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Bruce Huntley: The Human in Human Resources
7th October 2021 • Working On Wellbeing • Salary Finance
00:00:00 00:35:39

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In this episode, Bruce Huntley shares stories about his childhood and how it led him down the Human Resources path. He talks about diversity, equity and inclusion in the HR area. He believes that sometimes companies forget about the 'human' aspect of work which is why he tries to challenge that.

For the full show notes, head on over to:


https://salaryfinance.com/us/podcast/Bruce-Huntley-The-Human-in-Human-Resources

Transcripts

Anita Ward:

Welcome to our show, everybody, Working on Wellbeing. Today, we are live in Houston, Texas, and I see the beautiful Houston weather. I'm a bit jealous. Houston is one of my favorite cities in the country. We are joined by the ever unassuming but incredibly brilliant Mr. Bruce Huntley. Thank you so much. Welcome to the show, Bruce.

Bruce Huntley:

Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.

Anita Ward:

All of you listen to me. I'm back in Texas again, Bruce. Bruce won't brag about himself. So, I'm going to brag a little bit for you, Mr. Huntley. For the last 20 years, Bruce has always worked in the retail, service, and solution industries in these HR leadership roles. But you're going to see in a minute that they're not traditional by any stretch of the imagination. He's currently a Vise President of (DEI) Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and HR for Aclara Solutions. But at one point, he was also the HR leader at Target before joining Aclara. He challenges the status quo. I am so excited to talk to Bruce because he took his organization development skills and created this unique HR role even in HR. He is building and optimizing organizations and even recruiting and developing talents. Bruce does engineering and re-engineering processes, reducing turnover, reducing expenses, putting new comp models, really leading with this intentionality and uplifting employees along the way, building training and opportunities, and practical employee benefits. He leads with love. Quite impressively, behind all of that, as if that wasn't enough. Bruce also has a master's in Human Relations, human resource management, and organization development. From the University of Oklahoma, Bruce, you must make your Texas colleagues go crazy a little bit. I lived in Houston, and I know that Texas and Oklahoma rivalry runs pretty deep. I'm sure I missed a ton of your accomplishments, Bruce so, we can fill them in as we go. But I have been looking forward to talking to you for a year since we first met so, thank you so much for joining us and for so graciously sharing your time. There are a zillion directions we could go with this. I could jump into re-engineering processes and spend two hours on that. But I want to start in a different place. If it's okay with you, I would like to begin in Tuskegee, Oklahoma. Not just because I'm an anthropologist, and I love the mounds and the indigenous villages, but I am most fascinated by your journey from Tuskegee. Could you share a bit of that? What was it like growing up in Oklahoma? And, how did all of that share your journey to HR?

Bruce Huntley:

Growing up in a small town in northern Oklahoma shaped how I looked at the world. I grew up there and the small town was probably 50,000 people at best. Growing up in an all-black neighborhood in Muskogee's far north end and being understanding, I can tell you that I was one of the first people to be bused in Muskogee. In the third grade, I was studying into an all-black school, then when I'm in the fourth grade, they started busing, so I had to go across town to speak to a white school. That also shaped how I looked at the world and how I embrace the world because that was not an easy transition. Because I can remember several fights on the playground each day for that first year or two years, having parents not seeing kids in school one day, and then the next day or rest of the year, you don't see him anymore. Those kinds of things built an indelible impression on me from a young age. But then, as I grow older, it was fascinating how I could see and appreciate those things I grew up and experiences with and then apply them into the work that I've been doing pretty much all of my life as part of this DNI work.

Anita Ward:

...Where did you go to high school?

Bruce Huntley:

In Muskogee High School, there was only one. Also, during my sophomore year, there was a considerable, and they built a second high school. It was incorporated into a neighborhood and made outside of the city with only white students. It was that one, and then we had the Muskogee High School.

Anita Ward:

So you grew up when exclusion and inclusion were not just talked about but were visible. Now it has become more systemic, and in many ways, much more insidious and hidden. That leads you to where you took your career and your education at the University of Oklahoma as well. You might be the only person I know who has a master's in HR relations and all the rest of those pieces. So how did you make that kind of decision? Do you think it was just sort of, by osmosis, that you grew to appreciate people and led you there?

Bruce Huntley:

No, I think it was more about how I grew up. I was the kind of person that never wanted to be in charge but was good at helping the person in charge be better. I played basketball in high school and college. I was not the captain, but I was right there to help the captain do everything they were doing in classes, the same kind of thing, just making sure that everything happened, right. And just going in and figuring out each time I had a job, that interaction with the HR department was never quite good. So I said, I can do this, I can make this better, I can figure out how to do these things, and do them better and help people get better. And that's my whole thing, helping people get better, which I also thought that what HR was really about.

Anita Ward:

I might be aging myself here. But that whole idea of a personnel department, applications, and HR was quite different if you go back 20 years prior versus what we see now. So, I understand and know that HR at that point did need to get better. And I'm glad that people like you are around to drive that change. However, I think I did forget one of your most prestigious awards tonight. I believe that it also had a bearing on where you are today. You were awarded the Carl Albert scholarship and did your internship in the state government. So talk about bureaucracy after bureaucracy at the time they are and government as well. What was that like?

Bruce Huntley:

That was my first real introduction to that personnel department. And as he [referring to someone] said, a long time ago, 'hey sit down and fill out this form.' Seeing rows of file cabinets and papers, then kind of not caring about what the person was doing or going through or even congratulating them on having a new job. The experience was nothing, and it was just a matter of getting this field out and get on your way so I can get to the other person. And that was difficult for me because there were many people. I would see that this was maybe their first job, or this was a job that would take their family out of poverty or perhaps even just barely out of it. It was really exciting for them. But then to have that interaction with the personnel department kind of dampen that. If you had a question, a complaint like, who do I go to, and who do I deal with? But they were like, not us. So, that was one of those things that pushed me in that direction as I cared about people and wanted to help them. Also, I could see the excitement when they walked in and walked out the door. Thus, it didn't leave me in a good space.

Anita Ward:

Yeah, HR is not supposed to suck the hope out of you. Let's have a much broader uplifting experience. I recall that I talked about having these aha or wild moments, and I know you had one. I think you're 27? And you had a moment that shaped your mindset and career. Maybe share with our listeners about what happened and why that was such impactful.

Bruce Huntley:

Well, I was working for a security company, and we were losing a contract. And I had my CEO, I had a great running, a post, and my folks were happy, I guess you could call it at that point. I had learned all those things there, I cared about them, and I made sure they were happy. My post was running great. Then, my CEO came over and said, "Hey, I want you to go to this other one. It's not running well". I answered, Okay. But in my mind, I'm thinking, "why am I getting punished for doing a good job?" I decided, "Okay, I'm going to do this". Just because he asked me, I go over, do it, and it bothered me how it happened. You hardly ever saw him, and when you saw him, it was something going on. So, next couple of days, I saw him again and asked, "Why? Why did you want me to come over here?" Then he said, "well, I'll be honest, people like you and trust you. We're about to lose this contract, so I need you to get rid of all these people." I was like, how do I do that? He didn't give me any kind of tools or anything to figure that out.

To make matters worse, this was right before Christmas. It was tough. So, I'm scrambling about trying to figure out how do I do this, how I get ... because I built relationships with these people, that was my first thing to get in and figure out how do I build relationships? How do I get them to figure out how they work and then get the best out of them. And, now I got to turn around and tell them they're fired. Those kinds of things are war on me. So, years later, I figured this out. I went in and tried to find them other jobs, how can I get them an employment and stuff. I started trying to figure that out as a young man, not having those HR tools to do that and was successful, got them where they needed to be. We lost the contract, and I got everybody a place except a couple of people. But it wore on me for a long time that I got used just because I was doing a good job, and now, I'm using this for bad rather than good.

Anita Ward:

But as I connect the dots, what's that DNA of Bruce Huntley look alike? I think back on you as your younger self, facing discrimination and segregation. Then I saw how you found with the Carl Albert piece that you wanted to uplift people and couldn't stand the idea of the door closing on hope. Then here you are, caring about helping outplace people who you've had to let go. And as I put it together, it just screams empathy. We don't talk a lot about the role of HR as empathetic guidance in an organization, but it's very much a part of the culture and approach that you take towards HR. That fascinates me because it's often dismissed as a soft skill if you will. But I think it's the most important skill and approach you to take DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion). It also sits on top of this empathetic approach. So maybe talk a little bit about DEI and HR, and my stand about, I don't think they should ever be separate. I think it's a cultural component, and they need to be in lockstep, hand in hand driving culture, but how are you approaching it? Is the challenge the same?

Bruce Huntley:

Well, I think it is the same. I agree that it should be the same and fall into the same because DEI permeates the entire organization. As I always fall back to John Cheney, the coach basketball player, he always said that you wouldn't be successful if you can't put yourself in somebody else's shoes. I always think about that anytime I'm dealing with someone either higher or lower than me, whatever the case may be. I have to put myself in that person's shoes to make sure I understand where they're coming from. Then, I can be that empathetic leader to help them move forward. Thus, those two things have to be lock and step because I know from a black man in America, there are certain things that I may not know about gender. I have the responsibility to make sure that I learn and grab that knowledge and competency. So, I can put myself in those shoes to make sure that I can understand and help if something is going on and be that ally to help her get to where she wants to be.

Anita Ward:

So, it's interesting that you went to allies because that's precisely where I was headed. So much of employee well-being is about having that safe space to be vulnerable. And, we talk a lot about human capital management and infrastructure. But there's this social infrastructure or this social network that will have mentors, allies, and sponsors, and how we leverage that model in the well-being world. I think it is a topic to be explored. How do you do that, now? What are your thoughts about the need for safe infrastructure? And how do you build and sustain that?

Bruce Huntley:

Well, I think you make a great point. A lot of people get confused that those three are the same. Yet, they are very different and separate, including building infrastructure. As part of our foundation, I know that we help people understand how to be an ally, how to help people, how to be a mentor, and how to be a sponsor. And make sure that they understand that those things are paramount to make sure that all of this works, that this is the glue that makes inclusion and equity work. We make sure those things are working together and helping people understand that foundational properties are great.

Anita Ward:

You are the first organization I've talked about taking a step back around DEI and said, Let's build the infrastructure, Let's build the foundation. Let's make sure we get the foundation right and then build upon the foundation. Kudos to you, Bruce. I believe that's the right way to do it because it creates sustainability. It establishes sustainability because you have champions internally, you've got allies for people, you've got mentors, you've got a structured mentorship program, and you have sponsors. I would not be where I am today if my first boss hadn't been my sponsor and leaned in around me as a human being and an employee. Even as simple as telling me that don't be stupid and put your money in your 401(k), It's free money. I said I don't know what a 401(k) is. My degree is in anthropology, and I have no idea what you're talking about. You know, sponsors are sponsoring and [champion/not sure] you through the organization, and that part of the infrastructure is often absent. There are allies and mentors, but actual sponsorship at that next level makes the program successful. And yours, it looks and sounds like you guys are building a clear and useful vision for human capital.

Bruce Huntley:

We saw before that other organizations were working out in a more reactive mode and saying, we're about diversity, and we're going to get all these people. They worked and got all those people, but 90 days later, all those people left. They're like, what happened? Nobody understands that those things needed to help make an effort for that. As you said, psychological and safety is paramount. So that when they come into the organization, words will match the actions.

Anita Ward:

We at Salary Finance and I, as a human being, live in those waters of financial well-being, and money was still taboo. It's taboo to talk about externally and even more in an organization than mental health, which has become much more socialized in organizations. But when you look at the data and tie that financial well-being, the idea that its people don't feel safe to share they're financially vulnerable—realizing now that inequities are everywhere. I think it's 73% of African American and Latinx adults lack any emergency funds. And 48% of that same population can't pay their bills each month. For me, the most horrifying is all the payday loans, 60% of those go to women, and a high percentage of that is women of color. So how do we even talk about that? What if I find myself in an emergency at the workplace ... I'm not going to talk about money, and I don't want somebody to judge me as a woman thinking that I don't know how to manage money. So I often talk about Financial Wellbeing as part of the DEI agenda. Do you think that makes sense, Bruce? Or is there a way we can create a safe space to talk about being financially vulnerable?

Bruce Huntley:

You're exactly right. That was one thing that drew me to Salary Finance, and that's the fact that you made the connection between the two. Those were the things I was already thinking about, but I didn't know how to make that connection. And you guys made that connection for me. But then again, I am a big school guy. Every time I want to do education, I aspire to make sure people get educated and learn what they need to do. We understood that there was a large population of our employees who were living paycheck to paycheck. If they had one thing go wrong, they'd be out in the street. However, we didn't want people to worry about home and work. When you come here, We want you to be happy and safe. Your organization has helped us in that manner—really kind of pushing the education of people and helping them get on a budget. Something simple is just making sure people understood how to get on a budget and help them know how to manage their money instead of their money managing them. It has opened up the ability for us to talk about money and talk about people saying, do I need to raise? Or do I need to manage? Or like, do you need to manage your money better? I say, go on Salary Financing, and go through that educational piece. And then let's talk. I've done that a couple of times. And now, I haven't talked about that again because people now understand how they're managing their money.

Anita Ward:

Back to that story, I shared with you, when I entered the workplace, I didn't speak the language of money. I didn't gain it as a child and in school. It could have been Greek that he was speaking to me. When he talked about my salary, I still laugh about it now. Because I just had my master's and was working on my doctorate. I had this perspective of money from the school, and you made about $600 a month. So when they offered me $18,000 a year, I thought I'll be able to buy anything I want it. I had no sensibility. I had no way to measure that because I did not speak that language. So what you're doing around employee well-being and the financial side of that starts with language basics. You can't create resilience if you don't know how to speak the language. As long as we're there, let's talk about employee well-being because it's holistic. We can talk about financial well-being, but you're doing things around mental and health well-being. All these come together in a quite holistic fashion. If I'm struggling with my finances, I could also be struggling with my mental health. They all play together. I recently saw a fascinating MetLife report where employees are now asking employers to customize their benefits. We've been talking about standards in HR for years, we're so happy, and all of a sudden, the rug gets stripped out. Now we've got to think about how do we personalize it. At first, I thought, that's crazy, Bruce, but then I realized, you know, I have a 24-year-old son, and he's lived with personalization of everything for his life, content tools. So why not benefits? What do you think about that? They might be on to something.

Bruce Huntley:

I'm not particularly eager to blow our own horn. But I think we are ahead of that curve of trying to make sure ... I discussed EAP (Employee Assistance Program) with a peer of mine, and they were trying to figure out if they should or should not have it. I'm like, this is a must, this is not nice to have anymore, and this needs to happen. You may not know, EAP might save one of your employee's lives. We've gone a little further to ask our EAP vendor to open it up to the family. Because last year, we saw, being in the house and secluded in isolation, all of these things like social issues are coming down on people. They're with their family because maybe one of the family members got kicked out of their house now they got to come and live with them. So, we went to them intentionally and said, Hey, we don't want this only for our employees; we want that for the entire family or anybody in that household. We need them to call and get help for any kind of help that they need. We do those intentional steps to ensure that we get people to assure we're going to have to have a standard across the board. But there are things that you can personalize and be flexible. I think that's another thing that last year kind of taught us as HR professionals: how do we be flexible and offer and do something. We had gotten so rigid and focused on being strategic that we forgot about the humans and how we affect them each day. And now I think we're coming back to that point about how we sell something the other day about and said human value, Trump's profit. That was true. Because, that kind of thing, you make sure that person is okay. They're going to outperform anything that you could do if you're just kind of leaving them up to their own devices.

Anita Ward:

Since you're sitting in Texas, and I miss Houston, one of my earliest mentors was Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines. I remember being at a chase board meeting and presenting all this great work that I thought I had done around customer service. My mentor sat back and said, Anita, what are you doing about employees? You can't have a satisfied customer without a satisfied employee, and you did it all wrong. Bruce, those words ultimately shaped everything I have done since then. If you don't think about it as employee-centric, then you're missing the whole trick.

s that you talked a bit about:

Bruce Huntley

I think we have to start with one thing ... A mentor of mine said that DEI is not one size fits all. So pick two or three things your organization is struggling with, and you know what they are. Pick those two or three things and go after them, with all your mind. And then after you get those things going, get two or three more. There's more, but you got to start somewhere. And for us, it was really about how we make sure people are safe psychologically and physically in our organizations. That was a thing. I challenge all of those professionals to look at what your organization is struggling with around these three things. Don't get those three things confused because Diversity, inclusion, and equity are all three different things. If we look at those things, how do we ensure that we get at least two or three of those things started in an organization.

Anita Ward:

So you're singing my song because I think we have had this tendency to lump together diversity, equity, inclusion and act as if it's one way to solve this. In fact, it's incredibly discrete pieces. There's another friend of mine, and his name is Matt Calderoni. Matt talks about how you engineer your life. Once you define that, what you want that greatness to be, you engineer your life, and you just go after it. Like you, he was an athlete. He borrows a lot from the metaphor of being a professional athlete, and I suspect the same is true of you. Playing and knowing that game and thinking let me create these three things, put everything against them, and I'm going to see a difference. It sounds a bit like you embrace that same mindset.

Bruce Huntley:

Right. It is very poignant to figure out. In a game, you have your game plan, and you have these three things. And a lot of times, people forget about halftime. When you go into the game with those three things, sometimes they don't work. But you got half time, and make sure that half time you go in, you look at yourself and say, I was supposed to do these three things, but I didn't do those. How can I do them better? And eventually, they come down and finish. But honestly, I go after things in that sports metaphor the same way.

Anita Ward:

that book was written in the:

Bruce Huntley:

Well, That is one of my favorite books of all time. It has shaped a lot of my early and mid-adult life. The most important and has helped me the most is principle number four in the book. And that's asked questions. I've always been inquisitive. Like, why is that? Why are we doing that? As I'm talking to people, I asked questions about them. Why? How are you doing that? What happens when you do that? Is that maybe the way that we should be doing that? And should we be doing it a different way? Even when my team asked me, hey, we need to do this. My first question is, what do you think? What do we what should we be doing? Then, the other day, one of my team members said, Bruce, you always ask us questions. And I said, you always know the answer, you just need the right question to get. So that's been my philosophy. As we get better at asking questions and caring about the answer, it cares about the person on the other side of that answer. We will be in a better world if we can do that.

Anita Ward:

I agree. Thank you for that, Bruce. My favorite Dale Carnegie lesson is always to keep smiling, and it also happens to be one of my favorite songs, smiling through everything. But Bruce, my Italian mom, always told me to do the right thing, especially when nobody is looking. And you, my friend, are leaving her lesson to me. So I applaud you for your leadership. You came from northern Oklahoma, driving change in the world and doing the right thing when nobody's looking. I am so grateful to you for being that authentic human being, an authentic leader, and a quiet hero to all of us. And you know, for supporting others. I have to tell you that you're leading the path. I'd always be here any day of the week. I'll be your second. So, Bruce, thank you so much for sharing time with us today. Thank you for being a part of this. And until the next time, the rest of us will be working on our well-being too. Thank you for today. I greatly appreciate it.

Bruce Huntley:

Thank you for having me. I appreciate the conversation that we're discussing. It's tough for me to talk about myself, and this was great. Thank you very much for having me.

Anita Ward:

Thanks, Bruce. Bye Bye, everybody. Thank you, Bruce.

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