March 22

Episode 115: Yes, Data in Important – But Don’t Forget About the People


In today’s episode, Mike talks with Jennie Hobbs – She is the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Upstream Rehabilitation.

Jennie has held progressive HR leadership roles in multiple industries, and she has experience in all of HR including recruitment, retention, training development, affirmative action, policy development, and much, much more.

Jennie Hobb’s Company

We are a outpatient physical therapy company. We’re actually the largest outpatient physical therapy company. We’re in 28 states. Currently have 1200 locations. And what we do is help people get better. If they’ve been injured or had a surgery, and our, we have an amazing group of physical therapists and occupational therapists that help people get better.

Questions in This Episode
  • “Tell us about what Upstream Rehabilitation does, please.”
  • “What are the data that you find is most important?”
  • “How long has your organization been doing employee surveys?”
  • “What things have you observed from your vantage point that as an employer are forever changed?”
  • “And has that created any resentment?”
  • “Tell our viewers and listeners a little more about you and your career progression.”
  • “What do you think business leaders get wrong about human resources?”
  • “Why have y’all chosen to emphasize fun in your organization?”
  • “Would you be willing to share an example where perhaps you got stuck and when that happened, what did it take to get unstuck?”
  • “As you step back and reflect on your career thus far, what might be some of the high points?”
  • “What else would you like to add to that? To put things in proper perspective?”
  • “What is the power of in fact listening?”
  • “Have you found that the issues you dealt with in trucking from a people standpoint are very similar to the same issues that you deal with leading the largest rehab organization in the United States?”
  • “As you look back on what you have shared, what do you want our listeners to have as takeaways?”

Links & Resources Mentioned…


Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to the Get Unstuck and On-Target podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders, and we help companies solve the people problems that are hurting their profits in slowing their growth. Joining me today is my long-term friend, Jennie Hobbs. She is the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Upstream Rehabilitation.

Jennie has held progressive HR leadership roles in multiple industries, and she has experience in all of HR including recruitment, retention, training development, affirmative action, policy development, and much, much more. I think our listeners are gonna enjoy hearing from Jenny to get her perspective.

Welcome, Jennie.

Jennie Hobbs: Oh, it's so good to be here. Mike, thank you for inviting me today. I'm looking forward to our conversation.

Mike O'Neill: Well, I am too. I just realized that upstream rehabilitation, you gotta almost take a breath before you say all that.

Jennie Hobbs: You do.

Mike O'Neill: That is a mouthful. Why don't we just start there? You've been there for, what, eight plus years?

Jennie Hobbs: Little over eight years, yeah.

Mike O'Neill: My goodness. Tell us about what Upstream Rehabilitation does, please.

Jennie Hobbs: Yeah. Well, we are a outpatient physical therapy company. We're actually the largest outpatient physical therapy company. We're in 28 states. Currently have 1200 locations. And what we do is help people get better.

If they've been injured or had a surgery, and our, we have an amazing group of physical therapists and occupational therapists that help people get better.

Mike O'Neill: This is a very large organization that you're providing HR leadership to, and as we are exploring, what might you and I talk about on this podcast?

Something that kind of jumped out as a recurring theme is in your role as a senior HR leader, I know that the nature of your work is you have to basically build business cases when you go and ask for money to be used on behalf of employees, on behalf of employees' families, and the like. But I also know that sometimes that as a HR leader we kind of build a case around the data.

We measure everything. And something you said that caught my attention, that really will be the theme of our conversation. And I'd like to entitle this segment. Yes, data is important. But don't forget about the people. That very much I think are words that came right outta your mouth when I read that back to you.

What does that say to you?

Jennie Hobbs: I have become much more in tune to how important data is. I realized that we got a new CEO a couple of years ago he's the data guy. And it's been helpful to dig into the data, but what I really think, and like to remind people of, is it's a people business.

You know, our businesses are led by leaders, by people. It, we help people. Our associates are the ones making it happen. And so I just, I get fearful sometime that we get so caught up in what does the data tell me that we for forget to ask, what are the people telling me?

Mike O'Neill: How many employees is your team supporting?

Jennie Hobbs: We have 8,200 throughout the United States.

Mike O'Neill: My goodness. So that's a lot of potential data points, is it not?

Jennie Hobbs: Yes, it is.

Mike O'Neill: I'm, I think our listeners know I came out of a corporate HR background and HR data can come in many forms. You can be looking at the number of employees, you can be looking at employees per division, per department.

You can be looking at a whole host of things, including benefits and benefits cost. That data is vitally important. Of all the data though, that you do and your team tracks, what are the data that you find is most important?

Jennie Hobbs: For me I think it is the information that we get from our surveys. We do associate engagement surveys and our people talk to us and they tell us what they think about how things are going for them.

We do 45 day surveys when they've been with our organization 45 days to see, "was it what we told them when we recruited them?", that and then exit interview data I think is really important cause when we think about the people side of it I think it's really important to remember that sometimes when we sit in the seats, we don't really know what it's like or remember what it's like for the associate that is doing the work each day.

And so, for me, it is a data piece, a data point for us. You know, what does the survey say? But it's digging deeper into that data to see, okay, what's the theme, what's the message? And most importantly, what are we gonna do about it?

Mike O'Neill: When you said that perhaps the most important data that you and your team looks at are employee survey data, I'm actually was encouraged to hear that.

We work with clients that are just now putting their big toe into that. How long has your organization been doing employee surveys?

Jennie Hobbs: We actually we did 'em for, oh, I wanna say 10 years, and then we actually stopped during the pandemic. And we just stopped and, everything said, okay, we gotta stick to the basics.

And we stopped doing them and we reintroduce them at the beginning of this of last year. So total, we've done 'em about 11 years.

Mike O'Neill: Now, it sounds like I am very much data driven and I'm putting so much emphasis on the driven aspect of data that I'm missing the point by my line of questioning, but I guess what I thought I heard you say, let me see if I heard this correctly.

It's critically important is the data you get from the employee surveys. Do you find that you look at the data, but then you need to go and just ask for clarification?

Jennie Hobbs: Exactly, I think the data can inform your questions and can help you decide on a direction. But you really have to talk to the people and ask them.

Okay, you know, it said that, you know, we need to look at paternity, maternity leave as a possible benefit for us that came out as a point, but we need more details. What part of that is important to you? Is it the time off? Is it the pay itself? Is it the education? So digging deeper, I think the data helps us determine the direction, but actually asking the questions and talking to the people is what really. From my seat makes a good culture within the organization.

Mike O'Neill: I know that you're tasked with strengthening that culture in terms of what you're dealing with. We're recording this episode in early January. Folks probably won't be hearing this for a few months because quite frankly, I've got, we're ahead of schedule, which I'm very happy to report, but in early January, 23.

Jennie Hobbs: 23. Yep.

Mike O'Neill: What are you seeing as the major concerns that your employees are struggling with right now?

Jennie Hobbs: I think the biggest thing that I hear is balance is, I think as we went through the pandemic people really got clearer on what mattered to them. And so, luckily we have a very purpose-driven organization, we help people get better. But it also helped our associates realize that they needed to look for them what mattered. So that work-life balance that you hear so much about has really continued to be a message that we're hearing is how can we, as an employer help them with that balance?

How can we ensure that they're, getting to do the things that they want to do in life.

Mike O'Neill: And we are in rough terms, we're three years into this pandemic. What things have you observed from your vantage point that as an employer are forever changed?

Jennie Hobbs: Oh, that's a good one, Mike. I think what's forever changed is, , nobody, I don't think people were take for granted their freedoms to do things.

I think we got, stuck at home, so to speak for some of us for long periods of time. For others it was a much shorter period of time, but I don't think we will take for granted the freedoms that we have to do and to interact how critically important I'll never forget when we had our first live meeting again, and it just, the hugs were all around you know, it was so important that you can't take for granted the ability to meet together and you know, have that true collaboration.

Mike O'Neill: We've not discussed this, but as I'm thinking about your organization, you've got folks who have direct client or patient contact, and then you have those who do not. And it would seem to me that you as an organization, there's some things you could and could not actually do. But if there were some folks who to do their job, they had to be at the facility whereas others did that. And has that created any resentment?

Jennie Hobbs: Would say there, what was interesting from my seat was that people actually gave more than you even realized they had. . So I don't think it created a resentment because people were watching people and saying, wow, you're putting yourself, our physical therapists, are touching... You know, they're they're face-to-face with people. And then the, what we call central office associates, that, were able to work from home. I think there wasn't necessarily a resentment. It was more of a, almost a respect of Wow. Thank you. Thank you for sacrificing to take care of our patients.

Mike O'Neill: That's encouraging to hear. I introduced you as a long-term friend, but I've also had a chance to monitor. and celebrate as you have moved into different roles and in the role that you're now in where you've kind of grown and been given more and more responsibilities. Tell our viewers in this listeners a little more about you and your career progression.

Jennie Hobbs: Yeah. Let's just say I'm not doing what I thought I would be doing. I always wanted to be an actress.

Mike O'Neill: Oh, really?

Jennie Hobbs: And went to school and started my career in the trucking industry, which my parents weren't exactly thrilled with that. And then moved into healthcare. They were a lot happier then.

But you know, from my career, I started with an operational focus and then had a very wise leader say, you know what, Jennie, I think you'd be better in HR, and so moved into the HR piece and have a love for helping people be successful. I'm at a great place in my career where it's not about me and where I'm gonna go next.

It's about pouring into other people.

Mike O'Neill: Now for those who are looking, they can see over your right shoulder there, there's a stand of some sort, but it has a bunch of hats on it, and I think that's so fitting for someone in your role. You have to wear lots of hats, do you not?

Jennie Hobbs: I do. Yeah. I, that's so funny you're pointing that out because when I first started, I mostly work in the office, but there's some days I work from home and I started seeing that show up and I said, that is the perfect example of what I do.

I talk to an associate about a problem. I talk to 'em about their benefits. I solving a business problem. So I would agree. Different hats all day long.

Mike O'Neill: You mentioned that your first love might have been theatrics. And for those who are watching, they could see you immediately almost went into role as if you were on a stage, but because of the role that you're in, is there an element of that anyhow, do you sense that employees and leaders are watching the head of hr?

Jennie Hobbs: More than I would like to think they are. I pick a word each year to guide me through the year. And this year's word is encourage. Because I do think, especially in my role, people do look at the head of HR and say, does she have hope? What's she excited about?

Is she down in the dumps? And so, my mood does affect certainly my team, but I think the whole organization, because I am the people representative I do think it makes a big difference how I act and react to things.

Mike O'Neill: What do you think business leaders get wrong about human resources.

Jennie Hobbs: I love this, I l ove this question because I think that people have two different impressions of HR. Either they think that they are the police and are, here's the guideline, here's the policy. They think they're the police or they think they're the ones that, put a lampshade on their heads at the party, and they're the party people.

And I think what they get wrong is it's a combination of all of it. Yeah. We set policy, we monitor policy but we do help set the tone for the culture of the organization. And one of the things we are focused on this year is having fun. I mean, what we do is helping people, but we wanna have fun doing it.

So I think the fact that they tend to pigeonhole us in one way or the other. And the fact that we are multifaceted and are required to to do both, follow the rules and have some fun.

Mike O'Neill: We have been in some pretty serious times and fun for many has been pushed aside. Do you sense that could be a challenge as you are emphasizing the importance of fun?

First of all, let me ask, why have y'all chosen to emphasize fun in your organization?

Jennie Hobbs: Because, I think for us, it's about people. When they come to us, they're hurting, there's something wrong. They've had their knee replaced or they've got TMJ. And so they need to know that there's hope and that there is it's, it can get better and we will get you better.

And so, oftentimes laughter is the best medicine, you've heard that saying, we believe that. We believe that environment of encouragement and fun is important. But you ask and I think it's an important thing. Do you think that it could cause issue for some people? And I do think if it's taken in an inappropriate way, or if it is overdone I think it could be misconstrued. But you know, I think we have such a caring group of associates. I think it typically it's gonna serve us well.

Mike O'Neill: Thus far, Jennie, we've talked about you in your kind of corporate leadership role. Let's shift gears.

Talk a little bit about Jennie Hobbs, the person. Would you be willing to share an example where perhaps you got stuck and when that happened, what did it take to get unstuck?

Jennie Hobbs: Yeah. I think it actually might have been either right before or right after I met you, Mike. I was in a place in where I was on a detour in my career.

And I had always been told I'd be great at sales. I'm not great at sales. And so was really stuck in this rut. I had changed jobs and was doing something that was out of my comfort zone, and so I had to really, instead of staying and getting stuck there and saying, woe is me, I had to deliberately make a change and say, you know what? I may have to step back and do something a little bit different than being the head of HR.

And again, making that shift I really got stuck that I had to. I had to try this and be good at it, and I wasn't. And so I said, you know what, maybe this is just a detour in my career, in my life and I'm gonna try something different.

And so I did.

Mike O'Neill: And here you are.

Jennie Hobbs: Yeah. And I, again, I'm so grateful it's given me such great perspective. It when I lost one of the roles that I had, I was downsized or right-sized and I think as an HR professional, it helped me better understand when you do have to do tough things, like eliminate positions. Well, I've had it done to me.

 And so I could empathize with people. I could understand it because I had to go through it.

Mike O'Neill: You ooze empathy and I mean that in a very, very positive way. And you just gave us an example and I appreciate you sharing how that might have kind of fine tuned a sense of empathy. You normally carry yourself in a very upbeat manner, but you've dealt with setbacks and as you're dealing with what comes along particularly as a senior HR leader there's gonna be organizational setbacks, there's gonna be individual setbacks.

As you step back and reflect on your career thus far, what might be some of the high points?

Jennie Hobbs: Yeah, I mean, I think I've been very, very blessed in my career. I was in the trucking industry for 20 plus years, and I think people have impressions of industries. And so for me, my time that I spent in the trucking industry understanding what it's like to have a job where you're not at home for two or three weeks at a time.

And really being able to help, that's when I was on the operational side of the business. But that was a highlight is really learning how to help people when they may not be in their ideal situation. And then the main thing for me is the people that I've met along the way.

I have had so many people that I may have worked with them 30 years ago and I still stay in touch because, they are part of my journey and I'm so grateful. So for me, the highlight is the people I've met along the way.

Mike O'Neill: As you know Jeannie, I get the opportunity in my current role to work with people like you who are in, key decision making.

Positions, if you would. One thing I have found because of my prior HR background is exactly what you've said. You'll be out someplace and someone will walk up to you and say, you don't remember me, do you? And more often than not, the answer is no, I don't. But when they share how we cross paths and then the light bulb goes off.

I have to say it's those type of moments that really made my time in HR really meaningful because I'm realizing, I might have been an entry level recruiter at the time, but I gave that person an opportunity to join that organization. It may have been they were having trouble finding and that stuck with them.

And I have had this happen so often where they come up and say, though you may not remember me, I remember you, and I remember you giving me this opportunity. And I just simply want to say thank you. And gosh, in the corporate world you don't get that very often. A genuine thank you, I suspect with you and how you are, you hear that pretty regularly just because that's who you are and that's who you tend to surround yourself with.

Jeannie, I wanna go back to how we set up this conversation that is, yes, data is important, but don't forget about the people. What might else would you like to add to that? To put things in proper perspective?

Jennie Hobbs: I think for me it's use the data to set your direction, but talk to people, really listen to what people have to say. I think that it doesn't matter if they've been in the business world for three days or 33 years. They've got a perspective that we really need to listen to and not that we're gonna always do exactly what they want, but perspective in mind.

Mike O'Neill: You've said this a couple or three times in this conversation thus far, and that is look beyond the data and go out and listen. What is the power of in fact listening? What does that do if you or your team that you lead, if they listen well?

Jennie Hobbs: I think it opens the door to the ability to have real transparent conversations.

Because when somebody brings something to you, I tell leaders this all the time they're handing you their fragile egg and if you treat it as such and you really hear it and listen, then people feel heard and you build additional trust so that when you have to have the hard conversation, they go, you know what?

I appreciate and respect this because they appreciate and respect and listened to me.

Mike O'Neill: I love for those who are watching, they saw you of cradle and lean forward into the camera as if you were cradling a fragile egg. That's a wonderful illustration that when people do come to us as leaders, regardless of what role we're in, Life's hard at times, and more often than not, it's hard not so much at work, but it's at home. But they bring that to them at work, and as leaders, we have to be mindful that's part of what we're dealing with. Is it not?

Jennie Hobbs: Oh. Absolutely. I have people that say, well, they need to leave home at home, and I'm like, they're a whole person. If my daughters are in distress I'm sorry. I'm not gonna be a hundred percent on my game because I'm gonna be thinking about, are my girls all right? I think it's important to realize that the whole person comes to work and we as leaders need to know that, and I'm not saying we have to be counselors or therapists, I'm not saying that at all, but we can care and still hold people accountable.

Mike O'Neill: You shared that you spent 20 plus years in a operational role in trucking, and we know that you've been in your current industry for eight plus years, beyond. Have you found that the issues you dealt with in trucking from a people standpoint are very similar to the same issues that you deal with leading the largest rehab organization in United States?

Jennie Hobbs: Absolutely. I mean, it's the craziest thing I'll never forget. When I was interviewing for one of my jobs, they said trucking and healthcare. I said, you know what, people are people. People are people, and so yeah, the challenges are maybe a little bit different, but the bottom line is people are people and people have challenging lives and people bring challenges to work and we have to support them through those times.

Mike O'Neill: Jennie, as you think back about this conversation, as people know this is totally unscripted, you had no idea what I was gonna ask and I didn't either, quite frankly. I just wanted, I hear you say something that kind of piques my curiosity, but as you look back on what you have shared, what do you want our listeners to have as takeaways?

Jennie Hobbs: I think the biggest takeaway and is, let data inform your decisions, but let people make the actions happen for you. Listen to them.

Just listen.

Mike O'Neill: Love it. If people want to reach out to you just to be in contact with you, what's the best way for them to do so?

Jennie Hobbs: They can email me directly if they want.

I have an easy email, which I can give to you. It's just That's my personal email. And I'm open for another conversation with anybody about this important thing called people.

Mike O'Neill: We will include your email address in the show notes. So if you're driving, you're listening, don't worry about it.

It's in the show notes so they can reach out. Jennie, I was looking forward to our time together. For those who can't see, you're smiling from ear to ear. That's just, that's your temperament. I always hang up from you feeling better because you exude that. Thank you for sharing your passion with us today.

Jennie Hobbs: Well, thank you, Mike. It was an absolute pleasure.

Mike O'Neill: I also wanna thank our listeners for joining us today. If you'd like to subscribe to this podcast, simply type in your browser. This will give you access to all the major platforms, including Apple, Google, and Spotify. But while you're there, you can also subscribe to our weekly management blog called The Bottom Line.

So if you're trying to grow your business, But people problems have slowed you down. Let's talk, head over to to schedule a call. So I wanna thank you for joining us, and I hope you have picked up on some tips from Jennie that will help you get unstuck and on target. Until next time.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}