Learning COVID-19 Recording: Ecolab's Anne Gotte - 6/04/20

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 Learning and Development leaders navigate this unpredictable time.

This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted a special guest: Anne Gotte, Senior Vice President, Global Talent at Ecolab. Ecolab is a fascinating company for many reasons, but two very timely ones are their specialization in products and expertise in creating healthy living and working environments (critical during this pandemic period and beyond), and the fact that they are headquartered in Minnesota, where the recent killing by police of George Floyd sparked both protests and violence in the Twin Cities that soon spread around the country. Gotte was interviewed by i4cp CEO and co-founder Kevin Oakes, and we also shared are most recent research on the pandemic’s impact on organizational culture. Here are four key themes that emerged:

  1. L&D’s role in organizations’ responses to civil unrest and I&D initiatives. In recent years many organization’s L&D functions have stepped up in response to headline-grabbing I&D issues, such as Starbucks’ instituting unconscious bias training at all stores after the 2018 incident in Philadelphia. Similarly, in the wake of the killing by police of George Floyd, Ecolab’s L&D function, led by Gotte, pivoted very quickly, first by working with their ERGs to create employee listening sessions, and then working over a weekend to create an ally guide and a full e-Learning module on “allyship” (i.e., ways in which employees in majority groups can be better allies to racial or other minority groups). Emotions are very high at Ecolab since they are located in Minnesota where the killing took place, but the L&D team worked with relevant ERGs to quickly craft this course which covers what allyship is, the importance of unconscious bias, how allies can help via inclusion, more specific actions that allies can take, and then specifics around race-based allyship.

    For more on how organizations are responding to the death of George Floyd, see the i4cp article 5 Ways Companies Are Responding to Escalated Racial Tensions and Social Unrest
  2. The importance of continuing to focus talent mobility. Gotte noted that Ecolab already had a focus on talent mobility prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that it can be challenge much like a diet – easy to say, harder to do and stick with. Ecolab’s employer brand promise hits directly on the importance of talent mobility, learning, and development: “Own your future. Impact what matters.” And so during the last several months Gotte and her team have been focusing on internal mobility anew, always aligning with the changing needs of their customers. Compared with some organizations, Ecolab emphasizes freedom over structured career paths, and they have also grown a lot via acquisition over the years. So focus is needed to make clear the learning and career options employees have, especially during times of fast change and regular distraction.

    For more on talent mobility and the need to focus on the broader talent supply chain, see the recent article Why HR Chiefs Must Rethink Talent Management after COVID-19 in the Financial Times, written by i4cp’s Chief Research Officer, Kevin Martin.
  3. The increasingly important role of L&D now and in the future. Gotte noted the critical role of learning and development at Ecolab, and how it will only increase in the post-pandemic era. The function is mostly decentralized at Ecolab, with a small group of about a dozen who focus on core leadership and other topics, and then over 200 individuals who sit in the various business units and have a significant emphasis on sales training. That is needed because Ecolab’s broad product line and expertise – which spans clean water, safe food, healthy environments, abundant energy, and more – means that over 50% of their employees are in sales-related roles. All these individuals must live the brand for Ecolab to continue to be successful. The pandemic has meant significantly increasing their digital skills, and has also brought some shifts in products and services themselves. Gotte also noted that they had recently launched an updated frontline manager program, but then needed to “rethink their rethink” on that topic given the increased digital needs of the times. Overall, the urgency around learning and development for the organization is as high as ever.
  4. The impact of COVID-19 on organizational culture. A recent i4cp pulse survey had 75% (over nearly 200 respondents) indicating that their organization’s culture had been impacted by the pandemic in a positive way. Gotte noted one way this has been the case at Ecolab, paradoxically even amongst the many employees working from home for the past three months, has been the increased sense of community and a “we’re all in this together” attitude. Humera Shahid similarly noted via chat that “The pandemic has been a galvanizing force. … I wonder if we can continue to emphasize shared experiences for our workforces? This is something that is built into our leadership model at Intuit. An emphasis on shared experiences for people around a common purpose or a challenge.”
    When asked if they anticipated major changes to their organization’s culture in the future as a result of the pandemic, 57% of pulse survey participants said yes (leaving open whether those changes would be positive or negative). John Cone, chair of i4cp’s Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board, closed the call in the chat by asking this provocative question: “If you made a list of all of the things you are deliberately doing differently (enhanced communication, focus on collaboration, connecting at a personal level, etc.), could your leaders make a conscious decision right now about which you will deliberately continue?”
    For more insights on the impact on organizational cultures during the pandemic, see the Human Resource Executive article Positive Product of the Pandemic: Culture, by i4cp’s CEO Kevin Oakes.

In addition to the recording above, please see the many resources at our i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center.