September 13, 2022

#034: SHRMLabs Managing Director Guillermo Corea

Hosted by George Randle

Innovations surrounding workplace technology are growing, but how do we know if these tools are solving the right problems? According to Guillermo Corea, it should be HR leading these developments to ensure the future of work. Guillermo is the Managing Director of the Workplace Innovation Lab & Venture Capital at SHRMLabs. In today’s episode, he explains why HR should lead the innovations surrounding HR tech, not finance or operations. Guillermo also discusses the competition held by SHRMLabs, where they try to find leading innovators closing the gap and solving today’s most pressing challenges. Tune in to learn more and understand what the future of workplace tech will look like.

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SHRMLabs Managing Director Guillermo Corea

We have Guillermo Corea. I understand you’re the leader of SHRMLabs. Honestly, I didn’t even know that they had such a function in SHRM. I’ve been a longtime member and admirer and have gone to the conferences. When did SHRMLabs come around? Tell me about it. What does it do?

It’s interesting that you say that because as the ‘22 conferences have been rolling, a lot of people have been saying, “SHRMLabs? What? I didn’t know that it existed. This is so awesome.” The reason why we created SHRMLabs was to elevate HR as a thought leader in workplace type. If there’s anybody out there who should be leading HR tech and the future of work, it should be HR. It shouldn’t be IT or finance.

One would think that would be the case. It drove us nuts. HR is the table. To add to SHRMLabs, one of the taglines we put in the book was, “The only true competitive advantage you can hope to achieve and maintain is your people.” You’ve got to be putting that into hyper-drive with SHRMLabs.

SHRMLabs is here to inspire innovation to create better workplaces. We’re also here to support HR as being the thought leader around technology. When you take into consideration a lot of the things that are going on around recruitment and retention, it is one of the top issues that HR is dealing with without a doubt. For them to become more strategic, they need to have the tools available to them. That’s where we’re stepping in and helping.

What ends up happening is that you have these innovators that see a problem, jump on the problem, think they found a solution for it and then bring it over to HR. HR says, “That’s not for me. It’s not going to work for me.” What we’re trying to do is to bridge that gap, get these people to talk to HR and let HR lead or help them cater solutions to the workplace and the workers that are out there.

You got a competition to do that. You haven’t selected the winner yet, have you?

No. We haven’t selected the winner. This is the second year that we do the Better Workplaces Challenge Cup, which is a pitch competition to find the innovators that are solving a lot of the critical workplace challenges. This 2022, we expanded it globally. 2021 was the first year when we got going with it but because of everything that was going on with the pandemic, we said, “Let’s focus it in the US.” 2022 came around and we were like, “Let’s go global with it.” We’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the quality of the startups that have participated and how workplace innovation is happening around the world. Make no mistake about it. We had companies from Singapore, Switzerland, India and all over the place.

I love the HR tribe that I’ve been a part of for 25 years but I do have to admit there are a lot of us that if we didn’t build it or we didn’t come up with the idea, we aren’t going to use it. Give me an example. In 2021, what were 2 or 3 things that were a wow for the HR community that these innovators built?

A lot of the startups that participated were focusing on the issues that they saw because of what was going on with the pandemic. We co-hosted the events with some of the largest chapters that are part of SHRM like SHRM Atlanta which produced one of the finalists. The companies that moved forward in the competition moved forward because HR practitioners were the ones who were judging them and saying, “These are the workplace solutions that matter in the workplace.” We go back to what I was saying that HR should be the thought leader around workplace tech. It shouldn’t be, IT, finance or operations.

I hadn’t given that much thought. When I think back over my career, everybody that seemed to have built something for HR didn’t come from HR. That was some of the resistance that you don’t get those innovators in there. That’s crossing the gap and having people evaluate these innovators from an HR perspective. First of all, thank you. I always hate getting a product that somebody said was good for us that doesn’t adapt to the challenges that we’re facing in the workplace. For this competition, SHRM ‘22, how many innovators made the final cut? Did you go from 500 to 200 and then the top 50?

We had over 150 startups apply. Not all of them get in. There’s a certain criterion that we have in place. Number one, is it related to the workplace? Is it related to HR? I remember one application that we got from a social media entertainment type of company. We were like, “Why are you even applying for this competition?” That was the first criteria.

After that, the companies that made it into the first round got to pitch in front of HR practitioners. The HR practitioners attach the rating to them and then the top two companies move on to the semifinals. We have two semifinal rounds. The top two companies from each semifinal round that made it to the finals are going to be competing in the finals event. We’re having two celebrity judges. One of them is Kevin Harrington who’s one of the original sharks from Shark Tank. We’re excited to see him. We’re even more excited to have Cindy Eckert as one of our judges in there.

I don’t know if you know who Cindy Eckert is but she’s the Founder and CEO of Sprout Pharmaceuticals, which is the company that came up with the Viagra version for women. She sold the company for $1 billion. The company that bought it didn’t do anything with it so then she went back and bought it for pennies on the dollar. We can’t wait to see what kind of input she’s going to have because the four finalists are all women. The women cleaned the house in this competition.

If there’s anybody out there who should be leading HR tech, the future of work, it should be HR. Click To Tweet

Do you have 2 or 4 finalists?

Four finalists.

Are you allowed to give us any insight as to what those four are bringing to the table? What general areas in the workplace are they focused on?

We have a couple that is focused on the diversity, equity and inclusion side of things. That’s very important with everything that’s going on out there. We have a couple that is on the upskilling and reskilling side of the equation. That’s very important because of the whole retention and recruitment issue. One of them is from Mexico. It’s our first international participant. We’re very excited about that.

You have two celebrity judges. Who else will judge?

We have two more judges that are from SHRM staff. I have Amber Clayton who’s our Senior Director of the knowledge center, as well as Dedu Ajith who’s our Senior Director of Advisory Services from India. She’s going to be bringing in the perspective from outside the US, which is very important. Our fifth judge is going to be the Chief Customer Officer of Censia, which is a sponsor of the event. Her name is Tracey Tink. We have a group of people that have entrepreneurial experience and HR experience.

I want to go down and see diversity, equity and inclusion. We did an episode about it. I love the topic but it is something that people struggle with immensely. I don’t even know how to get my head around how would you make a tool that helps. I want to be careful because I don’t want to blow up any surprises.

Honestly, I can talk about them because I’m not going to be a judge. I’m going to be the moderator. If we’re talking about tools out there that are used for DE&I, it’s more about being able to track the analytics. That helps HR present the information to the executive team and the CEO so that people can see what’s going on. That’s the first important step here that HR can take in regards to the DE&I for people to start saying, “What’s going on in my company?” I was at a conference where I was speaking with a consultant. She proceeded to tell me that she was having a discussion with one of her clients and they had no idea about diversity in their company, even their executive team had no idea.

It was this last episode with this wonderful Pam Owens. She is the best consultant I know in the DE&I. She told me there’s a B for Belonging so it’s changing a little bit. She said, “Everybody wants to launch a project, have a program or a DE&I director. We’ve got to do these initiatives.” She said the first thing that people don’t do is ask, “Who are we? What do we look like?” She said, “If you don’t know where you’re starting, where are you going? What are you trying to do and accomplish?”

You’ve got to have that data to be able to make the decisions. You do it for everything else so why not DE&I?

I almost want to come down and see that one because I want to see how somebody could do it. Most people won’t self-identify. You get a lot of that nature. That was my experience. Even I, as a veteran, didn’t want people to know so I didn’t check that block. It was all the different categories. I would love to see how they’re tackling that issue because it’s so important.

Please, come down. One of the other programs that SHRMLabs run is our WorkplaceTech Accelerator. For example, one of the companies that is part of the inaugural cohort is a company that has built an HR bot. I thought about that because wanted to remain anonymous and not provide that information. When you’re talking to a bot, you don’t have to worry about that. It remains anonymous. You’re able to chat with the bot. You’re not chatting with a live person. People tend to be more open about the information that they want to share.

Workplace innovation is happening around the world. Click To Tweet

That’s pretty cool because HR is human but then, you’re injecting bots into it. It’s a little bit of a mindset change there for people but you’re doing it in a way that seems to make a whole lot of sense. What are you most excited about when it comes to innovation in the workplace? What’s driving you forward?

At the end of the day, the stuff that’s being built is going to create a better workplace out there. SHRM’s mission is better workplaces, better world. Everything that we do is in support of that mission. When you look at a lot of these technologies, these are going to be the norms years from now. Going back to DEI, it’s about having those tools out there that provide the analytics and data that people can use to make the necessary changes that are going to be great. It could also be about some of the other tools around upskilling, reskilling and being able to provide people.

We have another company called Mainstay that is providing people with a career path. Not just that but they’re nudging them along the way where they’re going, “There’s this resource that came out. You may want to take advantage of it because it’s going to help with your career goal of becoming a CHR role,” for example.

Mike Sarraille, my co-author and I talked about it in the book, in a lot of our keynote speeches and when we would do consulting. This was before the Great Resignation. We said, “A few have to look outside to hire. It’s not necessarily new organic growth. Why aren’t you looking inside?” The answer would always come back as, “They don’t have the skills. They don’t have this and that.” We’re like, “You’ve already brought them in. They’re already performing. They have the attributes and the talent. They’re a culture fit. Why not invest in them?” This is the first time I’ve heard about software or program that will do upskilling. I got to figure it out. That would take off like wildfire.

One other thing that I’ll mention to you is a tool or a solution that I’ve yet to see. A couple of years ago, we came out with research that showed that 58% of people leave their job because of a bad manager.

You got the data but we all knew that intuitively.

The interesting thing is that you typically get people talking about, “I’m going to bring somebody into an organization that fits the culture of the organization.” In seven years of being at SHRM, I’ve yet to speak to any vendor or solution provider out there that can make that connection between the manager and the employee and figure out if they’re going to work out.

Picture something that perhaps the employee is going through the application process. They submit their application and then the next thing that pops up is something that says, “Can you take this quick assessment to determine if you’re going to be a fit with a manager?” Why not put it up upfront and see if there’s going to be that fit?

It doesn’t seem like a stretch because we have Predictive Index, Hogan, Caliper, Wonderlic and all of these assessments about the individual. Most of those have a flip side to them. I use those when I coach CEOs and presidents. I’m like, “What am I looking at? What’s the DNA of this person?” These are those moments. I’m significantly older than most but they hadn’t caught up in a glass bottle. I was like, “Why?” Squeeze bottle then came out and I’m like, “Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?” You look at people and you’re like, “What experiences do they need? What kind of fit are they?” Why aren’t we looking for the right fit for the manager? The managers are most likely going to pick unlikeability. They’re then like, “They’ve got this or that school.” You haven’t seen that tool yet?

I haven’t seen that tool yet that does that. Think about the conversation we were having about Tom Brady. Everybody talks about Tom Brady. One of the reasons why Tom Brady became Tom Brady is because there was a connection between him and Bill Belichick. Bill Belichick is the manager. Tom Brady is the employee. If there hadn’t been that connection there, they’ll forget about him.

We’ve even talked about on the show several times that the environment and all those things matter. You could take a number one draft pick, put them in a team and they bust. If you roll them to another team, they thrive or vice versa. They’re like, “This guy’s picked away down the draft. We put him at the bottom. We have a better choice of quarterback.” If they’re in the right environment, they thrive. It only makes sense we would be doing that. This is another one of those moments where I do like that technology piece. Nayara and Michelle are my technology help. Otherwise, the show wouldn’t exist. Let’s put it that way. I would love to see that tool as well and how they bridge that gap.

I would love to see it because I’ve been searching for it and nobody has done it.

The stuff that's being built right now is going to create a better workplace out there. Click To Tweet

I wonder if it would scare the managers though.

I have another crazy idea for you. We were talking about DEI. Why not start a diversity and inclusion hall of shame?

I don’t think that’s going to be the most politically correct term but I like the idea, to be honest with you.

You have Glassdoor. That does the same thing in a way. Name it something different.

It’s an idea that I would do and propose but they would prevent me from doing it because they know I blow it up. I do like that idea because then you could look and say, “These companies are more diverse in these areas and they’re performing better in these areas.” Instead of diversity because it’s the right thing to do, the diversity that has a positive impact on the culture, performance, engagement and all those things. It’d be nice for people to see with their eyes, to our point about data, that the more diverse they are, the better they’re doing. Instead of, “Let me show you this white paper as to why you should do it,” we’re like, “Here are the rankings, hall of fame and hall of shame.”

Not to de-labor the whole DEI issue but put it to the side that it’s the right thing to do. It’s been proven that more diverse companies perform much better and create a lot more profit revenue or whatever you want to call it for a company. It makes sense to do it.

We can go into that for hours. Mike Sarraille and I grew up in the military. That’s where our formative years were. Diversity to us was never a separate topic. It wasn’t ever a topic. It just happens. You’re either a stud or a dud. You can cover my back or shoot straight. You’re physically fit. You can help me accomplish the mission. If you can’t, you’re out.

One of the things that we did like to talk about was the diversity of thought. It’s common sense even without the data. You have a customer base out there that’s diverse using your product or service or doing whatever. They use your thought process to reflect that. You can’t get that by having a bunch of guys that look like me with gray hair and white skin. If that’s your demographic, maybe that works but it’s unlikely.

I’m going to give you an example of me. A few years ago, I hired somebody at SHRM. She joined my team. One of the programs that I used to run here at SHRM was these partnerships. We were looking at what can we bring into the SHRM universe that we could then offer to our members that would be of help to them. It had never dawned on me that bringing in a service that would help new mothers while they’re at the annual conference or one of our other conferences was to have a private room. She right away jumped on it. That’s when you get to what you were saying about the difference of thought.

We all come to the table with perspectives, ideas and experiences. What you’re trying to do is multiply the experiences and different mindsets. Mike and I had this great phrase, which was the best idea wins. Who cares who came up with the idea? Is it working? Isn’t making us more productive? Do you think you know who’s going to win?

Honestly, no. If you go back and look at the semi-final pitches of the 4 women who are the 4 finalists, they’re incredible presenters. The only difference is that they’re going to be in-person live in front of a large audience as well as the judges. We’ll see how they’re able to handle that. That’s the only thing that I can think of that’s going to throw any of them off.

What’s next on the agenda? We’ll close out with what you see coming down the road for SHRMLabs.

We're definitely getting to that point where you're going to start seeing virtual reality really being used in the workplace. Click To Tweet

One of the things that we’ve been looking at is virtual reality and how that’s going to affect the workplace. For the HR folks out there that are reading this, if you would have asked me a couple of years ago how that’s going to play in the workplace, I would have said, “Forget about it. That’s a video game.” We’re getting to that point where we’re going to start seeing virtual reality being used in the workplace. Think about the hybrid workspace that we have. We have a lot of remote employees who are going to need onboarding. As part of that onboarding, they are likely to do a tour of the campus. What better way to do it than virtual reality and have people feel like they’re there?

I never thought that would have come up. I appreciate it very much you coming on and spending about 20 to 30 minutes. I don’t know if I’ve gone over time but it’s fascinating. I’m going to go down and watch the competition.

I hope you’re there. You’re going to be fascinated by these companies. Make it down to our workplace innovation zone also. We have the six startups from our WorkplaceTech Accelerator that are also fantastic.

I hope so, too. Thanks so much. I appreciate you being on.

Thank you.


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