Organizations across the world are fighting to embrace the new normal and adapt to the changing times amid this COVID-19 crisis. Now as the lockdown easing begins in several countries, organizations are trying to revisit their performance management and rewards strategies. Andrew Campbell, Senior Partner, Asia Pacific, IBM Talent & Transformation says ‘’each organization will need to decide how best to engage, motivate, assess and reward their top talent based on their own needs and business strategy’’.
Andrew leads IBM’s Talent and Transformation practice in Asia-Pacific. He is an accomplished HR and Consulting Executive with strategic, global transformation experience in numerous industries, including Consumer Packaged Goods, Life Sciences and Pharmaceuticals, Insurance, Oil & Gas, and Engineering. His cross-functional experience is complemented by practical hands-on experience in the HR domain and supplemented with a deep understanding of program management, change management, talent management, and HR systems technology (both ERP and Cloud). He is an energetic leader and a skilled facilitator and communicator.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
How has IBM responded to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure employee safety, managing relationships with clients, collaboration with industry leaders, and internal workforce management?
The health and safety of IBMers is always our top priority. Luckily at IBM, many people are used to working remotely, and we had the infrastructure, processes, and plans in place to ensure everyone can work remotely effectively. After the cutover of our Business Continuity Plans, 95 percent of IBMers were working effectively from home and about 8000 people were performing essential work supporting our clients. All managers conducted (and still conduct) regular check-ins with their employees to ensure that people were safe, healthy, and productive. Continuous engagement and communication were and still remains key.
Some IBM sites have started reopening to a limited number of staff, depending on the locations. People need to feel confident that they are returning to a safe working environment, and to do that we have implemented a number of procedures including a set of global criteria for site re-opening, a readiness checklist for all our sites, and a return-to-workplace playbook with processes related to office safety, sanitization, distancing and fever screening.
Ensuring business continuity for our clients was also key. As much as possible we strived to keep things “business as usual” for our clients. Our Services delivery teams took just ten days to shift to work-from-home across 60 centers globally, supporting clients across 40 countries, with zero degradation in delivery capacity or Service Level Agreements of clients’ operations. We kept payroll running for the clients that we run payroll for, we helped our clients close the books for those clients whose F&A we support, and we kept projects going live.
The unprecedented times amid COVID-19 have put organizations in a predicament on how to deal with retention of top talent, engagement, and performance management. What’s the way forward for organizations as they come out from this pandemic?
In reality, there is no “one size fits all” approach – each organization will need to decide how best to engage, motivate, assess and reward their top talent based on their own needs and business strategy. That being said, to attract and retain talent organizations will need to offer flexible work arrangements for people and acknowledge that some people may want to continue to work remotely while some may want to work in the office, depending on their personal situation.
Now more than ever, for the well-being of our employees, it is imperative to be empathetic, encourage solidarity and understanding for each other. During this period, there are four re-entry imperatives that we focus on – workforce well-being, working practices, work policies, and workforce planning. We are hosting activities such as Wellness Wednesday, Employee Assistance Programs, and Mindfulness Sessions for our employees. This is sprinkled with fun events like learning Olympics, step-up challenge, virtual lunches, and coffee sessions to bring the teams together to learn, win, and to have fun. We also encourage our team to extend their reach to the local communities where we operate. For example, in Singapore, we are planning to conduct digital learning sessions for the seniors where our IBMers can volunteers as trainers under our ‘Project Giveback’ initiative.
Many organizations had already been shifting away from traditional performance management processes before the pandemic and had been looking for new ways to retain and motivate top talent. For IBM, our new approach called Checkpoint was co-created with hundreds and thousands of IBMers around the globe via an internal jam over 72 hours.
We not only recognize and reward our people’s accomplishments based on business results and client results but also on their commitment to innovation and upskilling – two criteria that will be critical for the future of any organization. In addition, the new approach calls on managers and employees to do regular check-ins – minimum quarterly – to provide career coaching and feedback against goals.
How are you empowering your remote workers to come to speed with their productivity?
Because of COVID-19, much of the world’s population has entered a new social regime. It ranges from distancing ourselves to total lockdown to protect the physical health of ourselves and our communities. However, while we do this, the resulting feelings of isolation and loneliness may slowly exacerbate a different health problem: the ongoing global mental health crisis. In a study conducted by Ginger, 69 percent of employees in the U.S said that the pandemic has been the most stressful time of their entire professional careers. According to the recent IBM study, only 14 percent of employers are worried about mental health and in a roundtable of CHROs led by IBM and Josh Berlin, participants cited the wellness and mental health of employees as the number one concern they hadn’t yet determined how to address.
For IBM, it is imperative that all our teams can effectively work and collaborate, and to scale the productivity despite working remotely and onsite, or a combination of both, to ensure business continuity. Many IBMers were already proficient in working remotely so the transition for many IBMers was relatively smooth. And we are fortunate to have the tools to stay productive and collaborate with our teams while working remotely, as well as the training programs and support required to use those tools. But beyond the tools, it has also been important that people remain motivated.
How to handle expectation management in the current Work from Home times?
The leadership behavior that has come to the forefront because of the pandemic is empathy. Organizations and managers need to be sensitive to the fact that everyone in some way is facing personal and professional challenges as a result of the pandemic, whether it be trying to school your kids while working from home or dealing with the inability to see loved ones due to lockdown.
At IBM, a group of employees came up with a brilliant idea – the IBM Work from Home Pledge. The pledge immediately went viral and thousands of IBMers signed the pledge. The pledge essentially stated that we commit to be flexible, be family-friendly, set boundaries, and prevent video fatigue, take care of myself, check in on others, and stay connected. One thing we learn through that during this challenging time, it is also important to have empathy, solidarity, and understanding for each other. We are keeping a close tab on employee sentiment and feedback and iterating our approach constantly.
How are you prioritizing your work that delivers the best value? How do you envision the future of the IT industry in the post-pandemic world?
I believe the pandemic will accelerate the digital transformation, and the tech industry will have an essential role in helping companies shape and execute their transformation agenda. I think we’ll see this manifest itself in a number of different ways:
- Agile will become mainstream in the enterprise. Upskilling in Agile methodology has been popular for a number of years now, but I believe the pandemic will accelerate the use of Agile beyond the boundaries of IT and into the enterprise as a whole. Tech will have a critical role in helping with organizations transition to agile and will need to commit to creating tools and methodologies that enable Agile.
- Data is king. Data helps make people comfortable especially in these uncertain times. And tech will play a significant role in providing systems and processes that enable data insights, as well as a critical role in enabling people to understand and make decisions with data.
- Acceleration of automation, AI, and cognitive projects. Numerous organizations were caught out during the pandemic by not having enough automation or AI in place, particularly in contact centers where the deployment of virtual agents could have significantly reduced call volumes. There are countless processes that can be automated or that can leverage AI in order to reduce the reliance on human interactions. Automation and AI should also be seen as an opportunity to upskill an organization’s people, and better prepare them for the workplace of the future.
- Prioritize speed over perfection. The concept of getting to an MVP (minimum viable product) from which a company can start to derive value will become more commonplace. A number of clients have already told me they have accomplished more in three months than they have in three years.