How to Develop Deliberate People Passion - Branch Interviews Steve Browne

There are few people who are as passionate about the world of HR than Steve Browne.

Not only does Steve live and breathe the world of human resources and all that comes with it, but he also experiences it daily from the trenches. As an executive director of human resources at LaRosa’s, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain based in Cincinnati, Ohio, he’s responsible for more than 1,200 team members across 14 locations.

In addition to his work at LaRosa’s, he is dedicated to his profession. That’s evident by the amount of time he spends sharing his ideas about HR including on social media, conventions, and even writing.

He's a frequent (and sought after) speaker at regional and national HR conferences, and recently published his first book, HR on Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion. Steve is also very active and transparent on social media channels. You can find him sharing insights on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. He also writes regularly on his blog, Everyday People.

If you haven't had a chance to meet Steve, we're delighted to introduce you to him here on Branch Messenger.

We recently had a chance to talk with him about how he’s built his following in the world of human resources, how he got into the field, and the challenges he’s faced. His interview provided great lessons for how corporate HR executives can serve both management and staff in the day-to-day operations of a busy and demanding environment like his pizza restaurant.

Branch Messenger: Steve, you've built quite a following in the world of HR professionals, it's great to have this opportunity to ask you a few questions.

Anyone who's heard you speak, whether on a big stage like at an SHRM conference, or at a smaller regional meeting, can't help but be moved by your passion for your profession. How have you maintained that over the course of your career?

Steve Browne: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think of my passion as a “thing”, it’s just how I’m wired. I have been passionate about life since I can remember. I think it’s hard to quantify because some people think that it’s a shtick. I think that’s because we feel we have to be different people/personalities in different situations. I don’t feel that’s genuine. I think there’s so much to take in every day that I can’t help but be in awe of what I see and who I meet. I don’t know any other way to see life.

Branch Messenger: Your first book, "HR on Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion" has just been published. What inspired you to write the book?

Steve Browne: HR is the only field I’ve ever worked in. I was tired of people tearing HR down and demeaning the work we do. I wanted to give our peers a positive take on how we practice HR that was realistic and tangible. I want to encourage others and let them know that someone believes in them and is geeked that they’re also in HR.

Branch Messenger: You're the executive director of HR at LaRosa's, a large regional pizza chain in southern Ohio, and you've been with the company for almost 11 years now. How does leading the HR function in this type of company, with a large number of semi-autonomous locations, differ from your previous HR experience in manufacturing and professional services environments?

Steve Browne: Every industry has it’s unique characteristics, but I think the differences you see are from company to company and not industry to industry. The biggest HR “a-ha” moment I realized at LaRosa’s was how cultures differ from location to location. There are a myriad of factors that are in play – the size of the management team, the number of Team Members who work there, the geography of where the store is located and the diverse make-up of the Team Members themselves. I think LaRosa’s has allowed me to practice HR more on an individual level which I think is the most effective way to practice HR.

Branch Messenger: What are the key challenges you face in that role?

Steve Browne: Practicing HR more from a one-on-one/situational perspective is unnerving for people. We tend to want overarching policies and programs that fit everyone. We think it gives us “control” when it’s just an illusion. It’s always a challenge to say that I’d like to see people believe the best in others first. We still want people just to “show up.” I think that sells people short based on what they have to offer and also what they want to contribute. It’s ironic that being positive is seen as a challenge, but it truly fights against the norm of most company cultures.

Branch Messenger: How, in your view, can the corporate HR function best serve the needs of management and staff in a large retail or restaurant organization like LaRosa's?

Steve Browne: There are three key things that a corporate HR function should adopt regardless of industry type.

  1. Be approachable – HR needs to set the tone. If we’re not genuine and approachable ourselves, we can’t expect others to be. This is essential.

  2. Remember you represent ALL employees !! – HR needs to work with everyone from the CEO to the person at the front line and be consistent, forthright and genuine with folks. It sounds a bit utopian, but it works. HR can’t afford to pick and choose who they support and who they don’t.

  3. Enjoy the people around you !! – I get geeked to see our Team Members every day. They choose to come to work every day to take care of our guests. That is awesome and should be acknowledged and not taken for granted.

Branch Messenger: Staffing of hourly employees in this type of organization can be challenging: Scheduling, shift swaps, adjusting to unexpected demand fluctuations...Do you have a uniform way of managing scheduling and schedule changes across your locations, or do managers in individual stores have the flexibility to sort of do things their way?

Steve Browne: We have a great Operations team that works with each store to help them work on schedules and staffing because there are fluctuations that are constant. We have some solid technology to do labor scheduling and we allow for flexibility. In today’s workforce, you have to do that. People value flexibility almost more than any other factor or benefit. It’s becoming more of a “given” versus a benefit and I think organizations need to respond the best they can. I don’t know how companies can take a hard line position on this anymore.

Branch Messenger: Anything else you'd like to add?

Steve Browne: Just one quick story. When I came to LaRosa’s, Inc. and told my peers that I was going to lead the HR function in the restaurant industry, they told me I’d regret it. They said that there were so many challenges and obstacles like high turnover, variable staff, etc. I listened to their concerns but assured them that they were mistaken.

I was right in the end.

I think that my role rocks because of the people I get to work with every day – on purpose. Are there challenges? Sure. But, aren’t there challenges at any company and in every HR role?

I’ve never seen HR as a challenge. I see it as an opportunity !! Each day I come to work is different. I have constant variety and I get to be with phenomenal humans. It doesn’t get much better than that !!