Accenture managing director Benoit Hardy-Vallée is a leader in HR transformation who works with clients around the globe.

Picture of Host: Maaz Rana

Host: Maaz Rana

Picture of Guest: Benoit Hardy-Vallée

Guest: Benoit Hardy-Vallée

Benoit Hardy-Vallée is a managing director at Accenture and a leader in HR transformation, change management, and business development.

Benoit is also the host of the Abrupt Future podcast.

Maaz Rana: Welcome to the Not A Token Hire podcast, presented by Knockri, where we talk talent and HR with the experts. This week we have Benoit Hardy-Vallée, managing director at Accenture. We’ll talk about Benoit’s experience with DEI and as he puts it, “how he became a white person.” We also discuss Web 3.0, the metaverse, and if it has a real value proposition in work.

I’m your host, Maaz Rana, co-founder and chief operating officer at Knockri. Thank you for joining me, Benoit.

Benoit Hardy-Vallée: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Maaz: Benoit, you know, you and I have known each other for quite a while now, but besides being the amazing, charismatic person that you are, I would love for you to just share a little bit about your background to the audience.

Benoit: Yeah, absolutely. So again, thanks for having me. I love to have these conversations and share with your audience. So if you look at where I am today, so I work for Accenture, managing director, now we’re Workday Group. So essentially help organizations who are modernizing their H.R. — transforming their H.R. — and bringing all different technical and functional capabilities into the mix.

But really, that has always what has interested me and motivated me. I look at H.R. as a universe that is fascinating in itself because it’s the intersection of economics — Right? People who work get money, spend money. So if people have jobs, we have an economy. So it’s fundamentally important. And it’s also, in large part and we’ve seen that with the pandemic.

It’s the human side of the business. So you have this intersection of these two worlds managed by dysfunction, who in the last 10 to 15 years, it’s completely changing and digitizing and transforming. And who knows what it’s going to be in five or ten years. So, I started in my life thinking I would be a philosophy teacher. Then I realized, well, maybe it’s not what I want to do.

Or, you know, I love to joke and say that it was good to have deep thoughts about unemployment. But at some point, I had to actually get a job and figure out what I want to do. I discovered consulting and, you know, maybe it’s a little bit part of the old philosopher who loves to have an opinion and think.

So I worked with Gallup and then after that, IBM, more recently Phenom people, and now Accenture. But that’s always the that the drift. Right. How can we use insights and technology to make H.R. work better, but also create better experiences for employees? And these are the conversation we were having ten or 15 years ago. So it’s quite a thrilling time to be in this business.

Oh, and we have a bunch of startups and AI companies that are also changing the game. So that’s interesting, too.

Maaz: Amazing. Thank you for sharing and you know how you’re speaking, Benoit, about 10 to 15 years ago, these conversations weren’t even happening in the H.R. and talent acquisition space. So as we kind of saw that transition to what you do today, what were some of the challenges that you experienced through that process?

Benoit: So I think, well, especially now, the challenge we’ve seen is managing that complexity. I think for — if I think about my dad who used to work in the Personnel Bureau as it was called — it was managing, you know, people, they come in, and they have —- you pay them, you retain them. Maybe there’s benefits. They’re let go. You move it to another pile of paper and that was it.

I mean, I’m sure there were other complexities, but now you have to think about the experience of employees. You have to be, of course, mindful of, you know, diversity and inclusion and other ESG or environmental, social and governance issues. You have to retain talent by helping them grow. You have to attract talent. And in many organizations, you have ten, five, 15, sometimes 50 different IT systems just for H.R.

And you have programs and policy for succession planning and comp and benefit. So what I see for a lot of H.R. professionals is that they have to manage all that change while keeping the boat afloat. Right. So it’s a complex system with a complex dynamic. And how do you get more value out of that? And there is no simple answer, right?

Nobody can come and say, “Yeah, it’s easy. Here’s a program, ten steps and you’re there.” I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people are figuring it out as you go, because there’s no way to know in advance. So I guess that explains why everybody talks about the Agile method and mindset because you have to do a little bit, see what works, adjust and see what works, and that stuff, right.

Maaz: And that makes a lot of sense. And, you know, just sussing out what’s what the best path forward is in that complexity. Right. And you kind of mentioned a few things there, Benoit. So you spoke about DEI and ESG, and I wanted to hit on DEI especially as it relates to you personally and your story within that kind of that space.

So I would love for you to just like, you know, share how your experience has been as it relates to DEI and your career path and just generally in life.

Benoit: Yeah, well it’s interesting, right, because you know, after all the George Floyd events and all the and the Black Lives Matter, like everybody, I had to do some thinking. And I knew that I was a open person and I tried to value the diversity and understand that people have different paths and make sure that I’m aware of that.

But I think it forced me to think even further to the point where I had to realize that at some point, you know, I became a white person. Right. And it’s a funny thing to say, but here’s the explanation and why it’s important. It’s important to realize that because those identities are partly socially constructed. There’s no genetic or physical profound difference between people of different skin colors, right.

It’s absolutely clear from a biological perspective there’s only one human race. But we grow up with these mental models of our own identity. And, but what is tricky, especially if you’re a white male, tall, cisgendered, average-looking, average, confident, right. So, so well, when you grow up like that, it’s not — you don’t even think of yourself as a white person.

You think of yourself as a person. Right? I mean, you just, the default setting in your mind is, is, you know, it’s not about the color. I mean, you just think about — and then you realize — and this is what took so many year to fully appreciate because I didn’t really feel it in somebody else’s shoes. Is that from the day they are born, they’re being told that they are in a specific category.

And if they’re not told — and you remember or you have the insidious question, like how many LGBT people have been asked, “oh, so when did you know you were, you know, X, Y or Z?” Well, nobody asked me how I knew I was straight. Right. I mean, again, because it’s the default setting, right? We consider the default setting as default.

And we don’t realize that it’s also a setting. Maybe it’s a dominant setting. It’s the one that is statistically at least at some point, maybe not today, but all of our defaults, I think, are also socially constructed. So, no, it just, you know, at some point that’s why I wrote that piece on LinkedIn that and I call How I Became a White Person.

And I was triggered by a young lady, a nurse who was, you know, I want to say a Filipino, I don’t know. But I recall that she said, “Oh, yeah, the big white guy.” And it was the first time I realized I am a big white guy. I just never thought about it this way. And then, you know, you start thinking and thinking and thinking because I think it’s easier to be very mindful of diversity and inclusion and fairness once you bring it down to your values.

Right. It’s not just about following some benchmark or process or stats. I mean, as leaders, as people, you have to think about your values. And if humanity and empathy and understanding and harmony are truly your values, then this is what should be pushing your personal D&I agenda. All right. So I mean, I won’t I won’t be changing the world with that.

But I tried to be, I would say, a better person or more mindful person since I had this light bulb coming up to me.

Maaz: Right. And what I’m kind of getting from you and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that it’s almost as though the journey towards DEI and going down that path actually starts with self-awareness and building self-awareness.

Benoit: A lot of that, you know, I, like many people, I went through some diversity and inclusion training and, you know, there’s a lot of good stuff, whether they are impactful or not. I mean, the research is not clear. It’s not necessarily the best. But there’s one thing that I remember for that and that because it was very simple but impactful, it was a simple distinction between intent and impact.

And to me, this is a good way to bring, like you said, this piece of self-awareness, maybe your intent was to ask a basic question to get to know someone, or your intent was to make a joke. But that joke or that question has an impact on someone. And this is what matters to that other person.

Right? It’s going beyond the golden rule of do unto others as you would them do unto, no, do unto others as they would want to, whatever do unto them. Sorry, my English grammar is getting lousy today. But you get, you get the idea: how do they want to be treated? If you think your joke or your question is valid,

Well, a little bit of empathy here and awareness of others would make you question that when you think about the impact that maybe someone may be suffering from that question or that joke, and then you get these that disconnection where somebody defends their impact and somebody else suffer, defends their intent, somebody else suffers from the impact.

And then we don’t understand each other. Right? So I think there’s a lot of policies and programs that need to change that. But I think in terms of personal progress, that’s probably a good place to start. Yeah, self-awareness and thinking about your values and actions.

Maaz: And, you know, it’s interesting because as we think about things like self-awareness and DEI I think one, it’s quite a universal theme because we many times we know impacts everyone to some extent in different ways. Right. And then I think one other thing that similarly just impacts everyone to some extent through their path and their career is being able to, you know, find their voice.

Right. And I think one of your — when we think about your story, one of the interesting things is that you weren’t in the HR space initially, right? You started off in a totally different kind of industry and ambitions. And as you transitioned over to HR and what you’re doing today, how were you able to, you know, find your voice?

And was that a struggle for you or was there any specific story or anecdote that you can share that kind of helped you realize that this was something that you had to kind of do and flourish as your career was like, you know, continuing on.

Benoit: Yeah. I mean, it’s always a tough choice, right? Because you start sometimes in life with simple assumption, Hey, I’m going to study this, this, this, or BA, MA, Ph.D. Then I’m going to get a job, I’ll be settled. And then you realize, Oh, it’s not how things work, it’s not automatic, or you’re all competing for the same job.

So maybe you look at something else. I think for me it’s, I call that the mosaic, right? I realized at some point that I need to do something different, but not too different. So that I can still justify or sell, if you want, the transition. And in this case, it was a big jump from academia to business, but I kept using the same logic when I move from job to job, or even within the same organization, from role to role, it’s always finding what’s the ajacent skillset, right?

What kind of work has 70, 80% or even 60% for that matter, of the skills or experience that I have that I can reuse so that you can be confident enough to do the work, yet you have to be willing to learn. So to me, it’s finding this balance. You have to take the risk and be willing to learn something and at the same time, find something that’s close enough because you start to have a voice, I think, to come back to your expressions once you have stories to tell.

Right? Because this is how we make sense of the world. This is how we remember things. This is how we like to socialize, by telling stories or even binds societies together. So we need for our own sense of self, for a story about our own life, you know? So what’s your life story? And it’s kind of funny because you write the story as you live.

So when you started in life, you have, you know, the first chapter is to try to find the second one, the third one, and make it coherent because nobody likes to read a completely disconnected book. So, I mean, there’s a market for that, but most of the people would like to see something with a thread throughout. And the more you progress in jobs, the more you start to build your own stories about your job, and then you start developing expertise in a different area.

And then at some point, you realize you actually have something to say, right? It’s not just my own story. Now I’m in a position where I can tell stories, and this is another way to have a voice is when you build expertise, you start connecting the dots and you make some connections that maybe people didn’t see. And to me, you know, I start to have that revelation when, you know, you know, it was ten years ago when it was starting to happen, people were talking back then about the millennial and then all the big HR

Platforms were starting to really flourish and there was a lot of innovation and a lot of money being poured into HR. And then I was starting to connect the dots and then we were moving from employee engagement to employee experience. Bring it all together and make it your own story backed by your own personal story. This is how you start to have something to contribute, right?

Have something to say that’s new, but not completely far out, though.

Maaz: That’s quite interesting. And, you know, Benoit, one question that I’ve been kind of very that have been burning to ask you is that, you know, quite a few of our listeners, they might be in HR. They might be in talent acquisition or have like, you know, a focus in DEI. But there’s also an audience that is kind of new to this industry.

And one of the things that I wanted to learn from you is, being in this space for a very long time, what do you think the most or that comes to mind, what is the most common misconception that people have regarding H.R. or talent acquisition?

Benoit: Hmm, good question. I think, unfortunately, there is still that vision that if you go in H.R., it’s because you are a people person, and not that it’s a bad thing, but when people say that, they usually mean something that’s not necessarily flattering. Oh, right. It’s the idea that you’re a people person, as in, you know, I like to talk with people, but I don’t necessarily have a strategic business, commercial, or analytics mindset.

Maybe that was the case at some point. But if you look at the great H.R. functions today and every kind of company, every industry, it’s a lot more than being a people person. You need to understand people, of course, talent, skills, data, technology, of course, it’s a difficult job, right. I don’t think that you go there just because you like to socialize.

And that’s going to be easy. I mean, if you think about talent acquisition specifically, being a recruiter is a mix of: you are a marketer, you are a seller, you’re a process manager, you have to court people. And I think specifically about people in talent acquisition, who have to hire the very smart programmer or software developers. You don’t, you know, you typically don’t speak their language right or you get some understanding but you never get to their level of depth, so you have sometimes this discrepancy so these people are the front line of your organization to attract talent and you have to fill the pipeline and find the right candidates.

Who’s getting, you know, 10,000 offers. So it’s tough, right? I don’t want people to think that because it’s people and it’s all about feelings. No, it’s becoming a multi-dimensional job. And I think with COVID and the work from home and all the different pressures on employees, it just shows you that it goes from paying people to caring about their well-being to all the employee lifecycle in between.

Maaz: Right. That’s so interesting. And you know, you’ve spoken about how it’s kind of changed and how it looks like today compared to what maybe the perception was in the past. But now, as we look to the future and what do you think this industry is going to look like?

Benoit: Yeah. So, you know, in if you would ask me a question in, say 2015-16, I would have said, well, you know, it’s all about AI because 2016 was really I think the first year where we saw bots and A.I. and all the major players start to have their use case. So we had this view that, okay, the future is about more automation.

We’re going to farm out some tasks to AI bots and that’s going to change the world. Well, it’s not completely done yet, but I think the idea has been installed. Right. And I think most organizations use some kind of AI and automation and it’s not a big deal. And nobody thinks that this chatbot will take my job, so to speak, one day.

So Cloud and AI were the foundation. So now where do we go from there? And I think, you know, you know, until recently, I wasn’t sure about, you know, a virtual reality. For example, you know, how real is that? And then next thing you know, everybody starts committing to that. You know, between the Microsofts and the Facebooks and, you know, even my own company.

So I had also a revelation recently that we have to let go of the simple distinction of there’s a physical world, and then one day we’re going to have a headset and we’re going to be in a virtual world. It’s much more of a continuum of you can have, you know, alternative reality, but it’s on your laptop, you can have a headset.

You have also the physical world that is becoming more and more programmed, right? So what we call the real versus virtual or artificial, there’s different layers. So I think the future will be the digitization of the world, if you want, not just of HR processes. So that means, for example, yes, there will probably be one day some job interviews in VR.

But you can think also with Internet of Things and 5G and edge computing that a job that today is considered a deskless frontline job, that you have to do in a plant. You would probably be able to do that from home because you’re going to be running a 3D simulation, a digital twin of the plant, and you’re going to have to fix it in the digital realm, so to speak, so that you don’t even need to be in the plant.

You can just send a robot to do that. So suddenly you could be almost like a knowledge worker, right? So I think this is the next revolution is going to take us a few years to figure out what it’s going to look like. But yeah, we call that the metaverse continuum. It’s the idea that the real and the digital will blend together, it’s going to change all of the different job families for sure.

Which means for HR. It will also bring back common challenges, right. Find the new skills, attract and retain talent. Right. We talk about the change in the future, but they’re saying that that will stay. It’s just that once they figure out how to attract and retain certain skills, well, the world changed. And now you have to find a new kind of skill.

Maaz: Very well put. And you know, the whole as you’re saying, the metaverse and the Web 3.0 is something that’s increasingly intriguing. And like the adoption of it is just like, you know, rapidly being implemented. It’s, you know, as I think about, you know, the journey that you’re just previously talking about in terms of artificial intelligence and the cloud and how people were adopting, that the adoption was fairly fast historically compared to like a historical context, but as we continue to innovate, things are being adopted even quicker and quicker.

And I think we’re going to see like things like Web 3.0 and like the metaverse rise and be implemented even at a quicker at a greater pace. Right. So it’s going to be interesting for sure. And as you think about that, you know, Benoit, you’re speaking about things like skills and things to kind of look for it.

It might be very early days, but what are some of the general themes or skills you think? People like employers, companies, or even someone who might want to be entering into the workforce during that time. What are some of the skills that you think are important for us to consider for a landscape that’s going to look like Web 3.0 and the metaverse?

Benoit: Yeah, I think it’s less about the specialist skills. I mean, it’s a mix, right? I mean, you’re probably familiar with the t-shape model of the professional. And I think that there’s still some eternal truth in that it’s good to have one or two specialties. So yes, technical skills, of course, anything around programing or AI or cloud, there’s always a market for that.

But I think because the world is and industries are changing fast, you need to have these more broad type of skills. They could be you know, you could categorize some of them as success skills. Right. Which is how to understand, what’s the value that I can provide to an organization? How can I network meaningfully? Right. So figuring out how to be a contributor that makes a difference.

Then you have the more cognitive skills such as learning, unlearning, or relearning, being able to go with the flow and realize that, okay, now part of my job is working differently. There’s an automated process so I can do other work. The hope that most of the leaders in the technology is that technology is there to take the tasks that we don’t want to do.

So if things are going the right way, it means we should be doing more of the tasks we like to do, such as the thinking tasks, right, the strategic thinking, the collaboration, or the personal relationship. So if that’s the pitch and the reality, then we should be thinking about how to develop these skills. Because everybody says it’s important to innovate, okay?

To be — use your imagination. Fantastic. But what are we doing to really be imaginative and innovative? I think you have to be curious. You have to find some 1960s sci fi from, you know, Poland or whatever, just, you know, especially with the web, you can discover culture from any time, any geography, on any topic. So cultivating that sort of curiosity is a way to feed your imagination so that when you face a problem, you can think of something different.

So empathy, imagination, collaboration, all of those social cognitive skills will be the big differentiation. And that’s for the broader part with a couple of specialist skills, I mean obviously around the technology but, and then you have the never ending, the never changing insightful skills like understanding an industry or understanding the dynamic of commerce and sales, right?

Which is not about pitching or forcing somebody to do something, but really understanding the value equation. How can you help somebody solve a problem and package it in a way to make a compelling offer, you know, there’s still 10% of the workforce that is classified under sales. Right. So you could think, oh, we’re just going to automate all that people will buy online.

You know, and I’m sure, you know, in your business, people buy from other people, even though it’s you to a giant corporation. At some point, it’s two people sitting down face to face, or zoom-to-zoom, and talking.

Maaz: Yeah, you know, that makes a lot of sense. And I want to backtrack just for a second because, you know, some of our listeners, they might not be too familiar with like, you know, the metaverse or Web 3.0 or maybe something that they’re just wrapping their head around right now. As it pertains to work in specific Benoit, what do you think the value proposition, or what’s so compelling about this Web 3.0 and you know the metaverse for work in specific?

Benoit: Well, at a high level it’s the same thing that any technology brings. Right. It’s speed, efficiency, convenience, and a good experience. The difference is that for a long time we limited all those benefits to a technology that we interfaced with a computer now and mobile. All right. The difference now with this new take on technology, I mean, if you have really high-speed connection through 5G, if you have a smart sensor, if you’re a miner or if you working in a plant and then you have to see a little hologram in your glasses, that helps you show the shape of a piece that you’re fixing.

Right? You’re bringing a layer of you out of reality, if you want to call it. But really, it’s just a representation that it’s in your visual field so that you can work. It’s a better experience. It’s easier because you don’t need to open a book, look at the different pieces, right? I mean, if you ever had to fix your own washer-dryer, that’s basically how you do that.

Or sometimes you’re going to find a YouTube video. But when you’re talking industrial mechanics, you need to to go a lot faster and then you need to be connected. Because if that’s not the piece, then you need another scenario. So it’s bringing that digital layer over reality. It could be in headsets, it could be a mobile, it could be on phones.

It’s going to be bringing computing power and connectivity to the point of use, not just for somebody sitting in an office in front of a laptop. Right. It’s going to be everywhere.

Maaz: That makes sense. And, you know, as we think about like some of the landscape today, from your experience, are these things that companies and clients are talking about today and asking, how do we implement this or what are the next steps? What is your pulse on that?

Benoit: Well, I would say, and that’s probably close to you as well. What I heard from the last few years is a lot of challenges in finding and attracting talent. I mean, retaining talent is always a challenge that has never changed. People look for a new role. But because we had the shock of COVID and now things are picking up, it’s disrupting the pace of economic transformation.

And in some industries, you look at logistics and transportation. I remember a client telling me it felt like Christmas every day. Not that we’re happy that people died of COVID, but the peak that they have at Christmas, that level of intensity now, it was yearlong, right. So you can imagine how many drivers and pilots you need to hire real, real faster.

So that has created some pressure for a lot of organizations. And at the same time, you also have the reckoning that a lot of people don’t want to do jobs that don’t interest them. So you have all, you know, hospitality and fast food that are also struggling not as finding the really skilled professional, but just finding people, right, in stores and restaurants and all that.

So there seems to be a crisis of talent acquisition for a different reason in different geography. And again, there’s no magical one. Right. So I know, I think it’s easing in now because people find different solution and there’s more automation and, you know, outsourcing it all that. So it seems like it’s resolving itself. But from the last two years that has been top of mind for many people.

Maaz: Right. That makes a lot of sense. And, you know, I think like sometimes the question when it when it comes to innovation, sometimes people ask, you know, is this innovation for the sake of innovation or is this like very real? Are people actually out there looking for this and wanting it for to create impact? And I think, you know, as we’re looking at what’s happening in this space specifically for like, you know, Web 3.0 and things like that, just similar to what happened with AI and cloud, the value proposition is really there and it’s compelling, you know, so people are going to eventually get there.

It’s always that that process of, you know, adoption and transformation, that cycle that people go through. So it’s going to be interesting to see once, you know, the education has kind of been implemented and people are aware how it’s going to end up really changing things and, you know, shaping our future.

Benoit: Yeah. And my hope is that it might also force societies and institutions to bring some areas of knowledge that we may have sometimes neglected or set aside because they were not practical enough. Right. There’s always this set assumption that schools need to produce, you know, workers. And but, you know, I think they should be producing citizens first.

But when you think about, you know, social science or even philosophy, I mean, the ability to think clearly, to frame your thought, to understand the logic of an argument, you know, logic, statistics and all that. There’s sort of general domain skills that could be useful. And we put a lot of emphasis on the STEM, you know, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, of course.

But I think an understanding of human conditions and understanding of our own history, I think we’re going to need people to guide that future. And we should not limit the future of the next generation by telling them, oh, learn technology and computer. Of course, learn that, you know, that’s a given. It’s like: learn how to walk. Of course.

Where are you going with that? What are you going to do? How will you make it a better place? Right. And this is where we need to bring a little bit more of that generic education and global culture just to, you know, hopefully bring people together.

Maaz: Perfect, and Benoit, I think that was super insightful and I want to thank you for bringing your knowledge and sharing it with us today. I’ve learned a lot and I think, you know, our listeners are going to also appreciate the insights that you’ve shared today. Before we just like, you know, close. Just wanted to ask you, where is where would you like people to find you and connect with you?

Benoit: Well, like most people, I’m easy to find on LinkedIn. I also have a podcast called Abrupt Future that discussed the similar change. You know, that I started with the pandemics because, you know, there was another awakening moment like, uh oh, things are changing. So there’s a lot of interviews there. Well, one with you actually, and one of your colleagues, a lot of good that conversation.

But yeah, always happy to exchange or learn from other people.

Maaz: Amazing. Thank you so much, Benoit. Well, take care and we’ll talk again.

Benoit: Thank you. Thanks for having me.