Faces of HR

Developer Turned HR Brings Critical Skills to Bear

There are so many paths to HR, and each brings with it a different set of strengths and skills that can complement the people-oriented role. Today’s guest began in IT as a developer. His time in that field has helped him bring technical savvy and a love of numbers to the role.

Meet Andy Valenzuela, CHRO at HireVue, a video interview and software platform.

How did you get into HR?

I actually started out in IT working as a developer. I spent a number of years in leadership roles in sales operations, services, and marketing for a large Fortune 50 company and saw what a tremendous difference great leadership and great strategy could make for an organization. I had the opportunity to work with many great HR business partners early on in my career, which piqued my interest in the field. Then, 15 years ago, I spoke with my CHRO about my interest in HR. He was a huge advocate for getting business-minded people in HR. After that, I decided to go into HR and have never looked back.

How has your IT background influenced your HR work?

Technology has always been a way for me to come into an organization and improve a process, improve an experience, or help an organization scale. HR tech is front and center in today’s world, especially amid the pandemic and the world’s shift to remote work seemingly overnight. We’re at a critical time when companies have to be ahead of the game to access talent that’s become available to them in ways it wasn’t before. On top of that, I’ve always been a firm believer in focusing on the employee experience and engagement. HR tech is at the forefront of driving real transformative change at any company, and other HR leaders should be leveraging that tech to drive their transformation. HR tech has a huge potential to help in all of these facets, and teams that don’t leverage technology to the extent they should will fall behind those that do. 

How do you approach getting mid- and upper-level managers to collect and use the right data in the first place?

First and foremost, teams need to focus on data that are relevant to their leaders, not just relevant to HR. For example, if you want them to invest in capability that helps you lower company attrition at a faster rate or minimize your time to fill, then you need to show them how those improvements impact the business. Lower attrition and faster time to fill lower overall cost and improve the team close rate. Once you can make the connection to how HR benefits the business, you can get your business leaders bought into why it is important to track the data and implement processes and technology that can give you this insightful information. 

2020 saw the move to a largely remote workforce. What do you think will be important in 2021?

The employee experience will become critically important in terms of the technology we’re using today and the things you put in front of employees that enable them to more easily do their job instead of being roadblocks. Technology around how you communicate and engage with your employees is going to be super important moving forward. Technology that relates to how you actually get the voice of your employee base—and not from the hallways or at the watercooler—will be super important moving forward.

I’m super excited about the role here at HireVue. The whole world is just opened to all of us from an employee and a candidate perspective, right? Jobs that weren’t an option for people now are, now that we’ve determined “Hey, we can operate in this remote situation. Employees can be successful no matter where they are.”

I think technology that connects employees, companies, and candidates will continue to rise even beyond 2020 and into 2021. HR tech is going to be a super strong area of focus for HR leaders and companies going into 2021 because you’re right—so much of what you used to be able to do in person you now have to figure out how to manage in a remote environment. I don’t envision there’s going to all of a sudden be a day when everyone’s back in the office again the way it used to be.

Flexibility for candidates matters more now than ever before, with ongoing changes in travel restrictions, fluctuating lockdowns, and phased vaccine distribution. We’re seeing the change from 9–5 interviews play out in our data in real time. For example, on a single weekend in October, we facilitated over 47,000 interviews.

But virtual interviews aren’t just about the immediate health and safety of candidates; they also create equity in opportunity due to overall flexibility. I’m thinking of parents with childcare concerns, hourly workers who can’t afford to leave their current jobs for an interview, and candidates with disabilities who may experience greater constraints around scheduling travel.

It’s interesting because everyone was saying “Well, thank God we have videoconferencing” like that was the ultimate solution. It took most people just a little while to realize that that’s not a sustainable method of communication.

That’s right. That’s right.

So, what is?

I think it’s a combination of technology and employee experience capabilities that allows you to do it. If you’re talking about internal, it is about what you are using and whether it’s Slack or Teams or internal engagement communications that allow for the quick communication. Before, you may have had to have done it via a drop-by or a chat in the hallway. Now it’s channels and means of communication. It’s chatbots or a way for your employees to ask questions of organizations like HR or IT, the support organizations they used to be able to reach in an office. Again, I circle back to technology that’s going to enable those connection points by making it feel like “Hey, we are still connected and still at the office, just not under the same building.”

I think beyond that, though, there is still going to be a need for this in person. At some point, that means bringing your teams together. It just may be different. It may be instances in time with frequency. “Hey, I want to bring my team together for 3 to 4 days to strategize on what we’re going to do this quarter, and I want the facilities to be able to do that and engage in that way.” Some of that, I think, is still lacking. Like, there’s still a real value in having people together when figuring those kinds of things out. I think that’s certainly important, but I think it’s, again, a combination of technology that’s going to have to come together to deliver that ultimate end-to-end employee experience.

One of the things that has been very interesting to me is the sudden and extreme division between a rise of new classes of workers. You have those who could work from home, but then you have the frontline workers who have been, since this all began, at their jobs. The two experiences are so different, and many organizations have both. How do you foresee organizations bridging that gap or addressing that issue as we go forward?

It’s a great point, Jim. I have had many conversations on this concern of mine around this class idea and what can occur, whether it is job-based or location-based or, heck, whether it’s parents versus nonparents. The situation has created environments that make me a little bit nervous about that occurring. And to be frank, I don’t have the answer yet.

What I think is super important is that we have awareness of it. For me, it is constantly putting this in the minds of my leadership team and my peers and saying, “Hey, we’ve got to ensure and watch out for this.” I think what, of course, comes top of mind for me is delivering a really great employee experience, whether you’re in the office or you’re remote or whether you’re an engineer or a bagger within the company. It is all about how that experience is common and similar, regardless of the type of talent I have. I think that technology’s at the forefront of enabling that.

I think beyond that, you have to look at all of your policies and procedures; one of the things I think is really important here is that you have to assume there’s bias in everything you’re doing—every policy you’ve created and every process you’ve created—and the end state would be that you take every one of those, assume the bias, find it, and build around it, right?

The situation you mentioned may not be what people originally thought of as diversity or equity, but there is going to be a challenge with created bias of “Hey, I am not somebody who has the flexibility to work from home, and the policies that you’re creating challenge that.” Let’s take simple things like “Hey, we know that people are really struggling; the fact that they are living at work or working for the concept of living at work, right, has been out there. Let’s give a half-day Friday here,” which is something we really try to promote. The challenge is that not everyone in a company is going to have that opportunity, right?

Yeah.

So how do I, while I’m incenting and helping one group, make sure that it doesn’t disincentivize another population who may not have that flexibility? That’s one of those situations in which you say, “OK, the goal is to figure out how we create breaks for our employees to get a mental break from the job.” I need to view that across all the types of jobs we have for all the countries we’re supporting. It is certainly more complex for HR. I think the first step is just awareness and making sure we’re trying to do our best to eliminate that “bias” that’s going to occur in some of this class system you mentioned at the start of the question.

Yeah. It’s a brave new world. And some countries got it very differently than others. I mean, look at New Zealand.

I mean, you’ve got the U.K. situation. Look at the lockdown they’re going under right now. As an HR leader, I am super stressed about what that means for our employee base there. How much support can I even give them? What are the things we can do from a company perspective? And it’s got to be different from what I may have to do for my employee base here in the United States and for the employee base that actually might still be coming on-site at a building.

You’ve got to be aware and knowledgeable, and you’ve got to have a pulse on every type of individual, every type of job, and every country. It is so radically different for everyone right now. I think that that’s really unprecedented for us as leaders and certainly for us as an HR function.

One of the things that happened last year, just as this was all getting started, at least here in the States, was that every organization went into this sort of emergency chaos mode. They had to prioritize what was important. What do we need to do today?

Sure.

And a lot of that ignored certain compliance rules, and new bizarre compliance situations arose that many haven’t really taken the time to address. There’s a certain bit that can be forgiven, in my opinion, at least morally, because it just came so quickly and people didn’t have a chance to adjust, but now it’s been almost a year, and 2021 shouldn’t be the same. It’s time for employers to find where they have let things slide out of necessity and regain the reins. One example is a case in Delaware that found that trade secrets were not being treated like trade secrets because of some of the idiosyncrasies of Zoom calls. That’s a big deal.

I think there are a couple of things I would say. One is that my partnership with my legal counterpart has become critically important. As you mentioned, so much is actually happening at the state level right now. Let’s just take the United States for example. California just passed a couple of new laws in the last week. You mentioned that Delaware, and many others, is also trying to catch up. I think one is that we’re having to come up with a plan on how to keep up with all of the change that’s going to come. One is legally. Two is “Hey, with our own InfoSec team, what do we want to be ahead on? What has changed that we believe we need to revisit?” And it’s not just about pay legally. It’s also about educating our employee base.

I also have our IT organization and have at the last couple of companies I’ve had. We don’t just talk about HR, but we talk about IT, as well, and what you mentioned is really trying to figure out “Hey, what are the things I need to put in place to help ensure and drive compliance and security awareness?” I think the other element that has been such a huge win for me is this collective, the CHRO Roundtables that I’m participating in, which have been such an education and an opportunity to connect with my peers in a way I never had before, which is that everybody is just trying to stay up to speed. “Are you aware? Here are some ideas. Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s what we just faced.” Everyone is trying to get in front of it where they can or get an idea of how they can quickly react.

But again, Jim, this is one I don’t have a perfect answer for. All I can say is be aware. Try to get close contact with your legal team. It’s super important to us that we have an InfoSec team. What are we doing there? Lastly, leverage your network of folks. We’re all trying to get through this together. It’s been a great community of individuals who have come together to try and figure out what’s changing and how we address it or get in front of it. 2021 is going to be interesting. I do think it will change a lot, not just state by state but country by country.