Consider what happens when someone asks us what tomorrow’s weather will be like, Nancy Hauge said.
Back in 2005, we would have Googled it on our computer. By 2015, we would check our smartphone. Today? We can say, “Alexa . . .” And never lose eye contact with the other person.
“Now think about that from a business perspective,” Hauge said. “People who have fingers on the keyboard, looking up information, transferring stuff from one spreadsheet to another can now hand over those tasks to the bots. And what do humans get to do? They get to engage with other humans, solve real problems, create more things.”
Hauge is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Automation Anywhere, the leader in Enterprise RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and, in her words, “the fastest-growing enterprise software company on earth.” The Silicon Valley juggernaut makes work human by automating mundane business processes.
For Hauge, more human interactions through a greater dependence on technology isn’t a paradoxical concept.
“In the future, humans will only do the work that only humans can do,” said Hauge, a veteran of five IPOs. “Only a human can care. A bot can do mundane tasks through algorithms. It will be great for humans because they can do more engaging work.”
Hauge is a comedian by training. So, it should be no surprise that she peppers conversations with a self-deprecating wit. (“I’m officially two years older than God now.”) She’s also quick to admit her lack of in-depth technical knowledge. But spend a moment with Hauge’s LinkedIn profile. You’ll rarely find a business leader with so many glowing endorsements about their ability to assemble talented teams and put people in positions that play to their strengths.
Hauge also is a prime example of the expanding influence of CHROs at forward-thinking companies and the role of communication in making those brands successful.
“Communication in a company that’s growing as rapidly as we are is one of the hardest things,” she said. “It’s making certain people aren’t feeling like they’re a cycle behind. People need to feel like they’re not alone, and they’re part of this larger thing. You need to provide real-time information that comes directly to them. We have people who won’t even look at email anymore. If it doesn’t come to them on their phone looking like a text or something similar, they’re not going to engage with it.”
Hauge’s story – and she’s sticking to it – is that her career was entirely unplanned, totally serendipitous and that she has few actual skills. (“I’m just tap dancing as fast as I can.”) The Chicago native started out wanting to write sitcoms and do stand-up. Her husband was a singer and actor, and together they did the starving artists thing in New York City.
“But eventually somebody had to get a real job, and I lost the toss,” Hauge said.
That’s when she discovered something fascinating. Her background was the perfect training for a business career – especially in the disrupt-the-world culture of Silicon Valley. It all comes down two words that Hauge said is the mantra of improvisation:
Yes, and . . .
“The first thing you learn in improvisation is collaboration and good listening,” Hauge said. “I’m not going to be able to pick up on what you’re doing if I’m not looking at you and listening. Then I can jump in and say, ‘Yes, and . . .’ In improv, you’ll get your turn. So, if somebody has a good idea, you don’t find the reasons why it’s wrong. It takes courage to make new ideas happen. Take a leap of faith by saying, ‘Yes, and how would we do that?’”
Automation Anywhere is on the cutting edge of new ideas by focusing on the tangible applications of the machine learning trend. Simply put, the company is giving repetitive tasks currently done by humans to the bots.
Artificial Intelligence was a hot topic of conversation – as well as a palatable source of trepidation – at the recent Society for Human Resource Management conference. But Hauge has a different view.
“If you have a job that can be fully automated, you’ve been obsolete for a long time,” she said. “Shame on the people who didn’t tell you. But there are very few jobs that can be fully automated.”
What automation can do is rid workers of monotonous tasks and free them up for more fulfilling projects, Hauge said.
On her team, an employee used to spend several hours every Monday going through various HR systems to produce an accurate headcount – an ever-changing number at the booming company. Now, a bot does that process work, making time for the person to be a “fun-gineer” who creates health and tension-defusing programs that reduce workplace stress.
“Or think about an insurance company that might have a whole bunch of people who just make sure that claim forms are filled out correctly,” she added. “A bot could do that and enable humans to spend more time engaging customers who need help.”
In the Automation Anywhere workplace, Hauge emphasizes the human part of HR.
This generation of workers wants – and expects – a different level of respect, she said.
“For the first time, it really is about the humans,” Hauge added. “By the way, I’ve always hated the term ‘Human Resources’ because it makes it sounds like people are natural gas. Before I retire, I’m renaming this function.”
Position: Chief Human Resources Officer at Automation Anywhere, which reached unicorn status in 2018 with a Series A funding round that raised $550 million and gave the company a $2.6 billion valuation.
Home: San Jose and Wilmington, N.C.
Family: Husband Kem Hauge, a composer; son Andy; daughter-in-law Ginger; grandchildren Drew (11) and Charlotte (9)
Career: Hauge’s extensive career experience includes serving as the founding Vice President of People at Noah’s New York Bagels, the Vice President of Human Resources for the Gymboree Corporation, and a decade in senior management positions at Sun Microsystems
Honors: 2014 “Stevie Awards” winner for Women in High Tech; named by Silicon Valley Business Journal as one of “100 Women of Influence” in Silicon Valley in 2015
Favorite Movie: “I love ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ because I’m an optimist. But my favorite Christmas movie is ‘Die Hard.’ It’s not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls off Nakatomi Tower.”
Favorite TV Show: “Schitt’s Creek”
Favorite App on Her Phone: “I just got my grandson his own phone. So, my favorite app is messaging because he’s texting me like six times a day telling me how much he loves me.”
Fun Fact about Nancy: “I took a year of French cooking classes in the ’70s and would still like to have my own restaurant.”
Guiding Philosophy: “If I can see the punch line, I’ll see the solution. I need to be irreverent about everything. My default is humor. If there’s something that I can’t make a joke about, then you know it’s serious.”
Superpower She Wished She Had: Time travel. “There are things I wish I had seen first-hand in the past. But I couldn’t change anything because if I did, I wouldn’t have my grandchildren.”
Five Questions with Nancy
Just how fast is Automation Anywhere growing?
“We’ve added over 1,000 people so far this year, and we’ll add another 1,000 before the year is done. I tell everybody that this is the ultimate Silicon Valley rocket ship experience. When I started at Sun Microsystems, they were doing a $1 million a month in revenue. I left 10 years later when they were doing $1 million every two hours. That was a remarkable ride. This is bigger, faster, more thrilling, and more terrifying. You feel like you’re hurtling through the darkness of space, and you’re only getting glimpses of the future because you’re traveling faster than light. We’re creating technology that will change people’s lives for the better for generations to come.”
Why has the Chief Human Resource Officer role become so important?
“Lots of reasons. First, we have virtually zero unemployment in knowledge-based work. When you have such a limited pool of talent, it becomes very important that people stay with you by reducing turnover. Then we’ve had the Millennial contribution, and that generation wants a more integrated work-life with a focus on wellness and health. Finally, we have this gig economy where we’re defining work differently. So, suddenly, the human side of HR is incredibly important.”
How does communication fit into this evolving workplace?
“Workers today, especially Millennials, believe in the democratization of information. They don’t believe in hierarchical information where one tier gets to know this, and another tier gets to know something less. That’s why we have Dynamic Signal. It puts real-time, transparent information that everyone wants directly in their pocket on their smartphone. We’re thinking about every human. We want them to know what’s going on around the globe, understand our customers, and understand each other. We think it makes for a better workplace. Dynamic Signal exactly matches what people want today.”
How are you using Dynamic Signal?
“We call it ‘Team Anywhere’ because you have information, anywhere, anytime, anyplace you are, and it’s a play on our brand. Dynamic Signal also makes certain that we’re giving the world only the information it’s appropriate to have. We can allow people to share some information, but we don’t allow them to broadcast other things. We say, ‘Sure, we trust you with this information, but this is not for public consumption.’ For a company that’s trying to prepare to go public, you have to make sure that you’re communicating in the right ways.”
Have people embraced it?
“So much so that recently I was chatting with one of our board members about some piece of information. And he said, ‘Did you put that on Team Anywhere?’ The fact that a board member could refer to our internal communication vehicle was remarkable and demonstrated the importance of Team Anywhere.”