How to Bring a Global Team Together

Frederick Jerant Human Resources, Issue 12 - July/Aug 2014 Leave a Comment

Avery Dennison’s top HR manager, Anne Hill, shares why transformation begins with connection

By Frederick Jerant

When Anne Hill was studying for her bachelor’s degree in Business at the University of Wales, opportunities for women to enter the senior ranks were limited in many professional fields. But human resources (HR) was more welcoming, and that became her target.

“While I was at university,” she recalled, “I realized that people strategies—how you look after them and their progress—would be central to an organization’s success. And I like being in the center of activity, which is certainly the case in HR.”

Hill began her career with the John Lewis Partnership, a large British retailer, and later held senior HR management positions at Baxter Healthcare and Chiron Corp. In 2007, she joined Avery Dennison Corp. (AD) as its Senior Vice President and Chief HR and Communications Officer.

Within a year, Hill found herself at the center of a large and tumultuous transformation: one that would last for more than five years and profoundly challenge the culture of the 79-year-old global manufacturer.


Creating Anchors in a Sea of Change

The central goal of this transformation has been consolidating multiple, largely independent businesses around the world into one fully integrated organization capable of thriving in a highly competitive global business climate. (AD has more than 26,000 employees and operations in 50-plus countries.)

While her fellow leadership team members focused on complex operational and infrastructure issues, Hill recognized the need for a unifying vision that employees everywhere could believe in and make their own.

“This organization’s values had developed over decades,” she said. “We needed to bring them front and center, creating a strong, credible framework for the necessary changes to come.”

Hill led a team that articulated AD’s values and leadership principles, validated them with staff, and then baked them into every employee touchpoint in the company—from recruiting to compensation to recognition and reward programs.


Engagement Is Essential

The longer-term challenge, Hill noted, lay in ensuring that people remained connected to the company as it moved through massive change. “We needed to engage employees more directly,” she said, “and give them an ownership stake in the transformation.”

To ensure a strong sense of community, Hill and her teams established a key benchmark: deliver one employee experience globally. Core HR processes around the globe (e.g., health and safety expectations, fair market wages, annual performance reviews) would be the same.

Changing the workplace experience was another goal. Fortunately, new technologies were emerging with the power to knit employees more closely together and enable real-time collaboration. Hill was an early champion of their adoption.

She added that AD also has been moving from traditional offices into open-plan workspaces where leadership teams are available to everybody. “A major part of our transformation has been pushing decision-making to the right level and giving all our employees a voice,” Hill said. “Technology is great, but nothing beats personal connection.”

With new tools and a new work environment now in place, Hill and her Communications team have become coaches and counselers in their use from the C-Suite to the manufacturing floor, seeding a more open and collaborative culture.

Two early successes: the Chief Executive Officer’s video blog, which racks up thousands of hits each month, and The Beat, an all-volunteer program connecting employees with leaders in unscripted, unmediated conversations around key strategic issues. To date, The Beat has attracted more than 700 members.

Hill_Anne_sidebar1Tapping Talent

Identifying and encouraging talent across her sprawling organization is another key challenge that Hill relishes. “We are regularly upgrading our leadership capabilities,” she said, “by hiring and developing people who can work in a dispersed global environment.”

Hill also supports AD’s efforts to increase the number of female executives throughout the company. One example is a series of women’s forums in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. “These forums enable [female employees] to meet and discuss women’s issues,” Hill said. “Not just those in the workplace, but health and family matters, and their own expected roles in society.”

One Bangladeshi forum member recently appeared at AD’s worldwide leadership meeting to address the company’s top 250 executives about her day-to-day struggles in business and society. “As senior leaders think about worldwide opportunities, she’ll make her situation real,” Hill conveyed. “It won’t be an abstract concept to them.”

Connections Without Borders

Global connections can spur your own professional development. “Don’t think only within the boundaries of your country,” Hill advised. “There are fantastic opportunities worldwide, and those experiences will really help you have an even more robust career. Be bold! Go out and learn about the world.”

Hill concedes, though, that the nomadic approach is not for everyone. Nevertheless, “Even if you’re working for a U.S.-based company that has only a domestic marketplace,” she said, “its supply chain is likely global, and your company’s brand and reputation will be carried through it.”

Hill continued: “Using social media can take you anywhere instantly. And the increasing use of this technology results in a more connected world, for yourself and your business partners. From a career perspective, it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Frederick Jerant is a freelance writer based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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