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May 17, 2022
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42. CEO, Hacking HR

42. CEO, Hacking HR

In this episode, Jeff interviews Enrique Rubio, who is a top 100 HR influencer, and the Founder and CEO of Hacking HR. Hacking HR is a global community for all who are interested in learning about everything people at work and doing HR in a better way. Jeff and Enrique explore the definitions of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and psychological safety. Enrique shares what it looks like to adopt these key strategies as part of your internal culture, versus making them short-term, “check the box” events.

They discuss ways that HR can remove friction and barriers within organizations to create better workplaces. Enrique shares how adopting HR technology is often done in a backward fashion – implementing what looks “sexy” compared with first paring down your processes, then fully understanding your objectives and the important customizations that are needed.


Intro: Duration: (01:58)

Opening music jingle & sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Hello everyone, this is Human Capital and I'm Jeff Hunt. My goal on this podcast is to explore the deeply human aspect of work. Recently, we've talked a lot on this show about the great resignation and how its antidote is to create the healthiest workplace possible. Healthy workplaces support human capital today in ways that were not even dreamed of 20 years ago.

I'm talking about things like employee experience and wellbeing, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, using the right technologies in the right way, and creating compassionate feedback-rich cultures, where both, what we're working on and why are clearly defined and they are regularly communicated.

The bulk of these practices often falls on HR, which is why we need to actually hack traditional HR structures and processes to transform the companies we lead. Today I'm excited to talk with a global top 100 HR influencer who has been hacking HR for the past 20 years. Enrique Rubio is an electronic engineer.

He is a Fulbright Scholar and he holds a graduate degree in public administration. Over the past 20 years, he's worked in tech and HR exploring workplace digitization. And what the future of work looks like Enrique founded Hacking HR five years ago, and he is an entrepreneur at heart. I know he has an impressive life story too, which I hope we get to hear a little bit about today.

Hacking HR is a global learning community of HR business leaders and practitioners, and actually, anyone who's interested in learning, sharing, collaborating, and also advancing the HR profession. Welcome, Enrique!

Enrique Rubio:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be part of this conversation. Jeff so, thank you so much.

Topic 1. Who or what inspired you most in your career? (01:59)

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah. Thanks for coming to the show. It's a real treat to be able to interview you. And I always like to start our shows off by asking the guests to give a thumbnail of their career and their life journey. And if you could Enrique share with us who inspired you most along the way?

Enrique Rubio:

Well, thank you again for having me here. Just a quick summary of me and my career when I was a teenager, I wanted to be an astronaut. And of course, I didn't know that it was claustrophobic, back then. I was very excited about being an astronaut and back in Venezuela, we didn't have a career path that would lead me that way.

So, the closest thing for me was becoming an electronic engineer, which I did. I became an electronic engineer. But then I realized, of course, that becoming an astronaut is not going to be the path for me so, I'm going to be doing something else. I became an electronic engineer.

I practiced engineering for like about 10 years in the telecommunications sector before moving to HR, which was a move out of a desire to work with people rather than just technology and also a couple of personal experiences which were not positive with HR, that helped me realize not only the potential of the area.

But also sort of the pitfalls that needed to be fixed and worked out. So that's a little bit about me in HR, I work in consulting in corporate HR, and now I am fully dedicated to building this global community of hacking HR. So that's in a notch what I've done over the past 20-plus years.

Jeff Hunt:


That's great. And I want to learn more about hacking HR and have you share about that, but I'm also just reflecting on the fact that you were an electronic engineer and how sometimes people don't make the connection to the process orientation of an engineer and what's needed in HR.

Enrique Rubio:

Well, you know, I am a big believer in the cross-pollination of fields. So, I think that anybody who goes somewhere and that person does not belong originally to that field, adds a great amount of value. And this is true for an engineer who comes into HR the same way that it's true for an HR person who goes into sales or marketing or finance.

Because the wealth of knowledge, expertise, ideas, and insights that you bring into a vertical field from another vertical field, enlarges sort of the base of that vertical field if you will, and it makes it better. And that's why I always tell HR people, you gotta do your rounds in other areas that are not HR. That's gonna make you so much better.

And similarly, your HR function will get so much better if you start recruiting people who don't come from a traditional HR background, but are people like me who come from an engineering background or a sales background or a technology background that makes the entire thing better. It's nothing to be afraid of.

Even if you look at somebody and you say, well, I need somebody to work as a generalist, an HR, and I need these certain skills, but the person, this engineer doesn't have those skills. It doesn't really matter. You're going to learn those things, but what that person is bringing on board to you, it's more difficult for somebody who's been in the same thing forever.

To learn then for that external person to call me from the outside, bring that knowledge and learn what is needed in that job. Again, this is true for all fields of expertise, maybe there are some that are very, very technical that require a really deep kind of expertise, but in the work we do in HR, I think that bringing somebody from the outside is really powerful.

Topic 2. Cross-pollinating talent and the power of diversity (05:48)

Jeff Hunt:

I love that example because it's such a great picture of the name of your organization hacking HR because you're literally hacking the traditional thought processes of HR. Instead of recruiting somebody from within that space with decades of experience, we're actually looking for people with diverse backgrounds that can bring those to help our organization improve.

I'm also reflecting Enrique, on how critically important that is in other areas of the business. Not just HR, but if you think of the best CEOs, for instance, they came up through either the sales side of the business or the finance or the operation side of the business. And if you also look at where the greatest conflict exists in organizations, oftentimes it's the sales organization pitted against operations, but if you can cross-pollinate those skillsets as well, don't you believe there's a huge value in that?

Enrique Rubio:

There is certainly a huge value. And I know this for a fact because, in my career as an electronic engineer, I did two things. I worked in the heavy technology side of things, meaning the operational side of things, responding and saying yes or no to what the vendors or where the salespeople wanted to do.

Just telling them we can't do that or we can do this. And then at the very end of my career, as an engineer, I worked in technology sales. So I was on the other side of that one technology spectrum, me in the position of now asking the engineers, we need to do this. We need to do that. And then saying no to me, I was better equipped to tell them this is possible because I come from this world.

So I know that when you tell me no to something, that's your automatic response, but I know this one thing is possible, but anyway, I think it's very powerful when you have that cross-pollination of different fields, which is, by the way, one of the most significant modern challenges for organizations, how to achieve that level of cross-pollination across different verticals, different silos in your organization.

This idea of scientific management the Taylorism, that we still drag today, to the companies of the 21st century continues to harm all so much because the reality is that the problems that we are experiencing today in the workplace are very different from those that we were experiencing in the 1920s, the 1930s or ’40s.

And they are so much more complex today and require a holistic approach to the resolution. And that holistic approach to the resolution doesn't just come from either HR or technology or operations or sales. It comes from everybody. So, the more you build opportunities for people to cross bridges in the organization, whether on a long-term basis or in a more sort of ad hoc, informal, perhaps project-based kind of approach.

The more synopsis you're going to be creating in the brain of the organization. Therefore, the more possibility you have to solve complex problems, by getting everybody on board in the solution-seeking process, if you will. So I think this is true for everybody in the organization, by the way, because I work in hacking HR, and in HR, I think when you look at some of the most significant problems that organizations are dealing with right now, they have to do with people.

And unfortunately, HR alone, even the most progressive HR functions in the world, can't solve those problems alone. They will have to bring people from IT, sales, finance, marketing, operation, and engineering, everybody on board to solve those problems. And that's why, very often when they have these conversations, I define a futuristic role of HR as being a facilitator that brings people together to solve problems that HR may not be fully equipped to solve by itself, but it can bring people on board in an exercise of all right, these are the problems, how do we solve them? Let's get everybody together.

Jeff Hunt:

I love that. It's really talking about migrating HR from this traditional tactical role to one that's very, very strategic and that's not easy for a lot of organizations. It's also a role and a function that's very proactive. And so to do what you're describing does require an investment of time, money, and people.

The other thing I'm just reflecting on Enrique is that what you're talking about is an extension of diversity within an organization. So, you're helping people and organizations to leverage diverse viewpoints and strategies, and thoughts in their decision-making process. And to do that requires bringing in multiple stakeholders, as you said.

And I think it's also encouraged or promoted by making sure that we are not just following through with DEI B initiatives as the check the box, but we're actually inculcating them into our core values within our organization because having a diverse workforce is going to contribute to exactly what you're talking about as well.

Enrique Rubio:

Absolutely. I don't know how far into the past, but in the past, some people had a hunch that diverse teams were inclusion, belonging, and fundamental pieces of the workplace. They knew that those teams would do better than teams where everybody looked the same or thought the same way.

Now we do have the science, not only to back it up, but we also have the science to say, that teams that are diverse, that are inclusive in their strategies, and in their work outperform teams that are not. And what this helps, you know, if you work in an area and you got a leadership team who does not necessarily believe in the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a strategic imperative, rather than just like a fluffy thing to have to say that we are diverse and blah, blah, blah, you can show them the data and say, you know, we're working in the manufacturing sector.

This is the makeup of our organization. You know, 70% of our leaders are white middle-aged baby boomers. And this is how we are doing. Now. Look at this other company in a similar sector, maybe in a different state. These guys have maybe only 30% of their leadership as white middle-aged men. Then the rest is a very diverse makeup of their leadership and their workforce.

They are making much more than we're making the reputations way better than ours. They are not having the same trouble that we're having attracting or retaining talent. Therefore, they are doing better than we are, maybe for a myriad of reasons, but one of them is certainly because they are more diverse than we are.

So you can show data to say that it's not just a fluffy thing, but how integrating all those diverse perspectives and ideas. It's a powerful driver for value in the organization. And the problem that has seen HR, which is sometimes a very painful thing to say, to be honest, is that I think a lot of HR people even miss the mark when it comes to how important diversity and inclusion are as strong strategic imperatives are.

And they also see them as checking the box, you know, like, oh yeah, you know, our talent pipeline now we have. We don't have just men applying for jobs. Now we have 50% of them are women. That's not enough. I mean, that's just a checkmark, right? You get to embed the idea of diversity and inclusion, being a strategic imperative that can, that can add value to the organization.

And then they become a real business driver of value rather than just another HR thing that somebody in HR is trying to do because it's a nice thing to do.

Topic 3. Defining diversity. What does inclusion actually look like? (13:33)

Jeff Hunt:

What we tell our clients is when you're looking at these elements like diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, to define them very clearly for what they mean in their own organizations.

So for instance, with diversity, are we only talking about hiring people of different ages, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, or are we also talking about how are we going to promote diverse viewpoints at our meetings? How are we going to solicit different perspectives? Are we going to cross-pollinate talents within the organization?

As you mentioned earlier because if we don't define these things clearly, then people will make up their own definitions and we'll end up with a substandard result. Don't you think?

Enrique Rubio:

Yeah, one thing Jeff, if I may add one thing that I want to say in this regard to diversity is that it's not just diversity.

This is a complex sort of a question if you will. And there are four or five components that I would love for everybody to walk away with from our conversation. Diversity is one element. Inclusion is another element, equity, belonging, and psychological safety are all part of the same equation. You do nothing really.

You will achieve nothing. If you are increasing the diversity of your teams, whether it is gender sexual identity, background, ethnicity, race, whatever. And if those people don't feel included, if they don't feel safe to be who they are in the organization, and if they don't feel that they can have a say in the way things work in the organization.

So what happens very often for a lot of companies is that they focus so much on the diversity element because it's a sexy selling point, right? It is like, oh, look at us. 50% of our board are women. But what they are not saying is that the women that they are bringing to the board are leaving six months later because the organization is not inclusive, that's not that sexy right?

So you got to think about the entire question to make sure that diversity doesn't just become a checkmark. It becomes part of what adds value to your organization. So you gotta think about the entire elements, you know, all the elements of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and psychological safety.

Only then will you be able to truly drive value out of having those diverse communities in the company, out of your inclusive strategies, out of them feeling that they belong to something and feeling safe to come forward to with ideas, questions, whatever it is is.

Jeff Hunt:

You're really making the case for expanding those definitions. Each one of those definitions for the organization. So, not only what does diversity mean, but what does equity mean? In terms of the behaviors, what can we see internally? What does inclusion actually look like when we're in meetings? How do we communicate with one another, what does belonging look like?

And what are the antithesis? What are some opposite behaviors we've seen either in other organizations or our own that don't work? We want to make sure that we're not doing those and involved with those behaviors, right?

Enrique Rubio:

Absolutely. I think this is a fascinating topic in itself, and we're going to spend nine days just talking about it because I think that given how much scrutiny the public is certain upon organizations.

I think it's positive on one side, but on the flip side of that, it's created a negative effect of organizations just trying to do something for the sake of PR and not for the sake of the value that something can create in them. So just by saying, oh, now we have a chief diversity officer now, we're hiring more women and now we're hiring more people from different minorities.

That's not enough if you internally are not fully helping them realize, their purpose, and their passions through work, and you realize your own business goals through having those people on board. So, if you see it just as a PR, the reality is that you're making yourself as an organization, a gigantic disservice by not fully realizing what these diverse talents can bring to the table.

So, I'm hoping that those who are listening or watching this conversation, can reflect on the fact that diversity is great, but not enough.

Topic 4. Hacking HR (18:04)

Jeff Hunt:

Okay, let's bring it back to hacking HR for a minute. What led you to start hacking HR and tell me what's behind the name?

Enrique Rubio:

Hacking is changing something from the core when hackers hack something, at least in the technology world, what they are doing is they are going through lines of code and they are changing the coma.

The one thing, you know, changing things that from the core change, what is on the surface. And that to me was what I thought we needed and we still need in HR. We need to change things from the core and not just from the surface. And let me just give you one example of this. A few years back, a lot of companies started transitioning out the name of the title, chief human resources officer into the title, of chief people officer.

But then you looked at the way a lot of those companies were behaving and it was no better. And sometimes even worse than those companies who still remained under the title or the role remained under the title of chief human resources officer. So just changing the facade of something is not enough proof that you are going in the right direction.

So to me, it was all about changing the core of HR. And the reason why I created this community is actually two reasons. One of them is I am passionate about technology and HR, and I want to bring these two worlds together. And the second reason is that by the time I created hacking HR, I had a job and I was like bored to death in the job that he had because I was so underutilized working in HR, by the way.

So ridiculously underutilized and knowing, or trying to find a creative outlet for my energy, how hyperactive I am. And I think I found the outlet in the company. So I said, you know what? I got a couple of options in here. One is I come to the office every day and sit and look through Facebook all day and use 10% of my time, which is what they're using to do 10% of something.

Or I create some value outside of this thing. And that's why I create a hacking HR. You know, it was number one out of that frustration that my time was not being properly used. And I wanted to do something valuable. Number two, out of the fact that I thought HR needs to change. And number three, it originally started as a conversation only about technology and HR.

And I said, you know, let's bring these two worlds together because I am passionate about both. So why not? So that's sort of the origin story.

Jeff Hunt:

That's great. It seems like what you're trying to do with hacking HR is to remove friction and barriers to people that are interested in your topics as well, because I've also seen that it's very accessible financially compared to some other models that are out there. Can you say anything about that?

Enrique Rubio:

Well, most of this we do are free. There are some things that people need to become a premium member for the platform to get access to. As of now costs $119 per year. I can tell you we have more content than most of those other organizations in this space that are very much more expensive than we are to me because we're creating a global community and I don't see.

This community through the lenses of just the United States, meaning that you know, $119 may not be that much money for a lot of people here, but for somebody living in Venezuela, for example, my birth country $119 is three times more than the minimum salary on a year. So for them, it will be possible to pay for something like that.

So I want it to remove all the barriers from anybody to joining any of the things that we do, and they get access to all of our content. If it's free, some things are premium, but the content itself it’s all free?

Topic 5. How can HR create better workplaces? (21:45)

Jeff Hunt:

How can HR remove friction and barriers within organizations to create better workplaces?

Enrique Rubio:

Good question. I would begin by talking to people, being curious, and just finding out what's going on because unless you talk to them and understand them, it's going to be difficult for you to get a picture of why some things are happening in the organization and the direction, which you can take it.

You may have some hints of why some things may be happening, but I think it's only through active listening, empathy, curiosity, intellectual curiosity, curiosity for people, curiosity for the organization, and business acumen. I think with those foundations, you can have conversations across the board that will continue to help you paint that big picture.

Sort of a car cartoony stands where you're given all the dots and now you have to start connecting the lines to create something. That's what you gotta do. You gotta first plot the dots and you plot the dots by bringing all those conversations and being curious.

And then you start connecting those dots through lines that, but that requires a lot of curiosity from HR people. And I think that's not being quite a skill for us. We've always, not always, but, our profession was created to mitigate risks to follow the policy and the handbook and blah, blah, blah.

And that made people really not curious, that made people really comfortable about the fact that what the policy says is what it is and that harmed us in pretty significant ways. And now we are trying to say, yes, we have a handbook, but that's not all, life is not the handbook.

There's so much more to it and it's only through curiosity that we can truly find out the dots and then connect them.

Topic 6. How can HR technology really help us? What does the future of HR technology look like? (23:37)

Jeff Hunt:

Very well said. Now I know you're a technologist at heart, so I want to talk about HR tech for a minute. In our space, I'll just sort of start it with a little bit of a story. We oftentimes will have clients that implement our software and they might think that the implementation of the software is going to solve other problems.

And that's not the case. We always like to tell people that this is not a panacea. There actually are other behaviors and things that are really required. In order to fully leverage this, to achieve your objectives. And by the way, like Laurie Anderson, the famous artist and musician said, if you think technology will solve your problems, than you don't understand technology and you don't understand your problems.

So I like that quote, but I want you to share Enrique what your perspective is on HR tech and what the future looks like?

Enrique Rubio:

My perspective is that if you think technology will solve your problems than you don't understand your problems and you don't understand technology, that is my perspective. Technology is not the panacea.

I love that you said that, especially now, given how famous HR has become over the past, probably 5, 10 years, but especially over the past couple of years and what this created was a lot of, you know, technology Hawks getting into this space and saying, I'm going to be something to do this. I'm going to be something to do that.

So the landscape of technology has become crowded very complex and very fragmented because now we have the technology to do like a little thing, a little sliver of what HR is supposed to be doing, but not the entire thing. And I think this is creating great opportunities, but also a lot of other problems that we didn't see or foresee when we saw the emergence of all these other technologies.

So what I would say. The first thing that I would do if I was thinking about bringing technology on board to solve the X or Y problem, or to add X or Y kind of value, is thinking about my processes. I actually like to use the analogy of telling people to think that each of your processes is one piece of paper and you just put them all on the table.

All of your people processes around the table, and now you've got to start sort of trimming out some of those processes that are not adding any kind of value. Let me give you one example, which Netflix does not a lot of organizations do, but they just, sort of removed the policy of how people have to dress to go to work.

They are like, wait a second. I mean, are we talking to children here? From kindergarten, they already also know how to dress, and actually, they wouldn't probably go naked to school. So do you need that policy for anything? And if the answer is no, just trim it out. And then you focus on the things that truly create value for the organization.

Once you focus on that, then you start saying out of all these pieces of paper that have on my table, how can technology help us do some of them? And then you start thinking about those processes about how technology can help you about how you have to redesign those valuable processes to continue to be even more valuable than they were before only then do you bring technology onboard.

But we got a little wrong because what we do know is we bring the technology on board and we adapt our processes to whatever that technology has to offer us. And that is a big mistake because it ends up caging you from operating in a more valuable way and even more pain down the road, it becomes even more expensive if you didn't see the pitfalls or the constraints of said technology.

So to me, it is all processed first, business value, and then you think about the technology that can help you deliver more of that.

Jeff Hunt:

I love that. And it makes the case for really understanding very clearly what your objectives are first and what your needs are, and then finding the tools that really can be customized to meet those needs, right?

Enrique Rubio:

Yeah, because we got it all the upside-down, what we do today is like something looks cool and we think, oh, you know, let's bring this technology on board. Then we bring it on board and sometimes it's not even solving any problem. It's actually adding more work to HR because now on top of all this stuff that you were doing before, that you didn't redesign before bringing technology.

Now you also have to manage this technology, and it all ends up becoming much more complex than it was in the first place. So the technology piece that you bring on board is the last piece of what you do. You begin with business value at redesigning your processes, and only then do you say, as I said before, What technology can help us deliver this?

Instead of saying, let me bring the technology and see how I adapt to whatever that technology lets me do. That's the wrong approach.

Topic 7. Lighting round questions (28:32)

Jeff Hunt:

All right. Let's shift into some lightning-round questions. The first one is what are you most grateful for?

Enrique Rubio:

Being alive. I think, being able to use my full body alive, think, and be curious, I'm thankful for that.

Jeff Hunt:

Enrique, what's the most difficult leadership lesson that you've learned over your career?

Enrique Rubio:

To let things go, I guess, including behaviors I mean, I look back at my 20-year, 20-plus-year career. You know, today I’m so different than I was 20 years back, and let go of things that I felt were normal or were acceptable, has been my own personal leadership journey.

And it's not easy to let go of all habits.

Jeff Hunt:

Who is one person you would interview if you could living or not?

Enrique Rubio:

Oh, that's a great question. I have so many people that will love to interview. I think I would interview Abraham Lincoln. I am very passionate about history. I am very passionate about people who live through very difficult times.

And I would love to ask him, how do you do all this? Why do you care in the first place? So yeah, I think Abraham Lincoln would be one of them.

Jeff Hunt:

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Enrique Rubio:

I'm going to say, somebody told me once Enrique, you move so fast and you expect everybody to move at the same pace.

And that's not going to give you any peace. So you are going to have to learn to accept it. Sort of paraphrasing what the person said, you're going to have to learn how to live with the fact that people move at different paces. And that's part of building something.

Jeff Hunt:

We've covered some great ground today, and I'd love you to share the greatest takeaway you'd like to leave with our listeners.

Enrique Rubio:

Well out of all the conversations that we just had I'm going to say, be curious, be curious about the problems that we are going through. Be curious about people, you know, and ask them questions.

Don't be afraid talking about creating an environment of inclusion, just be curious, if you talk to somebody whom you have never talked to before from another country and other races and other sexual identities, ask them questions you're going to be learning so much.

And be curious about areas that are not your own, this is true for everybody, including HR, of course, you know, I have an eclectic taste for readings. You know, I read about science. I read about the, I read a lot about history and people may say, I read about biology. I love evolution theories. And people may say like, you know, what does that have to do with HR?

I'm like probably nothing, but it does, you know, I connect some dots, at least two dots get connected, but there, when I read about trust Darwin, or when I read about Alexander the Great, which I just finished reading the book about him. So, you know, just that.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah. I love that. I forgot to ask you. What's your top book recommendation?

Enrique Rubio:

Oh, man, I have so many, um, but there's one book that I read out a few months back it's called range by David Epstein. And it talks about people learning across different fields and not just getting vertically like the best expert, because it is when you combine all those areas that you get better.

That book was fascinating. So it's called range by David Epstein. Fantastic book.

Jeff Hunt:

Excellent. That actually speaks to exactly what we were talking about earlier within organizations.

Enrique Rubio:

Yeah, indeed. That's why I brought it out because I think it has to do very much with the nature of the conversation that we just had.

Jeff Hunt:

I love that, Enrique thank you for what you're doing at hacking HR and for bringing all of this wisdom to the human capital podcast today. Thank you.

Enrique Rubio:

Thank you so much for inviting me, Jeff.


Closing music jingle/sound effects

Jeff Hunt:

Thanks for listening to the show this week. We release new episodes every other Tuesday. Let me know what you thought of this episode by emailing humancapitalgoalspan.com. Human capital is produced by GoalSpan. Subscribe, wherever you get your podcasts. And please share this podcast with your colleagues, team, or friends. Thanks for being human kind.

Human Capital — 42. CEO, Hacking HR
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