DeLisa Alexander serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of Red Hat, leading the organization responsible for global human resources including Red Hat University. The organization's mission is to be a strategic partner to the business in acquiring, developing, and retaining talent and to enhance the Red Hat culture and talent brand. During Alexander's tenure, Red Hat has grown from 1,100 to 11,000+ associates and has been recognized as one of the best places to work in multiple publications around the globe.
She serves on the executive committee for the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED); the board of directors for Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and Innovate Raleigh; and the board of advisers for the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, Bull City Ventures, NC State University Poole College of Management, and SoarTriangle.
Here are the excerpts of the interview.
How do you see the impact of Covid-19 in the tech industry? How are you adapting to the changing times with respect to your business continuity plans, employee wellbeing measures, and meeting the evolving needs of customers?
In 2020, organizations that were planning a staged approach to digital transformation are now finding themselves facing a rapid evolution. At the same time, companies that had previously been limited in teleworking options, due to structural, organizational, or regulatory reasons, are now finding workforces completely distributed by necessity. Whatever plans or processes business had in place have now gone by the wayside, but it’s up to Red Hat and other leaders in digital technologies to help our customers address these new dynamics. This could mean simply keeping operations up-and-running or it could mean extending on-demand services to address a new or evolving market. Either way, the IT community needs to be ready to support these rapid shifts.
Every organization maintains an IT landscape that is unique to their needs, so it’s not a stretch to say that there’s no silver bullet in the face of this global change. Instead, we need to reach our customers and adapt to their new requirements wherever and whatever they are.
We’ve used this situation to shore up our business continuity work to make sure that customers can count on us through this crisis. Some of our customers have needed support from Red Hat in different ways than they have before. A few of the ways we’ve here to help include:
- Shifting many of our training classes to be virtually-led and introduced remote exam options for some of our most popular certifications. We’ve also increased flexibility for canceling or rescheduling previously scheduled classes or exams, and extended expiration dates for all certifications;
- Offering free trials of Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform that can automate up to 100 nodes, to help even more organizations to automate what they can so that they can keep their focus on the biggest priorities;
- Making Red Hat CodeReady Workspaces, from the Red Hat Developer program, available as a free download;
- Providing Technical Account Management (TAM) services for new customers billed at a 50% discount; and
- Extending product life cycles across portions of the Red Hat portfolio.
When it comes to our associates, the rather rapid decision that we made to require everyone to work from home, was certainly unprecedented and pushed us to quickly change processes across the globe. This includes virtual hiring and onboarding; virtual development experiences; and virtual events and celebrations.
We work together to maintain a culture that prioritizes safety, well-being, and kindness. One of the most important things we have done is communicate to associates and managers that we all need to adopt a mindset of flexibility right now.
It is a common belief that jobs are lost in automation adoption. However, automation tools also require skilled workers to operate them, repair them, and upskill them. Businesses need to ensure that their employees are participating in learning programs and provide them ample opportunities to grow and reskill themselves.
How do you see the overall role of business leaders and People managers evolving to prepare for the post-pandemic times? What strategies are you embracing in terms of talent management and ensuring employee productivity in this time of uncertainty?
The role of a people manager is one that we take very seriously at Red Hat. We often say that everyone is a leader, but not everyone is a manager.
During this time our managers and our associates are working together in new ways and having to adjust expectations. It’s about finding a balance between getting the work done, in the tried and trusted ways we have before, and realizing that the world has changed and how we work has to shift as well.
Managers need to make it safe for associates to share what they are able to do and what their challenges are so that they can help prioritize, and de-risk the situation.
In this current environment, I think probably the Open Management Practice that is most important is "Creating an environment of respect, belonging, and mutual support." It is foundational for an inclusive meritocracy and the idea that people can contribute even if their style of thinking, language, or location are different.
Above all, we look to managers to set the tone for their teams, providing the context so they understand the goals and strategy of the company, as well as how the individual fits in. Nowadays there’s another piece. Setting the understanding that it’s okay to be human, because we’re all dealing with stressors and uncertainty.
What I see in the future is a move from companies to incorporate more flexibility into their workplaces and their policies. This type of workplace will become a perk for workers when job searching in the future.
At Red Hat, we’ve always maintained the importance of a work-life balance. One thing we noticed this year is that associates weren’t taking their PTO since social distancing has prevented a lot of travel. So we instituted a quarterly “recharge day” during which we ask the whole company to take the day off.
As a leader our most important job is to remind people that we are always there for them, to help and support them. A pinch of reassurance can give the courage to cross miles.
Working from home, as experts say, is going to grow beyond its pre-COVID-19 norms. What’s your take on the overall remote and flexi working and how will they impact the future of work?
By virtue of design, open source communities are made up of distributed communities. In many open source projects, the developers may never meet each other in person. The most successful open source projects embrace characteristics of collaboration, community, inclusivity, adaptation, and transparency. These attributes have laid the foundation for how Red Hat works. The good news is that associates working remotely is not new for us. More than 25 percent of our workforce was remote/distributed on an average day, so we’ve developed technology and programs to support them.
This forced move to near total remote working ties into a lot of the concepts that Red Hat and other organizations have already been discussing. The expectations of workers have shifted in recent years. They expect more flexibility in how, when, where they work. They expect to be able to connect and contribute from wherever they are. This “experiment” is going to help solidify those expectations that more flexible working environments are possible.
This situation is forcing organizations to be more agile in implementing programs and expanding capabilities like IT and management practices. I think you’re going to see organizations adopting more open ways of working even once we get past COVID-19, which is something we’ve been doing for 27 years.
While no one knows exactly what the future has in store, it’s all but certain remote working will play a major role in how the workplace will evolve in the coming years. I don’t believe that the office work dynamic will ever return exactly to the way it was before as people will be more effective at working from home.
Between April-June 2020, the world lost almost 400 million full-time jobs due to the pandemic, according to ILO. How can we rebuild and reimagine jobs amid the coronavirus crisis for businesses to stay future-ready?
Among our customers, we see acceleration across some industries--telecommunications and retail, for example. And we see deceleration across others, such as travel and leisure. We know that it will take time for workers impacted by these shifts to upskill. Regardless of whether an organization is accelerating or decelerating, to not just survive but thrive in the future, organizations must learn to be flexible and increase their ability to adapt to changing environments. This means having to continually unlearn old rules and behaviors and learning new ones. That requires questioning assumptions about how things work, challenging existing paradigms, and learning what is most important in a job, product, career, and industry.
Today, we are on the cusp of a new automation era; it is vital that organizations collaborate remotely and increase productivity by automating numerous small tasks. Although it is a common belief that jobs are lost in automation adoption. However, automation tools also require skilled workers to operate them, repair them, and upskill them. Businesses need to ensure that their employees are participating in learning programs and provide them ample opportunities to grow and re-skill themselves.
Organizations around the globe are coming to the realization that adopting a more open culture is a business imperative, especially when they are looking to drive digital transformation, innovation, and attract the talent they need to succeed.
In this crisis situation, there is a growing emphasis on workforce reskilling. How can organizations harness agile learning techniques to reskill employees for the larger digital transformation?
The pandemic has made this question more urgent for many organizations. The surprising benefit of our current situation is that there are so many more ways for people to learn new skills and expand their knowledge. Universities and colleges have moved online and the availability of training classes is robust. Learning is not canceled.
Beyond the individual, there is a growing need for organizations to become more agile and be able to face uncertainty and come out strong. I’ve met with a variety of customers and while each of them is different, their problems are similar. What’s most interesting is that the conversations ultimately come back to the fact that their issues aren’t purely technological. They are, more often than not, people problems. Organizations around the globe are coming to the realization that adopting a more open culture is a business imperative, especially when they are looking to drive digital transformation, innovation, and attract the talent they need to succeed.
For the customers I talk to, they often feel the hardest part is determining where to start. The good news is that there’s no one way to be open; instead, there are degrees of openness. What works for us may not work for you. At Red Hat, we default to open, which means we are open unless there’s a reason not to be. But each organization has to look inward and determine specific processes or working teams where a more open approach could be adopted. Start small and as your teams become more comfortable working openly, build on those efforts. It’s like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it becomes.
The level of uncertainty and unfamiliarity COVID-19 crisis has brought with it is unique in its own way. This is probably one of the most critical times for strengthening CHRO-CEO partnership as businesses strive to come out stronger from this pandemic. Do you see a change in the nature of the partnership amid this crisis?
No one, and I mean no one, could have predicted what 2020 was going to look like. And that means that a lot of our strategic plans we had set for the year went right out the window. Everything had to be changed quickly to address the virtually unrecognizable landscape. We were able to fall back on our continuity and contingency planning, and were able to pivot and continue to move forward.
The level of focus on people across the business, especially by CEOs has never been more important. We are all thinking about how we take care of one another, keep each other safe, and put our people first. This mindset helps us not just keep our business strong, but more importantly the people that power it.
How do you see the job landscape, five years down the line? Which jobs will be in demand and which ones do you think can become redundant or transform?
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work and there is a chance that some of these changes are here to stay. Many companies and workers have realized that work is running relatively seamlessly even while working remotely. What I see in the future is a move from companies to incorporate more flexibility into their workplaces and their policies. For instance, more flexible and remote work options are helpful for associates who may have just had a baby, have children in the home, or perhaps are caring for other family members. This type of workplace will become a perk for workers when job searching in the future.
The concept of work-from-home has now normalized and could see this trend grow in the next five years when compared to where we were in say 2019. There is no replacement for face-to-face interactions so there will always be a need for a physical office. In addition, while it’s now proven that people can work effectively from home, there are many associates who still prefer to work in an office. In the future, I can see more jobs giving associates a choice.
Most companies are becoming a tech company in some way. So jobs involving technology are likely to be in greater demand. With automation, artificial intelligence, and edge computing, we are also using technology to address tactical business challenges and needs. Looking to the future, this could have a real impact on the job market as companies look for more workers skilled at developing and implementing their strategies.
Lastly, as a leader how are you ensuring that you keep calm, sail through, and help others in this tough time? Share your tips for HR leaders.
The most important thing any leader can do for themselves is to prioritize yourself. Seems strange to say when so many of us are used to putting the job first, but if you’re burnt out, you aren’t any good to your team. Make sure you’re taking time to eat properly, exercise (even a short stroll around the neighborhood can help!), unplug from your email for a bit and even take time to do nothing at all. When you’re rested and take care of your own mental health, you’re going to be a better leader and a better person.
Once you have yourself in order, make sure you’re thinking about your team’s mental health too. Being authentic with your team is also important. Managers are people too. We are all dealing with unique challenges and pressures that we have to balance. Allow yourself to be real, and allow your team to support you too.