78. Can your peoples’ data significantly enhance successful digital transformation? | Robert Chan, Head of People Analytics, City National Bank


Robert Chan | Head of People Analytics at City National Bank


Welcome to Episode 78 of The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at every aspect of work in the future, featuring industry experts and thought leaders discussing how work is changing and evolving. The Future of Work is NOW.

In Episode 78 of Chaos & Rocketfuel the Future of Work podcast, we continue our fascinating conversation with Robert Chan who is Head of People Analytics at City National Bank.

In our second connect Robert explains why organizations should be taking data from their people seriously and how it really does impact modern workplace transformation. Furthermore, organizations that take on this challenge can reap real benefits by increasing employee performance and productivity in the workplace.


Robert Chan 1


Robert is the Senior Vice President, and Head of People Analytics, with a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), at City National Bank (CNB). He utilizes data to deliver insights regarding talent acquisition, retention, promotion, movement, and DEI. 

Robert earned a BA in Economics and an MA in Statistics from Harvard University and an MBA from the University of Chicago.




[00:00:00] - Robert Chan
Imagine trying to lead an organization without data. It's the blind leading the blind because you don't have a sense of how things are at that point in time, you don't have a sense of the flows, the ins and outs. Just having a data-driven view really opens up the world and allows you to have state facts, not opinions.

[00:00:24] - Doug Foulkes
Hello, and welcome to episode 78 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: the Future of Work Podcast. This is the podcast that's all about the future of work, and it's brought to you by WNDYR. Claire Haidar is with me this week. She's the CEO at WNDYR. We're busy talking to Robert Chan, who's head of People Analytics at City National Bank. Claire, what are we chatting to Robert about this week?

[00:00:54] - Claire Haidar
Doug, following on from Robert's amazing the story in terms of how he's created this role for himself within City National Bank, we're actually moving into the more practical aspects of his role.

[00:01:06] - Claire Haidar
We're actually looking at the people function as well as the data function inside an organization, and how Robert, with his very analytical financial background, is able to bring these two areas of the business together and really surface some really important and unknown insights that the organization can really benefit from.

[00:01:29] - Claire Haidar
What I'm really hoping our audience will get out of this is not just the practicalities of what he's doing in his job day to day, but also to really challenge our audience to think about areas where they may not be bringing two disparate parts of the organization together and really looking at numbers and data in a different way.

[00:01:48] - Doug Foulkes
Fantastic. Also, towards the end of this part of the conversation, we ask Robert to elaborate on how to get started in your organization, looking at tech, data, and structure considerations.

[00:02:01] - Doug Foulkes
Robert, I'd like to maybe move on to say the second part of our conversation, and it's really more about people and the data that you need to collect. Why is it important for organizations to start taking data regarding the people seriously?

[00:02:19] - Robert Chan
I think that a lot of organizations historically have made decisions based on the HiPPO method, which is the "highest paid person's opinion" method.

[00:02:32] - Claire Haidar
Can we just pause there?

[00:02:34] - Doug Foulkes
I've never heard that before.

[00:02:36] - Robert Chan
You've never heard that before?

[00:02:37] - Claire Haidar

[00:02:38] - Robert Chan
I didn't invent it. I'm not going to take credit for it, but I read that somewhere called HiPPO, the HiPPO method.

[00:02:43] - Claire Haidar
The HiPPO method. I absolutely love that. I've also never heard of it. So that is literally going up like on a wall tonight.

[00:02:50] - Robert Chan
Yeah. And while traditionally that's been the way that a lot of decisions are made, studies show that that's not the way that decisions should be made necessarily. I mean, you look at organizations that are the most data-driven, a lot of them are the large tech companies, and you see that data oftentimes wins. And you can't argue with data. It's there.

[00:03:13] - Robert Chan
And yes, some people can try to make the data tell a version of a story and push a certain narrative, but you also are able to look at things more objectively. I would say that it's a very important for data because it provides a much more objective view of the state of the world.

[00:03:33] - Robert Chan
And in addition, it can provide a roadmap to what should be done, as opposed to just the HiPPO method, as I mentioned, or just try to take something think out of thin air and saying, oh, well, I think that this and this. Well, that's great that people have opinions. But if they're data-based, then there's just much more robust.

[00:03:54] - Claire Haidar
Robert, my next question that segways from the one that Doug is just asked is, what are the possibilities that this opens up for organizations? When naturally there's the obvious ones that you've pointed out, all of a sudden decision-making becomes way better, accurate, founded on fact, etc, etc. But beyond that immediate benefit, what are the opportunities that this opens up for organizations?

[00:04:24] - Robert Chan
A wealth of opportunities. I mean, data is King, Queen, you name it. It allows organizations to have a longerterm point of view that it wouldn't have otherwise. And it allows organizations to really make much more quality decisions.

[00:04:45] - Robert Chan
Imagine trying to lead an organization without data. It's the blind leading the blind because you don't have a sense of how things are at that point in time, you don't have a sense of the flows, the ins and outs. If you're in the finance side, it's the revenues and the costs. And then on the people's side, it's people coming in and out of the organization.

[00:05:07] - Robert Chan
I mean, just having a data-driven view really opens up the world and allows you to have state facts, not opinions.

[00:05:17] - Claire Haidar
Can you give us some practical examples? One of the questions that I want to dive into with you but they are interrelated is, what are the goals that you're specifically wanting to solve for your organization in this role of yours that you've created for yourself? But I think that also answers my question around some practical examples of the possibilities that it opens up.

[00:05:39] - Robert Chan
Yeah, absolutely. So people analytics, it's all around people and data. A lot of things that we look at are things that you be interested in. Big one is, who's joining the institution? Who's leaving the institution? Why are people leaving the institution? What's the makeup of people who's getting promoted, who's moving around?

[00:05:57] - Robert Chan
It's really around our internal employee base and the movements and trends and being able to formalize those things. Yeah, I think that these are very important questions, especially during a time when we know, in 2021, everyone was very hot on the great resignation. And 2022, a lot of these trends, it's a hot job market and people or companies are just wondering how to best keep talent.

[00:06:26] - Robert Chan
I think that it was very opportune time for me to be in this role because it's something that didn't have the level of focus before that it does now.

[00:06:36] - Doug Foulkes
Yeah. Before we move on, I have one thought there, you're saying is that things came up at a very opportune time with everything that was happening. Has your role changed in the last 18 months since you started it? Is it different now to when you opened up?

[00:06:52] - Robert Chan
I mean, it's different in the sense that the issues are different. I think when I came into the role, it was December of 2020 or still well in the midst of the pandemic and everything was remote, you just saw different trends. I think now the world is opening up. We're dealing with return to office like how does that affect things? And then also two, just looking at external labor market trends and just looking at the economy.

[00:07:20] - Robert Chan
Obviously, we know that inflation is an issue, higher interest rates is an issue. How does that affect the labor market? So these are all things that we monitor. I think the role evolves as the world evolves in terms of what we monitor and look at.

[00:07:35] - Robert Chan
But essentially the core idea is the same, which is you're still trying to create specific data-driven insights and strategies and action plans based off of what you have and know, but it's just that the world changes so you have to change a lot with it.

[00:07:49] - Doug Foulkes
You've spoken about what you've created yourself for your company, you've also said that it's not something that was completely brand new, it is a part of what other companies are doing. But if someone who's listening wants to get started on this, on people analytics, where should they actually start on both, say, the tech and the data side, as well as maybe the internal structure of their organization?

[00:08:15] - Robert Chan
Oh, absolutely. Really, really, really good question. I think it's important. First of all, have an interest because no one can teach you interest in this. You have to have a natural curiosity for looking at data, not get bored by it, and think about, okay, here's some data, but what is it really saying? I think it's understanding that the data is there but it's not useful unless it tells a story, and being able and willing to be able to tell that story and finding meaning in it.

[00:08:45] - Robert Chan
I think that's number one. I think in terms of the quantitative background, I mean, having a quantitative background definitely helps specifically if what I've seen in the industry is that a lot of folks look for things like Python or R in terms of programming, or SQL for data warehousing, or data visualization tableau, we use Vizier in my organization.

[00:09:10] - Robert Chan
Just getting used to some of those tools. If you have no experience in those tools, take a class. There's a lot of online classes out there that you can find for very low costs that can just get you the basics of those tools so that you can go into a new role not completely blind.

[00:09:28] - Robert Chan
And third, I would say, this type of role is really a mix between the quantitative and the qualitative. So understanding that relationships are very important. And I definitely lean on relationships that I built into the institution over the years and making sure that your recommendations and your strategies have practical value.

[00:09:49] - Robert Chan
Understanding the needs of your audience and the audience being business lines, other leaders within the organization to see what can they best do, and always having the sense of, why should I care?

[00:10:02] - Robert Chan
In terms of that, it's like good to have a whole thesis laid out, but then at the end of the day, understanding the needs your audience and saying what's the, what's the punchline? What do I need to know? What is the specific action that I should be taking after reading this report? Having that knowledge and having that view of things, I think, really helps in this type of role.

[00:10:23] - Claire Haidar
Robert, that was super useful because you've spoken specifically about the role itself. Can you give us some insights into the actual company requirements, if I could call it that? Going right back to the basics of what has to be in place for you to actually be able to access the data. I'm assuming that you guys have a data lake in place. A company doesn't have a data lake in place. How should a person wanting to move into this role work with ID, for example, to get that in place?

[00:10:53] - Robert Chan
Yeah, really, really good question, Claire. I would say that to have this role in place, another couple things needed to be in place. One, you have to have good data. If you don't have good data, then a lot of the role is making sure that you have good data.

[00:11:08] - Robert Chan
I'm fortunate to be in a position where we have a fantastic HRAS team to make sure that we have good data, data is robust, and I can focus more on the interpretation of data as opposed to making sure that we have good data. So that's one.

[00:11:20] - Robert Chan
Two is for this type of role, your organization has to be large enough. I think that if your organization is too small, and when I say too small, I mean less than, maybe even several thousand people, then data-driven insights from an HR perspective, you might not have the critical mass of people that you would need in order to create insights that are useful.

[00:11:45] - Robert Chan
Because if you have a much smaller company, let's say a few hundred people, then if something happens, is that a trend or is that not a trend? Is your sample size large enough? I would say that this typically you see it more and large organizations. And the ideal state is to have very clean data that you don't have to scrub and worry about. But of course, that's never the case.

[00:12:06] - Claire Haidar
I was just going to say show me an organization with clean data.

[00:12:10] - Robert Chan

[00:12:11] - Claire Haidar
They do not exist.

[00:12:13] - Robert Chan
Exactly, exactly. But I think those are the two ideal conditions to have.

[00:12:19] - Doug Foulkes
And there for today, we'll leave Robert. Check out part one of our conversation to hear Roberts lead up to this new role. In our next episode, we conclude by delving deeper into what you as an individual can do if this career path change interests you. Catch up on Spotify, Google, and Apple podcasts or on WNDYR's website WNDYR.com. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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