Level Up is a monthly webinar open to anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.
Most recently, we spoke with Justin Hastings, Chief Human Resources Officer of Experian North America. Justin has driven a focus on “ offense and defense” into the region’s talent practices, building improved insight into external and competitor talent, while focusing on Experian’s must-keep talent. While Justin has been CHRO, regretted attrition has reduced from 17% to 10% since the end of 2015, and high performer attrition has reduced to less than 6%.
We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Justin for Level Up.
Mike Delgado: Hey everybody. Welcome to the Level Up leadership podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty Guevarra: My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike Delgado: This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian, and also gain insight into the leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty Guevarra: In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work-life balance, mental health, diversity and inclusion, and so much more.
Mike Delgado: We hope you enjoy the show.
Patty Guevarra: Today we’re excited to chat with Justin Hastings, Chief Human Resources Officer for North America. Thanks for joining us, Justin.
Justin Hastings: No problem. Great to be here. Hi everybody.
Patty Guevarra: All right, let’s just get into it. If you could just tell us about your background.
Justin Hastings: How long do you want me to go? Well, I was born… For those of you who are either listening in live or on the podcast who don’t know me, I’m in the US but the first thing you can tell is I’m not originally from the US. I have a British accent still, mainly, although my wife does occasionally tell me that I sound a bit too American. I grew up in the UK. I went to school in university in the UK, but also spent a year at university in France as well. I did a languages degree. I did languages and economics. I spent a year of that in the South of France, which was a fantastic experience academically, but it was also where I learned to drink.
Patty Guevarra: As you do.
Justin Hastings: As you do. Exactly. Then from there I… I think many people don’t necessarily know what they want to do with the rest of their lives when they leave university, and I was very much in that camp. Some people have a calling, “I’m going to be a doctor, or I’m going to do whatever it might be.” I had literally no clue whatsoever. I fell into my first job, which was in a telecoms company called British Telecom. It’s kind of the AT&T equivalent in the UK, and I went into a marketing role originally. As a graduate you think, “Well, what do I do with a French and an economics degree?” I said, “Well, I’ll go work and for British Telecom, and do marketing because that’s really obvious.”
Justin Hastings: But I remember somebody at the time saying to me, the first career decision you make is a really important one because it has more of a shaping on the rest of your career than you think at the time necessarily. That always stayed with me. Anyway, long story short, I spent 14 years at British Telecom doing a range of roles, marketing, product management, moved into some commercial and project management type roles. Did strategy and business planning. I was then tapped on the shoulder to become the, we called it Head of Programs. It was a bag carrier for one of the CEOs. It was a talent acceleration role that they used to put high potential people through, and I had the benefit of doing that role for a couple of years, working for the CEO of BT’s international business at the time, so all the business outside of the UK.
Justin Hastings: Spent a bit of time doing that then moved. When he left the company, I then moved into a strategy role. I spent quite a lot of time in that working on a business transformation and turnaround plan, which involved working very heavily and very closely with the CHRO at the time, as we were doing some organizational restructuring on the back of that. Then the CHRO said to me, “Hey, listen, why don’t you come work in HR?” To which my initial response was, “Why would I want to go work at HR?” I can say that now because I’m in HR. But he said, “Listen, we need more commercial orientation in the HR function. I’ve got a bunch of really good HR people, I want some more commercial orientation. You’ve got that, you haven’t got the HR background, you can learn that.” He was taking a risk, I was taking a risk, because I’d never really thought HR would be a calling for me.
Justin Hastings: But anyway, fast forward three to six months from taking that role, I had my first road to Damascus type moment where I finally figured, and this was about eight years into my career, “I think I can be pretty good at this and I really enjoy it. Maybe this is what I should do for the rest of my career.” Honestly from that point, I’ve never looked back. I’ve always stayed in a HR role since then.
Mike Delgado: Why do you think he hand-picked you for this role?
Justin Hastings: It’s a great question. You should probably ask him. But, let’s not get him on the phone. I think he saw probably a number of attributes that are probably actually, in a number of different disciplines, fairly transferable. Good judgment, decision-making, common sense, and a solid intellect that can work through problems. To be honest, you pick most jobs that many of us do, there are attributes that are important. Okay, there are technical disciplines that you need to have in certain areas too. What I didn’t have was the HR professional grounding. I didn’t have any professional experience or accreditation. But if you can apply common sense, and good judgment, and sensible decision making, and you can bring people in to help you make technically oriented decisions, then you cover your risk. I think that’s what he saw and wanted from me. To be honest, that stayed with me through the rest of my career as I’ve been thinking about developing and growing talent within the HR function as well.
Justin Hastings: I’ve had the opportunity to move some people from HR into business roles and then maybe come back, and I’ve got a couple of people even in Experian who’ve done those boomerang type jobs. I’ve also had the chance to bring one or two people into my teams over the latter part of my career who haven’t necessarily had the HR background in the same way that I didn’t have it, but have been able to bring some of those characteristics, and they’ve performed and developed really well. I think it’s probably a combination of those things, frankly.
Mike Delgado: I’m curious also from your side, because you had never really considered working in HR, so what were some of the things that made you go, “All right, I’ll try this,” because that’s a pivotal part in your career path, and a lot of times people are faced with dilemma, “Should I stay what I’m doing, in this particular business unit, or do I take this opportunity doing something entirely different, and I don’t really know whether that’s going to be right for me?”
Justin Hastings: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a great question, and it’s one that I have been asked quite a number of times through my career. There are a couple of aspects. One is, the business I was working in at the time, whilst it was part of a big international telecoms company, it was basically the professional services consulting and systems integrating division of a large global company. If you think about what those kind of businesses do, they sell people, right? Some of it is through large scale programs, global outsourcing deals, those kinds of things. Some of it is simply just body shopping project capability into clients. Either way, you’re selling people and intellect and skills. What really appealed to me in the first place was getting into an HR role in a business where your people are your sole asset. I mean, every company says, “Hey, your people are your most important asset,” and in most businesses that’s true. But sometimes it doesn’t sound that authentic.
Justin Hastings: I mean, if you’re in a manufacturing business, building [inaudible 00:07:28] out of a factory, then maybe your people aren’t your most important skill. You have to keep them energized and engaged, of course, but maybe it’s the manufacturing process that sits behind the building of whatever it is you’re doing. Or maybe it’s the plan that you have, the machine or in the robotics or whatever it might be. But, in the sort of business that I was in, it was literally the people were what delivered the value and the revenue and the profit for the company. Being in an HR role where you’re focused entirely on developing your prime asset was really appealing to me. That certainly bore true in the experience that I had.
Justin Hastings: The other thing, I guess from a more personal perspective was, most things that I’ve done and tried in my career were not necessarily planned or preordained. I always had a fairly flexible view, partly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, right? I think I pretty much know now, but it’s taken me about 20 years to [inaudible 00:08:32] so far. But what I always enjoyed, and this is maybe part of what drives me personally, I’ve always enjoyed discomfort, professionally. I’ve always enjoyed being in a position where, “Hey, I think I know what I’m doing, but I’m not quite sure that I’m really in control of it.” Almost being in that position where you imagine standing on the edge of a cliff, right, and feeling, “I’m pretty close to getting in a pretty tough spot here.” I’ve always been driven by that level of professional discomfort.
Justin Hastings: I figured, “I know nothing about HR. I have no credibility with other HR people,” which was obviously a big thing for me at the time. But what I did have was, I felt like I had something I could bring them from the point of view of the business and commercial experience that I had. You think about the quid pro quo, right? “What could I give, what could I get back?” There’s a reciprocity to the benefit, that hopefully I could derive from the team that I was inheriting, and hopefully that my team could gain from me even though I didn’t necessarily have the stripes of being an HR leader per se. It’s a combination of those two things really.
Mike Delgado: I think that’s a really hard spot to be in where you’re being brought into a leadership role to manage a team of people in a business that you’ve never worked in before. You have these people who are like… maybe some of these people that were on your team were looking to get your role and they’re like, “I have this much more experienced than Justin, but he’s the one got chosen.” There might even be some little bit of resentment on the team, like, “This guy doesn’t even know what we do, he’s been brought in.” Tell us about the political climate, how you managed-
Justin Hastings: I think there was probably less of that as I initially went into that first role and inherited a team. Because I was coming from within the same company, you build a credit in the bank, right? Even if it’s not directly related to what you’re moving into. But I had a reputation, I had credibility, I had relationships, and all of those things go a long way. But you’re right, what I didn’t have was the professional nous in the discipline that I was coming into. There were people who were skeptical without a doubt. There were people who were skeptical behind my back. You hear these things, second or third hand through the grapevine, and there were people who said to me, “Hey, listen, you sure you’re going to be able to do this?”
Justin Hastings: Honestly, to someone like me, that’s a red rag to a bull. If somebody says, “Hey, I question your ability to do this,” I’m going to double down and try even harder to prove somebody wrong. That’s the same in anything that I do, whether it’s professional, whether it’s sporting, whether it’s social, whatever. It’s just a mindset. I don’t like anybody telling me I can’t do something, because you’re going to prove the naysayers wrong. But actually you have to do that. I found I had to do that in a pretty subtle way.
Justin Hastings: The other thing that was playing against me at the time was I was still relatively young compared with some of the people who I was working with and some of the people who would have to be then working for me. I was probably eight or 10 years into my career at that stage and suddenly thrust into a VP level role with people who had been working in the profession and in the company in some cases for maybe 20 or 30 years. You have to be very mindful about how you navigate those pitfalls. I think the biggest single thing that served me then, and I think continues to serve me, and I’m really glad we see a lot of this in Experian is humility. It would be really easy to go into that sort of situation and almost put up a barrier and say, “Hey, listen, I know best because I’m the boss.” That’s a really stupid thing to do. It’s a really weak thing to do, I think.
Justin Hastings: Good leaders, great leaders have large doses of humility. They’re able to say, they’re willing to say, they’re in fact keen to say, “Hey, listen, I don’t know the answers,” or, “I don’t know the answer to this particular question. I don’t have the solution, but I want to bring people in with me who can help us to figure this out collectively.” You often see this actually, it’s an interesting thing, but it’s also quite irritating from my perspective. You see people join companies from other companies, and it’s not that unusual when people come in and say, “Well, in my last company we did this, so we should do this here,” right? That’s the worst thing, I think, you can do. We’ve all got experiences where we’ve seen that, either a boss or a colleague or somebody that [crosstalk 00:13:01]-
Mike Delgado: I said that. Yeah.
Justin Hastings: I’m sure we’ve all said it on occasion. Getting into that kind of situation and even moving companies, I think you have to really bide your time, right? You might have prejudices, you might have preconceptions, but you have to hold your counsel on that. You have to bring people with you. You have to bring people into the dialogue and help them feel like they are part of building whatever it is you’re trying to build towards. I think having high levels of humility and enabling yourself to do that I think is really, really important. I learned that very quickly. I’m sure I made mistakes along the way and probably tripped myself up and pissed a few people off, but that stood me in good stead, I think, going forward as well, certainly.
Justin Hastings: What’s great about a company like Experian is, you see a significant amount of humility right through this organization, sometimes probably a bit too much actually, because we are very modest as a company. But I think that combination of humility and low ego is a really, really strong characteristic that Experian leaders have, which I’m really proud of.
Mike Delgado: Yeah, I definitely see that as a running thread.
Patty Guevarra: Being someone who got put into HR without knowing anything about it, and I know you said that you like your challenges and you like standing on the edge of the cliff and all of that. But even with all of that, don’t you think there’d be a lot of pressure going into a role where you don’t really have experience there? I want to know how you dealt with that pressure if you did have it, and people questioning you like, “Well, can he do this?” Did you ever question yourself like, “Can I do this? Can I actually-”
Justin Hastings: Yeah, absolutely. All of the above, right? All of the above. I think, again, part of what drives me and it’s linked to the standing on the edge of the cliff point, being uncomfortable. I love pressure. I thrive in pressure. I get really bored when things are easy. Not easy necessarily, maybe that’s the wrong description, but when things are steady.
Patty Guevarra: Comfortable.
Justin Hastings: Comfortable, I get bored with that in most things, and my wife if she was in the room she’d tell you. I’m really bad at relaxing. I can’t sit there and do nothing. I’ve always got to be doing something and creating a level of pressure and discomfort. It’s just the way that I’ve always been since as far back as I can remember. I used that as fuel. As I think about going into that role initially in my first foray into HR, what I was able to bring as I said, was that common sense and pragmatism. That business background, having been in a number of line and operational type roles. But I also just took a lot of time and invested a lot of effort into just learning about what was going on around me within the function.
Justin Hastings: I mean, I wouldn’t say I came in knowing nothing about HR because most of us have a degree of knowledge about HR, because if nothing else, we’re all consumers of HR services and products, right? Yes, I had managed teams, and I’d run performance management processes, and I’d done pay reviews, and some of those basic fundamentals of what HR teams deliver, I had been involved in and I’d been a consumer of. Actually what I was able to bring then was an outside perspective, “Hey, this is how it felt as a consumer, so let’s think about that from the other side out.” But as I went through the following two or three years, I also knew that, to continue to build credibility, it was incumbent on me to start to build some stronger qualification if you like. I don’t mean necessarily academic qualification, but part of it was academic, but just qualification to be more effective at the job that I was doing and the leadership I was providing to other people.
Justin Hastings: Actually one of the things I did do was embark on a master’s program around HR. I now have an academic qualification. Okay, I’ve been in the HR profession now for 15 years or so, so I feel like I’ve earned my spurs [crosstalk 00:17:06]. Early on I also invested in a couple of years alongside working in going through a master’s program actually with Rutgers University over in New Jersey. I think that one showed, “Hey, this guy’s committed.” That’s important, when other people see you’re investing your own time and effort into becoming better. Secondly, over time, it just enabled me to say, “I’ve got the experience, I’m building more experience, and I have this professionally recognized accreditation now.” A combination of those things, I think, just helped to accelerate the acknowledgement and the acceptance from other people.
Patty Guevarra: Right. I know we didn’t really get to let you finish your entire background. We just jumped on that.
Mike Delgado: That was the section [inaudible 00:17:53].
Patty Guevarra: I’m going to fast forward to when you were HR Director for Experian UK. While you were there, you introduced a program called the Emerging Leaders Program and it helped identify future leaders-
Justin Hastings: [crosstalk 00:18:06] you’ve done your research.
Patty Guevarra: Yeah. Read your bio. You helped to identify individuals for succession positions for other leaders. I want to know how you identify future leaders and succession candidates, and what young leaders now can do to get noticed by programs like that in the future.
Justin Hastings: Yeah, it’s a great question because, some of these you can do through programs, right? Either people are tapped on the shoulder or they’re selected, but I think it’s more subtle than that. I think it’s more subtle than that. I think the way many people progress and many people get noticed is by continuing to seek to improve themselves, to learn, to absorb, and then to apply. It’s very easy to get into a job, get comfortable, and just keep doing more of the same. That’s fine, and that serves a lot of people really well. I’m not saying everybody should have massive ambition because everybody makes their own decisions in life, right? I think it would be a pretty dysfunctional business, any business, if every single person wanted to be the CEO, right? Because, it would just end up being a really horrible place.
Justin Hastings: But I think the people who certainly stand out, as I think about how I see talent, people who go out seeking the doors to push open, right? Who are the ones who put up their hands up to do those special projects, to do something outside of their core job, to do something that’s going to expand their knowledge, expand their experience, and their horizons, and probably expand their visibility as well, because I think with one comes the other naturally. That’s how I’ve always been pretty much since the first day of my career. I’ve always wanted to be a really good practitioner of what I do, but I’ve always wanted to learn and do more things on the side as well, so I always got one… In the first four or five years of my career at BT, I would put my hand up for those projects. “We need to run a mini sales campaign over here. We want to get some people to go out and try and win some new business for us.” “Hey, I’m not a sales person, but I want to go and try that,” and I did.
Justin Hastings: The people who just have that attitude and aptitude to want to continue to progress and learn, and will actively go out and seek the doors to push on, because companies sometimes do a really good job of developing talent, sometimes do a pretty poor job of developing talent. I think in Experian we do a pretty good job overall, but nobody is ever going to look after your career in the way that you can look after your own career, right? You might have some great managers, some great, some great HR folks supporting you, but their core focus isn’t going to be you, right? Whereas for you, your core focus is typically you and your career. Okay. I mean, of course your family is part [inaudible 00:21:00] all that kind of stuff to think about professionally. No one’s going to be able to control your career like you can control it. But you can have an influence on how other people see you and perceive you through the attitude and the aptitude that you demonstrate.
Justin Hastings: Yeah, I would much rather see somebody who is demonstrating that kind of potential and can then translate it into performance, versus somebody who’s got an amazing looking CV with loads of technical capabilities on it. You can learn those skills, what you can’t necessarily learn is personality and then the application of that personality. That for me is the most important thing, frankly.
Patty Guevarra: Right. While you were CHRO here, I know that you reduced our regretted attrition down from 17 to 11%.
Justin Hastings: It’s actually now below 10% [crosstalk 00:21:51]-
Patty Guevarra: Wow, congrats.
Justin Hastings: … as of last month. When I joined Experian North America in November 2015, I can’t remember exactly what it was, it was about 18%. 17 and a half, 18%. As of June. We’re in July now. As of June this year, 2019, our regretted turnover in North America, including our contact centers was 9.2.
Mike Delgado: Oh, wow.
Patty Guevarra: That’s really great. You can correct me if I’m wrong for this one too, but your bio said that your high performer attrition rate was under 6% now.
Justin Hastings: It is. Yes, it is. It’s about five and a half percent now.
Patty Guevarra: Those are really great numbers. Mike and I are actually reading a book called The Nine Lies About Leadership, and the very first lie is that people care about the companies they work for. It’s just the argument that they like the teams and the workplace rather than just the companies. You always hear, people don’t leave companies, they leave their managers. I think just from those rates you can tell people want to work at Experian, people want to be here. I want to know more about what you think makes Experian culture so [crosstalk 00:22:55]-
Justin Hastings: Yeah. I agree with you. I mean, the old cliche about people joining companies and leaving managers is well trodden, and I think to some extent it’s true, but I think it’s much more complex than that. People want to be attached to something that gives them meaning and gives them purpose. When I joined Experian almost seven years ago, in late 2012, I’d only ever had one interaction with Experian as a consumer, and it was when I was applying for a mortgage way, way back.
Justin Hastings: There was an alias, somebody who had my name, and our credit files had been mixed up. I was turned down for mortgage and I said to my broker, “I don’t understand this. I’ve got all this cash in the bank and I’ve got good standing, so what…” To cut a long story short, he said, “Go talk to Experian. There’s probably an issue they can help you with.” Anyway, I called up Experian and Experian, fortunately he did an amazing job in explaining what had happened and they explained there was this alias, somebody else who lived in London with my name, who had a court judgment against him. Anyway they cleared it up, I got the mortgage, and the rest is history.
Justin Hastings: I had one experience, it was good experience, but I only ever knew Experian as a credit reporting company like many people do, right? Like many people do. When I got the call about the UK job, fortunately, it was a headhunter who I knew and I had done some business with, and we had a good close relationship. She said, “Hey, there’s this job at Experian I think you’d be really well suited to. I think you’d be a great fit culturally. You should go talk to them.” My initial reaction was, “It’s just a credit checking company. I don’t want to go work for them.” She said, “Yeah, but much more besides. You should go talk to them. Just go and hear them out.” Anyway, I ended up having a number of discussions with Experian as many of us do, as we go through our interview processes. I met with Mark Wells, who’s the group HR director. I met with a certain Craig Boundy who-
Mike Delgado: Oh, you did back then.
Justin Hastings: … a few of us know. He was running the UK business at the time. I met with, Chris Callero for those of you who have been around the business for a long time, who was Kerry’s predecessor as COO, and I met with Don Robert, who’s just retired as the chairman. Everything I heard from all of those people was consistent around the culture and the leadership of this company. I remember thinking at the time, “These folks are either authentic or they’re just really well-rehearsed,” and you never quite know until you get into a company. Anyway, I decided to join the company and it’s the best decision professionally I’ve ever made. Honestly, this is the best company I’ve ever worked for, I’ll come back to why.
Justin Hastings: What I found was, everything they told me was authentic, right? This is seven years ago, and those of you who have been around the company for that period of time, or even longer, you know how much better our culture has got even since then. But it was the culture that sold me then. It was the culture that sold me then. Where we are now is, in that period of time we’ve repositioned our brand, and we have a much, much clearer purpose now. Creating a better tomorrow, empowering opportunities. I think that’s a really easy thing for people to get behind emotionally.
Justin Hastings: What we’ve been able to do, I think more and more over that period of time, even since we re-branded is, we’re seeing more of the operation of our business, the development of products, obviously and closely oriented to that brand promise, creating a better tomorrow and driving inclusion for millions and millions of consumers. Whether it’s here in the US or in other parts of the world, Experian Boost being an obvious example, right? We don’t need to go into that in any more detail. But if anybody is listening and you haven’t Boosted your score, Craig would tell me off if I didn’t say, “Go Boost your score.”
Justin Hastings: Another example. Clarity Services, right? We make an acquisition in a business, which by the way is a phenomenal business that is helping to open up financial inclusion for tens of millions of the underserved historically in the US. I know now we’re doing similar things in other parts of the world, whether it’s in Asia or in the UK, in [inaudible 00:27:06] or elsewhere [inaudible 00:27:06] Bureau, another example, right? There are lots of examples of where, I think, our people can see our products aligning directly with our purpose, and that’s one of the reasons why I think people stay.
Justin Hastings: Another reason, people want to be on a winning team, right? People absolutely want to be on a winning team, because you like that sense of success. We’re fortunate that… Well we’re not fortunate because it’s not by luck. We’re fortunate because we have a clear strategy and good execution. We’re fortunate that we have a business that has great momentum behind it. In most parts of the world, frankly, and in pretty much every geography, and in every part of our portfolio, there is opportunity. I think people see that we’re on a winning team, but there’s so much more to go after. You think progress, momentum, a purpose that people can get behind and feel personal meaning with, and a culture that underpins that which is all about driving innovation and valuing every single person that works for the company. That’s a winning formula. That’s one of the core reasons why our attrition has gone from 18 to less than 10.
Patty Guevarra: That’s so good.
Mike Delgado: I’ll say the culture here has just been like a dramatic shift. I joined Experian about nine years ago and I’ll say that when Craig came aboard there was a really positive shift. Then over the last, I’ll just say three to four years, there’s been even a bigger shift towards diversity and inclusion, ERGs, employees. We’re breaking out of our silos and joining up with other business units all the time through volunteer activities and the ERG, and the club. I see so many cool things happening in Experian, but it wasn’t like that going back nine years. You came on, I think about four years ago?
Justin Hastings: Four years ago, yeah.
Mike Delgado: Tell us about leaving the UK, your decision to go, “Okay, I’m going to go to the US.” Tell us about that decision, and then when you came on board here, your thoughts on, “Okay, how do I begin to make this cultural shift?” Because there has been a dramatic shift.
Justin Hastings: Sure. Yeah. I guess two distinct parts of that. The moving across from the UK, there were a couple of dimensions to that. One professional, one personal, right? Professional part was really easy. I’ve been the UK, Experian UK, for three years. Second largest region in revenue terms, the obvious next step professionally inside Experian was to come to the US the biggest region, about three times the size in revenue and larger employee base. Professionally it felt like an obvious progression for me personally. Now at the time my wife was pregnant with our first child. The day we moved to the US it was November the 14th, 2015. It was just before Thanksgiving. Most airlines have a policy where if you’re greater than 32 weeks pregnant, you can’t travel. My wife was 31 weeks and four days pregnant when we moved here.
Mike Delgado: Oh, my word Justin.
Justin Hastings: I will never forget those stats because she wouldn’t have allowed me to [inaudible 00:30:19].
Patty Guevarra: You’ve been doing [inaudible 00:30:20]?
Justin Hastings: No, it wasn’t like I forced her to come over, although she sometimes tells me I did. But, it was clearly a joint decision, and I think most good decision in marriages are joint. But she made some massive sacrifices, right? In the very short time she came across, we had no healthcare, right? We had no medical support. We had no OB, no… none of that. We didn’t even have a booking in a hospital for the birth, right? We had to… For anybody who has to navigate the US healthcare system, it’s a bit different from the UK, right? It’s pretty complex. We had to manage that, and that was a really stressful time. She left all of her support network behind, her family, well both of our families. Her friends, many of whom either had kids or were giving birth around about the same time.
Justin Hastings: You give up all of that security blanket. Whereas for me it was easy, relatively because I was coming from Experian in the UK, I know the company. I arrive in the US, I have relationships with a number of people who are already… It’s kind of, you have a headstart. Naturally, because of my mentality, I like to throw myself into things. I like to put pressure on myself-
Patty Guevarra: [crosstalk 00:31:34] cliff.
Mike Delgado: [crosstalk 00:31:35] uncomfortable.
Justin Hastings: I threw myself into my work, and I didn’t put enough focus on the personal side of it. It’s all good, and we have two wonderfully healthy children now, both of whom were born here, but I got the balance wrong in the initial stages here. That’s the personal journey. It was professionally easy, personally very difficult, and I underestimated how difficult it would be. But anyway, fast forward four years, and we love being here, all of us.
Justin Hastings: The culture. When I first arrived here, one of the first things I noticed was, we had some very, very capable talent here. Some very capable leaders, but it felt quite fragmented from the point of view of businesses not necessarily collaborating effectively with each other, right? You have people just working in their stove pipes. Craig’s right by the way, I know that Craig doesn’t have an orientation towards restructuring and reorganizing businesses, because frankly what makes businesses tick is behavior, not structure. I mean, there is no such thing as a perfect organizational structure. You change from one dimension to another, and you solve a bunch of problems, you probably create a whole bunch of different problems. But what you can do is you can change the way that people operate through management behavior.
Justin Hastings: We wanted to be quite subtle about driving the collaboration and this overtime, this sense of inclusion, in North America through a shift in tone, through a shift in rhetoric, and through, ultimately, a shift in behavior as well. It’s a little bit like we’re in Experian, where it’s not about putting a big program in place. It’s about setting out an ambition, talking about it, putting a few things in place, lighting some fires and then seeing that progress over time. That’s what we did with building out the culture. Charles Chung, when he was here, we sat together and we came up with The Power of YOU, it’s a strapline and this notion of bringing your whole self to work, but we weren’t quite sure exactly what we wanted to do, but we just wanted to create this sense of something that brought us all together emotionally.
Justin Hastings: Now, what we did know was that we wanted to drive greater momentum in business performance. How do you do that? You put more great products out into the market as quickly as you can, and quicker than your competition, and better than your competition. That then fuels the growth and the momentum. It’s exactly what we see now if you look at where our business is today. We thought, “Well, from a cultural perspective, what’s going to help to underpin that? We want more collaboration between businesses, and we want more people to feel like their ideas count.” We, very deliberately, didn’t focus on diversity as much as we focused on inclusion, and of course the two are interlinked, right? But, you see companies who focus on diversity and then they end up doing some potentially goofy things, right?
Justin Hastings: You see companies who say, “Hey, by date X we want to have 40% of our executives female.” Okay, good intention, but you run the risk of running unintended outcomes if you try and drive those kinds of targets. By the way, what ultimately does that achieve other than maybe the balance in gender, but does it help your business really to succeed other than maybe beyond the headline? That’s important to us. We want to continue to make sure we have the right level of diversity in our employee population at every single level. But more important than that, we want a culture where everybody feels like their voice counts, where regardless of your gender, your sexual orientation, the color of your skin, your religious beliefs, your social background, your educational level, none of that should matter. What should matter is your ability, your passion, your creativity. When people feel like those things are valued and those things are important, they’re more likely to express them. When people express those things, we’re going to make progress, right? It’s as a simple as that.
Justin Hastings: Not the only thing, but one of the things we decided to do was put these ERGs in place just to reinforce that, and to give the strongest sense of community. But there was a whole bunch of stuff we did before that, and some of you, I’m sure, will be familiar with some of the things that we did. The Power of YOU, and [inaudible 00:36:18] for the Experian campaign for example, that was one of the early things that we did, and we’re still doing it. It still continues to have a good impact. Bringing these intentions to life with personal stories where people can expose themselves and feel comfortable enough that they can talk about themselves truthfully and their own experiences and their own stories. Then relate that to why being a part of Experian means something to them, that gets people’s emotions attached to the company as well as some of the stuff we talked about with Brian on purpose.
Justin Hastings: Then from that we started to build a bit of momentum, and then we decided, “Hey, it’s time now to put some more formal structures in like the clubs and the ERGs. But it was a slow and deliberate burn. I think if we’d gone out initially and said, “Hey, we want to focus on inclusion, we’re going to build something ERGs,” people would have felt that was probably a little bit inauthentic. I think we’ve managed to do it in a way which feels like it’s been more organic.
Mike Delgado: Yeah. I feel that way. I feel like it’s very employee-led. A lot of clubs.
Justin Hastings: Exactly. I talked about lighting a few fires, and that’s exactly what I mean, you need to do this from two dimensions, right? You need to have the leadership tone set from the top of the organization, and we have that here. You hear it from Brian, you hear from Craig, you hear from all of the North America exec. You hear it from… Pretty much every exec across the company feels this is important. But what we’ve also been able to do is, we’ve been able to light fires and have this being built up from the employee base itself.
Justin Hastings: The one thing I did on the ERGs was I personally made phone calls initially to the people who became the sponsors of ERGs, right? I said, “Hey, listen, we want to do this stuff. It’s really important. This is why it’s important. This is what we’re trying to do with it, and I would personally love you to be a figurehead for this, and this is the support we’ll give you.” At the time it was seven, now we have 8 ERGs. It was seven at the time. Every single person said, “Of course I’d love to do this.” Nobody said, “I’m not sure.” Everyone said, “This is a great thing to do, and I would love to put my name to it.”
Justin Hastings: Then we stood back, all right? We let them grow. We let them put fuel on their own fires and we can now see the impact they’re all having. I mean, even Aspire, which is the most recent one that we launched only a few months ago. That’s already having a big impact, right? It doesn’t take much just to create a little bit of a catalyst, and then people will just get behind it because they care about this company, right, and they care about the culture they’re building. You give people the permission, you give people the encouragement and they’ll just run after it. That’s the sort of people we have here.
Patty Guevarra: Yeah, that’s a really good point because like you said, you see a lot of companies in the headlines where it’s like, “Oh, first female C-Suite executive or whatever.” But then it’s like, “What else are you doing? What else is happening over there?” I think here, being heavily involved in the Asian-American ERG, and even just attending employee events, you see that everything is so driven by the people who want to put these things on and want to share their culture with us and everything. I’ve never experienced this at any other workplace.
Justin Hastings: Yeah, I completely agree. I genuinely see a link between taking that kind of approach and seeing some of the innovation that we’re seeing in some of our products now. You’ve heard Craig and others say, “Five years ago, we couldn’t have done Boost, right? Because we weren’t mature enough as a business. We didn’t have that [inaudible 00:39:47] spirit. One of the things I think that ERGs, particularly, but more broadly the Power of YOU, has been able to do is, it’s created more and more connections right across the organization. Communities coming together, understanding each other more, building trust, but in camaraderie. That I think has really helped to cement [inaudible 00:40:10], some of those business relationships that people have and collaborating between business lines. It’s no surprise that we’ve been doing all this work around the culture and we’ve launched the ERGs and our level of innovation and collaboration has increased as well. The two are absolutely linked, without doubt.
Patty Guevarra: We’re running on about 15 minutes, so we’re going to be coming down to our last few questions. Do you have advice for people at Experian who are maybe just starting out their careers?
Justin Hastings: I would probably repeat myself a little bit, so if I do forgive me, but it’s probably appropriate for those who are starting out their careers at Experian, or frankly anywhere else to be honest. If you have a clear view of what you want to do, that’s a good thing. If you don’t have a clear view of what you want to do, that’s a good thing too, right? For those who do have a clear view or think they have a clear view, don’t be too rigid about it, all right? Because there are lots of things at the outset of your career that you don’t know, right? There are lots of things when you’ve hit 20, 25 years of your career, like pretty much where I am now, that you still don’t know.
Justin Hastings: Looking back today from where I am now to how I thought then, I had no clue and I would never have predicted I’d be doing the sort of job now that I’m doing. Either the discipline or the location or the company, right? I think the biggest single piece of advice is be open-minded. Don’t shut your mind down to anything because there are always opportunities that you hadn’t considered that you maybe thought you weren’t capable of, that you didn’t think would come along. Grasp the opportunities, right? Particularly in the early stage of your career. Like I said earlier, be the one who puts your hand up, do the projects. If it means investing a bit more time and effort, that’s a good thing, right? Because it will pay dividends later. It absolutely will. Don’t have too prescriptive of you in your mind about what you think your career looks like or should look like going forward.
Justin Hastings: Engage well with other people because to be honest, the single biggest thing that helps, I think, the great leaders stand out is their human touch, right? Really good leaders create followership. They have high levels of empathy and of emotional intelligence. To be honest, I mean, most of us who think about our social circumstances or our family circumstances, sometimes you drive based on logic and rational thinking. Oftentimes you engage people through emotion, right? You have to do both of course in business and frankly in personal life as well. But if you have a good emotional quotient, that will stand you in really good stead. Learn and finesse your ability to engage effectively with other people as well as keeping your career options open, and not being too closed in the way you think about it.
Justin Hastings: Then, if you’re anything like me, push yourself hard, right? Get yourself to those positions where you feel a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe not to the extent that you’re on the edge of the cliff, but maybe you can see the ocean. Maybe that’s close enough for you. But I think it’s a good thing. To be honest, even now, having self doubt, I think, is a good thing in any walk of life. I still wake up in the mornings oftentimes now thinking, “Am I really capable of doing what I think I’m going to need to do today?” That’s not a bad thing necessarily. If you walk into work everyday thinking, “I’m going to coast this.” You’re probably doing yourself a disservice, and you’re probably doing the people around you a disservice as well. I think that’s probably the nuggets I would give people.
Mike Delgado: That’s good. I want to ask, Justin, you’re probably the most visible C-suite executive. I see you all the time-
Patty Guevarra: Just walking around [crosstalk 00:44:18]-
Mike Delgado: Walking the halls, talking to people. You’re very good at building relationships, and you’re also very present. I joke with Patty and Jerry, like, “If I don’t see Justin, I get worried. Why is he not walking around? [crosstalk 00:44:37]-
Justin Hastings: I’m probably sick, right? I’m probably…
Patty Guevarra: It’s funny because you’re officially the first C-suite exec I talked to, and you probably don’t even remember. You just walked up to me, you’re like, “Doing good.” I was like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “It’s a C-suite exec. I can’t believe he just stopped and asked me how I was.”
Mike Delgado: But, can you talk a little bit about your practice of building relationships and why you’re out and about all the time?
Justin Hastings: Yeah. There are probably a couple of reasons, at least, why I do that. One is, I think it’s important to be accessible, and I think it’s important to have visibility across the organization. It’s a lot easier obviously for me here in Costa Mesa, because it’s where I spend most of my time. But even when I’m in Schaumburg or Allen or Austin or elsewhere, I will try and do the same sort of thing while I’m there. Obviously I know fewer people, but at least being seen and being visible and going up to random people and saying, “Hi, how are you doing? What are you doing?” Yeah. I hope it’s engaging for those people and not intimidating. It shouldn’t be, because we’re all just human beings, with flesh and blood. Just because I sit on the fourth floor of Costa Mesa at the moment until the end of this [inaudible 00:45:40] doesn’t mean I’m any different from anyone else, right? Just that ongoing desire to want to be seen and to be accessible and to talk to people around the organization, I think, is really important.
Justin Hastings: I also, I guess from a slightly more selfish perspective, I like to walk and think. Anybody who sees me on a conference call in my office, I generally stand up and walk around. It’s just that, I think better or I articulate better when I’m on my feet.”
Patty Guevarra: Mike too.
Mike Delgado: I walk.
Justin Hastings: It’s not an uncommon thing. I use those opportunities to walk around the campus here, for example, to think about stuff, right? “What am I doing in my next meeting? How do I need to approach it? What are the angles I want to take?” By the way, as I’m doing that, I go have informal conversations with people along the way as well. But we’re also quite a distributed team. My team are all over the campus here, and so I want to go out and see them. I shouldn’t just sit in my office waiting for them to come to see me. Although, I think, most people who either are on the fourth floor or have been on the fourth floor genuinely feel that this open door thing is more than just a metaphor. But the best way to demonstrate that is get out your office, right? Open the door and get out of it yourself, right? Rather than wait for people to come to try and push on your door.
Justin Hastings: It’s a combination of those things, which is why it’s important to me. I’ve always liked to just spend time circulating around any business that I’ve been in. If you go back 10 or 15 years, actually, when I was at British Telecom before I moved on to my next company from there, I used to have this reputation of being the guy who walked around looking miserable all the time.
Mike Delgado: Really?
Justin Hastings: Because, and this is before, obviously we had more paper and stuff, I used to walk around with files of stuff and I’d always be concentrating on something, and when I concentrate I frown. People would say, “He just looks pissed off,” right? Now I try to at least smile a bit more than I used to, and I don’t carry some of this crap around with me. Both of those things probably helped.
Mike Delgado: That’s so funny. I’m the same way. I frown [crosstalk 00:47:44]-
Justin Hastings: I’m not a miserable person, by the way. I’m certainly not a miserable person.
Patty Guevarra: I have one more question and then I’ll let Mike [inaudible 00:47:50] up here. But, I’m in the habit of asking more of our leaders this every episode about, what’s next for you? Broad question, I know, and I know a lot of people say, “There are stages where we really don’t know what’s next,” but you’re C-suite, I feel like that’s pretty much end goal for a lot of people. How about for you?
Justin Hastings: Well, it may actually be nice to have a one-to-one with one of my team, I guess that’s-
Mike Delgado: A safe answer.
Justin Hastings: I guess that’s not the answer to the question you want, but it buys me some time? I should get up and walk around and think.
Mike Delgado: I guess it’s a uncomfortable… What’s that next uncomfortable thing you’ve been doing?
Justin Hastings: It’s a really good question. I’m not quite sure frankly. Now, what I am sure about is the, and we’ve talked about some of this, right? We’ve made incredible progress in Experian and in Experian North America over the last four years or so. I’m really proud of what we’re building here. We’re nowhere near complete yet. We’re nowhere near complete yet. I don’t know what the end game looks like, and to be honest, I’m not sure anybody does, because by the time you get to where you think you’re going to be, the goal posts have changed anyway. But I’m really excited and really committed to continuing to build the culture here in North America. I want it to be a beacon for other companies. We’re starting to get that way, but we’re just scratching the surface now.
Justin Hastings: I’d like for us to be up there with the best companies. The best brands, and the best companies from a cultural perspective. We’ve got a long way to go on that, but that’s an ambition that I have for us, and I want to be a part of helping to build that, and hopefully bring some personal leadership to myself. What that means for me in professional terms, I don’t know. I love what I’m doing. I should probably say this is the best job I’ve ever had. In reality, it’s probably the second best job I’ve ever had because the best job I ever had was spending three weeks being a court coverer at Wimbledon [crosstalk 00:49:50]-
Patty Guevarra: Oh, so cool.
Justin Hastings: I don’t think I’ll ever get a job that was more enjoyable than that, but from a career perspective, this is the best role I’ve ever had. The best company I’ve ever worked for, the best region I’ve been in. I find it hard to see too far beyond what we’re doing now other than doing more of what we’re doing and doing it even better.
Patty Guevarra: That’s a good place to be.
Mike Delgado: Yeah. Excellent.
Patty Guevarra: We hope you enjoyed today’s episode of Level Up.
Mike Delgado: If you’d like to see a summary of today’s show, you can go to the Experian blog. The short URL is just ex.pn/levelup.
Patty Guevarra: If you found any of the information today helpful, please consider supporting us by hitting Subscribe or leaving us a review. Thanks for dropping in and giving us a lesson and we hope to see you again for our next episode.