Creating a Culture of Approachability for an Engaged Workforce with Stephanie Richmond, SVP of HR for Papa Murphy's


Stephanie Richmond


Stephanie Richmond, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Papa Murphy's International, sits down with Cresa's Blake St. Onge for episode 5 of season 2. Stephanie discusses her career journey and how Papa Murphy's has implemented employee communication programs for a more engaged workforce.



Creating a Culture of Approachability for an Engaged Workforce with Stephanie Richmond, SVP of HR for Papa Murphy's

(We use a transcription service; please excuse any errors)


Blake St. Onge  01:06

Welcome to Think Beyond Space, The PDX Workplace Insider Podcast. I'm your host Blake St. Onge principal for the Portland office of Cresa, a global corporate real estate firm. From the people the culture and their thoughts on the future of work, we sit down with leaders from Portland's most respected companies to learn about what makes their workplaces tick, subscribe at or wherever you find your podcasts.


Hey, everyone, welcome back to the podcast. I'm really excited to have the SVP of human resources with Papa Murphy's, Stephanie Richmond with me today. Stephanie, welcome to the show.


Stephanie Richmond  01:38

Hey, thanks. I'm happy to be here.


Blake St. Onge  01:40

So Stephanie, for those who don't know about Papa Murphy's, which I would say would be crazy for them not to know about Papa Murphy's across the US. But for those that may not know about Papa Murphy's, and you Why don't we start with your background a little bit how you became the leader of HR at Papa Murphy's, and then talk us through your journey. And we'll get into the Papa Murphy's journey. And then we'll rock and roll from there.


Stephanie Richmond  02:02

So my journey started after grad school, my boyfriend at the time, and I had never been west of the Mississippi. And so I applied to grad schools in Colorado, because that seemed like the smart thing to do. And we moved out to Colorado Springs, and I ended up getting a master's degree in sociology and public administration. And the real question was, how am I going to make any money. And so during that journey in grad school, I took an HR class and really loved it. And I was like, Oh, wait, I can study groups, and I can make money in business, and still do really awesome things. And so I ended up getting my first job in Denver. So we moved up to Denver from Colorado Springs, and I did background checks for a rental management company. So you can imagine how many people in the world want to be bonded to go into people's apartments that really should not that was humorous, and a little terrifying. I did that job for about six months. And funny enough at the time, it was like when Gen Xers were really, really known for jumping jobs like job hopping, right? It was kind of knew that you how could these people not want to work somewhere for 20 years, and I got a job offer from an engineering firm in town called CH2M Hill that actually is founded out here in Oregon. I did not know at the time.  , core, and I thought, Well, I only been here for six months, like, gosh, I'm the typical Gen XOR. But I can make $10,000 more. I was making 20. Right? So I was like, Oh, wow, you know, I could be rolling in the cash work for a bigger company. I'm gonna do it. So I jumped ship. And it was the best thing I probably ever did in my career. I worked for a year in HRMS for a bit. And then I got into learning and development and just loved every minute of learning and development and organizational development. And it was all the things I loved about sociology and group dynamics. And I had a really amazing boss who said, If you ever really want to go far in HR, you're gonna have to learn, learn and work outside of a corporate environment in the field, and really learn the business.  , and you might have to move because nobody's leaving Denver right now. And so within six months, I got a job offer with that same company to either move to Portland, Seattle, or Boise. And we had just taken a trip to Portland. And I was like, that seems like a good idea. Like we can't afford Seattle. And Boise just seems like moving from Denver to a smaller Denver.  . And you know, I was naive enough to take a lateral move and not ask for any more money and my husband was quitting his job. And so we're like, I will just move to Portland. And we're not here. sat in the field office so really understood more than ever, like why the field people can't stand corporate, right, and how corporate doesn't understand why the field people don't love them and did human resources for a bit for a business group. And then I actually stopped working in HR and I moved into a business group. So I supported the environmental business group out here, which is a multi million dollar business. that runs up and down the California, Washington, Oregon coast and Hawaii and Alaska, and working for an actual business leader, not an HR business leader. So it was really different for me. But it was incredibly rewarding. And I learned the ins and outs of how they made money and what works and what doesn't. And then got the call to go back into human resources at one point and then went back in and did learning and development for a bit and then decided it was time that I wanted to stay in Portland and not move back to Denver, and I wanted that decision to be my own and not the company's.  , and Papa Murphy's came along. And so  , I moved over I made that I made the switch from engineering consulting to take and bake pizza.


Blake St. Onge  05:39

 . And it seems like now to along the last 18 months, HR has been I mean, it's not just HR anymore, either. Now, there's so many things that go into that. So it seems like you have that bad you have that background, in that you're dealing with, with HR one capacity dealing with the business in another capacity dealing across field. I mean, we see this all the time to right field offices and corporate very different. And now in your role at Papa Murphy's, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it's sort of employees, but it's more for its franchisees, right, so are you dealing with? I mean, that's another whole sort of component of people that that you're having to lead and manage through. Is that right?


Stephanie Richmond  06:17

 No, for sure. So franchising is so different, and so crazy and awesome in so many ways. So we have our own, let's say 175-ish employees that are our employees that support the franchise owners. In addition to that, we own some company stores. So we also have about four to 500 hourly employees that are in our stores, not in the west coast as much anymore, but back East. So we've got a little bit of everything that we actually do HR for but you're right, we have, I would say on a given day, anywhere between five to 600 owners, we have about 1200 Plus stores that are franchised across the US. And so there is a fine line in franchising on how much support you can give without crossing the line of joint employer, right. So I can't make decisions for them about how to lead guide, like hiring, firing those types of things. But what I can do is offer them best practice and give them advice on like, look, this is the trend of where Gen Z is, for instance, and here are the things that we know are important to them in terms of attributes they're looking for, and their employer. And so if I were in your shoes, these are the things that I would be thinking about offering. So we do a lot of coaching and advising. And then we lead by example, in our company stores. So we try a lot of that stuff out in our company stores to see if it'll work.


Blake St. Onge  07:37

 , where you have that sort of it's a more of a controlled environment that then they can come in. And I guess that goes back to the learning and development side of things.  , you guys are sort of beta testing those things. And then  , letting the franchise owner sort of come and say this is what we're doing. And it's been successful or unsuccessful or whatever. So, you know,  . So you guys are you're effectively a resource for all those franchisors?  , for they tap into the certain things that you that that you guys are doing on a national scale


Stephanie Richmond  08:04

on the people side of things. Absolutely. On the operation side and marketing side, there's certainly a heavier support that they can offer from you know, here's best standards on health and safety that you need to follow. You have to follow. But  , and the people development piece, and also community impact, and how can we engage in the community, we are able to offer a lot more guidance,


Blake St. Onge  08:26

what made so that's a you've been at Palmer's for a second.


Stephanie Richmond  08:32

I said seven or eight earlier today. And then I realized it was actually going on nine apparently,


Blake St. Onge 08:36

well, you know, COVID adds to sre. So in the last, my guess is that the company has grown in the last 18 months because of how many people have been at home eating pizza. But I'm curious to see what you guys have seen how you've led through the last 18 months? And what that sort of been like, and that's one piece, the other piece of it is, you know, what are you guys seeing from a recruitment perspective? And maybe the challenges that that you're seeing in that, or maybe no challenges at all? I mean, you talk about having one interview, and here you are getting a position, right. And then some cases you talk, you know, talk to people, it's like,  , I've had, you know, I have I had 14 interviews and nothing or whatever, right? And then you sort of, I don't know, you try to think about all the challenges that are out in the job market now and the great resignation and the great exploration and people are looking for things lots and there's so many things, but just curious what what you've experienced.


Stephanie Richmond  09:32

 , so we are different, right? Because we sell a raw product. We actually were allowed to be open last year. So when a lot of the businesses were closing down, we are considered a grocer. So when things shut their doors we were open and yes, we had a phenomenal year and our owners and you know what our owners deserve to have a phenomenal year we've had a lot of leadership changes. We've had a lot of business changes, a lot of directional changes and you know that causes instability and mystery. Trust. And we've done great work over the past two years since being bought by MTI to start to rebuild that. So they were long overdue for a really phenomenal year. And then this year has been strong as well, I, you know, we have a brand new leadership team that's been in place now for going on two years. And so it's just really remarkable to see what stability can do for an organization.  ,  . And that's, you know, what I've learned from the global crisis, or the pandemic is two things. One, wow, people are really resilient. You know, whether it's our owners, or the crew that are working the stores, or our support staff that are like working from home trying to balance multiple roles. Resiliency is amazing.  , I'm sure you've heard multiple leaders tell you mental health is something that I don't think any of us thought about two years ago as being something as an employer we need to be thinking about. So that's definitely something that I've learned from it. And the other is, how do you strike? And I don't have the answer to this, by the way. Striking questions are good, right? striking the balance between this desire to be autonomous and remote and flexible that so many people loved, it was one of the positives, it's come out of COVID, right? With this desire for what the kid with the kids say IRL, right? In real life, connectivity, human connection, that I have seen folks come and go in this time who haven't had that ability to connect, because we are still remote and we're not in the office. And what's the right answer? You know, and I, again, I think I'm hard pressed to think any leaders have the right answer. I know, we're trying some things. But  , that's something I've also learned from this whole past two years is it's really fun and challenging to not know the answer and to be in unchartered territory. But there's a lot of humility of just recognizing,  , we may not be able to figure this out. And we may still, and we'll get up, and we'll learn from it. But there's no white paper out there. That's gonna tell me how to solve this.


Blake St. Onge  12:04

No, there. There might be five years from now, but not maybe not. Not now. Not now. But it's interesting. So how do you then communicate to your staff? Like, what does that look like from a leadership standpoint? Because you're wrestling with all these things, leadership wise, how do you put it in policies in place? They're looking at, you know, your staff and employees looking at you like, Okay, what's, what's the plan? What's the communication consistency that you guys have from a leadership standpoint, and, you know, with the staff, and then your own? You know, what that look like? communication wise?


Stephanie Richmond  12:34

 . So it's, it's twofold. Right? Now, you know, if you were to ask our owners or our staff, I'm sure there's lots of things that we could have done differently and could continue to do differently, right. I'm always the first to say, we can always get better at this. Right. From our owners perspective, it was it was a lot of, you know, a lots of not town halls, but just webinars and learning series, and how do you stay ahead of the safety issues, the different mandates that how do you motivate your staff? How do you keep them engaged, and bringing in a lot of external, easy to access experts in the business to talk through and just giving them a point of connectivity. So not just to the executive team, but to other experts in the business and to hear from others, right? For our employees, it was similar, it was just connect, connect, connect, right? So whether it's town halls or impromptu like, Let's just all get on a phone. And you guys can ask us questions, to having kind of an open forum all the time where they can submit questions and get answers back from us. I'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the company that would tell you that we're not a pretty approachable team. We're unique that we don't we all. So there are five of us that lead the company, and then we all report up to the CEO at Mt. Y. So there's no brand president.  . And so I think in some ways that's made us more accessible. I think folks feel like they can reach out to us and they can ask us questions that they might not otherwise ask. But really just connecting and creating different forums, we've done a lot of learning and development, virtual stuff. So I give my credit, all the credit to the learning and development team for doing what we call bake it up. Make it up a notch series, right about mental health, about how you manage that about just basic communication skills. How do you thrive remotely? How do you work effectively and communicate different platforms? And so really just getting all the learning out there, different forums to ask questions, just to have discussions? The other thing that, you know, came out of all this, which I know, again, is not unique to us as Dei, and how do you how do you go from kind of this thing that was out there that we should be doing and talking about to wow, this is incredibly important to us as employees and an employer and how do we create forums for that discussion when we're not all together? Right. And so we've been doing these things called a piece of the conversation. And this is just full of fun to say that we're very pun oriented, have hundreds that allows people to come and talk about things that they've been There wouldn't normally talk about and it's all led by just different people in the organization. So  , you know, I'm a broken record, but just offering people different forums in different ways and different topics to engage.


Blake St. Onge  15:12

I think that goes, I don't know. It seems like it goes toward, you know, toward the culture of approachability. Right? Like, if you haven't, if you're sort of playing on some of these things, it's just I don't know, it just it seems like it has that approachability that maybe others don't. Right. I mean, there's, I don't know. There's some fun in that.  . So where, where are you guys now? What does it look like now for your staff that are at their support center and for the leadership team? Are you guys have you guys decided to do you know, hybrid approach anchored approach come back a few days a week. I mean, obviously, it almost changes by the email, to be honest, but it definitely


Stephanie Richmond  15:47

changes by the email. So one of the things that we have the benefit of is with MTI, they also own our sister brand Kahala down in Scottsdale. So that's like Cold Stone Creamery. And pink berry. Those are some of the brands that people recognize,  . And so our CEO up in Montreal has said, you know, if, let's all try the same approach across the board and see how that works. And he is a big proponent of wanting to maintain the culture by being in the office. Now, that being said, what we have said is when the time comes, and we have moved our timeline, just like every other business,  , is we will go back to a minimum of two days a week in the office, and one of those days should be with your team. So we have the benefit, right? We're a small company. You know, I realized that's not possible at some of these bigger, bigger places, but we can allow people the flexibility to say you figure it out with your team.  , it doesn't have to be the same two days a week. Whatever works, if you want to come in because your your home life, you know, it's better to be in the office five days a week, great, come back in five days a week. But at a minimum, we want to try it at least at two. And we've said We'll reevaluate in December and try again in January go to this kind of flexible work arrangement.  , like I said, it changes all the time. I'm hopeful that that will be the case, because I have seen, and I mentioned this earlier, folks that come in, during this two year period, I have never had the chance to really be in an office with us, or even traveled to the Support Center to meet people. It's a little isolating, you know, they know their people on teams, they know this, like, this is the thing. They know, the five screens that they see every day. And I think it's harder for a lot of folks to reach out and ask as many questions as they might if they were in person. And so we're going to try this. We've said to everyone, like we're going to try it. If it doesn't work, we'll try something different.


Blake St. Onge  17:32

 ,  , I think that's been such a big thing is again, having that, that culture of like flexibility and openness to say that, hey, we're gonna try some stuff out, you know, I mean, right? Because you're right, there's no right answer. There's no sort of mandate that says, This is exactly how it's gonna work. And it's gonna work for now and forever. It's gonna  , and I think that's one of the things that we've seen through COVID is like, okay, life is just gonna be a little flexible for a while, you know, next couple years, like we're try some things out. And if it works, it works. And if it doesn't, well, we'll stop.  , and


Stephanie Richmond  18:03

I think the hardest thing about that is acknowledging that you have so many different styles that work for you. And some flexibility is just really uncomfortable. And so how do you meet them halfway with? So here's enough structure because we want you to feel good. We want you to feel empowered, you know, we want you we don't want you out there wondering what's going to happen, and yet enough flexibility for the folks that are like,  , I don't care what happens tomorrow, that they don't feel stifled by the structure we're trying to put on it.


Blake St. Onge  18:30

 , I actually don't think I've ever thought of it that way. I just I think I think I was sort of myopic. And the thing is, like, oh, flexibility, and choice is good. But they're absolutely, like just the personality of some people to right, where it's just like, no, like, I can't do two unless one's done. I can't do three unless twos done. And that's a very structure. And if it's just like, sort of this amorphous, come in when you want don't come in when you don't, but I didn't ever think about that way.


Stephanie Richmond  18:57

And there's not anything wrong with that. It's just not my approach either. So trust me when I say like, I have to force myself to go okay. No, I


Blake St. Onge  19:04

know.  . Just put it but it does. It does give you a little appreciation.  , it gives you an appreciation for like, there's not just one workstyle and  , you know, sometimes you think that your workstyle is like, you know, that's there's others, right? Oh,  , there are actually, you know, and I think the mental health piece has been part of that whole discussion and that I think the elevation or at least the open door to start talking about, you know, there's been so much out there around that.  , connectivity and that keeping it's just, there's so much it's a lot it's a lot it's a lot to keep track of and I think to like with you get, you know, with you have an employee's across the country to you're not just having to like okay, this is what's going on in all Noma county or Clark County. It's like, you got to be, you had to have your finger on the pulse. All the places where you have your employees which,  , it's tough. So  ,  , exactly.  , absolutely. So what about you? What have you, Stephanie learned about yourself in the last 18 months


Stephanie Richmond  20:08

that you can still have fun, regardless of where you sit? I'm probably maybe a little atypical. But I joined HR because I love being around people. Yes, I'm a business partner. And yes, I can talk the numbers, and I can do all that. But at the end of the day, I want to have fun because I spend a lot of time working. And I want to be able to make, make, create an environment where people can have fun and enjoy what they do, because they're giving up a lot of time to be. And so I think it's taught me, I'm pretty resilient. And also that you get what you get what you put into something, you know, and if you want to sit back and go,  , this is awful. And then  , it will be awful. And it is kind of glass half empty. But I think the more positive you can bring to a situation. And I know for my team, I've learned so much more about, the more frequent I connect with them, the closer I feel to them, I think, I think that they would tell you they feel more recognized. They feel like I know what they're up to that I can appreciate what they do what they're up against.  . And so it's really just taught me and really reinforced lessons I've probably known all along, but just connecting frequently and recognizing are just so key and having fun as part of that. When you lose that joy. I don't know. I mean, I know people do it. I know people do jobs, because you got to do a job. And it's not fun. But  , so lots to be said for having a little joy in life.


Blake St. Onge  21:28

 ,  , no kidding. No kidding. Well, doesn't seem like you have any fun at all.


Stephanie Richmond  21:32

Today, there's days when you have finality when you are down, people are like, what's wrong with you?


Blake St. Onge  21:38

Is that  , it's like, I can't be you know, I can't be right all the time. I need my space to just, you know,  , a little bit. So if you had a chance to share coffee, or a cocktail with anybody in in history, past, or present, or maybe you know, someone in the future that we don't, but who would that be? And why?


Stephanie Richmond  22:00

It's so hard to answer that question. With one person. I was thinking a lot about my grandparents the other day, all of them if they're all different?  . Well, you know, one grew up in Chile, one was from South Carolina. One, two were from Rhode Island, I think I would want to sit down with all four and just say, what were you thinking at my age? Right? What was going on in the world? What was your perspective? What was everybody saying this is going to be awful, right? And what were people celebrating? Because I think sometimes we lose perspective, because there's so much going on, and both negative and positive. And just having the perspective of somebody that I value and that I had a relationship with, as an adult to hear what they would say about that, versus as a child. I just be very curious.  . You know, and comparing that to what's happening today.


Blake St. Onge  22:53

I don't know if it's a great answer. And I don't know if you do this, like I do this with my kids, but I see my the relationship that my kids have with my in laws, and my you know, my parents too, and it's like, and it's like, we'll want that to be it is it's so strong, right? Like, it's just at least we were grateful in that to have such a strong and I had a strong relationship with my grandpa, my grandfather just passed away. You know, he was 95. He passed away in May last year. And but it's just you know, it just as a parent, you just like, you want that bond to be so strong to right. And I don't know, I just appreciate the answer for you cut. And I mean, that's it. I don't know. It's it speaks a lot.


Stephanie Richmond  23:35

 , I think to like you My in laws and my mom live here. And so they get a chance to, I've watched my kids have a much stronger relationship, because the grandparents are around all the time. I grew up visiting, but never really knowing. And they died when I was, gosh, early 20s. The last one passed away. And so it would just be so curious to me to sit down and have a conversation and say, so you see what's happening here?  ,  . What was it like for you? Like, what are the equivalents of that to give me some perspective on  , should I be panicking, or should I Right?


Blake St. Onge  24:10

Well, it's also, you know, it's somewhat of his hindsight, too. My kids are still young, but I'm thinking about, like, when they like when I was 18,19, 20. Like, why didn't I sit down my grades? Right? You know what I mean? Like, why didn't I sit down? I'm like, Okay, what, it's only now that we're later on in life, and we have children, and we have our professional lives, whatever that were like, Huh?  That would have been nice. Just like, damn it.


Stephanie Richmond 24:36

I know. And it would be different than doing that with your parents. I do.  . Parents, but it would be no different because they just grew up in such a different time period.  .


Blake St. Onge  24:44

Well, Stephanie, so where can people find you and find out more about Well, I'm not gonna ask for the polymers just go online and you know, order some pizzas


Stephanie Richmond  24:53

or pizza?  . Pizza this weekend.


Blake St. Onge  24:57

 . What about what about you that Are you on LinkedIn social media, LinkedIn


Stephanie Richmond  25:02

for sure. I that's probably the best way to reach out to me. I'm happy to connect. I shared with Dan earlier, I am one of those people that aspires to network more, but never does just because I get so wrapped up in my personal and work.  . So I would love to hear from folks and connect and share ideas. There's a lot of energy that comes from hearing a I'm not the only one in this boat, and be Oh, wow, that's a super creative idea. So  , I haven't tried yet.


Blake St. Onge  25:27

Oh, well, I can get into franchises HR. And there you go. I do one meeting I do.


Stephanie Richmond  25:32

Something that bothers me about HR is like they always says you need experience in this and I'm like, No, you don't use an HR skill.  , you'll be fine in any business.


Blake St. Onge  25:41

That's right.  . Well, it's definitely thanks so much for the for sharing your day with me. And you know, it was really great to get to know you better and hear what like just your history and I just appreciate the time.


Stephanie Richmond  25:53

 , no worries. Thanks for having me.


Blake St. Onge  25:55

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