Join industry experts at EmpowerHR 2024 to hear how HR is leading business transformation.

Lydia Wu: ‘You Don’t Lead With Data; You Lead With Your Stakeholders’

By Alex Larralde
December 11, 2023
26 minute read

On this episode of the People Fundamentals podcast, I’m joined by Lydia Wu, senior director of people strategy and operations at Panasonic Energy of North America. We discuss how to use data to solve people problems, how to prioritize the right outcomes, and why looking for problems is a good thing.

The vast majority of employees at Panasonic are hourly manufacturing production workers, Lydia says, and that set the stage for a driving question: What does it take to deliver the most value to workers across the spectrum, from hourly production workers to middle management and beyond?

“The driver has always been, ‘How do we make HR better for everybody?’ Not just your typical office workers, not just the folks who have access to laptops, but literally the entire ecosystem — and ultimately make the world a better place.”

The answer, Lydia has found, lies in data. Tune in to find out how Lydia approaches data to make work better and how AI is transforming HR data as we know it.

Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | YouTube

Focus on the available insights – not the numbers

The prospect of using data in people analytics can be overwhelming, especially for people who don’t consider themselves to be good at math. “If you think about your typical HR business partner profile,” Lydia says, “every time I bring up the term technology, analytics, they’re like, ‘No, I don’t do analytics, I don’t do math.’”

But we have tools to work with the numbers, Lydia says. The real value HR brings to people analytics is a tight focus on what’s best for people and for the business. There are different data analytics maturity levels, Lydia says, starting with “dashboard analytics,” when data specialists lead with the data itself. During this stage, HR leaders and business partners are most likely to feel bombarded by numbers.

But as you achieve data analytics maturity, “you start weaving it into [your] day-to-day,” Lydia says, and the focus shifts to using data to extract insights and share ideas.

“And then, ultimately, you hit the stage where you’ve been in people analytics for a while and you really see the world a little differently,” Lydia continues. “You don’t lead with data; you lead with your stakeholders.”

By starting with people first and then applying data to solve real challenges they’re facing, people analytics takes its final form as a helpful tool for driving positive outcomes.

Keep your purpose front and center when adopting HR tech

The HR tech market has shifted back and forth from niche point solutions to all-in-one platforms, and it’s giving HR leaders whiplash. To stay grounded, Lydia suggests taking a people-first approach when seeking solutions — just like the best people analytics specialists do.

“HR technology is meant to make work better,” Lydia says. “It is meant to support your people so that they can generate better business outcomes.”

Applying HR tech to drive better people outcomes ultimately supports better business outcomes, and that’s key for HR and business leaders alike in today’s work climate.

“HR as a function is starting to realize, ‘In order for me to drive an agenda forward, I have to connect it to the business results,’” Lydia says. “And I think the business is also looking to us to say, ‘If I want to grow my business, I have to look after my people, because otherwise the turnover numbers are really, really going to cost us down the line.’”

By applying the right technology and using data to uncover answers to real people’s problems, you can deliver what people need to do their work more effectively.

Embrace problems as opportunities

One of the most effective ways to move your organization forward is to actively look for cracks in the wall. “So there’s a Japanese concept of Kaizen that I abide by, essentially, and the notion of Kaizen is that you look for problems, because if there’s no problems, there’s no Kaizen — there’s no continuous improvements,” Lydia says. 

There are always opportunities for improvement, even if they aren’t immediately visible on the surface. “You almost have to drill yourself into [the] discipline of looking for the problems to be able to propel the organization forward and do better for your workforce and the organization,” she continues.

And that’s exactly why AI presents such a powerful opportunity for HR teams to assess and weed out problems, Lydia says. “It almost forces you to take a good, hard look at your internal practices, at your biases, at your architecture, and at your data, and almost do a foundational and bottom-up review of your entire HR infrastructure,” she says.

Lydia compares applying AI in HR to the difference between photos with or without. A filter makes everything look better. Without the filter, you see what’s really underneath, and it’s generally not as “perfect” as the filtered version. “And that is the fundamental conundrum that will face all HR functions in the next year or two,” Lydia says. “Do you face the world knowing what’s broken and embrace it, or do you take this time to fix it and move forward from there?”

You have to be willing to feel uncomfortable about what you’re going to find, Lydia says. Seeing and acknowledging biases in your data, for example, is the first step to fixing the problem to create better outcomes. AI offers that chance to pause and re-evaluate so we can proactively improve work.

People in This Episode

Lydia Wu: LinkedIn

Full Transcript

Lydia Wu:

With AI, it literally shines a spotlight on how your data is structured, any unconscious biases you have in the system. So in order for you to adopt AI, it almost forces you to take a good, hard look at your internal practices, at your biases, at your architecture, and at your data and almost do a foundational and bottom-up review of your entire HR infrastructure so that you can be flexible and adaptable enough to take on AI and whatever other innovation may come down the road.

Alex Larralde:

Hi everyone, and welcome back to Betterworks’ podcast, People Fundamentals. I’m your host, Alex Larralde, senior director of corporate marketing. Betterworks’ core belief in People Fundamentals revolves around enabling everyone in the workforce to strive for excellence, to foster creativity, and to acknowledge each individual’s contributions. Betterworks translates these beliefs into business fundamentals through strategic HR leadership. And in this show, we’re diving even deeper into these principles as we hear from the experts about how you can make them come alive in your organization.

And in this episode, we’re talking to Lydia Wu, senior director of people strategy and operations at Panasonic Energy of North America. If you find data intimidating but are nevertheless fascinated by its potential, this is the episode for you. Lydia takes us on a journey with data science and talks about how analytics comes up in your daily life, even when you don’t realize it. It turns out that it may not be so scary after all, and overcoming that fear of data is key to informing yourself about new technology and implementing best practices in HR.

We explore Lydia’s career starting from marketing and sales and eventually discovering the world of data science and analytics. She talks about her passion for pushing the boundaries of HR and the exciting advancements in AI and data that are poised to revolutionize the workplace. And Lydia takes us on a deep dive into the challenges of scaling a massive workforce as she shares her experiences overseeing the development of the world’s largest electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant.

From talent acquisition to shaping an employer brand that truly resonates, we’ll discover how she and the team at Panasonic Energy are taking HR to new heights, which just so happens to be the name of a podcast hosted by someone we might mention later in this episode. We’ll also discuss how AI and technology drive a fundamental shift in the HR landscape. Lydia believes that AI will force HR teams to confront their internal practices and unconscious biases. It’s a challenge to embrace discomfort, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to create more equitable workplaces and stronger, more inclusive organizations.

Listen into this episode, which was recorded live at HR Tech 2023 in Las Vegas. You’ll hear how Lydia compares AI and HR to Snapchat filters, how the Japanese concept of Kaizen relates to growth in the HR space, and how you can use data diplomacy to see people analytics and the surrounding data through a fresh lens.

I am at HR Tech in the Betterworks booth with Lydia Wu, who is the senior director of people strategy and operations at Panasonic Energy. Welcome, Lydia.

Lydia Wu:

Thanks for having me.

Alex Larralde:

Of course. I’m so happy that you’re here. Tell us about your role at Panasonic. What do you do?

Lydia Wu:

It’s not as fancy as my title. When they came up with my job title, I think somebody accepted the challenge of, ”What can you fit onto a business card?”

Alex Larralde:

Exactly.

Lydia Wu:

I basically do everything for Panasonic Energy from an HR standpoint. We are building out a new factory in Kansas, which is set to be the world’s largest EV battery manufacturing plant. So a lot of work that’s involved with building and scaling a workforce that’s going to be up to about 4,000 people. Everything from setting up your talent acquisition process to the foundational HR technology stack all the way to trying to figure out, “How are we going to run compensation benefits, and what’s going to drive our employer brand in the market?”

Alex Larralde:

And tell me about that workforce, because that is not your typical corporate office full of white-collar workers, right?

Lydia Wu:

It is absolutely not, and it’s fascinating. So this is actually my first foray into the manufacturing industry, and I’ve always been personally driven in the manufacturing industry. So I’m a first-generation immigrant, and my dad is still a forklift driver; he drove a forklift to basically put me through college and everything else. So for me, in the HR tech world and really in the HR world, we almost neglect our manufacturing workforce a little bit in the sense that we never think about their experiences. We look at them as part of the process, we look at their behavior as a homogenous group, but we never really look to understand, “What are they personally motivated by? What keeps them up at night? What keeps them coming to work in the morning?”

When I took over for this role, essentially the driver has always been, how do we make HR better for everybody? Not just your typical office workers, not just the folks who have access to laptops, but literally the entire ecosystem, and ultimately make the world a better place.

Alex Larralde:

I love that so much. And it’s so true; they’re a huge part of the product that’s delivered and the quality that you need to have for your business. It’s essential that they bring them their best selves, that they feel empowered and…

Lydia Wu:

Exactly.

Alex Larralde:

… do their best work.

Lydia Wu:

I’m part of a business where 85% of our workers are hourly manufacturing production workers, so understanding the challenges they face every day, because we do require a clean manufacturing environment. So imagine being in a onesie for 12 hours a day around the clock on shift because you can’t stop a battery line. So, we run a 24-hour operation. It’s definitely very enlightening to see the other side and really try to incorporate their experiences and everything else to the work.

Alex Larralde:

Yeah, I love that. I’m curious about you and your career trajectory. So you said you’re a first-generation immigrant; that’s incredible. Have you been in HR your whole career?

Lydia Wu:

No, I never even thought about coming to HR. My background is actually — I went to school for marketing and sales. I was always the glowy-eye person through college who thought I’d end up working for an advertising agency, yes. You remember those people?

Alex Larralde:

Yeah, that was like the millennial girl dream job, right?

Lydia Wu:

Yes. And I’m like your…

Alex Larralde:

Same.

Lydia Wu:

… classic millennium girl. So long and short of it, when I came out of school, I had two offers: one for Procter & Gamble in the sexy industry of feminine hygiene product sales.

Alex Larralde:

That’s a very cool job, CPG. I went to grad school at Northwestern; that was a very popular path.

Lydia Wu:

And the other one was actually in consulting with Accenture. So I never thought what consulting was like, but I figured Procter & Gamble wasn’t going to grow legs and run away anytime soon, so I’m like, “Let me dabble in consulting and see how it goes. They promised me the whole CRM practice in consulting. Let’s play with it.” So lo and behold, I am the newbie analyst who doesn’t know consulting or have done any consulting internships in my past, show up at work, and within the first two weeks they tell me the CRM customer pipeline has dried up. So there I was six weeks on the bench in the consulting industry, hoping and praying every day when I show up to work that I don’t get fired and I don’t become that person that your entire analyst class knows about.

When the first project came up, they were like, “Change management; we’re looking for someone.” I was like, “Great, I’m your girl. I can totally do change management. Change management is it.” And literally, there was me, I would’ve totally ChatGPT this today, but back then it was Google. I was like, “What is change management? What does change management entail?” And that was how I got into HR, essentially.

Alex Larralde:

I love that.

Lydia Wu:

And it was too—

Alex Larralde:

What a journey.

Lydia Wu:

Weirdly, that change management area that I was seconded out to Cisco when they were building out their data science office back in 2015, 2016 era, and that was my first exposure to data science. I was so fascinated by everything, all the cool projects they were doing in finance, supply chain, IT. And I was like, “Where’s HR in all of this?”

And if you remember back then, that was when the cloud was the hype. Everybody was going to Workday, SuccessFactors, Oracle, HCM, and I sat there and thought to myself, “What are you all going to do with all that data in the cloud? I am just saying, it’s a very heavy paperweight in the sky if you’re going to upload all of this stuff that you never used on-prem into the cloud.” And that’s when I started really exploring the topic of HR analytics: what can data do for people, and how do you really drive the conversation forward with analytics? And quick side story, believe it or not, my friends who went to college with me still make fun of me for this until this day.

Alex Larralde:

I can’t wait to hear this.

Lydia Wu:

They were like, “You remember how you passed calculus?” I was like, “Yes, I copied your homework. Let’s not talk about this. I know you studied with me to make sure I passed my calculus exam. I know I totally nailed this C+ on that course.” They were like, “Can we talk about how you’re running a whole analytics practice?” I was like, “Listen, let’s talk about it this way: Pythagorean Theorem, we all know it. Do you know how to apply Pythagorean Theorem in real life? Not really, so think about that as my calculus class, and this is real life where the application of it is so much more broader than me passing that course.”

Alex Larralde:

Totally. I’m imagining that calculus doesn’t come up a lot in your day job, does it?

Lydia Wu:

It absolutely does not. Excel does half my job for me if I need it to, and we all got calculators, so there’s no need to do long division forms anymore.

Alex Larralde:

But I do tell my 8-year-old daughter — I’m sorry, I keep saying that she’s 8. She’s 7; she’s going to be 8 soon.

Lydia Wu:

Close enough.

Alex Larralde:

We’re rounding up.

Lydia Wu:

Exactly.

Alex Larralde:

But she does not like math, and I tell her, “I use algebra every day.” But algebra, it stops there.

Lydia Wu:

And it’s funny too, it’s almost like, how do you grow the topic of people analytics in HR? Because if you think about your typical HR business partner profile, every time I bring up the term technology analytics, they’re like, “No —

Alex Larralde:

It’s scary.

Lydia Wu:

— I don’t do analytics, I don’t do math.” And I was like, “Let’s take a step back. Did you go shopping this weekend?” “Yes.” “Did you go to the mall?” “Yes.” “How was a seasonal discount?” “Phenomenal at this store.” And I was like, “Was it like, 20% and then 30% off your whole purchase if you hit $300 and then so on and so forth?” They’re like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Did you calculate before you go to checkout?” They’re like, “I absolutely did, and here’s all the great deals I got.” I was like, “Congratulations, you did analytics this weekend.”

Alex Larralde:

You did it. No, it’s so true, and I think that there is really a lot of fear and anxiety around this idea of data. How do you break that down for your colleagues at Panasonic? Does that come up? How are you championing this internally?

Lydia Wu:

It comes up. So I think there’s different maturity levels, if you will, as a data analytics person. All of us start out in careers doing what I call dashboard analytics. We can have the debate of VLOOKUP versus INDEX MATCH all day long. I’m an INDEX MATCH girl. I will live and die by INDEX MATCH. But you start there, and what you generate are numbers, and numbers are scary. Numbers are especially scary when you are looking at it from a perspective of an HR business partner or a COE leader when you know your plate is 120% full already, but now there’s this newbie analytics person who’s just bouncing along and saying, “You’re not to benchmark. You can totally do better.” Because looking at it going like, “Crud, I have so much more work to do now. Can we please get this person out of the way and move along?”

That’s always like where everybody starts, and that’s a first stage of analytics, professional maturity, as I call it. Then you start to realize, “Hang on a second. Let me put this number in the context of your day-to-day workflow.” And then you can start having conversations of, “So you just set turnover. Can I share a turnover percentage with you?” And you start weaving it into their day-to-day. I think somebody actually called it yesterday when I was chatting with them; I think it was May Kim at Estee Lauder. Data diplomacy — you use data, you build the bridges, and you have that data diplomacy built about.

Alex Larralde:

Yes.

Lydia Wu:

And then ultimately, you hit the stage where you’ve been in people analytics for a while and you really see the world a little differently. You don’t lead with data — you lead with your stakeholders. My philosophy has always been that the people analytics function’s sole aim should be helpful. The spotlight, if all works out well, should never be on you. Everybody can view HR as a smooth function; they don’t need to know that you exist, but you are the one that’s pumping the data into all of the COEs, into the operational functions, into your business partner’s hands so they can have better conversations. We’re not saying don’t have the conversations; it’s like we’re not saying to the AIs, “Replace humans,” but it’s about how do we elevate that human element? How do we become more human without the fatigue, without the emotional exhaustion of having to repeat ourselves over and over again every day?

Alex Larralde:

That’s so smart. I’m curious, being here and seeing what everybody’s working on and the new tech, what are you thinking in terms of your strategy? Where are you taking your department?

Lydia Wu:

For sure. So a couple of things, No. 1, I thought about giving myself a little Skittles or jelly beans game when I started, that every time somebody says AI, I’m going to eat a Jelly Belly. And then I realized that’s probably not the best idea because that would require a five pound bag of Jelly Bellies.

Alex Larralde:

You’ll be eating a lot of Jelly Bellies.

Lydia Wu:

Exactly, not the best idea. But here’s where I see the market going: The HR tech market has swung like a pendulum over the last 10, 20 years. At one point, it was niche solutions; at one point, it was a one-brand-fits-all and unified model and an experience and some hybrid of everything else in between. Here’s where philosophically I lie: HR technology is meant to make work better. It is meant to support your people so that they can generate better business outcomes for your business. It’s almost the ambassador, if you will, that connects the business side of how your world of organization works and then connects the people side of how your organization works.

Philosophically speaking, I don’t believe in the, “Buy everything from the market all at once.” I’m more of a, “Find your purpose, define your problem, and then go find a solution.” Because at the end of the day, sometimes a solution is not a technology solution. Because before, we always said build, buy, or rent. Well, there’s now the wait option, and I’m seeing more and more folks on the market taking that wait option when it comes to AI because the complexity around compliance, the data risk, the legal risk, is so vast, and the maturity of understanding AI and HR and how all the language models are generated isn’t quite there. So not a lot of practitioners can dive that deep into questioning, “What is the data model? How are you building? And where are you getting the information from? Where is my people’s information going?” And everything along those lines.

Philosophically speaking, where I am is right now, 85% of my technology stat I like to keep it with a single vendor. So one of the major HCMS, they’re great at what they do, they’re a phenomenal data engine, they’re great at plugging into ERPs and running everything in a single ecosystem. But I also acknowledged that 15%, for example, the CRM part of it, the candidate interaction, maybe some 360 performance management, that’s not entirely there at all times. And that’s where we start to look for a niche solution to say, “as a business, we want to do X for our employees, we want to become a more inclusive workplace, we want to take a tri-lingual approach in everything we do, English, Spanish, Japanese. So what are the technology solutions out there that can help me do all of that?” And weirdly enough, Japanese is not a popular language when it comes to vendor translations, as I’m coming to find.

Alex Larralde:

I’ll just plug Betterworks and say that we do support Japanese.

Lydia Wu:

Perfect. Because that’s the first question I asked. I’m like, “So do you guys do Japanese?”

Alex Larralde:

Yeah, why is that? That’s strange.

Lydia Wu:

Linguistically, I get it. The forms are a little bit different, the text is a little bit different, the grammar is a little bit different. But when I have a workforce that’s about 600 Japanese individuals, when I write a communication, it has to go out in Japanese.

Alex Larralde:

Non-negotiable for you.

Lydia Wu:

It’s almost the whole concept of DEI being inclusive and creating that equitable environment for everybody so they can all understand and absorb the content instead of having some with a linguistic advantage than others.

Alex Larralde:

Yeah, there is a lot of irony there. When you think about the promises some of the HR tech vendors here make around what their solutions enable you to do from a DEI perspective, but then are themselves not really supporting that kind of inclusion. Absolutely, it’s great for us to think about.

Lydia Wu:

It’s fascinating. So as I said, I’m a first-generation immigrant, so I was the daughter where my dad, whenever he received a communication from his HR department, took that letter to me, printed out, and was like, “Can you translate it so I can understand what my HR team is doing?” And I’m sitting here now running HR and thinking to myself, “How many other daughters and sons and just family members are out there doing this, and why can’t we, not as HR, do better for all of these people if they’re spending most of their time during the day with us?”

Alex Larralde:

Exactly. And it makes a ton of sense. I really do feel like — not to bring up the elephant in the room — but since the pandemic, that wall between work and life collapsed, and I think employees are different now; they have different expectations. But I think employers also learned a lot about what people need to do their best work. So meeting people where they’re at and providing those tools is essential because it’s all about, to your point earlier, the business results that you’re enabling, because that’s HR’s function. We don’t exist for the sake of existing, compliance and legal things and protecting the company, of course, those are all parts of the job, but at the end of the day, your human resources are your business.

Lydia Wu:

Exactly. And I feel like this is a very interesting precipice where the industry is right now. Because to go back to that elephant in the room, ever since that elephant occurred, I think HR as a function is starting to realize, in order for me to drive an agenda forward, I have to connect it to the business results. And I think the business is also looking to us to say, “If I want to grow my business, I have to look after my people, because otherwise the turnover numbers are really, really going to cost us down the line.” And we’re almost at this challenge of, how do you bridge that gap? 

Taking back the topic of DEI for two hot seconds, let me just be very candid: $5,000 for your employee resources group is not going to solve generations of trauma, diaspora, or anything along those lines.

Alex Larralde:

Exactly.

Lydia Wu:

I will shout that one from the rooftops over and over again.

Alex Larralde:

Yes.

Lydia Wu:

But a lot of times, if you think about how DEI spurred it as a major mainstream conversation, it’s because of socioeconomic events. And now we’re, as a business, forced to respond to it. But as an HR department, we have neglected to connect that gap between responding to DEI and making DEI a critical and essential part of the organization’s financials. And bottom line, how do you integrate both of those things? So in that sense, most of us at least are now just saying, like, “We fund ERGs. It’s great. We host all these events.” I’m like, “Pizza party is not going to help you much, I’m sorry to tell you.”

Alex Larralde:

It’s so true. And we know that companies that are diverse and have diverse boards and leadership perform better. It blows my mind, like what are we doing, guys? What’s going on?

Lydia Wu:

And a lot of times I get asked a question, “DEI, I can’t prove it, is it really about the business results? We just know it’s good practice. What do you mean people need to connect it to business results?” At the end of the day — I’m just being very candid — we work in the corporate America machine, we all have our paychecks cut, we all have shareholders, we all have stakeholders we got to respond to. So at the end of the day, it does, fortunately or unfortunately, boil down to the numbers, but there is a smart way for HR to be about the numbers.

For example, a lot of folks I talked to, they asked me the question, “Well, how do I implement these DEI programs? I really believe in it, but how do I do it?” You pilot it, AB test, very simple from the sense of beginning of time, try it out, A group, B group, observe them over the course of a year and then see what the performance management, what the financial outcome, your sales quota, however you measure productivity, see what those results are because I can guarantee you’ll see a difference.

But the biggest challenge in all of that is it takes a 365-day commitment from the HR team to say, “I’m going to implement this. I’m doing this in a proactive manner, not a reactive manner, so nothing may be on fire, or it might be depending on the industry, and give me that as a small investment to let me try it out.” And that takes courage. Not every HR function has that courage to go to the business to say, “This is pretty much an experiment. Let’s try it out and see how it works.” Because I really do think you’ll see the results at the end of the day.

Alex Larralde:

Absolutely. It’s funny that you mentioned courage. I think about this a lot. I was just having a conversation with somebody about the safe path in HR. And we’re in the performance management business, and I’ll be candid myself: I want to sell our software, but the truth is, we do it better than a lot of the HCMS because it’s not their core competency. It’s not what they built the software for, and when you throw something in after the fact, sure, it checks the box, but why, when it comes to something that is essential, is the performance of your company, why are you just checking the box with that?

It feels like something that maybe would be a higher priority, but the truth is, you can’t get fired for using what you already have and checking the box. And sometimes you do have to be a change agent and really educate everybody about why and show that data, but you have to be willing to take a risk, and not everybody is.

Lydia Wu:

Exactly. So this is where I put my disclaimer; everything I’m about to say is my personal opinion, does not represent anything else and et cetera, et cetera, all the legal disclaimers.

Alex Larralde:

Yes.

Lydia Wu:

To answer your question, why are we just checking a box? Fundamentally, HR acts as a function, and I’m just generalizing; I know there are folks out there who are not it. We are so lazy, and we are also human, which means we run towards gratification when we run away from pain. Well, when you are in an HR function, gratification to you looks like an immediate employee saying, “My God, thank you so much. I really appreciate you. Thank you for answering my benefits question. Thank you for getting my payroll sorted out.” Gratification to you looks like putting out that fire with managers looking at you going, “My God, that was such a problem child, but thank you so much for taking care of it. I would’ve never had that conversation that way.” We feel good. It’s an instant dose of dopamine, and we walk away from it. We don’t come back and say, “Hold up a minute. That was a third conversation I had with that manager in the last month about the exact same topic. What is the root cause? What is happening here? Because we can’t keep doing this.”

We take our dopamine, and we just walk because dopamine is nice. Dopamine means that that’s our gratification. We don’t have to put in the ping of reviewing technology process personnel or anything along those lines and do better. So there’s a Japanese concept of Kaizen that I abide by essentially, and the notion of Kaizen is that you look for problems, because if there’s no problems, there’s no Kaizen, there’s no continuous improvements. And that’s something I always tell my team to do, because to walk away from that gratification, you almost have to drill yourself into discipline of looking for the problems to be able to propel the organization forward and do better for your workforce and the organization.

Alex Larralde:

Kaizen, I love that, that’s brilliant. And at the end of the day, that’s what the best HR leaders do: they solve the problems that everybody knew existed but didn’t have the time, energy, courage to take on. And I just think that there’s so much opportunity, and it’s a really exciting time. What excites you the most about what’s happening in the space right now?

Lydia Wu:

A couple of things really excite me: all of the new technology, the growth of the market, absolutely seeing all of the different vendors that I haven’t seen before coming to the market, all the solution providers. Also interesting seeing the market consolidation a little bit that’s happening in the backend that we try to be quiet about, but everyone sees and observes; that’s super exciting. What most excites me is actually the way AI is forcing HR departments to get it all together. Here’s my fundamental thinking behind it: so we’ve had putting data in the cloud as our first opportunity to get our data, and we ignore that, we just duct taped, bubble gummed, and hope to heck that is all stuck together.

Second opportunity came when everyone wanted to do people analytics, and we bypassed that, too, because our HR analytics people were smart enough to reinforce the bubblegum with some cement, and we just hope nothing shakes and nothing cracks. With AI, it literally shines a spotlight on how your data is structured, any unconscious biases you have in the system. So in order for you to adopt AI, it almost forces you to take a good, hard look at your internal practices, at your biases, at your architecture, and at your data, and almost do a foundational and bottom-up review of your entire HR infrastructure so that you can be flexible and adaptable enough to take on AI and whatever other innovation may come down the road.

Alex Larralde:

I love that take; that’s brilliant. And I totally agree. It’s like a forcing function because, at the end of the day, employees are using it with or without HR. We just did some research, and we’re going to be releasing it soon, but I found it fascinating. Let’s see, I don’t have the number here, I think it was something like 60%, and apologies, listeners, if the data comes out and I said this wrong. But it’s a significant number of people who are already using it to do things like performance reviews or create content that they need, writing emails; they’re doing it behind HR’s back. Does that scare you?

Lydia Wu:

It doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t surprise me, either, because if you think about all the consumer great technologies, people are reviewing and sharing resume hacks on TikTok for years at this point. You have “HR experts” — some of them legit, some not so much — on Instagram reels. I watch them every day; if you’re out there, hello, I do follow you. And then you have others who are basically using all the YouTube platforms to teach you all the hacks about, “Here’s how you get a software developer job at a big tech. Here’s how you do all these things.” So as HR, I’m not surprised by it, nor do I fear it because the information is out there; people will be people at the end of the day, and people will talk. You can try to control everything, but at the end of the day, the organic way of which information disseminates itself, that is just nature of mankind.

And as HR, my take is, “Why fight it?” Work with it, figure out a way how you can take advantage of it. Sure, people want to review us on TikTok. Great, let me get my employer branding out there. Do people want to give hacks? Sure, let me give them a hack about the things we look for in our battery engineers, for example, so they can come and work for me instead. So it’s taking a different approach instead of running away from it — running towards it but being very productive as we run towards it.

My husband was asking me the other day, he was like, “What does AI look like for HR? I hear you talk about it all the time, generative AI.” He’s like, “You realize it existed for the last six decades, right?” I was like, “Yes, honey, but like all HR people, we have our blinders on, and now all of a sudden, somebody just ripped it off, and we’re like,’Look at that new thing.’” And I was trying to explain to him, “What does AI do for HR?” I was like, “You know how my face looks on Snapchat when I have a filter on? I can have the worst makeup ever, but I’ll look phenomenal and fantastic. AI takes that and shines a spotlight on it without filter because now every foundation stroke that I’ve missed, every eyeliner wiggle that’s on my face, I can see it, and I have a choice. Do I walk out the door with my face as is and the makeup as is, or do I go back and fix my makeup?”

And that is the fundamental conundrum that will face all HR functions in the next year or two. Do you face the world knowing what’s broken and embrace it, or do you take this time to fix it and move forward from there?

Alex Larralde:

It’s like this idea of removing biases. If you have biased data, you’re going to have biased output. From AI, do you think that there’s potential for AI to make the workplace more equitable?

Lydia Wu:

Absolutely. But here’s the thing, before AI does that, it’s going to make the workplace leadership teams a whole lot uncomfortable. So I have a little LinkedIn article series that basically whip study things that out loud and some of the things I’ve seen in the market. In one of the articles, I talk about some of the privileges that leaders in the workforce and even HR leaders have to check ourselves on before we make decisions about the workforce for the workforce. And to your point about AI, there is a lot of human unconscious biases that go into decisions and policies in the workforce as we exist today. Again, it’s natural, it’s not good or bad, it’s just human.

What AI is going to do, it’s going to shine a spotlight onto all of that to say, “You think this thing. Do you really want to do that thing? Here are the risks that involve you doing that thing.” And as humans, we get to say, like, “I fully embrace this is who I am. Let’s move on.” Or you can again say, “Crud, better go fix that now before we move forward.” And that “Crud, better go fix that” moment, it’s going to suck for some leaders who have grown up their entire careers believing what they were doing was the right thing, and to now have a piece of technology tell them, “Just hold up. Let’s look at that one again.”

Alex Larralde:

Come again?

Lydia Wu:

Yeah, exactly.

Alex Larralde:

Absolutely.

Lydia Wu:

What did you say?

Alex Larralde:

Now I’m going to ask you some random questions.

Lydia Wu:

Go for it.

Alex Larralde:

Not totally random: What was the first thing that you put in ChatGPT? Do you remember your first dalliance with ChatGPT?

Lydia Wu:

Yes.

Alex Larralde:

What was it?

Lydia Wu:

Full disclaimer, my opinions only on everything else, blah, blah, blah, blah. How do you tell somebody in a professional way they’re being an idiot?

Alex Larralde:

Well, what did it say?

Lydia Wu:

It was very polite. It was basically giving me the step-by-step of like, “Well, do you understand their perspective?” “Yes.” “Did you ask them to explain it to you again?” “Yes.” “Well, have you tried to provide them feedback on why you disagree with that perspective?” “Let me try that one.” It was super helpful; it was like having a coach next to you before I literally typed out the message of like, “We’re not talking right now because you’re being an idiot.”

Alex Larralde:

And that’s it, it’s having a coach next to you; it’s like having an aid. It’s never going to replace the manager, but in a perfect world, it helps the manager focus more on the human stuff that AI can’t do and streamline the rest of it. It makes sense.

Lydia Wu:

Exactly. And at a scale, you can’t hire for emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the resource availability in the market right now or the training availability to do all of that. So it’s almost having AI to aid in the moment and in the workflow for moments that matter so your employees feel better about it, but your managers also don’t feel like you’re adding extra burden to them to do that extra amount of work.

Alex Larralde:

Exactly. Music, what are you into?

Lydia Wu:

Recently, what have I been listening to? A lot of Taylor Swift. I don’t know if it’s subliminal messaging at this point.

Alex Larralde:

For sure.

Lydia Wu:

But a lot of oldies, so it’s been a mix of my Bon Jovi, Queen, and Taylor Swift on my playlist. If you’re listening to this, please don’t judge me for my taste.

Alex Larralde:

I think your taste is amazing, but I really need to know your opinions on the Tayvis thing. Real, PR — what do you think?

Lydia Wu:

My gosh, I literally have just bought a T-shirt.  So our new factory’s in Kansas City, Kansas — Kansas City Chiefs.

Alex Larralde:

Yes, Taylor Swift’s boyfriend’s team.

Lydia Wu:

Exactly. I literally bought a T-shirt that says, I’m the biggest fan of Taylor Swift’s boyfriend’s football teams, because I don’t do sports.

Alex Larralde:

Yes, me either. And I want that shirt; tell me where you got it, because I’m totally going to buy it. I know, it’s a really fun time in the culture right now. I’m very much enjoying this.

Lydia Wu:

It’s fascinating.

Alex Larralde:

And even if it’s fake, I don’t care. I want to live in fantasy land where the world’s biggest pop star finds a really cute, nice, fun, eligible tight end and then there’s a big Super Bowl thing. It’s going to be epic.

Lydia Wu:

Yes, I think she’s just a marketing branding genius, like—

Alex Larralde:

Truly.

Lydia Wu:

… the ketchup and ranch on chicken tender thing. I don’t know if you saw that, but brilliant.

Alex Larralde:

Well, my gosh, you’re so much fun to talk to. I’m so glad that you agreed to do this.

Lydia Wu:

Thank you for having me. This is fun.

Alex Larralde:

Lydia emphasized the importance of connecting HR efforts to business results and leveraging technology to support the workforce more effectively. AI will highlight issues in HR processes and force HR departments to address their biases and improve their infrastructure. She says it’ll likely make some leadership teams uncomfortable as they confront unconscious biases and rethink their decisions and policies. But that’s a necessary step in ensuring that we’re creating equitable workplaces, and modern HR tech will help us get there. So how can you accomplish this at your organization?

Here are three key takeaways to apply. First, embrace AI. If you’re a fan of the show, you know we’ve been stressing how important this is all season, and we can’t emphasize that enough here. Start incorporating AI into your HR processes. As Lydia discussed, AI can help identify unconscious biases and inefficiencies that may be present in your organization. 

Second, bridge the gap between DEI and business results. Lydia emphasized the need to connect diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives with your organization’s financial outcomes. DEI should be integrated into your business strategy, and HR professionals should pilot and measure the impact of DEI programs to demonstrate their effectiveness.

And lastly, make good friends with data analytics. Coupled with AI, data is among the most powerful tools for HR professionals. Instead of fearing data, use it as an opportunity to improve your HR infrastructure, make the workplace more equitable, and achieve outstanding business results. As Lydia talked about with the insight she gained from the first question she ever asked ChatGPT, new avenues in HR tech can indeed help to coach us on even better emotional intelligence. It can ease the growing burden that managers face as more and more is added to their plates. And you can’t go wrong with having technology-driven assistance in the moments that matter.

Be sure to stay tuned for our next episode of the People Fundamentals podcast. We’re hearing from author, CEO, and happiness expert Jenn Lim on post-COVID adaptability and why it’s vital to build a radical, empathetic culture within your organization. Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google to find out what’s in store. And if you like what you hear, share us with your friends and colleagues. We’ll see you again soon.

Share