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The HR Scoop

Sara King from CEO IQ | Adapting to Change and HR Strategies for Growth

Season 6
July 1, 2024

In this HR Scoop episode, Andrea talks with Sara King, an HR consultant, about the growing trend of fractional CHROs and HR consultants. Sara shares her extensive background, including a 21-year tenure at VIPS, where she built the HR department and navigated multiple acquisitions. Sara also discusses a successful virtual article club she started during the pandemic and the importance of adopting AI in HR. She emphasizes building strong relationships with CEOs to secure a strategic HR role. 


Andrea: [00:00:00] Welcome to the HR scoop today. I am so happy that we have Sarah King with us. She is an HR consultant with a very rich background and a lot to share. And, you know, I’ve heard a lot of talk out in HR land about fractional CHROs lately and consultants becoming more. popular and it almost seems like a bit of a resurgence to me.

So I’m especially looking forward to diving into HR consultants thought process and experience. And so I’m just really excited for the conversation. Thank you for being here, Sarah.

Sara King: Gosh, thanks for having me, Andrea. I look forward to discussing all things HR with you.

Andrea: Yeah. So I guess just to ground us in all of the rich experience that you bring, once you walk us through kind of your experience.

Sara King: Okay. Well, I, taking it way back, I started actually, um, as an instructional design [00:01:00] specialist in the public school system in North Carolina. I helped create curriculum for inner city magnet schools in video production. My degree was in instructional design and video production. Um, I then moved to Baltimore from Raleigh, um, and worked as a training specialist.

Went from there into VIPS, which was the organization I was at for 21 years. Started as a training specialist and they were a fledgling company growing. There were about a hundred people. I helped them create an HR department. And then stayed with them and, and grew through that organization up to Vice President of Human Resources when I left.

Um, and since that time, I’ve been caring for an aging parent, but also working as an HR consultant, working closely with CEOIQ. com, facilitating CEO workshops, and then working with different organizations on, it might be HR staffing, it might be how to communicate with difficult employees, different HR topics as needed.[00:02:00]

Andrea: Wow, that’s awesome. And to take a company, you know, and really build out the HR function and make it successful over time is really impressive. And something that not a lot of people get to do anymore, you know, unless you go to a startup, but I guess with some of the consultant work, it might be, you know, Somewhat of that, right?

Like you’re normally building

Sara King: something

Andrea: that

Sara King: wasn’t

Andrea: there,

Sara King: right? And I think also with that experience in growing the organization, we were acquired five different times. Um, and at one point we were a part of WebMD. WebMD had purchased us along with MDR. Really? Yes. Um, in one iteration, we went public. We I mean, we were, we were, um, went through a venture capital time.

So it was interesting getting to learn, you know, how we could fit in with five different organizations because each one had a little different flavor, um, which was a great learning experience. I enjoyed it. Um, and, and also a lot of them left us to be our own entity, but some of them [00:03:00] wanted us to integrate more.

So it was really sure, you know, curious through that process. We also went through a phase where we were acquiring. And so I got to be on the other end and help incorporate organizations within to our You know, umbrella. And we went from gosh, around 100 to about 650 700 when I left. So it was a lot of growth, both organic and external.

Andrea: Yeah, I think it’s a great example of how you can be at one company for a long time and have five different lives in five different experiences, because all of those were probably really different iterations of the same company.

Sara King: Yes. And I get to interact with different VPs of HR at all these different organizations and learn so much because, you know, each time you’re learning and picking up something different.

Andrea: Yeah. And I love that because oftentimes someone who’s leading an HR department doesn’t have a lot of peers or mentors or really, you know, that support of other people because you are the top of [00:04:00] that group. And. Other companies, you know, do things differently. And I think it’s always great when HR VPs or senior level, HR professionals can really collaborate, even if it’s coming together or pulling apart.

I do think I agree. It’s such a rich learning experience. Yes. So with all of like that, You know, working with different people and different companies that are rolling in and rolling out. And then you move to the consultant work, which, you know, probably has some similarities. You know, how, how have you used that experience to kind of help different CEOs or different businesses kind of get, get what they

Sara King: need

Andrea: done?

Sara King: Right. Well, I think and so, as I said earlier, I work with CEO IQ and Ben, who’s the founder, actually worked with me when I was at VIPS. He came in as our executive coach. So I’ve had a long term relationship with him. And what he’s asked me to bring to the table is more of the human capital perspective for CEOs.

[00:05:00] focus are small to midsize companies. So it’s growing companies. They’re all individual entrepreneurs. So they’re coming at it a little differently from an established organization, you know, with a bandwidth of people to tap into for different things. So we tend to look at each CEO. As a unique experience, because we’re trying to cater to what are they looking at and what do they need, whether it’s helping them grow their C, C level suite, because multiple times it’s just people that have grown up with them and they’re kind of organically growing and when it’s time to bring in that external person and help them integrate it, because that’s a difficult thing when an organization has been together and we’re trying to introduce those external resources.

So it really is. It’s, it’s, it’s interesting because each company is very unique. And so we get to apply different things that luckily I’ve had the experience of growing with over the last 21 years to identify from an organizational development perspective what they need and how we can best help coach them into that.[00:06:00]

Andrea: One thing that is true in every organization I have been a part of, at least, is even if you have the skill set internally, sometimes you just need an external person to come in and say the thing. Maybe you’ve already said it. But there’s just something about having an external consultant or training group or provider come in that people tend to take a little more seriously.

I don’t think we should be offended. I just think it’s human nature.

Sara King: I think you’re 100 percent correct. And when I was on the other side of it, initially I did go, wait a second. I think I saw this coming. But it’s, yeah, but you’re 100 percent correct. Um, it’s kind of refreshing to be on that side. And again, um, you have a clear, you get to have a cleaner perspective cause you’re not in the day to day.

So you can kind of not have that emotional tie that is a bias we all have, right? If you’re living it, you have a different perspective.

Andrea: Yeah. I think that’s probably at the end of it, why it’s [00:07:00] helpful to have the external person because everyone thinks you’re neutral and hopefully you are, um, and you can be creative and it doesn’t feel personal because so and so already knows that you do or don’t like that.

Exactly. So I think what you’re, what I’m hearing you describe is a really tailored. personal approach to the organization and the humans there, which hopefully is what we’re all striving for. But I heard that you did something kind of unique or interesting with a book club. So what was the book club and outcomes?

Or tell us about that,

Sara King: right? Yeah, well, that was actually kind of fun. That was during the throes of the pandemic. And so Ben and I were trying to come up with something that could give back. So we I had been participating in a virtual book club and, and I suggested, I’m like, why don’t we try to come up with something like this for our companies that we work with, but also put it out on LinkedIn and let other, you know, other people can join.

So initially we had a thought book club, then we decided let’s do [00:08:00] articles because we want timely. We were trying to find articles, you know, about remote workers and, and different things that were impacting the workplace. So we’d select two or three and each meeting we had about 20 to 25 participants.

Participants that joined us. It was an eight week program, and we did it every other week, and we throw out three articles. Um, I also had created a gratitude journal that went hand in hand. So I was trying to have everyone try to have more of a positive focus. Because change can be very scary, and so we were trying to go, let’s, let’s understand it, educate ourselves about what’s going on, and let’s also tend to be grateful for what we have and that we are able to work remotely, whatever the case might be.

So it actually, we enjoyed doing it. It went well. Um, but it was just something as a give back that we thought we’d throw out there.

Andrea: So what was the, the impetus to move from a book to articles? Was it attention span, time, [00:09:00] participation? Is that choice?

Sara King: I think primarily it was because we wanted it to be timely information.

So we kind of thought, well, if we can do these really interesting articles that we’re grabbing, you know, every other week, we’re getting current information that would tie back into the pandemic and what everybody was going through. We thought it would be a safe place for people to land and learn together.

Um, and what was also really helpful, and it’s the same thing with the CEO group. they learn from each other. We kind of facilitate conversation, but different organizations were trying different things. And so you could get that input that you wouldn’t normally be able to get. So people from different industries, people from different size companies join.

So, um, to me, that’s really the benefit. It’s having your peer interaction. We also didn’t just Um, keep it to the C suite, which is where most of our work is. We let anyone within organizations join because it really wasn’t a, you know, you have to be here to benefit. We wanted it to [00:10:00] make, you know, anyone could join and anyone could benefit from the conversation.

Andrea: Yeah, that’s interesting. I, I’ve done book clubs in the past where, you know, maybe it’s a manager development program and you get, you know, whatever management book you’re working through and you meet weekly or monthly or whatever, and kind of work your way through it and, or with individual groups. And I think that when you have a stable group who can meet regularly and come together and kind of plow through a book over time, a book works.

But to your point, I think if it’s more Of a real time cultural topic or, you know, the thrills of pandemic when we’re all literally trying to figure out what is happening and what we are doing, um, having shorter things to read and then really read to prep and then discuss is really smart. And I think we could probably replicate that inside of organizations too, and not just keep it to, you know, a whole book commitment and [00:11:00] maybe do a combo.

Sara King: Yes. Well, the, the articles worked out really well. It, the whole thing worked out well. And when we finished, because we just did it, you know, it was an eight week program, the participants were like, are we going to do it again? And we were like, not now. Because it was, you know, it was something that was easy.

It wasn’t a huge time commitment and people were engaged. So that was what we were really trying to do.

Andrea: Sometimes it’s good to leave them wanting more. I have to say, so you mentioned gratitude and I feel like that’s another thing that, I mean, it’s always been popular. We’ve talked about gratitude journals forever.

I think sometimes it’s easier to feel grateful and sometimes it feels like everything is a dumpster fire and it’s very difficult to find that thread. So what did you find or kind of what was the experience with looping gratitude into that?

Sara King: I will say more, some people embraced it fully. Some people weren’t as engaged [00:12:00] in the practice of gratitude, which is fine.

Um, I think for me, it was just helpful. It’s just putting yourself presently thinking about what’s going well. I feel like in business, we tend to go, Oh my God, there’s a fire. Put it out. You know, what’s going on. Versus stepping back and going, all right, what do we do that works? Well, let’s really step back and go, let’s keep that in mind as we approach this, because we, you know, we have things that really work or we wouldn’t be here.

So as opposed to just focusing on the fire, let’s figure out from our strengths, how to address it. So that’s what we were trying to help people go through, because I think we felt like the pandemic threw a lot of people into fire mode. And it was just like, let’s just sort of step back, figure out what we do well, and let’s build from that.

Take a breath, you know, take just a little breath before we go attack this issue.

Andrea: I’m a big fan, huge fan of gratitude, I think. It is a really wonderful practice. And also, I have [00:13:00] recommended alongside with a gratitude journal for some people, it really works to do a rage journal. That’s a good idea. You know, it’s, we have so many feelings and thoughts and emotions and everything is uncertain and there was a lot of fear and change and continues to be.

And sometimes it’s just, you know, It’s very cathartic to get that out of your body and physically write it out. And there’s just something that happens when you can release it from your brain, put it on paper and then burn, rip, shred, recycle. You don’t have to keep it. You don’t have to show it to anybody, but getting it out of you.

So then you can be in a more grateful heart space or mind space. That’s a tip. If anyone’s like, I’m not so sure about gratitude. I want to, but I have all these angry feelings. You can do both. You can do both. I like that. I like that a lot. You know, and then I think over time you probably rage less, you know.

You got to get it out fully. That’s our goal. That’s our goal. That’s right. [00:14:00] Um, okay. So switching gears a little bit. There’s another topic that I really love to hear from you on. And that’s a, I again, something I’ve been, I think we’ve all been hearing chat. GPT is revolutionary. It’s We are just at the precipice of understanding what this technology can and will do.

So I’m curious what you have seen from CEOs and their teams, are people incorporating AI? Or how’s that going? Like, what are people doing out there from your view? Right?

Sara King: Well, so what we started doing, we made it a standing agenda item at our monthly CEO meetings because we wanted them to know it’s going to be current.

So again, we sometimes send out Articles. We did have a book on AI that we had him read and talk about it. One of the meetings, but what we found is, and these are small to midsize companies, so they don’t have a group that they can say, Okay, you go find out how AI can work in our organization. So each of the different groups, we do small group work, but each person is [00:15:00] incorporating it in different ways.

So we have one CEO who’s using it to write all his memos. He’s using it to do legal research. He’s in the legal field. You know, so it’s like he’s, he’s incorporating from a different perspective, others are utilizing it from a marketing perspective that, you know, okay, I’ve come up with this idea and I don’t know, let me, let me type it into chat GPT and so Ben and I, as an example, have done that for a marketing tool we’re trying to do, and it was fascinating.

So we’re trying to use it. From sales and marketing for our personal use. But a lot of the CEOs are just trying to figure out how can I use it in my organization? And I think each time a member says, here’s what I’ve done. They’re like, Oh, tell me how you did that. So it’s really kind of a, we’re learning together.

We’ve, you know. I think we all have to stay learning. I think the fear in AI is thinking it’s, you’re going to lose your job. So I think as long as we’re staying in front of it, I don’t, I think people will incorporate it into their jobs and work smarter. [00:16:00] I don’t believe it’s going to be a huge, you know, Oh my God, they’re replacing us.

But I think the key is for employees too, is keeping it present in conversation so there’s not fear attached to it.

Andrea: That is my question because I think with any new technology, there is always fear. There’s always fear of change and that my work is going to change now that impacts me. So I care a whole lot about it.

I remember hearing. When they first invented elevators, that even though the elevator could go on its own, they still had to keep the elevator service person to stand there and push the buttons for a long time before people felt comfortable getting in an elevator. And I, I bring that up because I think there is kind of a little bit of training and we’re in this together and let’s walk through it together and I’m still going to push the button here for you to get you up the elevator.

So how do you address that fear or how do you use training or [00:17:00] education or just what are some tips for us is what I want to know because I think we’re all doing this and probably not very well. Well, I’ll just speak for myself. I’m sure y’all are all doing great.

Sara King: And again, that’s one of the reasons we, we have it as an ongoing topic because we don’t, you know, we’re trying to understand it.

We’re trying to learn. So our, you know, we’re trying to create, I guess, a learning mindset, which to me is an important mindset to have in anything within an organization. So I think it’s just making sure that we’re approaching it as we’re going to, we’re going to do this together, you know, so some jobs may go but then there are new jobs that are coming, you know, prompt engineers are new jobs.

So I think. You know, it’s just having the idea for an from an employee perspective that we’re going to let you grow with us Hopefully and we can retool you or we can address whatever needs to be done um, so our goal is just to keep it a conversation because We don’t have the answers, but I think just having [00:18:00] Having the comfort that it’s a conversation And that it’s not going to blindside you because I think that’s where you really run into trouble Right?

Like blockbuster when you don’t see the change coming. Right. Um, so I think it’s just grow with the change. Um, because I know I sometimes think of, you know, Alvin Toffler in Future Shock, um, when he said the illiterate of the 21st century aren’t those who can’t read or write. It’s those who can’t learn, unlearn, and relearn.

So I think we just have to kind of think about that. And again, try to make it comfortable for people. Change is not comfortable. We don’t like change, but I think as long as we’re learning and educating as best we can, hopefully we can, you know, embrace the change.

Andrea: I think that’s especially true for leadership.

You know, when you put it like that, like learn and relearn and then learn again, because Everything is different. I mean, you just think about now versus [00:19:00] 2019. We’ve had to learn and unlearn and relearn a whole lot from a leadership perspective. So do you see AI shaping leadership or strategy in the same way?

Or do you think it’s going to be more tactical, you know, frontline jobs that we’re just retooling?

Sara King: I think it’ll be both. I’m not sure. I mean, I definitely think it will affect leadership. I don’t know exactly how. I, I, I’m confident that it’s gonna impact all aspects of our work. Um, you know, kind of like when the computers first came out.

Or even with internet. I mean, obviously, I remember I have two daughters in college and I remember my blue book, you know, and everything, you know. And they do everything on the computer. So, I think it will affect leadership. You know, all aspects of work life. I’m not sure timeline, but I do believe, um, it, it’ll help us work smarter.

I think it’s going to free up more time for us to be creative and to think, you know, take away some of the activities, the, [00:20:00] you know, the more mundane activities and free us up to do more forward thinking. That would be best case scenario. And

Andrea: it would, it’s, it’s interesting to think, right? Like in our lifetime, we have gone from everything being a number two pencil and fill in the bubble to computers, which were revolutionary.

To the internet, even dial up, you know, the whole kick me off the internet, that whole thing to wifi to now AI. I mean, the amount of change in such a short time is incredible. And it’s only going to, I think, become more and more accessible. Financial. So if you’re not thinking about how AI impacts your company, whether it be big or small startup, corporate frontline leadership, you really need to put it on the agenda and you can be the forward thought leader on this in your company.

There are [00:21:00] tools and resources out there. You, you as an HR or In the people profession, do not have to wait for the IT department to bring it up. This is an area that we are all learning. So if you are interested, you can step out and show yourself as, you know, someone who wants to lead this conversation.

Sara King: Absolutely. And I think within HR, I can definitely see applications, you know, with employee records or payroll, benefit administration, recruiting, performance appraisals, um, onboarding. I mean, they’re just There’s so many areas that I feel this could add so much value to a human resources professional.

Andrea: I agree.

And I find that oftentimes we are not early adopters, you know, as a profession. Yes. So, you know, perhaps we consider it, um, not that we have to be experts, but we can be curious and we can learn and unlearn and relearn a few new, a few new tricks. And. Figure out how we can use [00:22:00] it to our benefit, because I think there are a lot of things that if we could not spend time doing, we would have more time to be direct with employees, to be creating leadership programs, development programs, better town acquisition systems.

I mean, really, it’s just liberating you from the tactical to get more brain space, which I don’t think any of us have enough Thinking time. I certainly don’t. I would love more thinking time. So if we can use tools to benefit ourselves, I think it’s very smart to do so. Yes, I agree. So, you know, before we go, is there anything else that you can think of from your very deep experience working across multiple industries and companies that Is your favorite piece of advice or something?

I don’t know you think would be helpful to our listeners. It doesn’t have to be the AI about leadership, training, um, engagement,

Sara King: culture. Um, I think one thing. So as [00:23:00] I shared, I went through many different CEOs within the same organization. Um, and I think the thing that was most valuable to me was building that relationship with the CEO so that I had a seat at the table.

Once I got the seat at the table, it was much easier for me to number one, understand all aspects of the business. So I was pulled in to understand where the decisions were coming from, but then also understanding how human capital impacts that from a recruiting standpoint, from an organizational growth standpoint, succession planning.

So to me, the key is. Building that relationship with the CEO so that they understand the value of HR. And once you have that, it really just opens up how you can impact an organization. Not just in the daily activities, but really in the, you know, one year, two year, three year out plan. Um, which was most valuable for me.

And I think all HR people have the ability, sort of like what you were saying with AI. It’s taking that initiative to sort of [00:24:00] push it. I don’t know that you’re going to be pulled to the table. I think you kind of have to push your way a little bit to the table so that you can, you know, have value and show that inherent value in human resources and human capital.

I have seen

Andrea: a lot of improvements with HR being seen as a strategic partner. We’re not all the way there yet. Um, It has gotten better, but you’re right. I think it still comes down to the individual relationship that you are going to build and have as to how much you are included. And that’s great.

That’s true with every company, right? Because at the end of the day, we’re all just still humans and we need to feel connected. And like we trust someone before we’re going to hand them a huge strategy or take their recommendation. So it’s getting better, but yes, building those relationships and again, having the time to continue to curate them and build that trust.

And of course show results, but even results aside, you know, having a really strong working partnership with. As [00:25:00] high on the leadership that you can go will benefit every employee. Exactly. No pressure.

Sara King: That’s right. No pressure. And I think again, speaking of the employees, I think always focusing on employee development and growth, I feel like, you know, When there’s, when there’s a fire, when things are going on, let’s, let’s keep in mind that our employees are learning and growing and maybe you can retool them if they don’t fit an exact opening, but kind of coming up again with that development mindset and learning mindset from an employee perspective.

It’ll help with retention. It’ll help with results. Um, sort of like the service, service profit chain, one of our organizations followed that. Thanks so much. Right? Starts with that happy employee and happy in the sense that they’re fulfilled, they’re contributing, they know they’re doing a good job, and then it’ll lead to happier customers, better results.

All the way around.

Andrea: Yeah.

Sara King: And that’s science.

Andrea: That’s right. Science. But we still have to do it to make that work. [00:26:00] Awesome. Well, it has been such a pleasure having you on the show. This is a very interesting conversation and I really appreciate your time. But before we let you go, I have my. Favorite very last question I ask all of our guests and that is to tell us something that most people don’t know about you

Sara King: Um, well I Was an extra in iron man 3.

Oh, no way, which was really kind of fun Yeah, it was actually really kind of fun. Yeah, I was supposed to be at a scene with Gwyneth Paltrow. I was um, I got to go into the makeup trailer and the guy’s like, Oh, have you been trying to get into acting? I’m like, no, I just brought my daughter, but it was, it was fun.

Uh, yeah, my scene got cut, but it was all right.

Andrea: Oh, I love that. I was an extra in a league of their own. Oh, yeah, they filmed that movie in my hometown. That’s fun. So it’s very, I didn’t get to go on the makeup trailer, but I did see Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Hanks [00:27:00] down on the baseball field, which was super fun.

Well, yeah, and I got

Sara King: to be actually an extra in one scene with Stan Lee, which was kind of fun because.

Andrea: Oh, yes. Very cool. Well, I would not have known that about you, so thank you for sharing.

Awesome. Well, thanks again, and everybody, I hope you enjoyed the episode, and we will see you back next time. Thank you.

The HR Scoop

Humanizing Well-Being, Part #2

Season 2
July 22, 2021
The HR Scoop

Humanizing Well-Being, Part 1

Season 2
July 14, 2021

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