ve been writing more about is are hiring managers properly trained, are hiring managers properly incentivized to understand the importance of DEI and then reflect it when they’re hiring and doing their interviews. What do you think? Are hiring managers getting it or is that where the shortcoming is?

Brian McComak:

It’s one of many shortcomings. When we work with our clients on how to increase representation in their organization, we want to make sure that they have a holistic strategy that is looking at all aspects of the selection process and into the onboarding process and what the experience of those employees would be when they join. So one thing we find is very rarely if we’re sort of stepping in or I’m stepping in for the first time to help with that conversation, it’s usually specifically focused on increasing representation in the pipeline. And that is a very narrow focus to deliver on the proposition of increasing representation. So yes, I think hiring managers not understanding how to remove bias from the interview process and the decisions they’re making is a piece of the puzzle and an important piece. But I think what we really need organizations and leaders to do to understand it from a larger strategic perspective.

Tony Lee:

Yeah. So how can HR help make that happen?

Brian McComak:

Sure. One of my favorite things to do is to have hiring managers go through a hiring without bias workshop or session as they kick off any new hiring process. We typically do one and done trainings, and I think that is one of those interventions that needs to happen at the time the process begins. So I think that’s an ongoing activity that HR can deliver. The other activity through the lens that I shared a moment ago around the holistic strategy is to assess what are the drivers behind why you’re not seeing representation. Look at every step in the selection process when people are dropping out of the process, understand why that’s happening, look at the brand, the employer brand that you have in the marketplace.

Something that we find with almost every assessment we do is if you go to the website for the company, it looks like only white people work there. That’s not actually true usually, but that’s certainly the perception they’re giving off. So you really do need to look at it through a variety of lenses. And the four lenses that we use at Hummingbird are people, culture, customers, and community. So how are you demonstrating your commitment to an inclusive workplace? And so HR professionals, again, can be involved in not only the people part of the conversation, but also the business part of the conversation to say, what stories are we telling as a company and what messages are those stories sharing about whether we are or are not inclusive?

Tony Lee:

So I’m not sure if you know, but SHRM has been a huge advocate of tapping untapped talent and looking at candidates who have criminal histories, looking at candidates who may not have college degrees, alternative credentials, or perhaps even no credentials. Reaching out beyond the comfort zone to find candidates who can make a real contribution, but who likely are coming from a situation where they haven’t had the privileges that many others have. Are you seeing that catching on? Are you seeing companies taking that seriously, especially with the talent shortages to really look at places they may not have looked before?

Brian McComak:

I’m seeing companies and leaders that I’m working with start to understand the need to develop those relationships and those pipelines. The muscles as I would probably call it, for how to do that. The understanding for how to do that. It’s interesting when I have those conversations because it’s like I’m asking them to speak another language. So I think there’s an understanding and awareness and recognition that that’s necessary and will become even more necessary. How do we do that successfully and thoughtfully and intentionally? What does that look like? Is something that for the people that I’m working with, foundational, and we typically work with small to mid-size companies. So when I think about the larger companies I’ve worked for in the past, those are the companies that will have had the done the work to figure it out. But small to mid-size companies, I think have a long way to go to get to that place of having those relationships.

Tony Lee:

Yeah, I mean, when you’ve got resources, obviously you can do all sorts of things.

Brian McComak:

Absolutely.

Tony Lee:

So big companies do. But I mean, some of the smaller companies where we’ve seen some real success stories reach out to local workforce commissions, they reach out to public service agencies, they say, “Look, we’re looking for people who can be loyal, trustworthy employees. Help us.” Do you see that success as well sometimes?

Brian McComak:

Yeah. And the way that the companies we’re working with would be looking at communities like a women’s group at a university or the black students union. And so those are the type of relationships that we’re helping them build. And that is definitely happening. The other communities are like women in tech, those communities that are identity specific within a subject matter expertise area or an industry area. And so we are seeing those conversations happening more. What I’m also seeing happen and hearing about is there’s a belief that all we have to do is just pick up the phone and it’s going to be magically candidates are going to appear. And so of course when any of us say that out loud, we would all say that’s not possible. I think it’s a bit of a hope and how to lean in to develop a relationship that is mutually beneficial is the magic there. So yes, they picked up the phone and now they got to do the next step.

Tony Lee:

Yeah. Well, Brian McComak, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. You can hear all of our HR Storyteller podcast by visiting our website at shrm.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.

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