Driven and Determined

Catherine Decker is building a progressive HR environment that contributes to Outsell's innovative culture and growth.

By Carol Patton

This article accompanies Ever Upward.

Ever since Catherine Decker was promoted last year to HR director at Outsell, a digital-marketing Software-as-a-Service company in Minneapolis, she has been revamping nearly everything in HR's path.

While constantly trying to improve people, processes and policies, Decker -- one of this year's HR's Rising Stars -- is now automating HR's outdated paper-based system. Late in 2015, she selected a new HR (Epicor) system for the 100-employee company.

"The first [phase] was getting employee self-service up and running and then training the entire staff on this new tool and what [employees] could do paperless at that point, like update dependents, check their withholdings on their payroll, or change their address," says Decker.

HR is now deploying the second phase that targets performance reviews, she says, explaining that employees and managers will be able to access the online system to complete self and staff evaluations. Decker envisions two more phases that involve incorporating an applicant-tracking tool and loading the system with employee-compensation and job-grade information.

"We really had to make space for this but couldn't [push] anything else aside," says Decker, whose department consists of three people, including herself. "[People] are pulling up their bootstraps."

In the past, she says, HR relied heavily on external recruiters and job candidates would respond to HR's traditional postings or bland job descriptions. However, the 12 year-old company has been in growth mode since 2010, doubling the size of its employee population and now working in 10 different states. The company hires 30 to 50 new employees each year. However, recruiter-placement fees -- roughly 20 percent of a new hire's annual salary -- started to mount, reaching six figures in 2015 alone.

Outsell's CFO, Matt Hanley, was growing concerned about the rising fees and the company's utilization of resources. As fees continued climbing, he says, Decker offered a solution -- let HR tackle recruiting.

"Catherine was instrumental in creating some processes for bringing the majority of the recruiting in-house," he says. "First of all, it saved a lot of money during 2015. But more important than that, she created the process in a way that would allow her and her team to work with managers across the entire organization and more effectively recruit top talent."

He explains that the HR team spoke with managers, asking them about their concerns and expectations regarding recruiting, such as HR's ability to lure quality talent. He says Decker and her staff began to think like marketers. They experimented with several open positions; replaced the company's traditional -- even boring -- job descriptions with creative, online teaser ads; and filled those positions with skilled individuals.

HR then began conducting behavioral interviews, which focus on situational questions, and annual "stay" interviews in which employees share their likes, frustrations and pain points of their jobs.

HR also partnered with marketing to leverage social media, develop an external employment brand and build a talent pipeline -- filled with passive candidates -- to support the company's business growth. So far, HR has hired close to 30 applicants.

Decker shares employee comments from stay interviews, good or bad -- along with information about policy updates, employee turnover and other HR matters -- with the company's leadership team. As one of its members, it's her job to keep senior executives apprised of trends and challenges or make changes to positively impact the business' bottom line and growth.

For instance, she put her nose to the grindstone to secure buy-in from upper management to implement an unlimited paid-time-off policy. She formed a leave committee composed of one person from every major work group and met with members to address the business' needs, the demands of family and new parents, and leave benefits offered by competitors. Decker then formulated an unlimited PTO recommendation to propose to Outsell's senior leadership team, which was accepted.

Considering her personal drive and ambition, it's not surprising that Decker has earned a master's degree in business, along with three HR certifications: SHRM-SCP (senior certified professional), SPHR (senior professional in HR) and PHR (professional in HR).

Decker is a team player and has recently assumed responsibilities outside of HR, Hanley adds.

"Given that we're small, trying to be efficient with our resources, and given her abilities with [technology] systems, she's recently taken on responsibilities for sales-force meetings, which is traditionally a sales department [function]," he says. "She's able to not only integrate the HR system with the accounting system as you traditionally would, but is starting to align all systems, like sales force, across the entire organization."

Likewise, as a behind-the-scenes coach for the organization's Caring Committee, an employee-led group that steers 3 percent to 5 percent of the company's profits toward charities, she offers advice to members on how to achieve specific initiatives and which workers can help them get things done.

"I'm very cognizant of how HR can add value to the organization, much more than just policy enforcement," Decker says, adding that she now leads a committee that's developing a leadership program. "We can be the caretakers of talent, [which is] so important to organizational success."

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Catherine Decker

May 13, 2016
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