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E185 | How purpose can help you understand and overcome your struggle with Bobby Herrera

Is your business founded on a clear purpose? Bobby Herrera, author of The Gift of Struggle, founded Populus Group in 2002, a company set up to help organisations manage their non-permanent employees. But what does purpose have to do with HR?

Bobby is passionate about helping people understand and overcome their struggle. He’s a firm believer that by aligning yourself and your company around your purpose can have a profound impact on you, the people around you, and the people your organisation touches. 

What’s interesting about Bobby is that he’s so driven by his purpose, that even though he didn’t share his origin story with his employees for over 10 years, he was so inspirational the business still reached $100 million turnover in those first 10 years. However, after sharing his origin story, they added another $500 million in the next 10 years. 

That’s the power of purpose right there. 

So what is Bobby’s origin story? You’ll have to listen to find out. 

Don’t miss Bobby on this week’s episode also shares the three pillars he’s built his business on, and why his organisation will go out of their way to back the underdog and solve problems for people. 

On today’s podcast:

  • Discovering his purpose 
  • Populus Group
  • The bus encounter 
  • How to recruit great staff
  • Working Genius


The Gift of Struggle with Bobby Herrera

Bobby Herrara, President of Populus Group and author of The Gift of Struggle, is a self-proclaimed student of the struggle:

“I believe that struggle is the most authentic form of progress we will ever have. And without that, we don’t learn the meaningful things that matter. Sure, there are things that I wish I would have learned earlier and all that kind of stuff. But there’s no sense in investing a whole lot of time in that. I think who we become is based on what we went through.”

He’s also a man who always does his best to answer the question – who am I becoming?

“[What’s] great for me is that I’m able to evolve towards generosity, humility, wisdom, and the things that matter, and being someone that I want my children to become, that’s who I am at my core.”

Discovering his purpose 

But to get to know why Bobby is who he is today and why he takes such joy in helping others find better ways to make their story more significant and impactful, you have to go back to the beginning to find out where he’s come from – the proverbial bottom (his own words). 

The son of Mexican immigrants – the 11th child out of 13, Bobby’s story started when he was 17 years old on a bus. Since then he’s had military experience and experience in the corporate world. 

He founded his community – Populus Group in 2002, growing the business to $100 million turnover in the first 10 years, and $500 million in the subsequent 10 years. 

What makes it so successful? 

“At our core we believe everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed. And I built my community around that core belief. It’s embedded in everything that we do, and [what’s] great for me is that it lasts a lot longer than I do.”

Populus Group

But just what does Populus Group do?

Large organisations, says Bobby, have a hard enough time managing their full time employee population. Managing their non-permanent employees can be even tougher. Populus Group helps organisations better manage their non permanent workforce, making it easier, more economical, and all round much simpler to employ contractors. 

“Most people are surprised how much money organisations spend on an annual basis through non permanent labour, it’s significant, and it’s only getting more significant. What we used to think was the war for talent pales in comparison to what we’re going through now.”

The bus encounter 

So why did he start the business? 

It all began with an encounter on a bus when Bobby was 17 years old. His family didn’t have a huge amount of money and Bobby’s football team had just won their game and everyone was going out to dinner to celebrate. Bobby couldn’t go. A father of one of his team mate’s took him to one side:

“He said something to me that I will always remember: Bobby, it would make me very happy if you would allow me to buy you boys dinner, so you can join the rest of the team. Nobody else has to know. All you have to do to thank me is do the same thing for another great kid, just like you in the future.”

Of course 17 year old Bobby didn’t know what his future held in store, but that feeling of gratitude, that this successful businessman, this white man had seen a brown boy (Bobby’s words), completely turned his whole worldview upside down. 

One kind act taught him how wrong his narrative about the world was. This man taught him, in one fell swoop, about the single most important part of leadership, that is, to see and encourage potential. 

“When I stepped off the bus, although I had no idea what I was going to do, I knew why. Like, I would somehow figure out a way to create something that would allow me to pay forward that kind act to other kids like me who were born on the wrong side of the opportunity divide.”

Bobby refers to this moment as the flap of the butterfly wings that became his invisible force that drove him to start his community, Populus Group. 

How to recruit great staff

So how does a recruitment organisation recruit their own staff?

“I think the organisations that are most intentional about their culture and about how they want to build their community, I think they do three things better than anyone. They select well, they welcome well, and they develop well.”

What does that look like?

Well, says Bobby, that depends on what your definition is of the difference between selection and hiring? Between welcoming and onboarding? Between development and training?

All of these mean the same thing in essence, but sit on different sides of the spectrum – and as well intended as leaders are, most people end up hiring, onboarding and training, rather than selecting, welcoming and onboarding. 

“And here’s what I mean, in English. For me, selection is as simple as our very symbolic gesture that we do when we interact with a potential employee. In that first interaction we symbolically take their resume and we flip it over. Because we’re more interested on the back of the resume than we are on the front.”

Bobby says he’s more interested in what someone believes, what drives those beliefs, who they are and who they are becoming than what they’ve included on their CV. They spend the first two interactions with every potential new employee getting to know them before they even begin to talk about the front of the resume. 

Then, during the welcome, before the new employee does any work, they engulf them in the Populus Group culture. They have them get to know their colleagues to help reduce stress and anxiety around starting the new role. 

“People leave after their first week wondering, oh my gosh, did I make the right choice? Well let’s give them visibility to who we are in our stories. And we do that for everyone that joins our community. They know very quickly whether or not they’re going to align with our purpose.”

And when it comes to hiring people, Bobby wants to make sure that every hire raises the team average.

Working Genius

Bobby draws heavily on Patrick Lencioni’s new work, Working Genius, a tool that helps people better understand the gifts that they bring to work, for example, the things that give them joy and the things that bring out their frustrations. He wants his people to understand how they’re wired and how they can best contribute. 

“Working Genius helps us better position people around interesting projects, where it drives engagement and it helps them do things that they enjoy doing. Because there’s probably things that they don’t like doing, that someone else loves doing. So it’s just been a really wonderful way for us to look at the whole organisation around their gifts. And also what drives them crazy. And edit accordingly.

As a leader, says Bobby, you have two very important decisions that you have to make – aside from purpose and driving the culture. The two biggest decisions leaders make is who they select to join the team, and who they allow to remain on the team. 

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