Faces of HR

Faces of HR: NerdWallet’s CPO on Building From a Blank Canvas & Unleashing Full Potential

If you’re an avid reader of our Faces column (of course you are!), you know that majority of the professionals we profile never considered a career in HR until they stumbled into one and discovered their passion. Our guest for this week, however, is an example of someone who made a “conscious shift” to the HR function.

Lynee Luque NerdWallet
Lynee Luque

Granted, Lynee Luque initially began her career as an accountant after her older brother encouraged her to pursue a “straightforward and structured path.” Luque would go on to work at firms like PwC and KPMG, enjoying engagement with clients and the team dynamics. According to Luque, although she loved this part of her job, she wasn’t passionate about the content of her job on a day-to-day basis.

After six years in the industry, she sought another opportunity that would fulfill her. “I quit my job, went back to school, and put all my effort into switching into HR—and I haven’t looked back since,” Luque recently told HR Daily Advisor.

While in business school at the University of Michigan, Luque had HR internships at Chevron and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After graduating, she was tapped as Intel’s HRPB Lead of Infrastructure & Security Engineering and would go on to serve at Twitter, Envoy, and Mozilla.

Currently, she serves as Chief People Officer (CPO) at NerdWallet, a personal finance company, where Luque has not only been able to retain her love for meeting new people and team dynamics, but also, she’s “more energized” by the content of her work.

And NerdWallet is benefitting greatly because of it. Before tapping Luque as CPO, the personal finance company’s HR/people leader position had been empty for two years. Since Luque took the helm of the role, she has significantly transformed NerdWallet’s culture. How so? During her first year, not only did the company’s workforce double, but she also revamped its DEI initiatives and compensation programs.

“I’m most proud of the return on the tangible investments we’ve made in talent since I arrived at NerdWallet,” Luque shared. “When our recruiters explain our employee programs to prospective candidates, we see a lot of interest because they know that we’re walking the walk, not just talking the talk. We have impactful programs that set people up for success—like our leadership development and manager programs—that directly correlate to the talent we’ve been able to attract and retain.”

In our latest Faces, meet Lynee Luque.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry?

Janet Van Huysse, now the Chief People Officer at Cloudflare, was VP of HR for much of my time at Twitter. She not only assembled a remarkable pool of talent at Twitter during our time working together, but she also built an internal culture of flexibility and agility in the midst of change and ambiguity. From the first time I walked into Twitter, there was a notable buzz in the building, and Janet was instrumental in cultivating and maintaining that energy.

Something I’ve known about myself for a while is that I’m a builder, and I especially love building from a blank canvas. Ever since my time working with Janet, I’ve tried to embrace opportunities to start from scratch, and to remain adaptable as an HR leader.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry?

My favorite part about working in HR is helping people unleash their full potential. At NerdWallet, we aim to promote from within, so developing our current employees–our Nerds–is critical. We think big picture about how we are providing Nerds with the skill-building opportunities they’ll need to thrive in future positions within the company.

I love creating programs that show Nerds that we are committed to their professional development. That’s why we extend our development and support benefits to all roles and invest in skill growth through stipends, internal movement, career programs, and twice-yearly promotion evaluations. There is nothing more satisfying in this industry than seeing people throughout the company grow and achieve their potential.

It sounds like through your experience you really care about people, and you want to help them feel safe and comfortable, which is important in the industry. Please elaborate here.

Making people feel safe and comfortable is a natural progression of leading People teams. But today, the relationship employees have with work is fundamentally different than it has been in the past. They aren’t willing to give up everything anymore, even for a dream job.

The physical, mental, and emotional toll of the past few years has reset priorities and employers have had to adjust accordingly. I’ve been reexamining the pressure points faced by employees and am shifting our focus from where we work to how we work. We’re rewriting the playbook on how to keep employees engaged and thriving, both in and outside of work.

How can HR most effectively demonstrate its value to the leadership team?

By building a pipeline of talented employees and fostering a culture in which they feel empowered to excel and reach their full potential. To achieve this, I believe it’s crucial to transform DEI efforts from being a separate initiative, into something that is fully integrated throughout the business, present in every aspect of the employee experience.

Additionally, we can demonstrate our value by not only keeping up with the rapidly changing workplace landscape, but by staying ahead of it. It’s fitting that in my time at NerdWallet, the biggest shift in the space has been the shift to remote work. At NerdWallet, our remote-first ethos is founded in the idea of flexibility, and we’ve gone a step further.

Empowering our Nerds to prioritize life outside of work as needed is important to us, we see several layers of benefits. For example, our remote-first culture empowers us to recruit and hire from a larger, more geographically diverse pool of talent, which supports our vision for DEI.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

The corporate workforce has undergone a seismic shift over the last three years. First the Great Recession, followed by a wave of tech layoffs, have posed big questions for us as HR leaders. We’re no longer just asking how we retain talent, but also, how we keep them happy, engaged and accelerating in their careers. And so over the next five years, I think we’re going to see HR’s focus shift along with that question.

We’ll see this industry-wide focus shift manifest in a few ways. First, I think we’ll see companies pull from their own pools more than they used to. And if they’re going to do that, they’ll need to think long-term with their employees, and go all-in on promoting from within.

That means taking the long view in presenting growth opportunities to employees, and helping them cultivate the skills they’ll need for those roles. I think this will lead more companies to the realization that investing in employees yields a positive ROI when it comes to retention.

At NerdWallet, we’re already thinking this way, and I hope we’re setting an example that the industry will follow.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

I encourage those entering the profession to consider joining a company whose mission and vision resonate and compel you to do your best work. For me, coming from an underbanked family, I had to teach myself about personal finance. Because of my own experiences with personal finance, Nerdwallet’s mission to provide clarity for all of life’s financial decisions was pivotal in my decision to join the team.

Our CSR program focuses on helping individuals and families like mine, who are traditionally locked out of the financial system, and I’m proud of the work we do. I encourage everyone entering the industry to find a role and a company that makes them feel this way.

Anything else you’d like to add? We can talk about anything you’d like to discuss here.

I feel strongly that community action is the new corporate responsibility. The term “CSR” is everywhere, but it is too often used without substance. It’s no surprise that there’s a massive diversity and pipeline problem, especially within tech.

The best way to nurture a new generation of diverse talent is to bring skill building and networking opportunities directly into traditionally underserved communities. That’s why, for example, we’ve partnered with the Black Equity at Work program at Management Leadership for Tomorrow to develop a data-driven, comprehensive plan to support racial equity at NerdWallet.

Another way to do that is by putting more emphasis on potential and less value on academic pedigree. Where—or if—you went to college does not determine your ability to succeed and grow in a job. On the job training—not theoretical learning—is how employees build skills and experience. That’s why NerdWallet has dropped college degree requirements for our open positions and focuses on the skills and potential of prospective employees.

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