79. Transform your workplace using People Analytics | Robert Chan, Head of People Analytics, City National Bank


Robert Chan | Head of People Analytics at City National Bank


Welcome to Episode 79 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.

Episode 79 of Chaos & Rocketfuel the Future of Work podcast, is our last chance to connect with Robert Chan, Head of People Analytics at City National Bank.

In the first two episodes we have heard how Robert, a numbers man, used his finance skills in the people sphere to help City National Bank develop a more diverse and inclusive workplace environment. In our last episode, Robert explains how your work culture can benefit and how you can forge the same path and transform your 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
Look for the need in the organization and look for the need in your life, see where the two intersect, and have the courage to do something about it.

[00:00:14] - Doug Foulkes
Hello, and welcome to episode 79 of Chaos and Rocket Fuel: 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. We are busy chatting to Robert Chan. He's the Head of People Analytics at City National Bank, and my cohost, Claire Haidar, who's the CEO at WNDYR, is here with me today. Claire, tell me briefly, what is the topic of conversation with Robert today?

[00:00:42] - Claire Haidar
So Doug, in this third segment, we're essentially bringing the whole conversation that we've had with Robert over these three episodes together, and we're really looking into the practical applications. The way we're having the discussion with Robert is we're actually splitting those practical applications up into two segments, so we're looking at this from a career perspective.

[00:01:03] - Claire Haidar
If somebody in a people function or a traditional HR function wants to move over into more a data analytics function, what does that look like, because Roberts just gone through this move and vice versa. If other people in finance, like Robert, want to make the move over into people, what does that look like? But then also very importantly, we're looking at what skills Robert very uniquely brings to this role, which will help our broader audience, the CEOs, COOs, chief people officers listening into this, understand what they should be recruiting and hiring for, if this is something that they want to start initiating and enabling inside their organizations.

[00:01:46] - Doug Foulkes
Thanks. Claire, let's head over to Robert and tie up this conversation.

[00:01:51] - Claire Haidar
If an individual wants to make this career move, what do you believe is the number one starting point? And more specifically in my mind, if I was to project into this and say what I believe it should be is it should be an ROI calculation. Did you go through an exercise like that with yourself where you actually said, how do I quantify the benefit that I'm bringing to the company?

[00:02:16] - Robert Chan
Yeah, it's a very good question, Claire. I would say that it's hard to quantify a specific ROI because a lot of the strategies and benefits that we bring to the table are very long-term. A, it takes time for something to be implemented, to be A, to be spread around, B, to be implemented, and C, to see the effects of it. It's difficult to say the specific ROI around this particular role, but I would say that if you're an institution that's interested in making investments for the future and being data savvy and tech savvy and being forward thinking, then I think that's a role that's very much in play.

[00:02:54] - Claire Haidar
And do you believe that that's... When you went through those difficult conversations with HR and your manager and that, do you believe it was that long-term view and that long-term investment that was essentially the green tech that they signed off on and said, "Yes, this does make sense from a competitive advantage perspective for us as an organization long-term?"

[00:03:15] - Robert Chan
Yeah, I personally think so. I think that it's important. It's definitely a growth area, and I think that it's something that management had made the calculus before they gave the green light on this.

[00:03:26] - Robert Chan
To go back to your other question, Claire, on how does someone get into this and what specifically, it depends on what the starting point is. If somebody is already in an analytics role, given that the right conditions exist in their organization, it's not as much of a jump. Let's say if somebody is quantitative, I think that it's possible. I think that if someone's coming from HR specifically, but in a different role, such as talent acquisition, or HRBP, or compensation, or one of the more traditional HR rules, I would say that it's doable too.

[00:03:59] - Robert Chan
Ideally, someone comes from that sort of a quantitative background or an HR background who wants to be more quantitative, but because the industry is still so new and fresh, there's more room for people to get in from different backgrounds. So I think it's a thing that if you wanted enough that it can happen for you.

[00:04:20] - Robert Chan
It almost appears, Robert, as though for you, it was a perfect storm. Everything seemed to fit in. You'd been within the same company, you had that seven years length of service, you were unhappy with your particular role, the situation in the world and the industry was just about perfect. There was the pandemic, the DAI portion was in place. You had a background in analytics, but you were interested in people. It's almost like it just seemed to come together and gel, which I thought is quite interesting.

[00:04:52] - Robert Chan
Yeah, I know, absolutely.

[00:04:53] - Claire Haidar
But the observation that I have on that, Doug... And naturally, this is why I got Robert onto the call. Robert, just to give you a bit of background, Doug was like, "Who is Robert? I've tried to do research around him. He's not like how other guests who there's a ton of information out there about them."

[00:05:09] - Claire Haidar
And I was like, "You'll understand exactly why I have him on this podcast when he comes on the podcast," because it's just such a fascinating story.

[00:05:17] - Claire Haidar
For me, the piece is that you were able to identify the perfect storm. And I think, again, like I highlighted the piece earlier about people early in their career, I think people later in their career don't identify the perfect storms happening around them because there's a lot of those happening for individual people, where you have this set of... It's almost like in my mind, I see a Venn diagram, and people don't bother to actually take the time to stand back and look at those Venn diagrams in their lives and actually see how things are intersecting and how it can be applied differently, and I think you did that. You did the work of taking that step back and actually looking at the perfect storm happening around you.

[00:06:00] - Robert Chan
Which leads us to the very last question that I have for you. Again, it's not so much a question as what it is, an observation as well, and I'd like you to comment on this is, I think you really do have what I would term a nerdy fascination with numbers, and with data, and looking at it in a unique way. I think that uniquely positions you for this role. Do you want to talk to us a little bit about that.

[00:06:25] - Robert Chan
Yeah, no. I would say that it's definitely not something that's unique to me. A lot of people enjoy looking at data and looking at numbers and so forth. I'd always been quantitative throughout a lot of my life. I got a master's in statistics, so I think that says something there.

[00:06:42] - Robert Chan
Yeah. I think that, once again, being in this role not only was a perfect storm in terms of the world around me, but it was a perfect storm in terms of what I wanted too because it was the mix, as I mentioned before, what is something that I could be good at, but also I would also enjoy? And it was a mix of people and data.

[00:07:01] - Robert Chan
Going into newer organization, I didn't have many years of, for example, traditional compensation or talent acquisition experience. I did as a manager of my old team, but not within those functions specifically. I figured that this—because it was a new role—it would be something that had more white space and more leeway to go to.

[00:07:24] - Robert Chan
So that's another thing that I would say is that if you're trying to make a career move, and you see a white space—in a sense—of need within your organization, it's much more likely for you to make that jump versus going into a more traditional role that has a lot of folks in it, because something that we touched upon earlier is making a transition at a more senior level. I'm at a fairly senior level at my organization, and so for me to make that type of transition, it's less likely than somebody perhaps at a more junior level, but something that I wanted to make and I was able to do that.

[00:07:59] - Claire Haidar
I like that. It's powerful. What you've just there is look for the white space. Yeah. That's the takeaway for me, yeah.

[00:08:06] - Robert Chan
Look for the need in the organization and look for the need in your life, see where the two intersect, and have the courage to do something about it. I could have had this all in my head and done nothing about it, and I'd still be in my old role, perhaps, but I chose to take a risk and have difficult conversations. And no, if you don't take any risk, then you're not going to get any nothing's going to change, and every day is going to look like the last, so I think that that's an important takeaway too.

[00:08:38] - Doug Foulkes
Robert, I've got four very short quick answer questions for you. Briefly give me the elevator pitch. Tell me about your childhood.

[00:08:45] - Robert Chan
I grew up as a child of immigrants in Los Angeles, bilingual. Besides English, I speak different dialects of Chinese. I'm an only child, so I think that all of those things color my childhood in a good way. I had a happy childhood and very fortunate childhood.

[00:09:03] - Doug Foulkes
What is the view right outside your door?

[00:09:06] - Robert Chan
More residential buildings.

[00:09:09] - Claire Haidar
Okay, well, let me pipe in. How far are you from the ocean?

[00:09:13] - Robert Chan
Oh, very far. Even though I live in LA, I don't live in LA.

[00:09:16] - Claire Haidar
Where are you in LA?

[00:09:18] - Robert Chan
I'm on the East side of LA, an area called the San Gabriel Valley.

[00:09:23] - Doug Foulkes
I'm very far from your beach as well-

[00:09:25] - Robert Chan
But you're close to another beach.

[00:09:28] - Doug Foulkes
I'm close to another beach in Cape town, yes. Robert, number three; what are you finding really challenging right now?

[00:09:35] - Robert Chan
I think that we live in a difficult time, really. The world is coming out of a pandemic. I think that's challenging from the perspective of mental health. I think that people are suffering in different ways. There's the news of shootings across the country. As an Asian American, I'm very aware of Asian hate that's going on, so I think that it's a lot of these things that are challenging at this time, but I think we... Just no choice but to continue, persevere.

[00:10:07] - Doug Foulkes
And lastly, what are you learning at present?

[00:10:11] - Robert Chan
In my spare time, I take courses. I actually take online courses. What I mentioned earlier about learning these things, I've taken Python courses and other such courses. I took a course on aging, for example, as I get older.

[00:10:24] - Claire Haidar
Oh, interesting.

[00:10:26] - Robert Chan
It's more on my mind.

[00:10:27] - Claire Haidar
That's fascinating.

[00:10:28] - Robert Chan
Yeah, and aging and how to slow it down, because I love life.

[00:10:34] - Claire Haidar
Robert, you absolutely are an outlier guest on this podcast, but I had to share the story of yours because it's a really powerful story. It's necessary in the time that we find ourselves in, and the fact that... I'm really happy you raised it at the end, because it is so relevant. You're Asian-American, your whole entire race has been the brunt of this pandemic, and that's why it's even more relevant to me. You've lived through the storm, and you've taken this opportunity, and you just flipping it around, I love that.

[00:11:07] - Robert Chan
Thank you so much, Claire. Thank you, I really appreciate it. Thank you, Claire.

[00:11:10] - Doug Foulkes
Thank you so much for your time, Robert.

[00:11:12] - Robert Chan
Absolutely. Thank you, both Doug and Claire, for your time, for this opportunity to speak to your audience about this. I'm very passionate about this topic, so if anybody would like to learn more, they can feel free to reach out to you to get my email and I'd be willing to talk about it some more.

[00:11:30] - Doug Foulkes
And that is the end of episode 79 and our time together with Head of People Analytics at City National Bank, Robert Chan. If you found this podcast of value, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Catch us on Spotify, Google and Apple podcasts, or on WNDYR's website, wndyr.com. From Claire and myself, bye for now.

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