Insights from a CHRO: Consumer Reports’ Rafael Pérez

Getting to lead CR's people strategy by advancing an innovative, diverse workforce was a “dream come true."
By: | February 26, 2020 • 3 min read

When Rafael Pérez landed his first HR job, at Lockheed Martin, he celebrated by buying a brand-new car: a 1997 Dodge Stratus ES, black with gray interiors. Eight years later, when he and his wife needed a car seat and extra room to accommodate their growing family, the choice was a Buick Enclave.

For the cars and the car seat, he went back to a trusted resource that had fueled his passion for cars when he was growing up in Puerto Rico and shaped his ideas of how to get value for his money: Consumer Reports.

In November, he became CHRO at that nonprofit organization, after a career that has also spanned consumer and financial services at Nestlé Waters and American Express, and strategic-marketing-analytics consulting at start-up Analytic Partners. When he got the opportunity to lead CR’s people strategy for its 500 employees by advancing an innovative and diverse workforce committed to CR’s mission, he says it was a “dream come true.”

HRE: How does your personal experience with CR fit into your new role?

Pérez: I’ve always had a very personal connection to not only the brand but also the mission. When I look at different milestones in my life journey, I never realized until I came across the opportunity at CR just how present it was in the background. CR was there for me and my family in those special moments [of major life purchases]. The more I reflected on what I wanted to do next, it really spoke to me to have the opportunity and this broader remit that allows me to draw from different [career] experiences and, at the same time, do it in a place with a social mission that is very connected to who I am and what my life trajectory is.

Also see: Eva Sage-Gavin: The 5 elements of responsible leadership

CR also shaped my thinking around the idea of ratings—recognizing that, in general, they are imperfect, that there are trade-offs and there are multiple ways in which one could examine the performance of a thing. Down the road, it shaped my thinking around [how] human performance could be viewed and evaluated through various different lenses to get to an honest picture of what is great in a performance and where there are tradeoffs and things that aren’t quite perfect.

HRE: What sparked your interest in HR to begin with?

Pérez: I’ve always been attracted to puzzles. When I came across the curriculum of industrial labor relations, I very quickly found that it really is about solving for the entire ecosystem that surrounds human beings in the world of work. So that means that practitioners such as myself weave together thoughts, ideas and solutions that run the gamut from organizational behavior to labor economics to statistics to collective bargaining and so on. That was what was attractive to me because it’s my job to work within and through that complexity to arrive at value added for people and organizations.

HRE: What HR trends do you see developing in the coming years?

Pérez: HR is really blossoming as a truly value-added, indispensable part of the business. That has meant we are now drawing from different disciplines to shape the work that we do.

One thing that comes to mind is design thinking, which has been helpful in the HR profession in thinking about employees as customers. We want to map out the journey [of] those experiences we want [employees] to have along the way. It’s been a very exciting trend to see design thinking emerging as a critical skill [and as an] incredible practice for the HR profession.

Related: Pivoting, questioning and always learning: Amy Cappellanti-Wolf

The other one is leveraging technology and all that comes with it. There’s a lot of chatter these days around AI [and] blockchain. The more I get to study those things, the more excited I get. There are some very real possibilities to leverage those technologies to not only create efficiencies [but] actually improve how we enable the performance and culture of the organization. One example of bringing that to life is self-serve. Nowadays, HR is better positioned to be a special adviser to the business because there is technology that allows us to provide very quick answers and very quick solutions to employees and leaders by leveraging AI. We can personalize the solutions delivery according to need. We can also get information solutions to people faster than relying on manual process. And not only will it enhance the employee experience but it will also enhance our effectiveness.

There is emerging research on the potential of blockchain in terms of monitoring payment transactions. As we go further into an era of the gig economy, there is going to be greater variation in terms of who gets paid, what amount and when, and those windows sometimes are shorter and there are multiple windows. That complexity would play well with a solution like blockchain because it would allow employers to very seamlessly execute transactions in a way that has excellence, quality and that doesn’t disrupt the fast flow of an organization.

On the subject of emerging trends, there is a healthy watch out for all of us in the profession [to ensure] that we never lose sight of getting the fundamentals right. Just because some solution is a new shiny object will not always mean it is relevant or useful to this particular business at this point in time.

[In addition to the fundamentals, we need to be] ensuring that whatever we do anchors to the strategy of the organization and connects to what the needs are. We will always have an obligation to ensure that that connection exists. In a lot of cases it won’t exist and that’s OK, so long as we have put in the intellectual due diligence to ensure that are marrying the right solutions in the right way to the right organizational objectives.

I think that the better we get at being that voice of making sure we connect to get those things right will allow us to be more credible because we will be focusing on the vital few that matter—as opposed to throwing into the organization things that might or might not work. We’ll do the careful but quick thinking upfront so that we don’t derail a little bit of that performance and culture that we are tasked with driving.

Maura Ciccarelli is freelance writer based in Southeastern Pennsylvania. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.