Diversity and sustainability: Is Warren Buffett behind the times?
Why won’t the Oracle of Omaha declare workforce diversity efforts?
Unleash Your PeopleHow do you respond fast enough to changing circumstances and company priorities? Insight into Philips’ mass re-deployment of talent to the new front line.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, our purpose as an organization really came to the fore. It very quickly became our ‘mission-critical’ to step up and deliver against the urgent need for increased production of critical care products, such as hospital ventilators and patient monitors, and collaborate with customers around the world to develop innovative telehealth solutions.
However, it was also a test of how effectively we as an organization could respond and adapt to changing circumstances and priorities.
After activating all the ‘business as usual’ options to ramp-up production, we still faced a critical challenge: a lack of employees with the right skills in the right place at the right time. To meet the urgent, unprecedented demand for our products, we needed to be able to leverage our workforce in a more flexible way.
We knew that other business units had the skills required but lower demand for them. Could we, therefore, re-deploy these skills quickly and remotely, in order to help save lives?
Here’s how our Philips team stepped up to the challenge and played its part in the COVID-19 fight.
The pursuit of purpose is what drew me to Philips. So, it’s been great to see how our commitment to improving millions of people’s lives has shone through this year in an unprecedented time of challenge.
But the events of the past six months have tested us an organization, too – not least our ability to adapt quickly and effectively in response to change.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, there has been a clear and urgent need for an increased supply of critical care products such as hospital ventilators and patient monitors to help save lives. These products are essential to the treatment and monitoring of COVID-19 patients with respiratory insufficiency in critical care environments.
Guided by our purpose, and as a global leader in health technology and key manufacturer of these products, we made it our ‘mission critical’ to rise to this challenge. But we needed to be able to shift direction with speed to deliver against these changing priorities.
In order to meet the unprecedented demand, we ramped up production by activating all ‘business as usual’ options: increasing the number of production lines; introducing new shift patterns and 24-hour production; recruiting both contingent and permanent staff; and collaborating with other manufacturers to help with parts of the supply chain.
However, it quickly became apparent that we still needed more employees with the right skills for this unprecedented undertaking. We knew there was a potential solution to this within Philips, but we needed to be able to plan and execute a re-deployment of our existing workforce more flexibly in order to unlock it.
While the business units working on critical care products were experiencing high demand but low supply of the skills needed, other business units also had access to these skills but lower demand for them. Could we, therefore, re-deploy these skills within our organization both quickly and remotely?
Truth be told, it wasn’t something we had done before – certainly not at this speed and scale; our organizational design has generally emphasized focus and efficiency rather than flexibility. But, without the luxury of time for planning, we had to commit and move forward.
The first step was to identify the specific skills needed, which the cross-functional COVID response team completed swiftly. The HR team then adapted Workday (Human Capital Management) in order to allow managers to raise requisitions for those skills specifically, rather than entire job profiles.
Given the urgency of the situation, it was imperative to minimize delays. Once the re-deployment initiative was underway, therefore, we designated a team of internal recruiters to work on it exclusively; this enabled speedy interaction with the hiring managers in the business units producing critical care products.
We also adopted the following key principle to ensure our existing processes and systems wouldn’t slow us down: no back office changes.Daniela Seabrook
When it came to determining exactly who to reallocate to the business units in need, our employees themselves were free to voluntarily apply for re-deployment; but we needed to ensure there was enough visibility of the opportunity across the organization first.
With that in mind, we drove consistent communications highlighting the opportunity across multiple internal channels, from our CEO Frans van Houten down. This was complemented by a dedicated internal career site specific to the initiative making sure that all the relevant information was in a single, easy-to-access place.
Of course, we still had to face several challenges – initiatives like this are never as straightforward as we’d like them to be!
The first obstacle was limitations on cross-border work. While regulations changed in some countries as a consequence of the pandemic, in others they remained in place. Our local HR and Legal teams managed this for the top five largest markets; all others were dealt with on a needs-only basis to break the challenge down and make it more achievable.
There was also a little initial hesitancy internally, too. Some managers were reluctant to release their team members, understandably concerned about the risk of being left short-staffed in the event that demand ramped up in their own business unit. At the same time, employees themselves also needed reassurance regarding their terms, conditions and job security.
The strong support from senior leaders and consistent communications I mentioned earlier were key to overcoming this; firstly, in making sure that everyone understood the ‘mission-critical’ purpose of the initiative and, secondly, in reassuring employees that no changes would be made to their terms. All those who volunteered for the opportunity to be re-deployed part-time could maintain their old job. They would also receive an additional review in their annual performance review.
As a result of the efforts outlined above, the initiative went live in just over a month. We were able to strategize and execute a talent re-deployment of a significant number of colleagues and, ultimately, achieve a steep ramp-up in production volumes of products and solutions to help diagnose, treat, monitor, and manage COVID-19 patients.
Being able to deliver on our purpose in times like these was a huge result for us as an organization – it feels amazing to be able to make a difference when people really need it.Daniela Seabrook
There were other benefits internally, too. Importantly, re-deployment helped us to maximize the use of our existing workforce during a period of uncertainty. And, looking at the initiative through the lens of employee engagement and motivation, it delivered another important example of colleagues across Philips demonstrably pulling together, working as one company with one shared purpose.
The positive impact of the initiative will not be limited to that moment in time, either. As leaders, we were pressed into letting go of an organizational reality that we were comfortable with and were able to evolve much faster, and deliver greater impact, as a result.
Our focus now is on ensuring we not only retain this capability but build on it. We proved that we can respond quickly and effectively to meet changing priorities; now, how can we make it easier to leverage our workforce as a driver of responsiveness and adaptability going forward?
We have since taken steps to address this challenge. These include formalizing the re-deployment initiative and sending push messages to our people to identify further such opportunities. And, to better leverage the talent and power of our 80,000 people around the world, we are creating an internal talent marketplace.
Such a marketplace will also create more development and growth opportunities for our people, too. Indeed, re-deployment has proved a successful way of facilitating the cross-organization flow of talent; while some employees have returned to their formal roles and others are still re-deployed, several have actually secured full-time roles in the business unit they were re-deployed to.
We are also exploring other approaches to increasing flexibility across Philips, not least by creating more options around when and where we work. As before, this is another area in which circumstances forced our hand earlier this year, but at the same time created an opportunity that we are now determined to take.
However, on this topic in particular, we must recognize that our workforce is heterogenous and one approach to flexible working won’t work for all our people. Not everyone can effectively perform their role away from their ‘traditional’ place-of-work, nor are all home environments conducive to focus and/or our employees’ health and wellbeing.
With this in mind, we are currently finalizing a framework that will help all our colleagues take advantage of flexible working in a way that works for them, for Philips and for our customers. This will be another significant milestone, as we seek to turn this year’s challenges into opportunities to increase our flexibility and adaptability going forwards.
As outlined above, we adhered to a number of key principles to ensure we could adapt at speed: the use of existing systems and processes; no changes to the back-office to minimize administrative implications; a focus on the skills needed rather than whole job profiles; resourcing the initiative with a dedicated team; and strong senior support and communication.
This push has helped us pave our road forward, toward becoming more agile and adaptable to changing circumstances and, therefore, even better able to create positive impact in the world.Daniela Seabrook
But for me the biggest takeaway was a reminder that sometimes an external push is required to make change happen – particularly when change is overdue. This push has helped us pave our road forward, toward becoming more agile and adaptable to changing circumstances and, therefore, even better able to create positive impact in the world.
Why won’t the Oracle of Omaha declare workforce diversity efforts?
The stats speak for themselves.
Global leaders are speaking up, and HR needs to do the same.