Collin, an experienced HR and organizational development expert, discusses redefining traditional HR methods with a focus on practical training. With a successful track record in talent management, he shares insights on his unconventional journey to Heyday, a skincare company revolutionizing the industry. In this conversation, Collin delves into his unique HR qualities, responsibilities at Heyday, and the importance of pre-training. He shares innovative strategies for talent acquisition, effective training content creation, and handling a high volume of applications. Tune in to discover fresh recruitment approaches with Collin Russell!
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Rob Stevenson 00:52
I’m your host, Rob Stevenson. And you’re about to hear the best in the biz. talk down to me. Okay, hello. Hello, podcast land. Welcome back to the show. I have a great guest lined up for you today on top talent me he is the VP of people over at hayday Colin Russell. Colin, welcome to the show. How are you today?
Collin Russell 01:11
Thanks. I’m excited to be here and get to know everyone.
Rob Stevenson 01:14
Yeah, glad to have you lots to go into with you. You like my favorite guests have had a unique path to your current role. Would you mind sharing a little bit about that. So we can set some context here at the top?
Collin Russell 01:25
Sure, starting sort of an undergrad, I was one of those like many who just didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do, and ended up taking a few classes in the what was a human resource development minor at the time and was like, this is cool, I can see myself doing this. And from there, once I graduated, I went directly to grad school in NYU and studied in a human resource program there. And when it came time to start looking for a job, I was very much like, I want to work somewhere, I feel really passionate about the company and the brands and want to be really in the thick of it. So at the time I joined SoulCycle it had about I think 15 to 20 locations open and growing rapidly. And I was like I will take any job that I can get here because I feel that passionate about the company. I loved what they were doing. The classes were great. The people working there were excellent. So I had met with a old friend Blake hill at the time, who was a recruiter there. And he was like, listen, kind of this interesting team, it’s a little bit HR, a little bit all different things, but they really manage the instructors. And you get a little bit of taste of everything. So it was like great, that sounds something I can do and enjoy. So I started working at SoulCycle and worked on really managing and working with the instructors. And that included everything from helping with their schedule, deciding what studios they should teach at managing performance. And it kept growing, I think, you know, I started overseeing first Philadelphia and Washington DC from there started gathering in Atlanta and Florida and these other regions. And I think by the time I left, you know, had close to or a little over 100 instructors. And it was an incredible experience. I think it taught me about how to work with different people how to motivate people how to have difficult conversations, and a little bit of an unconventional HR path. But I think it taught me so much about how to really work with people and love the industry that I’m in. So I think I was there for quite a few years. And at the time, when I was starting to look for my next venture, I got linked up through a friend to talk to the founders at Hay Day. And I was talking to them, but a little unsure of like, Hey, Am I ready to make the move, I want to make sure it’s a good jump. And they were like, Hey, we’ve got a few locations opening. We’re growing, we’re expanding, we’ve got quite a few people and the business is doing well. But we’ve got no processor system in place, especially when it comes to the people side of the business where essentially, we’ve got a good thing going but we don’t know how to scale it. So we’re looking for an unconventional people leader like yourself to help come in and give us some help when it comes to building up those processes and systems. And that’s exactly what we started doing. I worked there and it started with the basics. You know, how do we put it in a handbook? How do we start to formalize training? How do we create some order out of this little bit of chaos that was also working phenomenally in the sense of trying to disrupt a revolutionary industry or what was once an archaic industry and make it a little bit revolutionary? So I was all about the challenge and from there we just started to grow you know, as I started to grow it then formally started to take on the recruiting processes, and then over But on top of that started to pick up HR and people operations and now overseeing learning and development. I’ve been there for five years, little over five years. And it’s taught me a lot about growth, I think we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, especially managing through a pandemic, with a workforce that was primarily on the front lines of really working with clients within our physical locations. But so we managed through that we’ve gone through growth, we’re now franchising and opening the locations across the country, but I think heyday now has over 35 locations, we have over 550 employees within just the hate a wellness or hate a brand itself and continuing to grow and expand. And, you know, every day brings a new set of challenges. But I think, you know, having a good team and the right mission behind you helps feel that.
Rob Stevenson 05:52
So heyday, I think people are maybe putting it together from context. Now. It’s like skincare or facial treatments right in the inner retail capacity, right in brick and mortar. And so then you are tasked with VP of people, both in corporate and then also in the front of house, kind of in the in the retail sector. Is that right?
Collin Russell 06:09
Yes. So to your point, we have physical locations. And I think the brands really started with like, how do we take the facial out of the spa? How do we give esthetician licensed esthetician a platform that’s different. So typically, you might think of your spa as someone you go for a full treatment, you have this wild sort of experience where you d robe and you have this whole day event. And it was like how do we make our spaces more approachable? How do we utilize this knowledge that estheticians have and give them a platform to actually educate their clients on products that they’re using and helping them get to their skincare goals? How do we make this not such a big ordeal, but more of your regular routine. So we have locations kind of all throughout the United States. And then we also have we call our support office, and it’s our corporate office, but we call it a support office because we like to think of ourselves as being in service or supporting our shops and helping them be successful.
Rob Stevenson 07:06
So you have taken on additional responsibility as time has gone on. Right? That is the dream or I guess just the reality of performing. Recently, though, you mentioned you’ve added on l&d into your purview here. So does that approach when you are conceptualizing what the development looks like for the team? Does that approach kind of bifurcate? When you’re thinking about retail versus corporate? Or is it still the same values and still the same goals?
Collin Russell 07:30
It’s funny, we’ve come across this a lot. And I’m sure a lot of people, especially with consumer brands have heard, you know, there can be a disconnect between your office and your shops and you know, treated a little bit differently. I think at the end of the day, people are people and have similar interests, they want to feel like if I give the company a lot of my effort and my time and give you everything I’ve got, I sort of want that reciprocated, I want to feel like I’m cared for and appreciated. And I think that how that works is you have to listen a lot and really understand I think, a good example of when, you know, learning and development came under my purview. We heard a lot of feedback of like, hey, within our shops, this learning content that you’ve created is fantastic. It’s really good supplement, but we’re estheticians. You know, we like the hands on. That’s what we do all day, we work with each other, we work with our clients, we want more hands on training. And I think it’s about having to really understand your audience and what makes them tick and what makes them drive. But at the end of the day, it’s like if you’re making content that is fantastic, and it’s not resonating with your audience, it’s not going to land or drive you the results that you want. So it’s finding the marriage between what business outcomes you’re trying to drive with what is going to help motivate the people and help them feel like they’re being given the tools to be successful within their job.
Rob Stevenson 08:57
Collin, I would have been the same thing as you I would have been like, Oh, here you go esthetician and look at all these great resources, which is you know, once you actually speak to them, it’s like, oh, right, you work on your feet. You will like the process of learning become an esthetician is like done with students and with like dummies and with, you know, like actually working with your hands. So probably they get antsy when they’re forced to look at a slide deck, whereas you and I, who spend our lives hunched over keyboards are like, yes, give me the deck. This is how I learned. But what did that look like then when you were offering? Like hands on development? Like that’s a kind of a different way of delivering the content. How did you go about doing that?
Collin Russell 09:32
Yeah, and I think it’s really and we’re still figuring it out. I don’t want to come across like, oh, we have it figured out and it’s the perfect but I think one of the main things that we’re doing right now is really working through like a regionalized training program so that you have boots on the ground in different locations so that you have a point person that you can work with. Otherwise it becomes very costly if you have sort of people stationed in your home office and every time you want to replicate a training or you want to do something then you have to pay for them to travel there. So I think it’s about how do you have the right training, get the right insight up front, but then also plan to how do I actually deploy it? How do I make sure that we have the right people in the right seats to help get this content to the team. I also think it’s a marriage between, you know, as you mentioned, like, you should have some sort of resources when it comes to training. And a lot of the things that we have found works really well is almost like a pre training to the actual training. So maybe give some short tidbits of, you know, this is what the training is, here’s some pre reading, here’s some information of what we’re going to cover so that when people do come in there kind of have a context of what are we going to be covering here, some insider knowledge, but then when we hit the hands on, it’s like, no, we actually get to be part of this community. Because like many others, especially esthetician, they learn from one another they learn from doing and it’s a really nice marriage, when you can have both types of learning you can have, you know, the right tools and resources that give you context. But then you can also talk about and talk it through with your peers or the people, you know, within the shop yourself.
Rob Stevenson 11:12
I’m interested in Colin in the moment when L & D came under your purview. I imagine it was a little more thoughtful, and then maybe the CEO sort of leaning back in their chair and going, you know, what, Colin? I think you should do some L&D stuff, right? Where did the need kind of arise? And then where did you start once it became a goal for you?
Collin Russell 11:33
I think L&D just tie so closely to the entire employee experience, I think it all is the cyclical cycle of like, you know, from you can’t have one sort of weak part within the employee journey. Because if you hire great people, but you don’t give them the right training to be successful within the roles, then they’re eventually going to leave or become disengaged. So I think when you look back, it’s really not just okay, well, I am going to just develop one great part of the experience, it’s really hard to all of the components work together seamlessly. So how do we create a really great recruiting pipeline funnel experience from a candidate? How do we onboard them smoothly? How do we get them right? And make sure that they have the right connections and feel like their questions are answered? Right, from, you know, their HR team or their HR member, their manager? How do you transition them to make sure that they get the right training so that the familiar with the tools and the systems and the procedures? And then how do you continue to develop them? So it’s not just, you know, a one and done thing? But, you know, I think it really ties to the entire employee lifecycle.
Rob Stevenson 12:45
You mentioned that they can’t have any weak points, how might you identify a weak point?
Collin Russell 12:50
I think this is where it becomes a balance between science and using data to support this. So if you can see, hey, turnover, or engagement or increased of complaints, something like that becomes kind of in your face, it’s hard to ignore. But I think also, if you ask the right questions, people will give you the right answer. So if you’re curious, and you’re trying to identify generally, as long as there’s some safety, and people feel the trust, or they feel like you’re genuinely interested in helping to solve maybe a pain point, they’re going to give you the information. So they’re going to say this is working, or this is not working. And I think that’s, you know, one of the things that I’m incredibly proud of is I think we have incredibly talented managers within our locations. And it took us a while to get there. But we have really top tier managers because they really feel the ownership and they are constantly coming to the table with suggestions and being able to identify what is or what’s not working. And they’ll not only do that, but they’ll also help you to say this would help really improve it more. This is what takes me two hours a week, and it shouldn’t. And here’s how I think it could be better. So it’s not just pain point people who love to come to you with a problem, but it’s also like, okay, well what do you think is going to help solve this? How do you envision this going from here to here and I’m painting realistic expectations. I think not everything can be done all the time. And it can’t always be fixed overnight. But hey, that’s a great idea. I’m gonna put this in sort of like a parking lot aren’t gonna hold on to it, because right now we’re focusing on this and, and just being able to communicate clearly so that no one’s feeling like, hey, when I do voice a concern, or you do voice suggestion that’s going on volunteers.
Rob Stevenson 14:39
L&D is kind of this nebulous thing. It’s like a nebulous behemoth. It’s been reduced to two letters and an ampersand but it stands to represent someone’s growth and development as a professional as a person, etc. How are you even gold on it? Like Like once this became your responsibility? How was success As measured for you having implemented this stuff,
Collin Russell 15:03
yeah, that’s always the tricky one. And you know, at the end of the day, if people come back to like, Well, how do we know if this was successful? How do we not I think this is where cross functional partners are really critical within making sure that this is successful. We have an operations leader, Alyssa, who has been with us for multiple years, and she is my right hand partner, let’s make sure it works, hi to results and make sure that we’re doing the right work. So I think it comes down for us and in the shop level is making sure that the training that we’re delivering is consistent with results within our shops. So if for us, we want to make sure that we’re targeting membership conversion, we’re kind of assessing where’s our starting point? What’s our ultimate goal? And then for me, I really go back to our training team or l&d team. And I’m like, Okay, if this is where we’re at, and this is where we want to be, what do we think is going to be the absolute training, think big picture, like, if you’re telling me, we need to shut the shop down for a day and retrain on this, I’m open to it. But we have to have the goal in mind, if we think that that’s going to do it, we can make a business case out of it. As long as we really believe that what we’re going to put out there is going to fundamentally shift how we operate moving forward. So I think it comes to really good partnership with your cross functional partners. I think it’s about encouraging your team to think big picture and allowing them to, you know, come with their crazy ideas, because those crazy ideas can either be scaled back, or they can be so crazy that they’re like if this is going to fundamentally change how we do something. And it could really fundamentally change how we drive success. So I think it’s not being afraid to like scribble outside those lines and giving people the space to think big, but also really creating those strong functional partners.
Rob Stevenson 16:56
Have you had any of those crazy ideas recently?
Collin Russell 16:59
Yeah, I think we’ve done that where we just and maybe that’s where this came from is, you know, come up with an idea. We did this competition with our training and l&d team and our shop managers where we made this a competition. And we said, Here’s kind of some pain points that we’re noticing within the business. And we’re going to partner, a member of the learning and development or HR team, with the shop manager. And we’re going to have you both come up with like a business proposal that if you were going to shut the shop down for a day to address these pain points, how would you do it, nothing is off the table, if you need to say, hey, we need $5,000 To do this, but we think it’s going to drive X result. Great. Make the business case, if you’re like I need to host an all day pizza party, if you can tie it back to our business result. And you think it’s going to really fundamentally change the game. So we made it into a competition but gave them complete rain. We had them sort of present this to a few people, including our Steve o myself, the head of operations, and we’re like Lectron imagination run wild, but it needs to both be engaging, and it needs to drive results. So I think really letting people come to you with those ideas are great. And we think right now we’re taking a few of the different ideas from those to create like a shut the shop down for a day paid training for our employees.
Rob Stevenson 18:19
Sometimes the solution is just to crowdsource the solution, right?
Collin Russell 18:24
Yeah, I will fully admit, and I understand where my skill sets lie and where they don’t lie and do not have the skill set of a lot of the people on the team when it comes to learning and development and developing curriculum. And that’s where I really look to them as like an expert for how do we actually, you know, bring this to life. But I think I don’t expect anyone to always have the answer. How do you, you know, crowdsource and work with your peers and encourage that sort of relationship?
Rob Stevenson 18:52
Could you share one of the winning entries are finalists at this point? I guess.
Collin Russell 18:56
So we’re combining a few of them. I think, you know, our two winners were from our learning and development team. And then our area leader in the West Coast, I think they kind of turned it into his three sphere day. But I think there’s other components of a scavenger hunt that work and trying to incorporate in to make it more of a team bonding experience and getting outside of the shop. And I think how you just the activities that you do and a lot of roleplay is important so that it’s not just us talking at them, but how do we actually get people working together? So it’s a combination of a lot, but I think, you know, it’s a fun journey to be on.
Rob Stevenson 19:36
What about on the corporate side? Are you kind of doing the same thing encouraging people to bring those who are unique solutions at homebase?
Collin Russell 19:42
Yeah, I think corporate side of it. Truthfully, we’re a fully remote corporate office or support office and we were once headquartered in New York and then during the pandemic, we’re like, okay, we’re not doing this anymore. We’re gonna hire people remotely, and I think it’s brought it to On challenges, it’s also brought some really great things, I think in terms of what we’ve done well is really aligning people to overarching company goals. So I think one of the things that we just put out there is, you know, 100,000 members and 100 shops by the end of 2026. And I think it’s give people the long arching vision and then be able to work cross functionally. And then smaller teams, if you know what you’re working towards, you know, come to the table with those ideas of what do you think is going to fundamentally change the game. And I think that’s where you have to have really strong leadership to really ask the right questions and not be afraid to say no to certain initiatives that you think aren’t going to work or be like, Hey, we have this idea. It’s gonna take some time or investment, but this is what you know, we hope that it will drive.
Rob Stevenson 20:51
Gotcha. Now, because there is the retail component of the business, I’m sure you have the blessing and curse that a lot of recruiters have, which is loads of inbound applications. And obviously, you want that right, it’s better than the alternative. But because anyone’s going to hit Apply now the quality is just not going to be as good as a source person or, or what have you. So is that the case? Do you get a lot of inbound? And if so how are you sifting through it?
Collin Russell 21:16
Get a lot of inbound, I think it can change a lot depending on the role or the location of certain roles or jobs. I think for us, I always love to have a really wide funnel. And it’s our job from a talent perspective to sort of narrow that funnel down so that you’re ultimately landing the best possible talent. I think we’ve done a lot in terms of identifying who our ideal candidates and what makes them our ideal candidates creating sort of those personas have this is what we have found to work really well. And here’s why and here has not what works well. And here’s why. And it’s also about addressing pain points early. So for example, within our shops, you know, when we’re hiring, we generally know this is a schedule, or we need someone to work Sundays, and it’s about being open and upfront with that really early and often throughout the interview process. And that’s been a huge thing. I think one of the game changers for us at heyday was we hired Cassia Chisholm, who is our she was an assistant manager, a pastor’s esthetician, and she kind of put her hand up to help with recruiting at a time where we are going through and hiring a ton of candidates. He was an esthetician herself. So she very clearly knew what makes a good esthetician and and she helped really define what those good candidates look like I’m creating a process that scales so she helped teach managers what that looks like she helped identify the right questions to ask. And from there, I think also empowering the managers within our locations to identify what does talent look like and hire directly for their own locations is a big game changer for us.
Rob Stevenson 23:02
Yeah, it feels like you need to empower those folks downstream. Like particularly in the case where it’s retail, it’s like, you should not be looking at every resume coming in no matter what, but probably enough to know who’s out there. But then it’s up to the individual, like hiring managers, right, they need to take more responsibility at that stage shortly.
Collin Russell 23:17
Yeah, I think that’s been the biggest game changer for us, honestly, is, and what has allowed us to have really small but strong recruiting team is empower those managers within those locations, give them the right tools. So make sure that they have access to the right applicant tracking tool, make sure that they have the right screening questions, make sure they fully understand the role and what makes a good candidate, and then allow them to learn and hire themselves because there’s no better way than just doing it. So if you prep them, you give them the right training, you say this is how you do it. Here’s questions that you can ask, here’s what’s not to ask. And then they’re going to make some really good decisions. And they’re going to make some probably bad hires. But I think anyone in the recruiting space knows that that’s life. And, you know, then from there, when you do maybe make a bad hire, or you’re stuck in a tough spot, you lean on the strong relationships with the recruiters that you have in house. But other than that, they’re going to know what works for their shop better than someone sitting in a corporate office, they’re going to say, I know what, you know, resonates with the clients that I have here within this location, and giving them the tools to recruit them and make those decisions quickly. And nimbly is important, but also teaching them the lesson of building a bench of talent. So you know, if they’re over like, oh my gosh, I need a front of house toast. You know, I just had one resign. They quickly learn, hey, if this keeps happening and all of a sudden I’m in an SOS situation, it helps me understand I shouldn’t be talking to people screening candidates, even when I am fully staffed. so that if someone does leave, I’m never in a 911 position. But sometimes the best way to figure that out is let them make the mistakes, give them the guardrails, but when there is, you know, help or support needed, we’re there to help facilitate that.
Rob Stevenson 25:16
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. Now, Colin, it’s almost the end of the year. And the end of the year, as we know, is the time for reflection and introspection, prognostication, even other polysyllabic words, surely, it’s no different here on top talent to me. So I’m going to ask you here, as we slide into home to share, what do you see coming the way of talent and people professionals over the next year? What sort of high level trends or things or should people be prepared to deal with?
Collin Russell 25:40
It’s been a tricky year, I would say, for people within the people space, I think there’s been a lot of economic uncertainty, there’s been, you know, mad dashes for hiring. And then there’s been moments of slowing down. I think my one tip or trick or thing that I would always encourage people is to really take a step back and examine your people processes. And I think we’re always quick to say it’s a people or headcount problem, I think my best advice or what I would caution people is, look at your entire process, is there something that you could be doing differently that would help be part of the solution or change the way that we do things? Fundamentally, I think, you know, that helps you bring a new perspective, because sometimes we just get stuck. And we’re like, we’re so busy, we need to have another person on the team we need to hire, we need to do this. But it’s like, if you actually just dedicated two to three hours per week, over the next four weeks, we can build a process that is so much more effective and efficient that it reduces your weekly hours worked on something else. So I think it’s constantly begging the question of, is there something we could do differently? Is there something that we could improve upon, and really having that critical eye to not just get caught in the day to day, but rather, you know, take a step back, take a pause, ask questions for the people that you work with? Is there something that we could do better or differently and don’t just automatically say no, but open yourself up to those possibilities or ideas of what it could be?
Rob Stevenson 27:17
That has fantastic advice. Colin, this has really been great having you here. So as we creep up on optimal podcast length, I would just say thank you for being here on the show. I’ve loved learning about what’s going on over there at Hay Day. So thanks for being here.
Collin Russell 27:28
No thank you and appreciate the opportunity to chat with you all.
Rob Stevenson 27:35
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