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Michelle Klenotich is a Director of Payroll and Tax at TandemHR. The company where Michelle worked with a team of 25 employees was acquired by Tandem after 20 successful years. Within a year, Michelle was leading a team of 27 people and taking Tandem's payroll service to new heights.

 

Tandem provides custom, high-touch Fortune 500 caliber human resources to small, mid-sized and enterprise businesses throughout the United States. By managing the administrative aspects of human resources such as payroll processing, benefits administration, compliance, risk management, employee relations etc., Tandem’s HR experts allow client executives to focus on growing their businesses.

Transcript

Introduction

Michelle Klenotich: My dad retired from his corporation after 41 years. He got out of the army. He started work as a garbage man, and he retired at 41 years later from the same waste management organization. But he always told me that success doesn't happen overnight, and don't give up, and grass isn't always greener. And so for me, it's part of why I stayed at Midwest as long as I did, because it wasn't that I was afraid the grass wasn't greener, but it was like I can just water my own grass.

I don't need to constantly be on this search for the next best thing. I can take care of my own and it can be everything that I want it to be. And I made that happen. And so I know that it's possible. I just want other people to know that it's possible.

Anderson Williams:

Welcome to Everyday Heroes, a podcast from Shore Capital Partners that highlights the people who are building our companies from the inside, every day, often out of the spotlight. With this series, we want to pull those heroes out of the shadows. We want to hear their stories, we want to share their stories. 

We want to understand what drives them, why they do what they do, how they might inspire and support others to become everyday heroes too. 

In this episode, I talk with Michelle Klenotich, the Director of Payroll and Payroll Tech Services at Tandem HR. In addition to that role, Michelle is a very busy mom. She works hard at keeping it all in perspective and with the right priorities. 

Work/Life Balance

Michelle Klenotich: I am a wife. I am a mom of two. I am a baseball, lacrosse, and soccer mom nine months of the year, and a snowboarding mom three months out of the year. And I love anything that puts me on the water.

Anderson Williams: How old are your kids?

Michelle Klenotich: My son is ten and my daughter is eight. And they're awesome. They're the best little people in the house, there's no doubt about that. It's amazing to start to see life make sense to them. And all of the things that I've tried to teach them up until now really start to make sense in their minds, you know?

And I just love the innocence still, when they trust big and they believe big and they want the world, and I just love to see that through their eyes after seeing it through my own 42 years. 

Anderson Williams:  And so they have this sort of innocent ability to ask you a really deep question that you don't necessarily know the answer to. That seems big and adult and then they have this desire still to be carried up the stairs to go to bed. 

Michelle Klenotich: Absolutely. I had somebody once tell me, you never know when it'll be the last time they'll ask you to carry them upstairs or the last time they'll ask you to hold their hand. And I try to keep that in the back of my head all day long.

You know, like this could be that last moment, so I'm going to try to keep them young. They constantly tell me, Mom, my daughter especially, she'll say, 'Do you think there will be a job at Tandem HR when I'm ready to start working?' And I said, 'Yeah, but I'm sure you're going to do much bigger things than I'm doing, you know, and you can go work anywhere you want to work.'

But I said, don't worry about that you're eight. Worry about your next play date. Worry about, what snack you're going to have next. Let's stick with that for right now. Don't grow up too fast. It's utter chaos most days and getting all the laundry done and the baseball dirt out of pants and all of those things.

But, it's so short in the grand scheme of life, and I'll miss this too when it's gone. So I try to take it in. Try to enjoy it while I'm there. 

Anderson Williams:  How do you balance all of that as a mom, right? You're working at Tandem, and I want to hear a little bit more specifically about what you do, but just any thoughts on that level of busyness beyond being busy and helping build a growing company at Tandem?

Michelle Klenotich: It's not easy. It's something I have to reevaluate almost daily and look at what's today's priority and try not to get too ahead of myself. I know that I'm busy every day, but the way that I look at it, we're all busy every day. We're all busy every day with whatever it may be, right? We're either caregivers, we're professionals, we're students, we're spouses, moms, friends, whatever it is. We've got responsibility every day. 

And so basically, I really look at my schedule every morning and say, okay, what do I have to make sure that I take care of today? And I try to make sure that I encapsulate. So my nine to five, that's Tandem, focusing on my team and organization and myself. But then I have to be able to say at certain point, okay, now this can wait, and now I have to go be a mom. If I don't prioritize being a mom, it starts to slip away.

It starts to take that second burner, and I have to keep coming back to the fact that it's just not going to last this way forever. And these are the days that my children are going to remember the most, and I want to be there when they're thinking back to that big baseball game or that big soccer game.

I want to be in those memories with them. So it's just a matter of understanding that I'm not alone, that my world is not unique, and what does today need from me? And that's it. That's all I can do. Get through today.

Michelle's Professional Hats

Anderson Williams: What does today need from me? I was struck by this deceptively simple question as it left me thinking about my own day-to-day as a parent and a professional. So to expand on what's behind that question for Michelle, I asked for a little more insight into her work and life with Tandem HR. 

Tell us a little bit about what you do in your nine to five. Describe a little bit about your professional side of all of these various hats that you wear.

Michelle Klenotich: My professional side has grown so much in the last 12 months. I started with my former company in 2002. I was one of five employees. I was one of the only payroll specialists for 10 years with that organization. Eventually moved up. Growth acquisitions professionally made my team grow, and 10 years later we were acquired by Tandem. So just last February in '22.

At that time when we were acquired, my entire company was about 25 individual employees inside. My team now within Tandem, my payroll team, is 27 people, so I'm now overseeing a department that was the size of my former employer, like in totality, right? So in this last year, it has just blown up. It's just gotten so big and it's really cool to actually be a part of this. 

Day to day, it's really just making sure that I'm communicating with the team. I'm letting them know what the expectation is. I'm letting them know where they stand. We have all of these metrics that we follow to make sure that we're hitting target and that the company is growing and that it is moving in the right direction. We've had a lot of rapid growth with acquisition in the last several years.

And that comes with its own trials and tribulations. Merging different processes together, getting people that were used to small business mentality, getting them more acquainted with, we're not so small anymore. We're a big kid company now, and we have to act like that and we have to work together. And the volume of the client requests and the needs that they have is just so much greater because, our client base is so much bigger, right?

So really my day-to-day is to oversee, make sure that they understand where they stand for the day. What my expectations of them are. We try to do it again day by day because we start to bite off too much just becomes overwhelming. So we look at today and what do we need from today? And that's what I do all day long, is just making sure that my team is successful, giving them tools, showing them new tricks in the system.

But honestly, it's more about building their confidence. They're brilliant. They're so smart and they're so experienced. We have literally generational payroll knowledge in my team, and it's just giving them their voice and giving them the confidence to understand that they're really good and I'm going to give them something to make it even better today, and we're going to learn together and move forward.

It's just cultivating that mentality that we're going to do this today.

Anderson Williams: And did you know prior to joining Tandem that there would be this kind of growth? I'm just curious about what your expectations were and having been with Midwest for so long, stable, steady career, and then this private equity thing happens.

I'm just curious, did you know this was going to happen? And obviously, it sounds like you've embraced it, but you're also helping lead change along with your team as well. Just any thoughts on that transition and the opportunities and challenges and expectations? 

Michelle Klenotich: I had no idea. I had been through an M&A, but from the acquiring side, and so it's very different when you're on that side of the book, right?

So this was the first time I had been acquired and I didn't know anything about the private equity at the time, but I was excited for the next chapter. I was excited for the new challenges that the growth would give me, because having been at Midwest for 20 years, it becomes a little flat, right?

So really what I was looking for was, I've done this for 20 years and I'm good at what I'm doing right now, but I know that there has to be that next level. And I had been looking, looking for that next step, and this just showed up at my doorstep. And you're right, I totally embraced it. It's up to me to make or break it, and a year later, it's just been outstanding. I couldn't really ask for a better outcome from this acquisition really. 

I was able to bring my entire team with me from Midwest, which is super important to me. They've all been able to grow within their own jobs. They've gotten new techniques, they've gotten exposure to more complexities within the payroll world, and we're all doing it together. So I really could not be happier with the way that the last 12 months has played out for sure. 

Heartbeat of a PEO

Anderson Williams: While Michelle describes the opportunities and growth that she's found since her company partnered with Tandem, it's also pretty clear that Tandem has been the great beneficiary of finding someone with the motivation and experience and team orientation that Michelle so embodies.

So I asked Kerry Ashby, the Chief Operating Officer at Tandem, to share her perspective on Michelle and the impact she's having on her team and the company. 

Kerry Ashby: Michelle is a leader on our payroll team and with a PEO, like Tandem HR is, payroll is truly the heartbeat of a PEO. Not only has she been the poster child for implementing lean management principals here at Tandem.

She really takes our core values to heart, which is we commit to our clients, we work together, we understand and we think critically. She really acts as the voice of the client while leading her team with a lot of compassion and empathy. And she also inspires motivation to exceed her quarterly goals

Anderson Williams: And how does she do that? How does she inspire her team to achieve those goals?

Kerry Ashby: Every single day, she'll send a motivational message to the team where she will go over how well we're doing. She will celebrate achievements or where we've exceeded our quarterly goals. She highlights when people have made accomplishments directly. She'll send little funny messages, and she's really interactive with the team, and so she really likes to celebrate success, and she really tries to foster an environment that encourages transparency and collaboration.

She does this by relating to her team. She's been in their role, she understands their position, and she really works on building trust with her team members. This is really important to her, and you can see this in the way she interacts with them. She just really goes above and beyond, and this isn't something that's special to me or particular to me.

She does this with everybody. She does this with all of her team members, and she really makes you feel like she really cares about you as a person.

Find Your Why

Anderson Williams: From living the company values to lean management, to storytelling, to building meaningful personal and professional relationships. Michelle is obviously a person people feel lucky to work with and a leader people are driven to follow.

So how does this work within a payroll department? How has she become this kind of leader in payroll, and why does it matter so much? Why is it so important that she approaches her work with such passion and conviction? 

I'm curious, as you look over 20 years in the payroll space, what is it about your work specifically that has sustained that kind of longevity over, not many people do stick in the same space for 20 years and stay happy with it and so forth. So what is it about your work where you really find your why? 

Michelle Klenotich: The nice thing about payroll in the PEO space and having multiple employers that we're working with every single day is that it brings new challenges. It brings newness every day. So I've had jobs before that it was just so mundane.

You came in, it was Monday, you did these reports on Monday and on Tuesday you come in and you do those reports, and on Wednesday you mesh them all together and you report it out to someone else, and it was very systematic and lather, rinse, repeat. At a PEO space, you are essentially doing the same things day in and day out, but it's for a different client, it's for a different set of expectations.

It's for a different employee, maybe a different state. So now we have different legal, and it's always just something new. But really the basis of this is how much payroll matters. Payroll's never going to go away. Payroll is here forever, which is what I loved about it from the beginning. It was like, 'Hey, I could make a career here, right?'

But payroll matters and it's not just about me making my client happy, and it's not about just them making their employee happy, but it's about that employee being able to turn the lights on and buy the formula and pay for their insulin and be able to do the things that they want to do, and hopefully be able to get a work-life balance themselves.

And be able to live and not just work, which then in turn makes that employee happy, which then makes them loyal to that customer or that client of mine, which makes them happy and loyal to me in what I do. And so it's this circle of life that it's not just a service that I'm providing to somebody, right?

It's literally keeping their life moving. And that's a big thing. There's a super deep meaning behind what I do and what Tandem does and the whole PEO industry, and that's really what keeps me coming back every day because it's bigger than anything I could have ever imagined from day one. 

Anderson Williams: Yeah, it's a profound framing of something that could be seen as a sort of transaction. That is a profound and really meaningful, why. How do you build your, how have you, you've had a team together for a good, long time, how have you built your team around that kind of thinking? 

Michelle Klenotich: Empathy, and it's just, you know, 'Hey, I know you're having a bad day.'

That client called up and they're so angry, but you know what? They're angry because they're having a bad day too, and we have no idea what caused that. And maybe it's because of that employee and because of what they have going on at home and because of their need. We need to be empathetic.

We need to understand that we're all entitled to our bad days, but at the end of the day, we are all humans and we need to provide this service. We don't have a tangible item. We were selling a service. We're providing a service to our clients. We need to deliver that service, understanding that our names, while they're not technically stamped on those paychecks, right, the president's name is on those checks, but it's our work.

And so in my mind, your name is stamped on everything that leaves the department, right? And if you're proud of that, when that leaves, you're going to make somebody proud on the other side. So be proud of your work. Take it into consideration that it could be you on the other end. Everybody makes mistakes.

I make mistakes all day long, but it's understanding how that impacts someone and being empathetic to the fact that there is impact there and that how are we going to fix it? How are we going to make them feel better right now? And how are we going to make sure that they trust that we know the impact? And that's all I can do is teach them to be empathetic and to understand the other side of it.

Swift Improvement

Anderson Williams: It's clear that empathy is a profound force behind Michelle's success and longevity. It's also clear that it's had a huge impact on company performance. Michelle's nomination as an everyday hero talked about how after the acquisition, she stepped up and took the payroll department from a struggling part of the business to a leader, and in just a matter of months.

So I asked her to talk about that massive and swift improvement. 

Michelle Klenotich: When the acquisition happened, it was February of '22. At that time, Tandem had really just started to implement measurable metrics that could be followed for the payroll team. And so when these metrics came into play, we measured them in the red, yellow, green.

They were like super red for that initial month and a half, January into like mid-February. March rolled around, I became a little bit more active in a leadership role and we quickly jumped into: What's wrong? What do you need? What do you need help with? These are what I'm noticing. Let's get through this.

And it wasn't so much of a find a bandaid to fix it and get it better really fast. It was more to identify the root cause and build up from the bottom. And in doing that, we were able to quickly turn our metrics from red to green and then super green. And we actually were able to finish every quarter since then in green status.

And basically what that means is that we're not having to do a lot of rework. We're getting it right the first time. And so that's what happened. We went from negative metrics to super green and I really don't attribute it to me, and it's just the fact that I had the industry knowledge and I was able to say, this is why these things happen. 

We were able to identify root cause. I had system knowledge, and so I could say, when you do this in the system, this is the domino effect. These are the other departments that might be dependent on what we're doing today, where they might not have even known that before. They didn't even realize that there was some other codependency out there. 

Once I was able to bring that to light, the team just ran with it. We're always a work in progress. We've always got improvements. We'll never be perfect, and I don't strive to be perfect. I just strive to be better than we were yesterday. And we're doing that. We're doing that every single day.

Here's My Cape

Anderson Williams:  How did your team though, coming into a team and coming in through a recent acquisition at that time, so these weren't all your people? How did you win them? 

Michelle Klenotich: I don't know. I think it's, I'm just me. I didn't come in saying, here's my cape and I'm going to save the day. I didn't come in and say, y'all need help, and here I am. It was, 'How can I help?' And it was a roll up my sleeves and show me what you got and let's do this together. And that's just who I am. That's just the way that I'm made. I'm not a micromanager. I don't like to have to follow every single day, all day.

I like to give tools and I like to let people show me how they do it and if it's better than the way that I do it, great. Guess what? That's the new way. I think I just try to explain to them that I have expectations, but they're not to be perfect. They're to be you. To be authentic. I'm authentic. You're going to get me in every form.

My face is often an open book. You can tell how good my day is just by looking at me most of the time. But it doesn't mean that I'm not here and I'm not available and I'm not ready to help. And I think that's all I could do. I don't know that I did anything differently, to be honest, Anderson, I just wanted to help.

Anderson Williams: Michelle may not have come in saying, here's my cape and I'm going to save the day. But it's pretty clear that's what people actually experienced. And had she actually rolled up her sleeves that first day, her team would've known immediately they were in good hands. Here again is Kerry Ashby. 

Kerry Ashby: So Michelle has a Superman tattoo. It's on her arm and we all joke, but it's not really a joke that she really embodies that tattoo. She is our little Tandem superwoman.

Anderson Williams: Kerry was not the only person I talked to at Tandem who mentioned Michelle's Superman tattoo and its aptness in capturing who she is as a leader and a mom. Despite that, Michelle is humble and empathetic and focuses on her family and her team and the business more than herself, so I wanted to come back to better understand what's behind it all for Michelle.

When you look at where you are now and how you got here and what's next, what ultimately motivates you, Michelle?

Michelle Klenotich: It's to see the people around me succeed. That's what really drives me. In my opinion, I'm already successful. I've already done more than I think. If you look at society standards and look at my upbringing and my growth and my education levels and all of that, I'm already more successful than I think society thought I would be.

And so for me, I'm thrilled. And I don't want to say that I am comfortable or that I'm complacent. I'm not. I'm not done. But for me, it's being able to look at other people and give them that sense of I'm successful. That's where I'm at these days. It's about building other people up around me. I tell my team kind of regularly look, I'm not the smartest person in this room.

I don't want to be, I surround myself with smarter people on purpose. Like I want to learn from you guys. I want to learn everything that you have to teach me. And just because of my title or where I sit in the office, I don't want you to think that I can't learn from you. And I learn from them every day, and I make sure to bring that back to them.

So when I see them being successful and I see them being happy and appreciative, that's my motivation right now. 

Anderson Williams: Michelle Klenotich is an everyday hero whose superpower is empathy. Whether she's leading her family or her team at Tandem HR, Michelle is looking to find and spark what's best in others to understand what drives them, to help them grow and find opportunities for success the way she has.

And this approach has not only created a top performing payroll team at Tandem today, but is setting the stage to scale that success for years to come.

This podcast was produced by Shore Capital Partners with story and narration by Anderson Williams. Recording and editing by Andrew Malone. Editing by Reel Audiobooks. Sound design, mixing and mastering by Mark Galup of Reel Audiobooks.

 

Special thanks to Michelle Klenotich and Kerry Ashby. 

This podcast is the Property of Shore Capital Partners, LLC. None of the content herein is investment advice, an offer of investment advisory services, nor a recommendation or offer relating to any security. See the terms of use page on the Shore Capital website for other important information.

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