CHRO COVID-19 ACTION RECORDING: HOW DELL KEEPS A FOCUS ON PEOPLE, WITH SVP, HR KRISTI HUMMEL - 8/21/20

In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and its unprecedented impact to business and employers, i4cp holds a weekly series of standing calls to help HR leaders navigate this unpredictable time.

On i4cp’s August 21, 2020 CHRO/HR Strategy COVID-19 Response series call, HR leaders from a wide range of organizations were joined by special guest Kristi Hummel, SVP, HR at Dell. She was interviewed by i4cp Chief Research Officer Kevin Martin. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation:

Dell has a multi-faceted culture, that is still connected to their history. As a large enterprise organization (Dell has over 100,000 employees spread across 100+ countries), Dell's organizational culture has several key aspects. Its core code of values is of course one important part, but others derive from the early days of the company when it was started by entrepreneur Michael Dell. Their earliest value proposition was that they could make and sell computers more efficiently than others by removing the middle-man. As a result, being efficiency-focused was a key part of their organizational culture, and remains so to this day. So is driving innovation, again deriving from their early entrepreneurial roots. And as a technology company, they are naturally very data-driven, with key performance indicators (KPIs) for most things that matter, including in HR such as how inspiring are their leaders and how does that convert to increased employee engagement. To support their culture, Dell has around 1,000 employees who serve as culture ambassadors inside the organization.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to remote work and workforce flexibility. Dell committed ten years ago to 50% of their employees having the flexibility to work from anywhere by 2020. Interestingly, just before the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in the US, they had already reached that goal and beyond, as 65% of their employees had that flexibility. Over the past six months of course far more have been working remotely, but the necessity to do that was less of a shock for Dell than many companies. Their culture includes the belief that such flexibility is the best way to attract and retain the best people -- so the recent increase is not simply a reaction to safety concerns around the pandemic.

Outcomes are what matter, not location or time spent. The belief at Dell, starting with Michael Dell at the top of the organization, is that work is something you do, an outcome, not a place or merely time spent. Over the past ten years on this journey towards greater remote work and work flexibility, some lessons learned include:
  • Trust is a cornerstone: managers and leaders must trust their employees.
  • Dell finds they are able to attract, development, and retain better employees than only those that live within 30 miles of HQ or would be willing to relocate there.
  • For roles that are not conducive to remote work, it is important to provide and focus on other aspects of work flexibility, whether scheduling of hours, supporting better work/life balance, etc. This avoids any acrimony between manufacturing or other location-specific roles and those that can be done from anywhere. 
Given the expansion of remote working during the past six months, Hummel noted hey are now adopting a broader "from anywhere" mantra. This goes beyond where work is done, and will apply to concepts such as "grow your career from anywhere," and "having the same Dell experience from anywhere." She noted that "Offices will increasingly become collaboration hubs," as opposed to default work locations.

Aligned / cascading goals enable an outcome-based culture. Hummel described how each year Michael Dell indicates four top goals, and that within 15 business days all employees must discuss their goals for the year and how they will align with those top-level four. Having these goals agreed to is what allows the company to have an outcomes-based approach to work, rather than time spent or location-focused approach that many companies still have. These aligned goals are not just words on paper either: what is important is the conversation between each employee and their manager, one that includes how they will accomplish each outcome. In short, they ignore the "where" and focus on enabling everyone as to the "what" and the "how." Importantly, there is also accountability built in, with checks to make sure the conversations happen within those key 15 business days.

Dell understands the importance of culture when it comes to mergers and acquisitions. Last year i4cp did a major study on culture and HR's role in mergers and acquisitions (i4cp members have access to the report "Avoid Acquisition Acrimony: How to Analyze Culture Synergy Early" and the "M&A Due Diligence Checklist for HR.") One of the key findings of that research is that HR unfortunately is too often heavily involved only in the later stages of the M&A process. This makes it more difficult to identify and handle any culture or other people/talent challenges with the proposed acquisition.

Hummel described how Dell has understood this well over the years, and has focused on broad culture alignment and not just the more common, tactical considerations surrounding benefit plans, etc. For the large merger of Dell and EMC, they setup an integration office, and importantly had a Dell leader and an EMC leader on each workstream. Hummel described this as their "Noah's Ark" approach, i.e., having two people for each initiative. They also mapped out what decisions were going to be made over an 18 month period, i.e., what is happening in month 1, in month 6, etc. This map was designed with pre-requisites in mind, i.e., decisions needed for later decisions must be made first.

In addition to this recording, please see the the i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center for new research and next practices to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.