Street Level Influencer – Meet Scott McCullough

Too many businesses today are based on driving prices lower by screwing over somebody: pounding suppliers or squeezing employees. We’re the opposite. We put our employees first. If you take care of them, they will take care of your customers better than anybody else.  — Kip Tindell, CEO, Container Store

For the first time in almost 10 months, I bring you the Street Level Influencer series! It’s been a minute, that’s for sure! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from seemingly all over. These things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have shared stories from:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton
  10. Jane Murtaugh
  11. Rhonda Owens
  12. Dan Huber
  13. Shenise Cook

Next up, I share the story of Scott McCullough! I was introduced to Scott by Claire Stroh Petrie. She mentioned my name to him during a conversation, and Scott reached out after reading one of my blog posts! Through our messaging back and forth, Scott and I discovered a lot of mutual interests including philosophy, leadership theory, and coffee!


We also discovered that we had a similar career arc. After successful stints as managers, we both discovered that we enjoyed the HR side of managing folks. So, I gave him some stories about how I successfully transitioned into HR, and he recently shared he got his first FT HR job! YEAH SCOTT!!!!

So without further ado, here is Scott’s story as a Street Level Influencer!!!

1. You just made the transition to your first true HR professional role! Congrats! Tell us about the role and why you wanted to make this transition.

I’ve always considered myself a People Manager & Leader. I’ve worked with coffee for the past 10 years from Barista to Director of Operations. The sheer breadth of work a Retail Manager is responsible for is wild. At my last gig, my team and I were responsible for interviewing, hiring, onboarding, orientation, training & development, succession planning on top of ensuring our shops were running profitable businesses by taking care of their bottom line, people, customers, and communities.

Navigating the Pandemic has not been easy, and doing what is right can be hard; but I started to realize that I focus heavily on the “people” side of the business, which brings me joy, especially influencing leaders and stakeholders on what we need to be doing. Being able to work with a manager on performance management and how maybe they didn’t communicate clearly or well enough on what the real issue is or get deep enough to understand has always been rewarding. It’s untangling a web of thought and actions to bring clarity on how we can be better people and better leaders. There is nothing like working with a manager or supervisor on how to adapt their leadership and communication style to be the most impactful with the entirety of their team, to get to the root-cause of a behavioral or performance problem, and then to find a way or create a plan to improve it.

My new role is formally titled a Manager, People & Culture, but the position functions as an HRBP for a national general contractor. I’ve worked in a scrappy DIY company for a long time and value that freedom to be creative, but I want the experience of working somewhere more established, to see systems and processes, and to work cross-functionally with more departments. Most importantly, I wanted to work alongside fellow HR professionals so I can continue my journey. I am so jazzed to have the chance to partner and support Benefits, Comp, L&D, OD, and the rest of my client groups.

2. What would you advise others making a career transition to HR?

Know what you love and are excited about. Understand that everyone is human and complex. There is so much going on beneath the surface that motivates people and defines their actions that we can’t see. Believe that people want to innately be good, but often lack the resources, support, and knowing what is expected of them. Be willing to have conversations, lead with compassion, and ask questions that seek to understand and give space to just listen. Maybe it’s Humanism, but I feel it’s helped me immensely.

3. How would you define being a “good HR leader?”

Know your people and the teams you work for. Understand what opportunities are present. Know what excites people about their work. Find ways to cater to their strengths and passions. I’ve found that weaknesses are inherently hard to change. It can be demoralizing to not have the growth that is expected of you because you are trying to improve something you just aren’t good at. We learn at a young age that we can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, and it’s a simple lesson we should be mindful of at work and with our people. I’m ‘speaking out of both sides of my mouth’ as we obviously cannot ignore weaknesses as people should be developed but make it a priority to celebrate wins, acknowledge small and large victories with your people, find creative ways to leverage strengths to lift up someone’s weaknesses.

4. So, we’ve established that your background is in the coffee world! As a man who loves coffee, I want to thank EVERY barista out there! It’s hard, demanding work. What were some lessons as a barista that were transferable to your HR career?

Communication for sure, both in setting expectations with customers and within a team. There are so many moving parts behind a line that affect everything. For example, if you don’t deploy team members and provide support at the right moments, the line backs up, the customers get impatient, or worse angry, they take it out on the people working the line, and then all of a sudden morale drops. It taught me that coaching needs to happen in the moment. It cannot wait. When you see an opportunity to address a behavior or performance opportunity, that moment is the right time while it’s fresh. If you wait too long, things start to lose context for all parties.

5. HR is a challenging profession, in that, we likely get too much blame and not enough credit when things go wrong or well, respectively. Have you had a particular story that you’re comfortable sharing to describe how you overcame a challenging situation?

Heading into September 2021, my last gig’s revenue was driven primarily by students. There was an estimate of 50,000 students returning to the city proper at the end of August/beginning of September. With that knowledge I knew that we had to update our application process as we had been running pen and paper for 7 years with no applicant tracking system (ATS). I was forecasting to increase our workforce from 80 – 200 employees (which were pre-pandemic levels), and knew it would be impossible to manage & create a good candidate experience without a system to provide some oversite. We rolled out an ATS at beginning of August and to grow our staffing. By the beginning of September, even though we hired and trained 80 new team members, it just wasn’t enough to meet the demand customers were putting on the business. We were facing burnout and the writing was on the wall that there could be a lot of turnover if we tried to push our employees through that.

I recommended that we close shop for 2 days at each of our 8 retail location as that would allow us to reallocate about 14 shifts per store to the other days of the week to meet the demands of the business, give the level of service our customers needed, and have enough support on the floor to not be understaffed. It gave us the time needed to continue hiring & training so we could appropriately staff across the week and get back to regular hours of operations.

This helped immensely with manager morale as well given the nature of the job and often being on demand to deal with any problems shift leads can’t handle or address on the day-to-day. Given that retail is a commodity, it will probably never change significantly, but I would love to see a truly people first retail operation be closed 2 days a week for managers to disconnect from the demands of their shops and be able to walk away. The nature of the business is on-call. I’ve seen my share of long days and sleepless nights trying to take care of my people. I know I didn’t always meet everyone’s expectations.

6. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

There are so many awesome people to know and connect with it’s hard to choose just one. I would say check out some LinkedIn and Twitter communities as everyone has been welcoming and supportive. #HRSocialHour Twitter chat is a place everyone should by at some point. It is every other Sunday from 6pm to 7pm central time.

To actually answer your question, I would say Claire Petrie. I found her through listening to Honest HR Podcast when I was in a pretty bad place in my career. Work was toxic, and I was struggling with imposter syndrome. I knew something needed to change but wasn’t sure what. She introduced me to so many amazing people and communities and helped get me back on track to believing in myself and seeing my worth.

7. What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

I think in retail it’s going to be training managers on leadership, compassion, flexibility, and adaptability. We can all make sound business decisions in a way that keeps compassion and humanity at the forefront of interactions. They are expected to take care of their people and have a productive workforce, but they are often making decisions that negatively impact the business based on their survival, their own needs, trying to have some semblance of work/life balance, and a lack of proper training and continuous support.

Right now, you see many businesses being forced to change to demands they didn’t expect to be put on their businesses resulting in irregular hours, staffing problems, and product shortages. I think that the former to be embraced, and we need to continue to adapt. I would love to live in a world or see a cafe closed once or twice a week so leadership can truly unplug. Give your people leaders a break and change customers’ expectations of your business, morale can get very low and burnout is a common occurrence. If you are multi-unit, be strategic & intentional. Reroute customers to different stores for mobile orders, partner with a POS that is integrated with a delivery service.

Also, please be patient with customer service workers. The beginning of the pandemic forced a lot of businesses to adapt mobile ordering, delivery services and funky hours to name a few. If you enjoy going into a café to order in person, expect to wait. Most shops seem to operate on a “First-in, First-out” basis. If you order at a register and 10 drinks come in through mobile, odds are your ticket will stay at the back of that line.

8. How can people connect with you?

You can find me on LinkedIn at Scott McCullough – I’m the goofy looking guy out for a hike. I’m also on Twitter @ScottMcBadger, and you can find me at #HRSocialHour Twitter chats when they’re happening!

9. What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I went to music school and something that I miss dearly is being able to play and collaborate with other musicians. So, if anyone’s in Plymouth County, MA – hit me up so we can hang out and jam from time to time. I am also fascinated by dog training. One of my rescue pups and I do a scent work class. She has anxiety and getting to see her do what she was made to do, smell smells, makes me so happy.

Published by Paul LaLonde

Husband. Father. Passionate about HR, helping people, and doing the right thing. Also, heavy metal, craft beer, and general nerd things! #SHRM19Blogger. Find me on Twitter at @HRPaul49 and LinkedIn. Thoughts, views and opinions on this site are solely my own and do not represent those of my employer or any other entity ​with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.

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