Be More Podcast: Trailblazing HR with Enrique Rubio

In this episode we’re joined by Enrique Rubio, founder & CEO at Hacking HR, who shares the importance of reskilling and upskilling of team members, what he sees to be the future of HR, and his definition of a trailblazer.


Be More is a weekly one-on-one podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work, hosted by Workday’s Patrick Cournoyer. This week we’re joined by Enrique Rubio, Founder & CEO at Hacking HR, who shares the importance of reskilling and upskilling of team members, what he sees to be the future of HR and his definition of a trailblazer.

As we stand on the verge of a new technological era, it is becoming increasingly challenging to stay relevant in the corporate environment. Technology advances each day, and AI is about to integrate into every aspect of our lives.

Enrique Rubio recognizes that fact more than most. As the CEO of Hacking HR, he’s at the forefront of the development of HR technology globally.

"The time for most of us, in this creative economy, the time of vertical silos, this level of specialization… is over. It’s over because we need to combine areas of expertise that can help us become better."

Enrique Rubio Founder & Chief Executive Officer Hacking HR

If you want to learn more about the direction that HR is taking, tune in to the podcast here, or read the transcript below.

Key Takeaways:

  • The concept of HR trailblazing comes from Enrique’s experience in trail running. In a race, the trailblazer runs ahead and add ribbons or marks beforehand so that the runners know the route. In the professional world, HR has the opportunity to take the role of the trailblazer, guiding people in the right direction, as it stands at the intersection of people and business operations.

  • How HR responded to the pandemic. HR teams had to adapt quickly to the changes. The pandemic caused organizations to consider implementing new technologies, like automation, and prepare for the future by upskilling and retraining their people.

  • Why do employees need to reskill and upskill? First, there is no job security anymore, and you must develop your skills to remain employable. Second, if you don’t upskill, there is a chance that you could eventually be replaced by technology.

  • New trends of 2021. First, HR people will need to reskill and upskill themselves. Second, there will be an impact of technology. Third, HR needs to understand how to implement flexible work arrangements, whether people work from home or in the office.


Patrick Cournoyer: A topic that so many organizations are talking about today is the upskilling and reskilling of our workforces. We are all focused on how we can do this effectively. Quite frankly, it’s just not the easiest thing to do. However, we all seem to be making strides in the right direction and that’s encouraging.

My guest today is passionate about the upskilling of HR teams. While we have seen the role of the CPO or CHRO change in the past year, we have a great opportunity to focus on all HR practitioners within the people function of an organization. Enrique Rubio is the founder of Hacking HR, which is a global community focused on creating the best HR that has ever existed. He is a top 100 global HR Influencer and is inspiring HR trailblazers around the world. Enrique, thank you so much for joining our conversation today.

Enrique: Thank you, Patrick, for having me in a chat about the reskilling and upskilling of HR professionals, the future of our function and our work in HR, and whatever else we want to talk about.

Patrick: We have a lot that we can cover today. Let’s start out with Hacking HR. I think it’s quite interesting to hear the story of people that founded organizations, communities. How did you come up with the idea to start this global community Hacking HR?

Enrique: Let me begin by saying that I work in HR, and I’ve worked in HR, but my background is technology. At the beginning of Hacking HR, what I really wanted to do was to bring closer HR professionals with technology and I wanted to close that gap. I wanted HR to understand the impact of technology in the workplace, and how they needed to get ready in understanding all the trends in technology, that we’re going to impact the work of HR, and their work, if you will. That’s how it started. It started as a conversation of technology and human resources.

Of course, this was back in at the end of 2017. We have evolved significantly ever since. Now we have become what I call a global learning community of HR leaders, and practitioners coming together to learn about all things that are at the intersection of future work, technology, organizations, people transformation, innovation, and the impact on HR.

The origin is it was supposed to be about technology and HR. It was supposed to be just one event every now and then back in Washington, DC where I lived before, and it evolved to a place that I never expected it to evolve to. This is where we are today in this global community talking about all the fun stuff in the HR space.

Patrick: I can imagine that the past year has evolved the conversation, particularly around the intersection of technology and the HR practice. Because we know and we’ve seen so much technology that has been adopted by organizations to streamline the HR process to streamline the people process and people experience at organizations. We’ll get to that in a couple of minutes. I’m sure that your original passion of connecting technology and HR is coming more to fruition over the past year and for the foreseeable future.

Let’s start with this concept of trailblazers. How do you see HR blazing a trail for business? Because classically HR has had a couple of elements but it’s been very transactional in a lot of ways. The past five years has given a lot more insight into learning and development, people development, growth, engagement, all of these areas that are moving forward, but there are a lot of transactional aspects of HR. How do you see HR trailblazing within a business?

Enrique: Yes, absolutely. Let me begin by saying where that concept is coming from. I am a trail runner. I am a competitive trail runner. This is what happens, before you go to a race, as a runner, there are people who were on the trails before blazing the trails. They were adding ribbons or marks or whatever it is, for you to know the route that you needed to be racing at.

Me, as a runner, I don’t have to worry about what the route is because somebody had already done that for me and that is a trailblazer. Somebody has shown me the way, before I go to the actual trail to get into the race.

What is happening right now in the world of work is very similar to that concept. We are thrown in the forest, in the woods like if we were trail runners. We are organizations and individuals thrown in there and very often, we don’t know. We may not know what the direction is for us to go to. Where should we be running towards?

In the work of HR, we have an incredible opportunity to be something equivalent to those trailblazers. Meaning the people that are adding the blazes on the trails, the marks, the ribbons to guide others in their own races, whether it is to create more profit, or to generate more impact in the world, or to improve lives, whatever it is. We have these opportunities as HR professionals to be the ones that are ahead of everybody else, blazing the trail, so that their race for them is focused on actually racing, and not focused on having to find where to go.

The reason why I think HR is in a very unique position and an extraordinary position actually to be able to do this is because we sit at the intersection of people operations. If we do a good job, of course, we’re also sitting in a place where we can observe business operations. This is a unique perspective, if you will. We are sitting in a place where we can see how people operate, how the business operates.

If we can connect those dots, then we have the capabilities, and we have the skills to be able to become that trailblazer leading others. Very often this is a desired state. When I say, “We should be the trailblazers,” I am always thinking we have the potential to become the trailblazers. I don’t think that HR, in general, as a function is there yet.

We have a long way to go to become those trailblazers. I just think that because of what we do, we should be able to do it. We should be able to become those trailblazers if we do all the back work that we need to do in order to get there. That’s where the word trailblazers comes from, and that’s the analogy with what I think HR could be doing.

Patrick: Along those lines, the past year has provided the opportunity for HR in organizations to really take leaps forward. We’ve seen people experience be so centralized in the business future over the past 12 months, the focus on connecting our people in a disconnected world, the focus on culture, and how we keep our fabric of our cultures connected through unprecedented times. How have you seen the past year, catapulting HR forward in different ways to start being more of those trailblazers? What has your experience been?

Enrique: Great question. I want to begin by saying that the work that HR did last year was incredible and we were helping organizations to continue operations in a chaotic year of humanitarian COVID crisis. At the same time, we were helping our people, our employees, to work, to remain sane and to do whatever they need to do in order to continue to come to work, and at the same time, we were taking care of ourselves as HR professionals. We were doing all those things simultaneously. Kudos to the HR community for what they did last year.

What happened last year is that we were able to effectively help our organizations, but in a lot of cases, it was a very reactive process. Let me give you one example of that. We have been talking about remote work, at least that I know for 25 years, maybe even more, but at least that I know for 25 years.

There were many organizations that the day before our governments sent off into lock down, the day before these organizations were saying, “Remote work is not for us. It doesn’t work for us. We cannot do it. We are a bank. We are, whatever company, we need people to come to the office. We like people to come to the office,” and whatnot, they were saying that the day before we went into lockdown.

We went into lock down. People have to go to work from home, because they can’t come to the office anymore. We saw the first few weeks of the lockdown, we saw how organizations, including HR within those organizations were scrambling to get the resources together, get their policies together, get the guidelines together, to be able to send people to work from home, to do remote work.

My question is, if this is a trend that we have been talking about for so long, how is it that we weren’t ready for that last year? I’m not saying that we ever thought that we were going to be pushed into remote work in a period of a week or so because of a global pandemic. The fact that it caught off guard so many people just met that we reacted to the crisis instead of having been ready for it. Either way, I continue to congratulate HR for scrambling the resources and the process to get things done.

To me, this is the point we already know today of many trends that will be impacting the world of work going forward. What I want to avoid is having another COVID-like situation where one day we are operating, like we normally do and then the next day we have to completely change what we do because there’s a crisis or there’s an emergency. Or we finally realized that the trends that people were talking about before are actually happening.

To me, last year was a year of a lot of very reactive work that we actually ended up doing well. Now, we have to turn on the page and say, “How can I get ready for things that people have been telling me will happen? I didn’t believe them before, but now, we better believe them. Because if they are right as they were with remote work, it’s better for me to get right.” One of those examples, Patrick is the impact of technology in the workplace.

For a number of years now, many organizations, futurists have been telling organizations, the automation trend is unstoppable and it’s inevitable. Automation or technology will replace hundreds of thousands of jobs in the world and it will impact every other single job that we have on the planet. You got to get ready for that.

You get ready for that by thinking how technology can impact your work. You get ready for that by upskilling and reskilling the people that most likely will be replaced by technology. You get ready for that, by at least identifying the tasks within jobs that won’t be eliminated, but the task that can be outsourced to technology.

The bottom line here is that last year, during the COVID crisis, we were able to scramble resources and we were able to do what we needed to do to continue helping our organizations, but in a very reactive way. Now, it’s time to do something along those lines, but more proactively.

Patrick: I love that perspective, because I agree with you. This year is about possibility. It’s about taking our learnings from last year and creating a path and a new way forward with an open mind and an open perspective. Because you have hit the nail on the head about the fact that we don’t want to be in another situation where we are operating in a reactive way and we learned a lot last year.

It’s quite interesting in a different episode of the podcast that we just recorded this week, we were talking to a CEO of an organization that specifically has meetings with his organization that are just, what if meetings. Every month they’re talking about “What if this happened? How would we handle it as an organization?” And things that you would never even think of happening, but sitting a group of people down together, and going through the process of figuring it out.

If that ever did happen, they have a bit of a blueprint or at least have fought about it and discussed it before it potentially happens. That is a brilliant way of going about looking at the unknown. What are we not thinking about? What should we think about?

First off, thank you for the inspiration of let’s look at the opportunity that we have in the next year and what we can do as an organization. Let’s talk about that more specifically with upskilling and reskilling in HR. What skills and areas do you think that HR professionals need to focus on in 2021? When it comes to upskilling, all the layers of HR, there are so many different layers. As you said, technology is inevitable and it’s a coalescing market that’s affecting businesses in a positive way. How do you see HR needing to be upskilled?

Enrique: Before getting into the specifics of skills and capabilities, I want to say this as a framework, as a working model. To me, the most effective HR leaders and practitioners in the future will be the ones with the ability to connect dots between what happens in the world of HR, and what happens everywhere else in the business.

What that means is that, if we want to be effective, and if we want to add value, and if we want to remain relevant as a function and as a professional, we are going to have to start learning things about things that are not within the traditional HR space. What is the traditional HR space? It is policy. It is compliance. It is recruitment. It is compensation and employment, labor, and maybe a couple of other things. That’s, what’s traditional in the HR space. That’s the core traditional functionality in HR.

That’s not enough anymore. Because, for example, you can’t disconnect your recruitment from the demographic changes that are happening around you. Demographic changes are not something that relies within or lies within the normal HR space. If you don’t know about demographic changes, then you won’t be able to do your work in brick roadmaps.

You need to start looking at all the things outside of the traditional HR bubble and be able to connect dots, that’s one thing. Of course, all that you do has to be bound by what makes sense for the organization. I want to give you one example of what I’m saying. Very often, actually, I asked the same question.

I recently was doing a talk to HR people and I asked them, which I generally ask everybody that I meet with in HR. I asked them, “How many of you really know what your business and your organization is about? How many of you know really well, the goals, the outcomes, the financial metrics of success and all of those things?”

I don’t think more than 5% of the people raised their hands. I was telling them, “If 95% of you don’t really know what that’s about, then how do you know that what you’re doing is actually contributing to the achievement of those goals?” Because the worst-case scenario is that what you’re doing is actually preventing the organization from achieving those goals.

In this broader sense of upskilling, reskilling number one thing, we got to be able to connect the dots between traditional HR and a lot of cool fantastic staff that lie outside of the HR bubble. Second thing, of course, is for us to be able to connect all that we do, align all that we do with the business, with the goals of our organization.

Now, let me get into the specifics. If we want to align what we do with the business, we’ve got to understand our business. That’s how the story begins. Our own reskilling and upskilling begins by understanding what our business is about. If our business is a for-profit organization, then we get to understand the financial metrics of success of that organization. Very often you find people in HR that have no idea about our P&L or have no idea about the financial metrics of success, or whether the company is achieving those goals or not.

Your first conversation for your own reskilling and upskilling is to go to the CFO, or go to the people in finance and ask them, “What are the financial metrics of success of this organization? Are we achieving them or not? Where are we failing? What are we falling short? What are we exceeding our expectations?” That helps you understand what that business requires to achieve those goals if you are able to connect the dots.

Now, if you’re working for an organization that maybe is an impact organization or a not-for-profit organization, then you want to understand what the outcomes of impact of that organization are. Then you start understanding reskilling and upskilling yourself into the world of what the business and what the organization is really about and then you connect the dots.

Besides that, of course, this year we’re going to see a couple of things, two or three things that are very important trends. Number one, we are going to see the massive implications, the painful implications in mental health of what we went through last year. I don’t think we have yet seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these mental health implications.

Actually, some experts are calling this the second pandemic, the pandemic of the mental health implications of being a year in lockdown, having sick people around us, losing our loved ones, friends, colleagues, and whatnot. HR people need to reskill and upskill itself in all things related to mental health and wellbeing and wellness.

The other trend, of course, which is once again, as I said before, unstoppable is the trend of the implications of technology. HR people need to understand how technology is impacting the world of work, specifically their industry and their own sector or organization.

Perhaps the third one is understanding how to be effective with flexible work arrangements. Meaning, I myself, for example, I love working from home, but I talk to people that they tell me, “I hate working from home because my social outlet was going to the office. I live only with either my kids or my significant other or alone if I am an expert.” Or something like yourself, Patrick, maybe you are an expert and you just moved to the UK or your social circle was your coworkers. You want to go back to the office.

Those three trends together with a deep understanding of the business and a deep understanding of how to connect the dots between what’s impacting the world of HR and what happens in HR. Those are the main areas where we need to start thinking about our reskilling and our upskilling.

Patrick: How do you suggest showing a team of HR practitioners, the benefit of broadening their horizons and learning these other aspects of the business? How do you articulate the benefits of that to a frontline HR practitioner? Because I agree with you the whole financial aspect. We’re a technology company and one of the things that we focus on is everybody at [unintelligible 00:22:25] organization, understanding how our technology works and being able to articulate at least a baseline impact.

We’re an HR technology company, so we have a lot of benefits of wanting to understand how our technology impacts the people, operations of organizations. Beyond that, everybody goes through a process of understanding how to speak about our technology product, no matter where you’re at or what role you’re in the organization.

How do you take that a step further at a big organization? A big technology organization has classically, “I’m really great at doing HR. I’m comfortable in HR. I didn’t go into finance because that’s not where my interest lies.” How do you talk to those people on teams that don’t have as much passion or perhaps interest in those different areas of the business? How do you make it appealing for them?

Enrique: If I have the answer to that question, I will be [unintelligible 00:23:25] by now. That’s a $100 million question. It’s not just for HR, by the way, it is for all fields of expertise. I think about my original background in electronic engineering. Electronic engineers work with technology. They also need to understand the world of people because they are developing technology that serves people. If you are so passionate about technology, but you don’t care about understanding the world of people, you’re also making a mistake.

The flip side of that, of course, for the world of HR is true. If you are just a bastard and in love with a world of HR and you don’t understand other areas, you’re making a big mistake. I’m going to say maybe one positive, maybe it’s the same coin with two sides, let me just explain it this way. If your stability and your job security is not provided by the job in which you are, it’s provided by your employee ability and that’s a very, very different thing.

There’s no job security for anybody anymore and we saw it last year, so many companies laying off people because of COVID. It doesn’t really matter what you are just doing your job if you’re not building your own personal skills to remain employable going forward. Because you don’t know if down the road, your company will lay people off or if it will be bringing technology and then it will replace what you do or if it will fail and whatnot. Your job security is not coming from having that job, but from your employability.

Think about this, if you have been doing something in HR, you are a recruiter. How many recruiters are there that can be employed by an organization, thousands of recruiters. What’s going to make you stand out? Think about it. What’s going to make you stand out?

Then you come to an organization looking for a job, and you say, “I’m not just a recruiter. I’m a recruiter who knows about data analytics and I’m able to transform the data matrix of diversity and inclusion into the work that I’m doing recruitment. I’m also able, by the way, to use either Microsoft BI or VCR or whatever other platform, your technology, whatever other platform out there that allows me to leverage on the technology. I’m also ready for design thinking. Because I got certified in design thinking, I’m not doing some work on this.”

“I’m not just a recruiter, but I can come to your organization able to, with the knowledge to help you reframe or redesign your recruitment processes.” Now you’re not just a recruiter, you are an employable recruiter that is standing out from the rest of the crowd of people in recruitment that have been doing the same thing and never believed that they needed to build skills in different areas other than recruitment. That’s the positive side of it. It’s remaining employable.

Now, the negative message to create this sense of urgency is that if we do the same thing all the time, there’s going to be a point where an organization’s going to come to us and say, “What you’re doing can be done by technology. Or 50% of what you do can be done by technology, 50% of what Enrique does can be done by technology. Then if I need to replace 50% of your workload and 50% of his workload, then I need to replace one of those positions into something else. One of you is going to lose your job.”

The question is, is it going to be you? Is it going to be somebody else? If you are doing the same thing over and over again, and you are not learning skills that are outside of your area of expertise, the reality is that you are adding a level of value that can either be replaced with somebody else who is standing up from the crowd, or it can be done by technology.

To me, the message here is you shouldn’t do this just for your company. It’s great that you’re doing for your company, and it’s great that you’re adding value by learning outside of the HR bubble, but do it for yourself. Do it for yourself, do it because this is what’s going to help you remain employable going forward. If you don’t do it, you are going to be making a big mistake if you’re not able to understand all of the strengths and the things that you need to be learning that are outside of the traditional HR space.

This is true, by the way, not just for the CHRO or the CPO at the highest strategic level. It is true for the HR administrator, the person who is writing out the policies and the compliance stuff in the organization. It’s true for them because they also got to understand what is it that it’s outside of their small bubble in HR that can help them become better at something else, or can help them become better at what they do by learning that something else. This is so critical for everybody.

Patrick: If I can add one other layer to that as well people don’t know what their career journey is ahead of them. If you would’ve asked me 15 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, would I be living in London? Would I be working for a SaaS technology company? I would have said, no. I had a 15-year career in the airline industry and here I am, my career changed and my career path changed. That is an area that significantly has or has significantly grown in the past, let’s say, 30 years, 20 years.

Gone are the days, quite frankly, of somebody being in one job, one role at one company for their entire career. That is the minority now for the future. Creating this bench strength of knowledge and ability across many aspects of the business helps to stabilize and create what your journey is ahead, and maybe that recruiter is going to have a role as a product manager at some point in the future. I think that’s another area is your career journeys take so many different paths today even than they did 10 years ago.

Enrique: I want to make a comment on that, what you’re saying is absolutely true. The way I normally explain that is by saying that “Unless you’re doing something that is extremely technical and extremely specific like you are a Nobel Prize in chemistry doing something that is only you in the world doing it then you are most likely not in a vertical silo.

What that means is that by not being in a vertical silo, you don’t know what your career journey will be down the road. At the same time, you may not have an idea how other areas of expertise, other potential verticals by you learning about them can help you in what you do in your own work, at least today, and they will make you better for something else down the road.

Honestly, when you look at the world of successful people out there, what they do is they connect dots. Steve Jobs said it before, “You look back, you connect the dots, and then you create something amazing.” What you’re doing is you say, “I’m a recruiter and I’m learning about product management, and I’m also learning about data analytics. Let me connect these dots,” and then you create something that is way better than if you have tried to create just from the recruitment perspective, or from the product management perspective, or from the data analytics perspective.

By the way, this is true not just for HR, it’s true for everybody else. The time for most of us, in this creative economy, for most of us, the time of vertical silos, this level of specialization is over. It’s over because we need to combine areas of expertise that can help us become better in whatever we do.

Patrick: Enrique, we are coming close to the end of the time for this episode. There are people in the audience that are those frontline HR administrators, HR practitioners. We have CPO, CHRO, CEOs of organizations that are listening to this podcast as well. I feel that your perspective, your inspiration, is going to resonate with everybody that’s listening to this podcast because we have a great opportunity ahead of us.

This is the year for us to really double down and focus on this because we went through so much change last year. We have a lot more change ahead of us, but starting to set some clarity for the future is what so many organizations are striving to do for this year, so your perspective is definitely going to be helpful to the audience. Thank you.

First off, thank you for your passion and for being able to articulate this in such a great way. You are great to have on.

Enrique: Thank you.

Patrick: You’ve also inspired me, so thank you for that. How can people find your HR community and find out more about the work that you’re doing?

Enrique: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. They can go to our website, They can go to LinkedIn, which is the platform that we use the most for communication, so they can go to Hacking HR, our company page on LinkedIn and we post a bunch of stuff in there. They can follow me on LinkedIn as well. I am always posting all the things that we’re doing, so happy to be in touch with people and see how we can get better together.

Patrick: Absolutely. Great. Enrique, thank you again for being a guest on the podcast. I wish you all the best for this year.

Enrique: Likewise, thank you so much.

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