Barbara Corcoran of 'Shark Tank' Says HR Drives Innovation Revenue at Successful Companies

By Paul Bergeron May 21, 2020
shark and fish in aquarium

​Barbara Corcoran, known for her role on the television show "Shark Tank," is a successful entrepreneur who knows how significant HR's function is in thriving organizations. During a recent Society for Human Resource Management webinar, she spoke about that function and shared insight into building company culture, driving revenue and hiring "happy people."

Be Welcoming

The HR team is the front door to any organization, Corcoran said. "Ensuring a positive employee experience is one of HR's primary roles. So you have to make sure your 'front gate' looks good. If you do that, most of the heavy lifting is done," she said.

"When new hires come on board, to really win them over, HR needs to show them what sets the company apart."

One important challenge for HR is needing to "be able to walk in everyone else's shoes and learn to talk their language. Whether it's relating to a 22-year-old or a 52-year-old, you have to make that connection."

Corcoran said employees need to share the same values, and the HR team is there to make sure that happens. "Sharing the same values creates trust, and trust creates success. As for my [company's] culture, I want people who can work together in teams. Hiring a loner, no matter how talented they are, isn't going to fit on my team."

When culture works, turnover decreases. "Very few people ever left my company because they were unhappy, because we hired those who fit our culture, and they had a clear understanding of our values," she said. "If you want to know if a company is successfully run, ask them about their turnover rate."

Happy Employees, Happy Company

Hiring is one of the biggest operating expenses for an employer, so companies need to get that right, Corcoran said. "Talent is everywhere. I'm recruiting people 24/7. If I find someone who has energy and a good attitude, I want that person working for me. I can train anyone to do just about anything. But it's hard to train someone to have a different attitude."

One solution? Hire happy people like Corcoran does. "And happy people tend to hang out with happy people, so I respect their recommendations should they refer me to their friends."

But how do you spot a happy person? "Happy people have good posture," she said. "If an employee is slumping over, it will likely mean that they are not happy. Happy people sit forward a bit in their chair. They are curious and good listeners. If you ask a candidate about a previous job or boss, happy people will tell a happy story. They won't dwell on the negative or be critical. This is a good sign."

HR Is 'Not a Cost Center'

With a strong workforce in place, HR managers can better focus on driving revenue growth, Corcoran said.

"For my companies, when it came to driving revenue growth, I used to always look to the business development team. But I later learned when working for larger companies [200 or more employees], I could see that the HR team is a revenue driver. They are not a cost center. Give them the chance in the way they operate through better technology, and they will save time, which saves money. By using technology to eliminate some of the steps they have to take, they will not be a profit leak.

"Technology frees them to do other things. One is to empower employees to enter their own personal information into their HR software platform such as it relates to employee benefits. HR—or any department for that matter—gets bogged down when it has to wait for answers from others."

One of Corcoran's credos is "it's a sin to waste people's time," because "if you look around, there's a one-click solution to most every administrative task," she explained.

Otherwise, she said, the company will have staff "doing [tasks] the same way 50 times in a row" and not seeking a better way. And companies will need to try many approaches to get to the solution.

"Don't attempt just one," Corcoran said. "Innovative ideas don't have to come from the CEO. Companies that thrive give every employee an equal voice. The receptionist is away from daily strategic operations, but they can have a great idea, because they bring a unique and outside-the-box perspective. They aren't doing a certain thing the same way. They aren't even doing it. But they could have ideas. Just ask, and they will consider a different way of doing it."

Invite Disruption

Today's competitive business environment inevitably will find different ways to do things through disruption.

Corcoran's business success took off in 1991 when she tried something crazy: She listed her real estate properties on the Internet. "We moved from No. 20 to No. 2 in performance in our market."

To prepare for "sudden" disruption, a company must welcome change, and it must move fast to stay alive in a competitive business environment. "For example, every day, I came to work with a curiosity: 'What's going to happen to my business today?' " And when the disruption begins in earnest, "you need to have been following technology and hopefully have it in place to survive the changes."

Your employees can use disruption as a reason to learn and leverage technology, helping them and the company take the lead in an industry. "The key to successful business is to create something that your customers don't even realize they need," Corcoran said. "If nothing else, serve your customers."

HR can take the initiative and be ready with updated platforms and processes.

And HR should be ready to innovate and support the company's innovation.

"The other day I saw that [real estate listing site] Zillow was offering free virtual tours of properties. At first, I thought, 'Wow, they aren't charging for this?' But then I realized it was being done to attract agents to their site and potentially do business with Zillow."

Companies that are willing and able to innovate through their HR departments will be the successful ones.

Paul Bergeron is a freelance reporter who covers the HR industry.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Are you a department of one?

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.

Expand your toolbox with the tools and techniques needed to fix your organization’s unique needs.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.