Cloudflare TV

Leading with Talent: Playing the Long Game

Presented by Scott Tomtania, Lynee Luque
Originally aired on 

Leading with Talent: Playing the Long Game is a weekly show on Cloudflare TV that amplifies the stories of incredible talent & people leaders showing up every day building companies impacting millions of people around the world.

This week's guest is Lynee Luque, VP of People at NerdWallet. Lynee brings 20+ years of professional experience, 15 as an HR professional and 6 in Advisory Services. This blend of experience ensures we not only build people and cultural programs that scale but also sets us up to support business growth. Prior to joining NerdWallet, Lynee was VP and Head of People at Envoy and Global Human Resources Director for Twitter. Lynee has a B.S. degree from UC Berkeley and an M.B.A. from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


Transcript (Beta)

Welcome to our edition of Leading with Talents and Playing the Long Game. Today, I have Lynee Luque, who's the VP of People at NerdWallet, and I'm super, super excited to have her here.

As you've seen the trend so far, a number of these guests we've sort of met at some point, we've worked together before, or there've been folks that have inspired me throughout my career.

And this is a particularly really important one, because I'm just super excited about Juneteenth.

I'm not going to throw that in there, not to derail the conversation, but Lynee, let me pass that on to you to introduce yourself and walk us through what you're currently doing and a little bit about your journey.

Yes, well, thank you for having me on the show, Scott, and then I know you've had a lot of great guests, so I'll consider myself in really good company or in your high regard.

So, Lynee Luque, I am at NerdWallet, located in the Bay Area, but very much embracing the remote lifestyle and pushing that from a personal and then just company perspective.

What you say is true.

Scott and I have known each other for a while. We worked together at Twitter during a growth stage, and I just say that to say that I am a people leader that likes to do growth and help companies scale, and that's really been part of my journey.

So that's kind of a high level of who I am and why I'm glad to be here too. What jumps out at me is that really your experience, Lynee, I think you're so humble about this, is that you have 20 plus years of experience, of professional experience, 15 plus as an HR professional, you've been advisor services, you touched on your Twitter experience.

You were also recently the head of people at Envoy, right?

And at Twitter, you were one of the first ones to sort of branch out and be outside of San Francisco to lead the HR arm there.

So I just wanted to sing a little bit of your praises there, so yeah.

Yeah, yeah, to kind of back up a little bit there, and I'll just add more detail.

I didn't start my career off in HR, as you know, but not everybody does, and so yes, sometimes I take that for granted.

I started my career in public accounting.

I was an auditor and used to do kind of like quarterly reviews and year-end reviews, and then moved into risk and advisory services back in the day when Sarbanes -Oxley first came out, so for people who are non-HR folks out there, and there are things I definitely enjoy about that, but in 2008, made the transition into HR, have not looked back yet.

I will say this career is more complex and way more fun for me than my previous career, but adding that in there, because it's almost like I've had two moments or two different career paths.

It's where I am today. It's probably made me appreciate more of where I am today.

Yeah, and I know you and I, you know, jokingly, we've talked about University of Michigan, A2, Ann Arbor, so if there are any University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MBAs listening, woohoo, I'll give you folks a shout out.

We talk about A2 frequently, but it feels like that was how you transitioned into HR.

Is that the case, or am I getting the story wrong?

Tell me more about that. Yeah, so as I said, very fond and positive memories of public accounting, but that career choice I made because my older brother went into public accounting, and he was the first person in our family to go to college, graduate, start a professional career, and like many people, it's like you look up, okay, what are people doing?

I'll do that, and he did tax, and I did audit, so I thought I'm doing the more extroverted, like people-oriented part of that, so I always tell people that wasn't like necessarily like fully my choice, right, in terms of careers.

Once I had about, you know, five to six years in that career, I had my own moment of what do I want to be doing every day?

I'm working really hard. I'm dedicated to my work, but this isn't necessarily a topic that I want to be reading about on the weekends or get really jazzed about personally.

I love the people who do the work, so I decided to go back to school, and so that's how I ended up going to Michigan.

I'm not from Michigan.

I am huge, you know, go blue, huge fan of Michigan, but I wasn't from there, and I decided to take grad school as an opportunity to fully switch careers, and for those of you who don't know and are growing in your HR career or thinking about it, the MBA program there has a really good curriculum and set of people that specialize in smart design, leadership, and all that, so it was really great.

I felt like I was on a mission there, and that helped me get through like negative 20 weather, and I'm born and raised Californian, so that was like nothing for me at all, and I still have fond memories, but definitely use that as my career pivot moment, and as I said, haven't looked back, even told myself at moments, oh, if this HR thing doesn't work out, I just go back to auditing because everybody always needs accountants and financial and auditing, and luckily that hasn't even crossed my mind, so I'm very curious here.

Auditing, right, so usually, you know, people think that folks who work in HR or either, you know, just people person or really they're in sales or they just want to interact with people all day long, some do, but how does, has that sort of influenced how you've approached HR because I remember you being so, you know, organized and process-driven and things like that, things that I watched from afar, but how has that sort of influenced your growth in this role and how you've, you know, you've been leading so far?

Yeah, wow, I'm like reflecting now.

I would say one of the things that people have given me as feedback, one of the traits that they say is that I'm able to see kind of the big picture, but also dive into the details, and so for those of you who have been lucky enough not to have to do auditing and financial statements and stuff, that is very much your everyday.

It's, let's zoom out, you know, what does the balance look like, what does the income statement look like, but an auditor's job is to go in to the details and substantiate that that number actually makes sense and start to do from a more limited view, like think about what could happen in the future based on trends or data, and so this makes me feel like I'm not a really personal HR person, but I think in the back of my mind, that's always, I've carried that with me into how I approach anything I do, including the people function and people initiatives where I'm consistently saying, all right, well what's that big picture thing that I'm trying to do, what are the pieces that would make that true, or if there is an issue, right, like what are the things that could make that true, so that's definitely carried forward with me, and I didn't really realize that it could be a good trait until you just said it now, so something I maybe take for granted.

Yeah, I think that is great.

You talked about the big picture piece, and I remembered when you were sort of one of the first ones to branch out of San Francisco to establish the HR practice at Twitter, how did that play into how you made that decision, or perhaps not, and what were you thinking at the time, and what were you able to achieve through that?

Yeah, well I would say that I am a person who loves adventure and learning by doing, so it probably has to do with those traits more than anything else, but I had spent most of my career sitting in kind of like the center, right, like so the headquarters of a company, or exactly where all the action was happening for the places that I worked at, and when I joined Twitter, it was like, yes, this is a new company, it's a new stage of growth that I hadn't experienced yet, but I was like, I'm still in the center, and I'm still doing something similar to what I did.

What could make me feel a little bit uncomfortable, and feel like I'm, you know, on adventure for my career, and that's how I raised my hand, but I think to your point about how does it relate to the big picture and small picture, it's just, it was real, it made real to me, like what that big picture was, and when you're in the center of it, versus like not sitting in the center of it, but still trying to influence or inform kind of the larger center of what's going on, and you know, what needs to be paid attention to in kind of the smaller growing area, and this was back in the day, like I think about all of the tools that we have during the pandemic, Zoom, and just there's so many Asana, like tons of tools out there to help people go.

Yeah. We didn't even have, we didn't have Zoom, or BlueJeans, or Google Hangouts, or Google Meet video back then, it was like pick up the phone, and let's come together across the country, and you know, old-fashioned.

Yes, and many of these offices were satellite offices, right, so there are, I think in many cases, many tech companies, they might have a small engineering presence somewhere, but they were mainly skills offices, so they weren't full-fledged offices, but then the way you did it just was so awesome, and it just shows your big picture approach to that, so anyway.

Yeah, I got excited here, so.

I feel like I was ahead of the curve, so I was embracing like distributed, how do you build remote cultures many, many years ago, which also got me excited to take the challenge on when, you know, NerdWallet decided to not have this be a temporary thing, but have it be a longer-term strategy, which it's like put me in coach, like I've experienced it from the other side, so definitely, you know, good challenge for me now.

So you've mentioned how NerdWallet has sort of transitioned into a remote -first culture, and I've seen some of the work you've done around that, especially around remote-first support, cultural traditions, employee engagement, so I know you drew from that experience, but walk me through what made you really create such an awesome sort of framework that is probably one of the first ones to be developed so far, yeah.

Yeah, well, we are at the beginning stages, right, so I think here's one big lesson from my time of being kind of that first person out there, and it wasn't, you know, I don't think we were thinking like this is what it's going to be, right, we're going to build this culture that embraces all the distributed yet, because it was just happening so fast, and we were going so fast, and I say that to say that when we took on the kind of option for people not to be in San Francisco anymore at NerdWallet, I was really committed to we should be really deliberate around this, and really have a plan, and make the investments, and the number one thing, because we're all virtual right now, so I feel like everybody, we're not really tested in how this is going to work, so part of building a plan and being deliberate, we had goals around how we were going to support our remote first culture moving forward, even earlier in this when we didn't know we were going to get out of it, and one of the first goals that we started with was let's make sure that we hire outside of where we normally hire, because the number one thing that humans are known for is going back to the habits that they know, the habits that they're most comfortable with, and so we could write on a piece of paper or this blog that we have a remote first culture, but if when we go back to the office, 80% of the people are still sitting in San Francisco, it's really hard to embrace and build that culture, so we actually set quarterly goals, hiring goals for great distributing our teams, and you know opening ourselves up to that talent that we never looked at before, so essentially what like okay you have a certain percentage of folks that you wanted to hire clearly outside, and you're measuring how you know how efficient, or how good you were at doing that, and if it's working that's simply amazing, yeah yeah, and so it goes back to that like set goals, look at the data, what's working, what's not working, but I knew that was going to be the number one thing, it's like if I say distributed and remote first, we kind of have to be that as an organization, or how do we learn how to do that in a really great way, and then kind of has just built the plan, has kind of built from there in every facet, right, how we work, how we come to the office, what our traditions are, so yeah it's been fun work.

That's great, great, great, so this ties in nicely with playing the long game, and what it means to you, right, because from my own personal philosophy this is, I've seen the world change in 2020.

It felt like this massive shift, and you know what we believe to be important and essential has shifted you know both in our minds, and both in you know how we do things, and how we conduct business, and you've made the you know decision to go remote first, so what does this topic that we're talking about playing the long game really mean to you?

Yeah this is a good question, Scott.

You know when I think about my real passion behind distributing teams, and making everyone feel included, it goes for me it goes back to part of the reason I wanted to go into HR is because I wanted everybody to feel like they could reach their full potential, and whatever it is that they wanted to do, and what I knew as a woman of color is this wasn't a normal career that I saw my family be part of you know dress up, and go to work in big offices.

That's what we used to do today, and you know doing that I wanted those doors to open, but not only have the door open, have people feel like they could progress, that they have any type of goal there, and so when I think about this you know remote first, or opening our doors to talent that we didn't previously have access to, that's my drive is how do we get more groups, how do we get more people to be able to contribute, and to grow, and better ideas will come out, more innovation will come out, and in particular in the tech space.

I think this is true for every single industry, but you know tech tries to be the innovative industry, and is trying to tackle you know future problems, and I want to make sure that everybody has a chance to be at the table to tackle the future problems, and to build those future solutions.

So when I think about like the tactical stuff that I say of like opening our talent pools, making people feel included, ensuring career development and growth for everyone, like there's a little personal feel there, because I know in the long run this will lead to just better society, better outcomes in general, and then personally right, like I want to make this true for people that have backgrounds like me.

Yes, yes, this is great. One of the phrases you use that I've seen you use is career development is a rock wall, not a ladder.

Yes, yeah. It fits nicely into this.

Talk to me more about how you sort of come up with that framework, and you know what that means to you.

Yeah, I have everybody, almost every company I've worked at has probably heard me use that phrase, and I even have a picture and everything of this, but one of the things is you know hindsight is 20-20, like you look at your career and you're able to understand it a lot better than when you're in the moment, but the thing that really has I think driven me is that if I was so focused on looking at my career in just like one vertical path right, or one linear path, I probably would have been limited to like all right PricewaterhouseCoopers, I am an associate business advisory services person, I'm going to be a senior, and then I'm going to be a manager, and I kind of stayed in that lane, and I would say I you know I didn't feel confident at that moment to like leave that lane, switch careers, because I was taking a step back.

Yes. I knew I wasn't going to make as much money switching careers, at least that's what I thought in the short term, and stuff, but it was one of the best moves for me, because I moved from you know something that I wasn't as interested in to something that I feel very passionate about, and so again just like this personal thread that if you can open your eyes to all sorts of possibilities for your career, not just like one path or one linear path, if that's your path that's cool too, but if you open up like just think about how many jobs exist now that didn't exist 20 years ago when we started working, like you're kind of limiting yourself that way, or you're limiting yourself on your own passions and interests, so I find that when people kind of open up their options, and really start to think about the career as like a rock wall, which means I might have to go to the right in order to go up, I might have to take a step back, maybe even to like go up and achieve what I want to do, it's more fun you know, and I think people you know at the end of the day, I think you can have a much more fulfilling experience.

I think what a great analogy, and I'm wondering this is more of a curveball, I don't know we've discussed this, but haven't known you for a while, I know you are a gastronomist, you know you're foodie, just you know based on your upbringing, and I don't want to tell everyone where you're from, but you're from the wine area of California in San Joaquin Valley, so did any of that sort of influence your people's strategy, and your career development strategy, do you sort of draw back there, because what I've found is that you know the more experience I get, the more I draw from you know really tangible personal experiences that I've had you know growing up, that have sort of formed me, so I can see that you know sort of playing out a little bit there, but perhaps I'm wrong, walk me through that a bit.

Yeah you probably surprise people by calling San Joaquin County wine country too, just like not me, but like out there, it's a wonderful wine area I believe, so yeah new area to me that like totally embraced it, I love it, it's a hitting again, if people like wine, I recommend no tasting fees, no long lines and stuff, a good wine, and little does everybody know, but most of the grapes are sold in Napa and Sonoma wines, so you probably have the right wine, but I will say, so today's Juneteenth, Juneteenth, you mentioned it at the top, or we're celebrating it at work for us, and we are doing kind of learning sessions, or we did a learning session, where it's kind of like we're teaching each other, so nerds teach nerds, and I hosted a session on, I don't know if you've seen the new show, it's a Netflix show, High on the Hog, and yeah, so they have a Juneteenth episode, where it takes you back to like, what are the traditional foods that are used to celebrate kind of Juneteenth in Texas, and then what are just foods that have carried on traditionally through the culture, so it's a small thing, but I'll say like my interests definitely like influence how I show up as a person, as a professional, as a leader, and it helped me connect today, I don't know how many people were in my session, maybe like 25 or 30, but like able to have just a good conversation, and not about work specifically, but who are you, how has how has food interest like influenced your culture, what parts of it like do you want to share with this group, and so I think bringing in your outside interests can like make you human, build that connection, and so definitely use my outside interests inside to build those connections, and do that.

I should have definitely been part of that class that you were teaching there, because it would have been fun just to see if I could get some different ideas for Juneteenth, I'm trying to see as much as I can what I can do tomorrow to, you know, get some celebrations going, so I perhaps I'll hit you up right after this show, and we can have some discussions around that.

It made everyone hungry, I'll just say that.

Of course, of course it will. 10 a.m and we all wanted like barbecue, and like cake, and stuff, so it was really good.

Another thing, so I want to continue on the Juneteenth topic, I know that we were going to touch on a couple of different things, so Juneteenth is now an official holiday, and it's just simply amazing.

So along with that, in this, you know, sort of like changing world, fast-growing world, the world has changed, the world is sort of moving at a completely different speed than it used to be prior to 2020.

What key advice would you give to your audience, and if you want to break it down into these three segments, that would be great.

It's been one of the highlights of our show, advice I would give to leaders, hiring managers, and also to the people team, or HR teams in general.

Yeah, yeah, that's big, big question and everything. I'm going to give some overarching advice that I try to keep in mind, because I'm starting to get that up there in age too, and now I'm understanding how much more difficult it is to change and stuff.

I'm not as familiar with all the tools that the kind of newer generation is using in the workforce all the time, but I would definitely say like growth mindset is an overarching thing that for any of those groups, leaders, managers, as a person, I would say, you know, be a lifelong learner, whatever that is, because change is constant.

Yes. And it's a little less scary when you kind of enter into things expecting and knowing that change will come up.

So it's just general. When I think about leader and leadership, when you start to get into this position, I think you start to be influenced by the people that are right around you, and most of the time that's not the person, you know, three levels down that's doing the hard work, and so it's too easy to kind of feel, get disconnected.

Yes. That whole old-fashioned saying of like being in the ivory tower, right, like that decision came from the ivory tower.

Yep. And so my advice to myself and to others is like find ways so that you can connect down with the real work that's going on and make sure that you understand that perspective, or at least, you know, have an idea of what that perspective is, even if you can't fully understand it.

Yep. You will make better decisions for your company and as a leader if you, you know, stay connected to all parts of this, not let yourself get up into that ivory tower only mindset.

I think from a management perspective, such a critical, crucial role.

Yep. In that role, I feel like the best thing you could do is be clear, like have clarity, right?

In that role, it's so often hard to sometimes like deliver tough messages, right, because you want to be liked, and you're there, and maybe you're a first-time manager, and I would say always go for clarity.

Clarity, clarity, clarity. Yeah, or respect, right, and that'll help you get through both sides, right, of managing up and managing down to your team.

I would say for people teams, and this goes back to just like I started my career not necessarily in HR.

Yes. It's a thing that I push my people teams on all the time is if they're bringing me a proposal or if they have any idea or initiative, I'm like, what business problem are we solving?

Oh, awesome. Yeah. So, if we can't answer that question, then I'm like, A, maybe it's the wrong, you know, initiative, or B, maybe we need to understand that better so that when we're advocating or communicating that to the stakeholder, our stakeholder, our customers, internal to the company, we'll just be better, you know, by having that rationale.

Yeah. Wow. So many awesome nuggets. Growth mindsets, being clear, big picture, just what problems are we solving?

So many awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome nuggets here.

I want to do something a little different here. I know it's also Juneteenth, but it's also Father's Day on Sunday.

And good reminder from you too, Scott.

So, I wanted to remind you, and I sort of remembered that you probably, if you want to give a shout out to anyone in particular on this show, you can do that if you want.

Of course, my dad, who's probably not, you know, not on the Internet that often, he's not even that, you know, he's not even that far removed from a generation of Internet.

But yeah, super close to my dad, I consider him one of the biggest like role models, even though he didn't do the exact things that I'm doing now.

But yeah, I will be spending time with my dad. And recently, my only living grandparent moved closer to the Bay Area.

So, I'll also be able to see my grandfather this weekend.

That's awesome. Well, thank you for our latest edition of Leading with Talent and Playing the Long Game.

And it was great to have Lene Luque, VP of HR and VP of People at Nerd Wallet.

And I look forward to connecting with you again after this to get the recipe for your Juneteenth celebration.

Thank you so much, Lene.