READ the June 2021 issue of our magazine: The Digital Culture Reset
Alan May is the Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. In this role, Alan has worldwide responsibility for Hewlett Packard Enterprise development and organization effectiveness, benefits and compensation, staffing and retention, global inclusion and diversity, and HR processes and information management.
Prior to joining Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Alan worked at The Boeing Company for eight years, where he most recently led HR for the company’s Commercial Airplanes division. He was also head of HR for their Defense, Space & Security business and before that served as the company’s Vice President of Strategy, Compensation, and Benefits.
Before joining The Boeing Company, Alan was the Chief Talent and Human Resources Officer for Cerberus Capital Management, a leading private equity firm based in New York. Alan also held a number of senior HR and Business Integration roles over a 15-year career at PepsiCo, culminating with an assignment as Senior Vice President, Human Resources, for the rapidly growing Quaker, Tropicana, and Gatorade divisions.
Here are the excerpts.
Do you think the worst part of this crisis is behind us? And it's time to put the genie back in the bottle? Or the world of work has changed forever? How will the post-pandemic world look like?
It depends on where you are. Certainly, some countries such as India are in the throes of very serious outbreaks right now, and vaccine access is very uneven across the globe. But there’s substantial cause for optimism that we did not have at this time last year.
I’ve long rejected the idea of a “new normal” – people just won’t tolerate that. They want their lives back. But that doesn’t mean that nothing will change, because people have learned a lot about themselves as what is important to them through this crisis. That’s why I think that, among other things, flexibility and work/life balance are here to stay. Enterprises will continue to find new and better ways to show up and support their workforce through trying times. And health and wellness are going to be priorities for years to come. If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that life is short and can change in an instant.
With uncertainty still abound in countries such as India, what should be the approach of organizations globally to continue to adapt and come out stronger on the other side?
If your focus isn’t on your team, you’re doing it wrong. For example, in India, HPE mobilized a huge amount of resources we never contemplated having to procure for our team members: oxygen concentrators, dedicated hospital beds, ambulance services, N-95 masks, and other personal care items that were in short supply locally. We’re not a medical provider, but that’s what our team on the ground was telling us was needed by our people, so we made it happen.
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Again, I think one big takeaway from this crisis is that organizations will have to continue to find new and creative ways to step up for their workforce when things get hard. It’s not only good corporate citizenship, but it’s just fundamentally the right thing to do.
Do you think the toughest leadership test is looming now that businesses are striving hard to rebound from the crisis?
I think that we’ve been in a continuum of leadership tests related to the pandemic, and recovering from it is yet another one of those tests. There was no playbook for how to respond to the pandemic, and there isn’t for how to recover. At HPE, we’ve taken up the motto “assess, address, and adapt” throughout the COVID-19 crisis, because that’s really all you can do in a once in a lifetime event.
The biggest question for executive leadership today at many companies is envisioning the future of work post-pandemic. Remote or hybrid work is here to stay, as many experts say, but some of the biggies in the corporate world are rallying to get employees back in offices. How do you see this?
I think the hybrid work environment is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, because that’s what our team members are telling us they want. 70 percent of HPE team members have told us that they do not want to be at the office five days a week when we come out of the pandemic. Flexibility is an important consideration for candidates, and there’s a war for talent – particularly in tech. Ultimately, employees who feel supported not just at work, but as a whole person, are going to be more engaged and productive. That’s been our experience at HPE, so we’re meeting our team members where they are and building a working model that fits their lives, rather than the other way around.
As companies pick themselves up and start trudging on in the COVID-stricken world with new working arrangements, how important is getting work ‘culture’ right especially in the hybrid world of work?
Culture is the lynchpin, and to be sure there are challenges in maintaining a strong culture in a hybrid or remote environment. I don’t think you have to adapt your culture as much as you adapt your approach to living it. As we’ve designed our go-forward working model and begin to bring people back to the office, HPE has been extremely intentional about offering programming, tools, and resources that keep people connected and promote collaboration, team building, and culture in both in-person and virtual environments. Our offices are also being reimagined as culture and collaboration centers, with fewer dedicated workstations, designed to attract hybrid workers to the office specifically for meetings and social and culture events.
What should be the role of leaders to make sure their work cultures are adaptable now that it’s harder to solidify shared beliefs with distributed workforce? Can technology help reinvent work culture?
Leaders need to be cheerleaders for the new way of working, and early adopters of the resources an organization implements to bridge the gap between physical and virtual office environments. The tone is set at the top, and if employees don’t see their leaders adopting the same mindset they’re asking of others, engagement will suffer. Technology is one of several tools that can be used to promote continuity of culture from office to virtual environment, but it won’t succeed without leadership.
Do you think the pandemic has offered an opportunity to get social inequalities, diversity, and inclusion right, now that the pandemic has elevated disparities and gaps? What questions should businesses ask for a better future of work?
I think the pandemic has certainly shone an even brighter light on social and racial inequities. Everyone is in a different place in their diversity, equity, and inclusion journey; so I’d say it depends on the organization. At HPE, unconditional inclusion had been part of our culture well before the pandemic, although it is a process of continuous improvement for us and we’re always striving to be better. What the disparities we witnessed throughout this ordeal have caused us to do is strengthen our resolve in this space.
What have you learned about the best ways to embrace disruption and harness uncertainty as an inflection point for reinvention? What are your priorities at HPE moving forward?
At HPE, we take the approach of “assess, address, and adapt.” You can’t control outside forces like a pandemic. You can survive and thrive in spite of them if you’re committed to finding the opportunity. The last year has given us the opportunity to rethink the employee experience and drive engagement and trust in leadership, which are now at the highest levels in the history of the company. And with respect to our business, COVID-19 has really validated our strategy to meet customers where they are in their digital transformations by offering our entire portfolio in a flexible, consumption-based as-a-service model.
Going forward, my focus is on continuing to drive our culture as we recover from the pandemic, attracting and retaining top talent in a highly competitive environment, and progressing HPE in its journey to be unconditionally inclusive. Those priorities are the same as they were before the pandemic, but how we deliver on them has been changed.